A new HBO series, The Legend of the Underground, is projecting the joys and travails of the gay community in Nigeria.
Better described as the LGBTQ+ community, an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning and others; 1st News reports that Nigeria is witnessing a rise in the public consciousness of this group; despite the existence of a 2014 legislation outlawing same sex relationships in the country.
Known as the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, the legislation was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The law forbids any co-habitation between same-sex sexual partners and bans any public show of same sex amorous relationship. Defaulters face up to 14 years in prison. Also, the law imposes a 10-year prison sentence on anyone who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs; societies and organization or supports the activities of such organizations.
It is against this backdrop that the new HBO series attempts to portray the reality of living in Nigeria for some members of the LGBTQ+ community; many of whom have accused security agencies of using the anti-gay law as a ruse for extortion and human right abuses.
The new documentary, which debuted on Tuesday, June 29, has James Brown; a crossdresser and one of the most visible members of the LGBTQ+ community as a lead figure.
1st News reports that Brown shot into prominence in 2019. He was among a group of men arrested at a birthday party in a police raid. The men were paraded and later arraigned on charges of homosexuality. While he was being paraded by the police, Brown had gone on a memorable rant; boldly telling the police that they had no case against him as he was not caught in the act. The video of the incident subsequently went viral, automatically catapulting him into global prominence. American superstar entertainment mogul, 50 Cent, was among those who reposted the video on Instagram. Brown’s social media following grew astronomically.
The case was eventually thrown out of court and the defendants, including Brown acquitted.
In a chat with Vogue, Brown, who continues to live under the fear of physical harm in an overtly religious and conservative Nigerian society where homophobia is rife, expresses fears over his safety.
‘‘I have concerns about my security, oh yes, I have concerns. Nigeria is very dangerous, especially if you are like me and aren’t the way people want you to be,’’ he says.
Also headlining the new HBO series is Michael Ighodaro, a queer activist. Ighodaro was a victim of physical harm, suffering a broken arm, as a result of his sexual orientation. This came after he was outed without his permission after participating in a 2012 International AIDS Conference. He fled Nigeria in 2013 to the US; where he continues to fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria.
‘‘When I look at the film in general, it’s a story of people who have been so broken. Who is not allowed to speak the way they want to speak; dress the way they want to dress, act the way they want to act. It’s more than a story of LGBTQ+ people. I think it’s a story of young people who say enough to oppression,’’ he told Vogue.
The HBO series makers, Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey, admit that the boldness of Brown and Ighodaro were driving inspirations for the documentary.
The series also beams the spotlight on The Royal House of Allure, a group involving members of the LGBTQ+ community who come together to offer support to each other. Also portrayed is an older group known as The Elites, who are wary of the social media buzz generated by the younger members of the community such as Brown.