21 Jan Ori Inu, returning to African Spirituality
“Ori Inu: In Search of Self “ is a coming of age story about a young immigrant woman who must choose between conforming her identity and spirituality to the cultural norms of America or revisiting her roots in the Afro-Brazilian religion called Candomble.”
Where do you rep in the globe?
My brother and I are repping Guyana and Nigeria all day but don’t get us twisted we love our hometown Newark NJ.What inspired you all to create this film?
My life inspired the creation of this film. Growing up in the 90s, I believe there was a switch in mentality; Black folks were no longer into conscious hip-hop, dashikis, and natural hair. I grew up in the era where weaves, big booties, and assimilation into western ideals were again at all time high. Where the “new slaves” according to Kanye were born again. Where people not only stopped longing for a connection to Africa, but also rejected Africa as if America was the place that saved us from the misery of the Motherland.
Naturally I became confused about my identity. The fact that my Africanness and Caribbeanness made me supposedly more Black, which was apparently bad, indicated to me, I wasn’t the only one with identity issues. It appeared to me that every single Black person I encountered was battling with his or her Blackness as if it was some disease we could not cure. After going through the typical, now I am trying to hide the fact that I am African but my last name is clearly Odufu, to you’re an “Akata because I couldn’t speak much Igbo, both my brother and I realized through enlightenment that being Black was actually super “Lit” because the African influence is in everything. Tis new found love for ourselves spiraled into a spiritual journey of healing, and empowerment of our people that would take place in the form of our art activism. Before we got the specific narrative down which obviously incorporates the Afro Brazilian Struggle, Black Spiritual Oppression, Critiquing of Christianity etc we tapped into our pain being spiritually lost as Black people. The pain and trauma my brother and I faced lent itself to this complex Ori Inu film narrative which tries to combine all of these overwhelming, crazy but sane emotions. This narrative is our declaration of being proud to be Black, proud to be African, proud to be Caribbean, proud to be American. This film is a symbol of our life.
How do you see this film as part of the Afro-futurism cultural movement?
To me Afro-Futurism is a cultural aesthetic that celebrates the existence of non-western ideologies in helping to shape the past, present and future. It uses elements such as magical realism to do so. Our film is set in the present to show that Afro Futurism is now and that warrior spirit of our ancestors is very much a live today in the dreams and music of people of African Descent globally. Our film adds to the list of many films in particular which describe itself as Afro-Futuristic. The film trailer calls Sankofa when viewing it specifically around African Spirituality.
Why do you all feel the need to the need to depict Black spirituality and what does that say about our relationship with Christianity in the diaspora?
I think at times Black Spirituality is at odds with the traditional Christian rhetoric especially in the diaspora although we are more and more seeing preachers who are tailor making their messages around the idea of Black Jesus. We hope that our film will connect the gap and cross bridges between individuals who believe that their path of religion of spirituality is the only way and make them see that you can agree to disagree, but still respect the humanity of another individual with different beliefs on spirituality than you.
Tell us more about the film, settings in Brasil n NYC, and the significance it holds.
My brother and I decided to focus our story on Brazil after reading an NPR article titled “Brazilian Believers Of Hidden Religion Step Out Of Shadows.” This article touched on key things that resonated with us due to the state of racial affairs here in America, where Blacks virtually have no power either. For one despite the fact more than half of Brazilians define themselves as being mixed or Black, the power in that country whether it be social, economical or political isn’t equally distributed. Not to mention the fact Blacks are being religiously persecuted for practicing something the slaves brought over to Brazil, which was heartbreaking for us to read. We also felt it was important to give voice to the Afro Latino, or Afro Brazilian experience battling the dualities of their Black ethnicity as that narrative is rarely showcased on screen. In sharing that experience we created a Black immigration narrative that starts in Brazil, stops in America, and then goes back to Brazil.
Emann Odufu (Producer, Writer)
“This film brings the struggle of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble to the forefront of conversation in its quest to be accepted by the country’s mainstream culture. This struggle is a metaphor of the idea that the things in society, which we sweep under the rug, are coming out of the closet, out of secrecy, and demanding to be accepted or even conversed about in a way that leads to a world that is more harmonious and that represents the full spectrum of perspectives.”
Our protagonists’ journey in America tackles issues of cultural imperialism and the intolerance of western hegemony, questioning the conventions and norms of a canonical history and advocating for a more syncretic vision of US cultural reality. This film tackles the idea that there is one path, or one superior way of living your life and it aims at validating those aspects of culture, which historically have been deemed inferior or have been on the receiving end of cultural biases.
How did you all pull this together with such few resources?
Honestly I don’t know. There are so many ways this could of all gone wrong but everything always just happened to work out for us in a magical way. I guess we pulled this whole thing together because we had passion in our voices and hearts. My brother and I were dedicated to making this film happen no matter the obstacles we faced and believe me we faced some major obstacles on a weekly basis. This film at times took a toll on our spirits and emotions but we understood the dark times were test from the universe. Sacrifice and patience was something we had to learn very well to be in this place now.
We literally have dedicated our live over the past year on manifesting Ori Inu and at some point our hard work began to buzz. There is literally no blue print other than work hard and always aim higher than your limit. People believe in passion and we are so grateful for everyone who believed in us Emann Odufu. I literally feel like we had the right idea at the right time. In a way this film took off in the way it did because it was suppose to. Chelsea was a fearless director and always motivated me to keep pushing, but honestly I literally believe the film came together because we never doubted that the film wouldn’t come together. We always believed there was a way and there always was.
Who do you think will watch this film? How do you think the somewhat Christian person will perceive this flm? Is this more for the “I’m not not religious but I’m spiritual”crowd?
What kind of audience you all want to see this film and what are you hoping to transform thru this narrative?
The film was intended for all audiences. One of the thing the film was meant to do was create a dialogue for everyone, but especially Christians. I am a Christian and me being a part of this film was my attempt at asking question like why is Christianity opposed to any religion that is not similar to it. Even within Christian sects there is much divide as to which Christian sect has the exclusive right to the truth as if the truth is one monolithic thing. I believe the main tenet of Christianity is love and loving thy neighbor and when you live in a multicultural society where people come from different backgrounds and have differing beliefs on religion and spirituality that means focusing on your many similarities as opposed to your differences. Researching the Yoruba spirituality I was interested to find that there were Orishas like Oludamare and Obatala who is similar to what we as Christians would call God or Jehovah. The point being there are many places where seeming different religions intersect.
Interview by Chrislene DeJean