Board Member Micheal Ighodaro Featured in HBO Documentary “The Legend of the Underground”
The Legend of the Underground, a new documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on HBO, explores the difficult lived experiences of the Nigerian LGBTIQ community. OutRight Action International board member, Micheal Ighodaro, is prominently featured throughout the documentary as it follows the beginnings and continuation of his fight for LGBTIQ equity in his home country.
Born in Nigeria, Micheal faced discrimination and prejudice starting at a very young age. Nigeria is one of 67 countries that still criminalize same-sex relations. Twelve northern regions have adopted a form of Sharia Law which makes same-sex relations punishable by death, and criminalizes gender expression which does not correspond with gender norms associated with the sex assigned at birth. Moreover, in 2014 the "Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill” was signed into law, which also criminalizes LGBTIQ organizations and clubs, as well as even knowing an LGBTIQ person. The authorities actively persecute LGBTIQ individuals, including through arbitrary detention, beating, extortion and forced disclosure of other LGBTIQ people.
Kicked out of his home as a youth, Micheal persevered despite growing up in a society that rejected his very identity. Despite immense police oppression, community was still forged by the courage of the LGBTIQ community that refused to be silenced. It is this community, largely underground at the time, that became a lifeline for Micheal.
After a violent attack on his home and himself following his identity being uncovered due to participation at an international HIV/AIDS conference, Micheal made the difficult decision to leave his home country and seek asylum in the U.S. He comes to New York with one bag, knowing one person, to be free, and finds community here too. However, the documentary shows strongly how his home community in Nigeria remains ever-present in his thoughts and his activism.
Alongside Micheal’s story, the documentary also spotlights a new generation of activists in Nigeria.
Viewers are shown the Royal House of Allure, a nod to the prominence of Nigerian ballroom culture, which serves as a shelter and community space for LGBTIQ people. James Brown, a resident of the House, who also got kicked out of his home, takes the spotlight as a representative of a new generation of LGBTIQ activists. James became viral in the country after a raid of a private birthday party was televised before the participants were arrested. During the broadcast, James stood up for his civil rights and called-out the arbitrary nature of his arrest.
After over a decade of being away, Micheal returns to Nigeria and the documentary introduces us to many inspiring LGBTIQ individuals standing up for who they are in a country where the odds are stacked against them. Denrele, an influencer who defies gender stereotypes daily. Yomi, who shakes up a male beauty pageant with gender-bending dancing. Idee, who teaches aspiring models and other community members the art of the cat-walk. The documentary effortlessly captures the power, influence, beauty, and bravery of these individuals.
Urgent importance permeates this documentary throughout its runtime as it expertly blends individual stories with the backdrop of an important, and dire, political and social landscape. Micheal’s internal struggle with needing to leave his home, but never leaving it fully, and always being Nigerian. The impact that money has on our lived experiences, and the horrific conditions for impoverished LGBTIQ people. The generational clashes of LGBTIQ activists, and the importance of visible LGBTIQ influencers. The tension between living your authentic self as a tool for joy and as a tool for change. And more.
Beyond its thought-provoking content, this documentary is an incredibly important resource for the continued fight for global LGBTIQ equality. Not only does it expose the human rights violations against LGBTIQ Nigerians, but it also gives a platform to these LGBTIQ trailblazers to be even more visible and inspire others.
I would highly recommend that you not only watch this documentary, but pay attention to these stories that you otherwise would not have heard, and ask yourself, “what could I be doing to help?”
Learn more about the documentary, and stream it, here.
Published on July 19, 2021 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization