Nigerian actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was ‘farmed out’ to foster parents in 1970s Essex to improve his prospects. It did not go well, as he shows in his directing debut, Farming
There are some stories that, though they wait half a lifetime, must get told. Seven years ago, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gave an interview to this paper in which he talked about his autobiographical film, Farming, which was then about to go into production after a dramatised reading of the script had headlined a Sundance festival promotion in London. At the time the actor was enjoying a measure of Hollywood fame for his role in the cult TV series Lost. Farming, which he had then already been writing and developing for nearly a decade, explored a real-life mystery: it was the incredible story of how he, a young Nigerian boy raised by white foster parents in 1970s Tilbury, Essex, had forged an identity for himself in a violently racist local skinhead gang, and lived to tell the tale.
The film, which eventually premiered at the Toronto festival last year, goes on wider release this month. It both dramatises a brutal and moving coming-of-age and shines a light on a little-known chapter in the story of race relations in Britain: the practice that led to thousands of Nigerian children like Akinnuoye-Agbaje being ‘farmed out’ to British families in that period. When I met its creator last week in London, I suggested that having the film out in the world must produce many emotions in him, but I imagined that, given its long gestation, one of the primary ones is relief.