“For me, film is a powerful tool to tell insightful, educating, entertaining stories. Also, it mirrors life and society, so I love to keep it that way…”
By Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku
It’s only a few days since his latest project, When Are We Getting Married?, premiered, and the reviews are gradually pouring in, but director Diji Aderogba is physically far away from the attention. It’s been about a year since he relocated to the United Kingdom, but he’s excited about his work in Nollywood and eager to do more. From his London home, he gets on a Zoom meeting with Afrocritik. His easygoingness is contagious. When I introduce myself, he feels the need to do the same. “My name is Diji Aderogba. I’m a filmmaker and photographer.” “And Twitter influencer,” I jokingly add. He smiles, “You can say that.”
The Art of Going Viral on Social Media
The filmmaker-cum-photographer-cum-content creator went viral sometime in late October, 2022 for a tweet that had the entire Internet sharing hilarious and occasionally sad personal stories. “How did you know you weren’t going to get the job during your job interview?” Aderogba had asked. The tweet gained so much traction on Twitter and even crossed to other media platforms, with everybody from blogs to social media content creators participating.
(Read also: How Artists Are Promoting African Culture and Heritage through Digital Media)
As of December, social media users from all over the world were still creating content around the question and more Twitter questions from him were going viral. As an outsider looking in, especially one who had been fascinated by Aderogba’s earnest Twitter personality way before October, it felt good to see him get to a larger audience. For the When Are We Getting Married? director, it felt good, too. “Erm, I don’t even know if that’s [Twitter fame] a thing, but I know I have a large following on Twitter, and that’s a result of constant career and work push on that app. Also, personally, I get too serious with what to post, what not to post, who to reply and what to reply. But yes, it feels good to know some people are actually following your journey just by being a follower.I love being on Twitter because it’s my safe space to tweet what I want. I can’t say why it’s that, but sure, it’s always fun interacting with people from different places around the world.”
What I appreciate the most about Aderogba’s Twitter questions is that they encourage people to tell stories. For a person who is passionate about filmmaking, it seems very deliberate. He tells me that coming up with these questions is easy. “I just think about some experiences I have had and I’d love to hear from others, too,” he says.“First time I asked such question, the turnout was mad, and I wasn’t surprised because I knew people would be quick to share such story.”
~ How did you know you weren’t going to get the job during your job interview?
Share your story 😂
— Diji The Great. (@directordiji) October 29, 2022
Finding Opportunities with Social Media
Aderogba has always used his social media to put his work out there. It’s particularly interesting how he uses his skills to position himself as a worthy brand influencer and digital marketer. Most notable is his street photography which got him a partnership with Infinix. “I put out a tweet saying I’d love to partner with a phone brand to take pictures.” A few retweets and comments later, many of them tagging Infinix Nigeria’s Twitter account, a new Infinix phone was being shipped to him in the UK. “I got a dm from them. After discussing with them, they sent me their newest phone ‘Infinix Zero Ultra’ and I created beautiful pictures for the brand. Happy that happened.”
It’s opportunities like this that validate his belief in the art of pitching oneself. In a future tweet, Aderogba would call on his followers to “shoot their shots” at people and brands they would like to work with. A decent number of commentators would get favourable responses, including from names like Biodun Stephen and Lateef Adedimeji. At this point, Aderogba’s Twitter account might as well be a public utility.
Telling Conscious Stories Onscreen
But Aderogba is making his impact off Twitter as well. As a filmmaker, he is also telling important Nigerian stories onscreen. In 2017, he wrote, produced and directed To Be a Child Again, a short film about child labour and child education. In 2018, heproduced Hidden Euphoria, a short documentary that captures life in the slums of Makoko. The documentary earned a Best Documentary nomination at the 2020 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA).His 2019 short, Tosin, is a psychological thriller that explores death, grief and getting help on the journey to healing. Even Ghana Jollof, the Bright “Basketmouth” Okpocha comedy series which Aderogba directed for Showmax and which is arguably his most commercial project, has a few things to say about adulting, cultural diversity, and the search for greener pastures.
Making conscious films matters very much to Aderogba. Anybody who has seen his short films can attest to that.He wants his films to say something to people, to pass a message.“I have always been a fan of telling conscious stories because I grew up watching a lot of them and also learnt from filmmakers that made and still make alot of those films.” In the past, he has spoken about learning filmmaking under Tunde Kelani, the acclaimed Nigerian filmmaker with more than four decades worth of exemplary films under his belt. In our conversation, the Tosin director hints at the veteran’s impact on him. “I learned filmmaking under a conscious filmmaker,” he recalls in passing. “For me, film is a powerful tool to tell insightful, educating, entertaining stories. Also, it mirrors life and society, so I love to keep it that way. I have told stories on mental health, child abuse and education, rape, domestic violence, child trauma, etc. I definitely hope to do more as time goes on.”
(Read also: From Modelling to Acting, Dark October’s Chuks Joseph Charts His Transition to Nollywood)
What to Know About His Latest Project
Aderogba’s latest production is a YouTube web series he directed for RedTV, titled When Are We Getting Married? The series is a minimalist romantic comedy about a couple playing house while dealing with adulthood, love and everything in-between. Produced by Kayode Kasum (Kambili, Obara’m, Ile Owo) and Olufemi Bamigbetan (The Men’s Club), the series features Ile Owo star, Immaculata Oko-Kasum and musician, Ric Hassani as lovers who move in together despite having different aspirations as regards marriage. On one hand, Fenwa (Hassani) is sceptical about marriage and content with living together as partners; on the other, Edith (Oko-Kasum) is eager to start a family, but only within a conventional marital union. Unlike many web series that prioritise entertainment, When Are We Getting Married? also has its cast asking tough questions about love, marriage, sex, child bearing, tolerance, compromises, communication, gender roles, and religious faith.
When Aderogba got the script for When Are We Getting Married?, he didn’t need more than the first episode and half of the second to convince him that he wanted to be part of it. Now, he’s being applauded for his work on the series, but he wants to call attention to the rest of the cast and crew for “the best” production experience. “Everyone came prepared and ready to do the work. They made the work easy for me and everyone else on set. Honestly, that’s one of the best productions I have ever had. Now that it’s out, everyone is proud of the outcome. Love, love it!”
He’s particularly full of praise for Ife Olujuyigbe, the show’s screenwriter. It’s her screenplay, after all, that is triggering most of the conversations around the show — conversations that Aderogba, himself, is very proud of. On YouTube, specifically in the show’s comment section, many viewers have relationship takes. Fans are spotting red flags, rendering advice, and sharing their own stories. “Ife wrote a good story. From the moment I read the script, I was happy to have been given the script to direct. The conversations? Pure! Relatable! Nah, she really did the work, and I will keep giving her the flowers she deserves,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “To know more, kindly go on YouTube to watch.”
(Read also: Phillip Leteka is on a Mission to Build a Thriving Film Industry in Lesotho: In Conversation)
What’s Coming Next?
Coming next is his feature directorial debut, About a Boy, a psychological thriller about a writer and his muse, starring Chimezie Imo as the lead. The film screened at the Nollywood Week Film Festival, 2021 in Paris where it won the covetedPrix du Public Award — the Audience Award. It was also an official selection at the Direct Monthly Online Film Festival (DMOFF). With this film, it took only a few pages of the script to convince him to sign on. “No cap, but About a Boy is one of the best films anyone will see when it comes out. A lot of people will definitely relate to the story and, hopefully, seek help after watching. I had fun directing this even though it was a rollercoaster time on set for me. People should expect a different story.”
As the director, he’s probably watched the film more times than anyone else. But he wants to watch it again, this time, with other people. It’s a production he’s clearly passionate about, especially because of how it explores childhood trauma. He guarantees that it will speak to people who have similar stories, people who suffered trauma as children. “It’s provocative,” he says confidently, “it provokes emotion.”
It’s been nearly two years since About a Boy screened at Nollywood Film Week, but it’s yet to become available for a larger audience to view. The director explains that it’s in the hands of the producers and the executives. “About a Boy is definitely not a cinema film; they are trying to get it to a VOD platform.” As of now, there is no information as to when it will be released or what streaming platform it will be released through, but the expectation is that it’ll be available to stream before 2023 ends.
Regardless of where and when his award-winning feature will be released, or how it is received, it’s certain that “Director Diji” has a promising Nollywood career ahead of him.Of course, there’s the challenge of being a Nollywood professional and living outside the industry’s home country, butit helps that he’s already found some footing in Nollywood. In fact, this year, he might have another project — in addition to When Are We Getting Married? and About a Boy — hitting our screens. Titled Laces, the upcoming project is a series thatfollows a young lady trying to make her way in Lagos. It stars names like Lilian Afegbai, Tina Mba, Jide “JBlaze” Oyegbile, Daniel Etim-Effiong, and Mr. Macaroni. Again, it’s up to the executives to determine when the series will be released, but the team is working towards getting it to a streaming platform this year.
I ask the award-winning director if he plans on getting into filmmaking in the UK. While he has nothing planned yet, he definitely has it in mind. “For now, I’m doing everything good that comes my way just to build connections and also see how the industry works here.” Aderogba hopes to direct and produce his first short film in the UK soon.” He realises that he has to take it slow, but he remains positive about it. “If I can do it in Nigeria,” he says,“I can do it here.”
(When Are We Getting Married? is streaming on YouTube here.)
Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku, a film critic, writer and lawyer, writes from Lagos. Connect with her on Twitter @Nneka_Viv and Instagram @_vivian.nneka