Shola Amoo • Director of The Last Tree
"We are all in a heightened state of awareness about what it means to be British"
by Kaleem Aftab
- The semi-autobiographical tale The Last Tree sees Shola Amoo explore double consciousness and dual identities in Lincolnshire, London and Lagos
Is Shola Amoo the British Spike Lee? The suggestion was made in The Guardian following the release of his 2016 multimedia film, A Moving Image, which mixed fiction, documentary and animation. Playing at the Sundance Film Festival, in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, The Last Tree [+see also:
interview: Shola Amoo
film profile] is an even more personal affair, as Amoo dives into his own upbringing as a British man of Nigerian heritage in order to explore double consciousness and dual identity. Following a successful launch at Sundance, Picturehouse Entertainment bought The Last Tree for distribution in the UK.
Cineuropa: Is The Last Tree autobiographical?
Shola Amoo: Yes and no! I commend people who can make straight biographies about themselves because I don’t know how to do it. I could only enter this project knowing that this is loosely based on my life. That made me more comfortable because it wasn’t about replicating me. I know my life has informed this project in a very big way, but I still see a degree of separation, and that, for me, is a healthy way to approach it. I’m not thinking, “Does this guy do what I used to do?” No: I’m thinking, “Is it right for the character?”
The Last Tree has three very distinct parts, split in terms of time and place. What did you want to explore by doing that?
The film takes place in three distinct places – Lincolnshire, London and Lagos – and they are all very different. Our protagonist is raised in Lincolnshire by a foster parent, then comes back to his biological mother in London, and it’s really about how he navigates moving from a rural, monochromatic, white space to a multicultural, pumping London in the 2000s. It’s about how he navigates blackness as he grows into maturity, into a teen – and then Nigeria comes into the picture.
Double consciousness seems to have entered the vernacular of our time; what do you think makes it particularly pertinent today?
I think double consciousness, particularly for descendants of immigrants, is always topical. In my life, I’ve always tried to navigate the duality of what it means to be Nigerian and British, and I think that as the UK goes through some kind of identity crisis regarding what it means to be British, with Brexit and everything, we are all in a heightened state of awareness about what it means to be British – and to be the “other” as well.
How does The Last Tree deal with this identity crisis?
This film deals with a lot of duality – the duality of growing up black in London and constantly having to grow a mask, certainly in terms of how you are perceived and how you are expected to be, as opposed to who you actually are.
Why did you set the film in the noughties?
It felt like the noughties was an interesting time in London. It was a combination of the emergence of grime music and a real state of excitement in London. It was electric, and it felt like anything could happen. I still think that grime is probably the best black British export, bar some actors.
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