The Nigerian-Canadian filmmaker gained critical acclaim with his debut film while highlighting a divisive issue in the U.S. immigration debate.
Filmmaker Lonzo Nzekwe on the set of his film Anchor Baby with actress Omoni Oboli. (Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Kruschel)
For his film debut, Anchor Baby, first-time filmmaker Lonzo Nzekwe tackled volatile issues surrounding immigration while making sure to spotlight fresh talent from his birthplace of Nigeria.
The former music producer knew that the pejorative term anchor baby — a child born in the U.S. to immigrant parents, whose birth might grant citizenship — would serve as a rich base for a universal story on humanity, regardless of the viewer's race or nationality.
“Sometimes we want to make films that are exciting and big in the box office,” Nzekwe told BET.com. “But sometimes we also want to make movies that have soul to it, some type of primal effect.”
Casting a wide range of actors from the U.S. and the Nollywood scene, Nzekwe shot the film in 13 days and looked to the Internet as a primary distribution source. The film’s universal appeal was confirmed when it cinched two awards from the 2010 Harlem International Film Festival, including the award for Best Film.
“With the way I made the movie, I felt like the story is something that needed to be shown around the world,” he said. “It is a story that anyone can relate to regardless of race, regardless of cultural background.”
BET.com spoke with Nzekwe about his decision to focus on a controversial topic, the similarities between Anchor Baby and Fruitvale and how he feels being the first Nigerian filmmaker to have a film on iTunes.
BET.com: So what inspired you to make your first film about anchor babies?
Lonzo Nzekwe: Anchor baby was a term that I had heard being thrown around in the media. Once you are born by immigrants, whether illegal or not, you are somehow considered an anchor baby. It’s like using a slur word on an individual. I wanted to kind of shed light on the people, the kids who are the victims in this type of situation.
Did you consult any couples or any individuals to get a firsthand experience on the issue?
Well, I didn’t have to go far because I’m originally Nigerian and a Canadian citizen. During the civil war in Nigeria, my parents relocated to the United Kingdom and had two of my elder brothers over there. So, in the actual term, they would be people who are considered anchor babies. There are a lot of people who might be considered an anchor baby and not even know it.
It’s in the news every day. You hear about mothers or parents that have been sent back to Mexico but they end up leaving their kids behind. If you get to watch the entire movie, it’s not just about an African couple. It’s a story about a bunch of immigrants from different parts of the world. It’s about human beings and how we relate to each other.
How have audiences worldwide responded to the film given the controversial subject matter?
I’ll tell you something funny that happened to me recently. I went and watched Fruitvale Station two or three days ago. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was not expecting my reaction at the end of the movie. I don’t even know how to explain it. I was totally torn apart after watching the movie and seeing what happened to the kid.
Now, when people get to watch my movie, they have almost the same type of reaction. Anchor Baby is a real human story. It’s not about special effects. We’re not pulling punches in my movie. After watching Fruitvale Station, I kind of now realize how people reacted to my story because my story has a very powerful ending. It’s not something that I can explain or else it would give the ending away. But if you watch the movie, you’ll understand.
How does it feel to be the first Nigerian filmmaker to feature his film on iTunes?
Being on iTunes is just a normal thing that needs to happen. A lot of filmmakers from Nigeria, they’ll make a film and they’ll put it out on DVD. A lot of people are skeptical or scared to put their movies online because they’re scared of it being bootlegged or something. I come from a background where I understand the Internet. I understand the fact that if you don’t make your movies available to people, people are not going to find it.
What I did was I took it upon myself to make sure that I put it on all the credible video on demand platforms out there. Since then, I have not seen my movie being bootlegged. But, I’m not just the only Nigerian that makes great films. If you go to iTunes now you’re going to see a couple other Nigerian filmmakers that have their movies on there. Part of that is to kind of push the Nigerian film industry forward just to show that we can put our hats in the ring and show that Nigerians can make good films. We have to present our projects to the world so that we can help narrow the gap.
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