The Legend of the Underground
By Brian Costello,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Powerful docu about discrimination in Nigeria; violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Documentary highlights the struggle of Nigerians who have been persecuted in a country that has criminalized and harshly oppressed homosexuality. The importance of staying true to who you are, no matter what.
Positive Role Models
Subjects interviewed in this documentary are people who don't conform to traditional gender and sex roles in Nigeria who face persecution from the government and constant harassment from the citizens of this conservative country, and yet, through activism and social media platforms, fight back in order to live their lives in freedom.
Violence & Scariness
Handheld camera footage shows men accused of being homosexual by police officers being harassed and shamed by these officers, forced to remove their clothes while they're mocked. Some men are dragged and beaten. Gunshots in some footage resulting in injury. Talk of suicide. Talk of hate crimes committed against those believed to be LGBTQI. One of the subjects being interviewed shows the cyberbullying comments in their Instagram feed, including threats of physical violence. A man slaps someone who they allege used a homosexual slur against them.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Talk of hooking up, anal sex. During a "Mr. Ideal Nigerian" pageant, men walk around the catwalk wearing nothing but white briefs.
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Interview subjects talk of being subjected to homosexual slurs. Also: "f--k," "bulls--t," "bitch," "piss," "hell." Middle finger gesture.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Wine and cocktail drinking at a reception. Brief shot of a man who might be smoking a joint or a cigarette.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Legend of the Underground is a 2021 documentary about people who don't conform to traditional gender and sex roles in Nigeria, where homosexuality is a crime punishable by long prison sentences. We see violent footage of gunshots fired on those believed to be gay, of a man forced to take off his feminine clothes by police officers while they mock him. One of the interview subjects discusses the cyberbullying they endure, and shows the hateful comments they receive on their Instagram comments. Homosexual slurs used. Some profanity, including "f--k." During the "Mr. Ideal Nigerian" pageant, men walk across a catwalk dressed only in tight white underwear. Besides cyberbullying, interview subjects talk of the harassment they've received from police and people on the street, as well as the shunning and disowning they suffered from their families. This documentary shows the tremendous bravery of those who face the threats of harsh prison sentences and daily harassment simply for trying to be who they are, and how activism and social media platforms of these interview subjects are turning the tide against the forces of hatred.
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The Legend of the Underground
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What's the Story?
THE LEGEND OF THE UNDERGROUND takes a look at people who don't conform to traditional gender and sex roles in Nigeria, a country where homosexuality is a crime punishable by harsh prison sentences. We meet activists and exiles like Mikael Ighodaro, who fled Nigeria to live in freedom in the United States while also working to bring international attention to what's happening in Nigeria. We also meet those who have chosen to remain in Nigeria, like "World Famous" James Brown, a flamboyant dancer who becomes a viral sensation on the internet after telling the media "they didn't caught [sic] me" during a mass arrest of those believed to be committing homosexual acts at a party. He uses his internet fame to own and celebrate his identity, despite facing intense cyberbullying and hatred from citizens on the street. The movie makes the distinction that only those who are caught in the middle of homosexual acts face prison time, and that dressing in ways that run counter to conservative notions of gender isn't illegal, but these people still face intense bullying from those around them, and rejection from family members. In spite of the pain and suffering, the documentary shows the value of community to effect change for the better, and how important it is to be who you are, no matter what.
Is It Any Good?
This is a gut-wrenching, powerful, and inspiring documentary on being true to oneself despite persecution from others. The Legend of the Underground is a documentary that looks at people who don't conform to traditional gender and sex roles in Nigeria, a country where homosexuality is a crime punishable by fourteen years in prison. In fact, the documentary shows what happens when men accused of homosexuality are arrested and await trial, and how that alone can ruin lives, or force them into exile. And yet, in the midst of this conservative country's oppression from the government and churches, and the bullying and cyberbullying of its citizens, what emerges through all of this ugliness is a celebration of individuality and bravery in the face of so much persecution.
It's a documentary that highlights the power of activism to bring change, and how social media can be used as a force for good. The documentary doesn't sugarcoat the difficult choices these men face between living in exile in a faraway country such as the United States or remaining in Nigeria and facing the constant threat of arrest. It also shows the power of community -- locally and globally -- to turn the tide against the forces of hatred, and how the idea of family can take on a whole new meaning when one's biological family has chosen to reject one of its own because of who they are. Despite the painful loss and difficulties shown in the documentary, there's an understated optimism that runs throughout the course of it, as well as a technicolor celebration of individuality, no matter the cost.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about documentaries like The Legend of the Underground. How does this compare to other documentaries you've seen?
How does the documentary convey information about Nigeria and the stories of those being interviewed? What did you learn, and where could you go to learn more?
What are some of the positive messages of this documentary? Who are the positive role models? What character strengths do they have?
- On DVD or streaming: June 29, 2021
- Cast: Denrele Edun, World Famous James Brown
- Director: Giselle Bailey
- Studio: HBO
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 3, 2022
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