Original image by Paige Furness. Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner.

Why I'm Okay With Losing at the Woke Olympics.

Why I'm Okay With Losing at the Woke Olympics

'We need to think about the ways in which the 'practice' of a Woke Olympics affords us public praise, but does little to engineer a meaningful everyday politics, IRL as well as URL.'

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

I never thought I'd write this piece, but let's face it, the woke thing has gone too far. And before I'm dismissed as another inequality apologist, and shoved in a corner with Kanye West, hear me out. Increasingly, particularly in virtual communities, we are moving towards a space in which 'wokeness' is less a process of being awakened, and more an attempt to weaponize whatever philosopher you read that week (that's if you didn't just catch the Fanon sparknotes on someone else's tweet). As a person deeply engaged in political and pop culture work, I have a front row seat to the ways in which we have replaced critical thinking with old school binary oppositions; used complicated vocabulary to spin our opponents into webs of words (with little substance) and have begun to operate with a kind of smugness previously reserved for university lecturers and people who like to say "I told you so".

What does woke mean anyway?

The concept of being 'woke' has had a long evolution. The phrase 'stay woke' was originally used by playwright and novelist Barry Beckham, writing in The New York Times in 1971, talking about the influence of Marcus Garvey on his consciousness and a commitment to serving his fellow black people. In the 2010s, the term got a reboot from Childish Gambino's uber-popular track 'Redbone'. In between this, black people have and continued to think through awakening, consciousness and what it means to see the light - as reflected in the works of everyone from Frantz Fanon (I had to! The wokes love the man) to Lauryn Hill's game changer Miseducation album, to the re-reawakening soundscape of Solange's A Seat At The Table. And yet, a small group of people have increasingly reduced this evolving, complex and incomplete history to a set of aggressive attempts at performing their open minds and giant brains.

My masters research in digital media was focused on the politics which govern virtual communities like Twitter and Facebook, and it became clear that despite our early 1990s optimism about the positive impact the internet would have on our politics and quality of debate, the hope of a truly open, emancipatory internet was short lived. Instead, divisive politics and a culture of 'one upmanship' often undermine our ability to receive new ideas and think outside of what scholar Axel Bruns calls 'filter bubbles', but what is often called an echo chamber. And while us lefties are quick to dismiss right-leaning folks as insular and cut off, my research suggests that the tendency to cluster and exclude was as prevalent if not more prevalent in 'woke interests groups'.

Now that we know better, can we do better?

Ultimately, wokeness in itself is not a politics. While being woke does very rightly connote a broadly speaking leftist, pro POC, global South-inclusive way of thinking, it cannot stand on its own––because it has (in recent years at least) been built as opposition to. So, say us wokes get everything we want? What is the project thereafter? What is the politics of wokeness that we can sustain in building our new world? There is a big difference between an (important) everyday discursive politics which helps us to think, but do we know what it takes to do?

We need to consider the way in which this politics includes and excludes certain people; and the ways in which our ideas will confront our current systems which are racist, classist and generally anti-woke in nature. It is not enough to have the satisfaction that comes with being right if we have no willingness or ability to take this forward––which requires far much more work and compromise than simply muting Candace Owens or Steve Hofmeyr. I am absolutely NOT saying that it is the job of young people, Black people, the LGBTIQA+ community to think through all solutions and God forbid, to educate. But I am saying that if the only time you speak up on issues is in performance in virtual communities, and in response to, then maybe you're not as committed as you thought. I suppose a crude, but functional analogy would be the way in which women will vulnerably share their incidents of gender based violence, only for some unmoisturized man to reply "mEn GeT bEaTeN uP tOo". The point is not that violence against men is good, but rather that many of the men responding would never otherwise engage issues of violence, or advocate for men in abusive relationships. It's a performance of wokeness with a deeply abusive agenda.

Similarly, I would ask, in the absence of things to be (justifiably) frustrated by, what does the wokeness project spur us to do? Or is it increasingly becoming a kind of impotent catch-all for those of us who are maddened by our world but totally unable (and sometimes) unwilling to do the work to fix this. As such, the concept of the Woke Olympics (originally coined in a remarkable article by Maya Binyam) speaks to the fact that this brand of pseudo-politics is more label than practice, more virtual lashing than political engagement. You know the type––has a sharp and clever quip on every issue, doesn't shave their armpits, uses the term womxn instead of women because: erasure, but hasn't paid their domestic worker since the start of social distancing? We need to think about the ways in which the 'practice' of a Woke Olympics affords us public praise, but does little to engineer a meaningful everyday politics, IRL as well as URL.

You know consciousness isn't a competition right?

My second issue with the so-called Woke Olympics is the (as the phrase suggests) competitive nature of this politics. If you are an Erykah Badu-listening, Fanon-reading, Studio Ghibli-watching type, with a few more miles in the consciousness tank, you think you're a kind of alpha-woke, capable only of issuing correction, castigation and critique. You know your thinking journey is never over right? You know that even the smartest person can get it wrong?

This competitiveness is a wasted opportunity. These individuals could make meaningful contributions through their knowledge; they could act as important defenders of vulnerable groups in online communities and help to change the perception that those who know less will be shunned.

One of the main tenets of my research on South African black Twitter focused on the ways in which we signal agreement and disagreement. The sentiment analyses were clear, and ultimately disappointing. While we seem able (in individual, one-on-one) interactions to be able to be kind to those we are in disagreement with, hot group topics are treated entirely differently. The emergence of the #(Insert celebrity name)isoverparty, "disappointed but not surprised" and the daily practice of 'cancelling' all signal social and linguistic ways that we cut off people and discussions. Then there's the case of a hashtag like #CBDTwitter: a term used to reference ignorant/uneducated users, with the "CBD" bit callously making an inference those who live in the degraded inner city and former central business district. It relegates and dismisses those who think/speak differently to a category far away from us.

And sometimes, our knee jerk wokeisms backfire. In one interaction on Twitter, one user jumped to ask "Y are these women all lightskin?" [sic] on some photos that had been posted. This is a fair question if we're talking about Kenya Barris' entire body of work, most commercially successful Instagram models, or Khanyi Mbau's Instagram pics. But in this case, the colourism conversation did not apply as the original poster replied "Cause all these "women" are me ??????". This means that the user did not even so much as open the images before reaching for the woke lever (imagine the red chair on the Graham Norton Show). More and more we are seeing the aesthetic performance of woke politics in ways which are entirely empty, or purely ego-driven. Responding to this particular incident, Twitter user @JayCartere masterfully diagnosed the issue, which is this ballooning tendency towards being only "recreationally offended".

But let's be clear here, before the "All Lives Matter" or "They're such snowflakes" brigade thinks they have gained another member. I am deeply committed to spaces like Twitter and pop culture artefacts like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and A Seat At The Table albums for helping people of colour to think broadly, engage intensely amongst themselves, and aggressively shut bigots down if need be. I am here for any meaningful politics which encourages more freedom of thought, and more inclusive spaces. What I am not into is this sense that your politics can be dialled in and out of––as we respond to things we see. A tweet is not always the appropriate place to launch into a tirade, and not every pop culture misstep requires commentary.

Pop culture is not the passport to your politics.

Let's get back to basics, to key values that we can commit to, everyday, where no one sees it, and where it's not just another veiled shot at going viral.Where the only pay off is the expanding of your own consciousness and the chance to think and live better than the day before.

Binwe Adebayo is an internationally-published culture writer and Media Studies Scholar. She is interested in politics, power and pop culture and writes about art, film, books, music and design.

Photo Credit: From Taamaden

10 Upcoming African Films to Look Forward to in 2022

From Nigerian thrillers to South African documentaries, here are 10 African films we are looking forward to in 2022.

The glitzy and glamorous Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) recently returned for its 43rd edition. The eight day festival, which took place in Durban (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), featured an embarrassment of riches on the program, from around the world. The festival is a good indicator of what we can expect from African cinema for the rest of 2022.

The 10 films on this list were all screened at the festival. These films managed to stand out for reasons that have been explained below. (One of those films, Robin Odongo's Bangarang from Kenya, won the Best African Feature Film award at DIFF.)

Do not miss these movies when they come to a theater or streaming platform near you.

1960 (South Africa)

This pleasant, King Shaft directed period musical centers a heroine who may have been inspired by the life of the late South African icon Miriam Makeba. 1960 opened the Durban festival this year and set the tone for what would come after. Lindi (played by both Zandile Madliwa and Ivy Nkutha) is a singer who in her twilight days digs back into her past to shed light on the murder of an apartheid-era police officer when his remains turn up in Sharpeville some six decades after the infamous massacre of 1960.

African Moot (South Africa​)

There are plenty reasons to be hopeful for the future of the continent. According to Shameela Seedat’s African Moot, the educated youth are leading the way. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a group of bright law students who are participating in the annual African Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Seedat, a human rights law specialist turned filmmaker, heads to the University of Botswana with her subjects. Her film details the interesting ways the students approach the fictional case of a people crossing fictional African borders to escape oppression.

​Bangarang (Kenya)

Inspired by true events, Robin Odongo’s chaotic feature expounds on an earlier short film. Bangarang’s protagonist, Otile (David Weda) is a graduate of engineering who has failed to secure decent employment a decade after university. He makes a meagre living as a bike rider instead. When election violence erupts after the disputed Kenyan presidential elections of 2007, an embittered Otile leads rioters on the streets of Kisumu. Before long, he is on the run from the law, accused of murder.

Collision Course (Nigeria)

A frustrated young man collides with the brutal power of the police force. Can a tormented official stop the descent into carnage? The third feature length title from Nigerian director Bolanle Austen-Peters (The Bling Lagosians, The Man of God) is a propulsive thriller set over the course of 24-hours. Starring Daniel Etim Effiong and Kelechi Udegbe, Collision Course digs into the underbelly of urban crime, law enforcement gone rogue, and the desperate victims that suffer the consequences.

The Crossing (La Traversee) (Burkina Faso)

After years in Italy, Djibi returns to his native Burkina Faso and begins to mentor a group of young people whose sole purpose is to leave for Europe. Djibi prepares them for this crossing through a tasking physical and intellectual program that helps bring them personal achievement and may end up neutering their resolve to migrate. Can he make this difference? Irène Tassembédo’s social drama embraces the complicated nature of the immigration experience.

Lesotho, the Weeping Motherland (South Africa)

Told interchangeably between South Africa and Lesotho, this Lwazi Duma-directed documentary engages with the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector, a key income earner in the region. Duma follows Khethisa Mabata as he attempts to revive his father’s farm. The film uses Mabata’s personal story as an entry point into the larger national crisis that has taken Lesotho from a thriving food basket to one suffering extreme drought.

Skeletons (South Africa)

Conceived as an experiment in theatre-making during the COVID-19 lockdowns, this magical realist expression was re-written for film and now sits somewhere as a hybrid between theatre and film. Set in the heart of the Maluti mountains, Skeletons grapples with the issue of land and ownership as told through the lives of four characters. In an environment of scarcity, these four people wrestle to break free from the vicious cycle of oppression. Skeletons confronts notions of home, belonging, and identity.

Streams (Tunisia)

Amel, a married Tunis factory worker is imprisoned on charges of adultery and prostitution following an assault. Upon release, she attempts to put back the pieces of her life and reconnect with her teenage son whose life was derailed by the scandal. Director Mehdi Hmili comments on the decay, contradictions, and hypocrisies of contemporary Tunisian society with this engaging drama about the breakdown of a working-class family and the state’s unwillingness to protect the vulnerable.

Taamaden (Cameroon)

In Taamaden, Mali-born filmmaker Seydou Cissé paints a uniquely intimate portrait of immigration and zeroes in on spirituality. Taamaden, which is the Bambara word for traveler or adventurer, presents two different points of view. The first is that of Bakary, a young Malian preparing for yet another attempt at crossing over to Europe. The other is a motley crew of West African immigrants struggling to survive in Spain. They are united by their ties to their spiritual clairvoyant.

You’re My Favorite Place (South Africa)

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka (Of Good Report, Knuckle City) is one of the most exciting and original cinematic voices on the continent. His latest, which closed the Durban film festival, is a change of pace attempt that also carries some of Qubeka’s slick imprint. On the last day of high school, the young heroine of You’re My Favorite Place and her three friends embark on an unforgettable road trip. They steal a car and head to the remote Hole in the Wall, a landmark that according to Xhosa legend, enables communication with the dead.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

An Inside Look Into the Underground Queer Party Scene in Nigeria

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and has been forced to go underground.

A few minutes before midnight on a June evening, there was a line of people attempting to gain access to an unmarked apartment block in Lekki Phase 1 — a suburban neighborhood in Lagos State. To the uninitiated, it was a regular house party in the heart of Lagos Island, which is populated with young people in their 20s. For the attendees who had a flier on their phones and a passcode on their lips, this was an event they had looked forward to for weeks. When they arrived at the doors, they were all asked for a passcode which transported them into a vibrant pulsing party which had drag queens walking across the room and men in shorts that barely went past their crutches gyrating on other men while afrobeats blared. Welcome to queer nightlife in Nigeria where, on weekends, apartments turn into gay clubs, barred with passcode-guarding doors to protect against homophobes.

Party people hugging each other

Secret house parties, discrete raves, and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular amongst young queer Nigerians.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Across the country, especially in the big cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, lounges, clubs, and bars dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community have started sprouting despite legislation that makes it illegal for them to exist. In 2014, the Nigerian government passed the highly controversial and homophobic Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Despite the name, the law would go on to criminalize many other aspects of queer existence and not just marriage between people of the same sex. The far-reaching law criminalized queer social spaces, groups that advocate for queer rights, and even individuals advocating and supporting queer rights. The law also went on to prescribe a prison term that could go up to 14 years for those who were found guilty of these crimes in southern Nigeria. However, in Northern and mostly Muslim Nigeria, where Shariah law takes pre-eminence, these crimes could lead to death by stoning. While there isn’t an extensive record of people being found guilty for these crimes in Nigeria, these laws emboldened many homophobic mobs who took the laws into their hands and would beat individuals who they identified as queer and destroy spaces and parties that they suspected were hosted by or for queer people. One of the most infamous instances was a 2018 case where 57 men were arrested at a party in Lagos under the suspicion of being initiated into a gay club. While this particular case garnered significant press coverage as the men were made to go to trial, it is far from being the only case of its kind. It is fairly common for the police to raid suspected queer parties to arrest everyone in sight — often with little to no proof of the suspects being gay.

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria has been forced to go underground. Bars and clubs are left behind for parties in apartments. Recent years have seen a resurgence in the public profile of queer nightlife in Nigeria — partly thanks to a rise of resistance against oppressive systems within Nigeria that have been supported and have originated on social media, more queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria. Secret house parties, discrete raves and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst young queer Nigerians. Creative collectives like hFactor and Pride in Lagos have pushed the narrative even further by organizing pride-specific events and raves in Lagos over the last few years.

Man making out with man

"‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties."

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

‘‘My first time at a queer party in Nigeria was in 2021. A friend invited me to a hFactor event and It was such an experience,’ Peju, a 23-year-old bisexual man tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties. Guys were grinding on guys, girls were flirting with girls. There wasn’t a need to pretend to be something I’m not.’’

However, attending these events comes with specific risks. Guests often took precautions — attending the parties with friends, letting their friends who weren’t there know where they were at and confirming there were accessible exits at all times. For many of these attendees, they may have never had to use those themselves but they know of people or at least have heard of people who have had to. Tamuno, a 31-year-old gay man, tells me of a near-capture experience when he had gone to a party in Port Harcourt in 2020.

‘‘There was this party that happened weekly. It became kind of popular and more queer people started coming. What we didn’t account for was that neighbors had realized it was full of queer people,’ Tamuno said. ‘‘One day, we were all at the party and they surrounded the house. Some of us managed to escape, others weren’t as lucky. I wasn't lucky.’’ Tamuno recounts that after being taunted and shamed and then stripped to their boxers for a relatively long time, the police then came. ‘‘The police coming to carry us was what saved us because then my brother, who I called, was able to bribe them to let us go. Whenever I think about what would happen if the police hadn’t come, I experience a full body shudder.’’

a group of people taking photos

Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to these parties.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

To help combat this, organizers of these events prioritize security and the safety of their guests. It is important that attendees feel safe from homophobic attacks from civilians and the armed forces. To achieve this, organizers have learned to deploy multiple guards.

‘‘Everyone’s safety is a priority to me and this means that multiple channels of security are constantly put in place to help safeguard our guests.’’ Kayode Timileyin, one of the organizers of Pride In Lagos tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘The first of which is the fact that all our events are only by a registration and verification process. Also, external security guards are made available. Lastly, we go all out to look for a real safe space.’’

It doesn’t end at just verifying the identities of the guests. Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to the location. This might mean generating a password only verified guests are given or keeping the exact location — and sometimes even date — a secret and only given to the verified guests. For these organizers, these security measures are put in place, not against potential miscreants or robbers but instead to keep off the police force and homophobes.

woman wearing black smiling

Despite dangers, the queer nightlife scene is bustling and thriving.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

The underground nightlife scene in Lagos is bustling and thriving — despite the laws that criminalize it and the constant danger. This illustrates the spirit of resilience amongst queer Nigerians who choose to reach for any semblance of freedom they can find even if it is on the dance floor for just a night.

‘‘My experience getting arrested traumatized me. It scared me. I was getting beaten, and paraded and I was so scared that they would kill me. But they didn’t so of course, I’ll party again," Tamuno said. ‘‘I still go to these parties and I’ll still keep going. It’s not that I’m scared. It’s just that when I’m on the dance floor surrounded by other queer men, I feel like my true self. I feel happy. I feel content. And that’s what I want out of life. If I die because I am seeking that, that’s fine.’’

a group of friends taking a photo

More queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Kelvyn Boy On Becoming One of Afrobeats’ Leading Stars

The Ghanaian singer narrates how his latest single "Down Flat" has accelerated the trajectory of his career.

Kelvyn Boy is one of the leading afrobeats hitmakers from Ghana. Since his official debut in 2017 under singer Stonebwoy’s record label imprint Burniton Music Group, the talented singer, songwriter, and performer has consistently dished out hit after hit. From the sentimental midtempo ballad “Na You” to the gritty afropop cut “Mea” to his Mugeez and Darkovibes-assisted smash hit “Momo”, with every new release Kelvyn Boy has established his profile as one of the West African nation’s top afrobeats acts.

Fast forward to January 2022, Kelvyn Boy drops his most recent single “Down Flat," an infectious afrobeats single produced by Nigerian producer KullBoiBeatz, and the song has been immensely successful. “Down Flat” has held the number one spot on Apple Music’s “Top 100: Ghana” playlist, hit number 10 on Billboard’s “Worldwide Digital Song Sales” chart, just a couple of out several other accolades the song has landed in the few short months since its release.

The effect of the song’s success has already kicked in, with the singer in London, United Kingdom as I speak to him, which is one of the early stops of his current world tour. “Down Flat” is currently the biggest song of his career so far, and even Kelvyn Boy himself didn’t see it coming. “Some of the great things that happen are unpredictable and unplanned. I didn’t really see it coming” he explained. “Everyone believes in himself or herself. I have that belief and that feeling already when I’m making every song. If it’s not right, I won't sing it. But I didn’t see it coming as quick as it did, and I didn’t know it would get to this level. I knew it was gonna be big, but honestly it got out of hand.”

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Interview: Director K Is Making Historic Music Videos For Afrobeats & Beyond

The 28-year-old director behind the "Essence" music video (and many more) tells us about his come-up, inspirations and working with the biggest stars in the game like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, and more.

African music is sprouting into dominance with the upswing of genres such as Amapiano and Afrobeats across dance floors, day parties, festivals, and gatherings across the globe. Among the ranks of directors curating the visual interpretation of African music; Director K, born Qudus Olaiwola, is an oft-tranquil figure that has charted a lane separate from his contemporaries.

Starting off in the perpetually bristling clusters of Surelere, Lagos, Nigeria as a phone repairer at his uncle’s workshop, Director K’s curiosity shoveled him into believing he could shoot videos on his iPhone. “I used to go super crazy on iPhones, I used to make iPhones do stuff that you couldn’t normally do,” he tells OkayAfrica nostalgically.

Raised in the hovels of Shitta, Surulere, and Lagos — home to Afrobeats trailblazer Wizkid—Director K found a neighborhood artist called C.O. Decoast, and tested his hands at music video directing off the lens of his iPhone. “It wasn’t anything big. It was just something in the hood that I shot with a few people."

Now, in the parking lot of a lush apartment in Lekki, Lagos, Director K regales me with stories of his journey while walking me towards a modest swimming pool. The Creative Arts dropout has had his work nominated for Video Of The Year at the Soul Train Awards, and he has won an NACCP Image Award and Best Music Video at Nigeria’s most-prestigious awards show, The Headies.

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