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'A Nasty Boy' Is the Gender-Noncomforming Magazine Turning Nigerian Conservatism On Its Head

We speak with the creator of 'A Nasty Boy' magazine, the publication widening definitions of masculinity in Nigeria.

Actively challenging social expectations around gender and sexuality is a groundbreaking act in and of itself. Creating an outlet solely dedicated to this mission—in a place like Nigeria—is radical.

Nigeria's conservatism and wide-spread sexual intolerance is well documented. It's a country where 'homosexuality' is more than just "frowned upon"—it's punishable by jail. None of this has prevented Lagos-based journalist and publisher, Richard Akuson, who we first connected with back in 2014 upon the release of his lookbook "My Dark Twisted Fantasy," from creating A Nasty Boy, a high-fashion magazine vehemently pushing for inclusion in Nigeria. The negative attitudes that exist around sexuality and gender identity have only propelled the journalist, turned PR agent, turned publisher to move further into his passion of telling diverse stories.

We spoke to the Akuson about the creation of A Nasty Boy magazine. He tells us that though he's faced some opposition, he's also gained supporters in his mission to broaden representation in his home country.

Read our conversation below.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Damola Durosomo for OkayAfrica: What prompted you to start A Nasty Boy magazine? 

Richard Akuson: It was a culmination of several things. First, my personal experience growing up, and that of people that I know, my friends. The amount of bigotry that I noticed in Nigerian media. I would look at certain publications and the comments section would be so hateful. These many things came together to push me towards this.

How did you come up with the name A Nasty Boy?

To be honest, there was no epiphany. I really just wanted a name that would stick. I wanted a name that would linger, one that would be disarming. Besides having the courage to start the publication finding the right name was the second hardest thing, because I kept coming up with so many different names, but I would check 'name feed' and it would say 'this name is already taken.' So it took a lot of time, but once I came up with it, I ran it by a few of my friends and I just waited to see how they would react to it. A lot of them were puzzled for a second, like 'what is that?' It was that thing that I could see come over them that I found most interesting, and I just had the gut feeling that it had to be that.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

What made you take the leap from being a journalist to creating your very own outlet?

There were so many times when I would pitch stories, and you know, Nigeria is a very conservative country—pretentious as well—so a lot of topics were off the table and considered taboo. I always thought that fashion could do more than look beautiful and elegant, I always felt like we could actually question society. We could push for more.

Thankfully I was with a publication that allowed me this free range, and so I could work a lot, but what I realized was that in the comments section you would see a lot of people calling out the publisher like "how dare you allow Richard to push a 'gay agenda'" and stuff like that. Each time I tell this story, I always think about a story that I wrote about EJ Johnson, and how I thought that his wardrobe could inspire a lot of our reader's wardrobe. In the story I applauded his style, and the readers weren't having it. There were a lot of comments like "oh no he's pushing a gay agenda full on."

There was another time where I did an experiment and wore hot pants, and besides the fact that I got lots of stares and [rude] remarks, when I decided to snap a few pictures and talk about that experience on the publication, again, the comments section was something else. So I left and decided to go into PR because at that point I was like, you know what, I really can't joyfully express what I feel without being called out.

So I got into PR and did a bit of PR for fashion, I started a blog as well, and I found myself going back to the same types of stories. I did one where I had makeup on my face. I kept going back to these same things.

There was a time when I told myself that I was not going to comment [on negativity]. I told myself that a lot of people see things and they keep quiet, why can't I be one of them? So there was a lot of back-and-forth, but eventually I came around to doing it.

Photo by Wavy The Creator.

I know the publication has gotten a lot of attention from Western media, but what's the response been like on the ground in Nigeria?

The international press started coming in June, with Hunger Magazine and then CNN. Thankfully, we've gotten a lot of press features. It's been tremendous. I was reading an interview, that Bryanboy did with Fashionista.com where he said: "There's always this weird feeling at the back of the head like how long are we going to last, how long are we going to be in this? Are we going to be part of the history books, did we actually make a change or a difference in the industry? It feels like we're scamming people and the sham is going to end tomorrow."

I always just felt like, "Oh this is just going to be for a bit of time," after a month everyone is going to get tired and then they'll get back to business as usual. But it's amazing that enterprise keeps coming, and it's beautiful having our story told to a global audience—you know you can never have enough of that.

But that being said, when we started out, a lot of Nigerian publications were bashing us. A lot of people didn't understand what it was for. Even when I tried approaching a few investors they were like, "How necessary is this? This is not fully necessary, can't you do a regular publication like any other person? Yes it can be high fashion but it doesn't have to push for any sort of agenda." That sort of thing. I always responded that A Nasty Boy isn't pushing any particular agenda, we're about inclusion and diversity, and that's a very wide spectrum that includes so many things—so many aspects of the human existence. We're just saying that exclusionary narratives and singular narratives are not the way forward. We should broaden our minds and allow ourselves to understand other people's stories, and appreciate that. But once we started getting the press, people started warming up. Particularly there was a publication that did a story on us, and it wasn't the most pleasant story, but after the CNN story, they literally did another full piece where it was all praises and stuff, and I just could not understand why the sudden change in their point of view.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

But now, things have changed, we have a growing community and A Nasty Boy has expanded. Initially, I always imagined that our readers were going to be only Nigerians, I didn't think that we'd have readers from America, from the U.K., from South Africa, from Ghana and Brazil. Just knowing that our stories are globally appealing and that we have readers from all these other countries, it really goes a long way. We very much have Nigerian readers, 40 percent of our readers are Nigerian actually, and so I see that there's a community. Sometimes, I'm here in Lagos, and I'll go to dinner, or I'll go to a party and people introduce me like, "Oh that's Richard from A Nasty Boy."

It's a community and it's growing everyday, and I couldn't be more appreciative.There are still the negative responses, but I've chosen to dwell on the positive, and the good things we're doing and how it's impacting all sorts of lives, as oppose to bothering myself with the negative that does no good.

Where does your motivation to keep the publication going come from? 

Getting to meet the people who are reading our stories, and actually following every single thing we do. You cannot begin to imagine how much it means to me just seeing that. Whenever I start to feel tired, I'm like no, literally the reaction on that person's face, the last time I saw the person, was priceless. That alone pushes me. I can't say, "Oh no the Western attention doesn't do good," it does in the sense that now I know our stories can be told, and that they appeal just as much to a Nigerian as they do to an American, and they're not just visiting once but they're returning just to see what the updates are.

We get emails from Nigerians and non-Nigerians and a lot of creatives, and because we've made it a point to only work with emerging talent, just getting to see how excited they are when the receive an email from us. Or if it's a DM from a Nigerian celebrity who in some way has pushed for gender equality. I woke up to a DM and I couldn't believe it. They were like, 'Let's make magic. There's no way you can say no to me. If you do I will jump of a bridge." There was such gratitude in his message. In my mind I was like "hold on" [laughs]. Just seeing how very excited people are about the prospect of working with us—that alone is just beautiful. The positive responses that we keep getting is motivation enough to encourage us to do more.

Photo by Wavy The Creator.

Going forward, what kind of content can we expect to see from the magazine?

We started out with more content about sexuality, but now we're scaling up to gender and feminism as well. Because these issues are very dear to my heart and A Nasty Boy as well. Because what I would hate is to promote, or be about, a singular narrative. I'd like for A Nasty Boy to be mostly issue-based than anything. We discuss issues with creatives and get to know about what they're doing socially and culturally. We're currently working on a list, it'll be called "Nasty's 50 Creatives Class of 2018," it's supposed to celebrate the talent that we believe will be doing more in 2018. We're covering more issues, girl power, gender issues and stuff like that.

Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish ultimately with your publication?

What is important to us is that we are able to cause a change, I can't begin to imagine for a change in policy, because we know what Nigeria is like. But, I'd like that whoever comes across A Nasty Boy gets a sense of what we're about, and [as a result] we're able to influence the way they think—just a change in thinking. If for instance, we have a daily readership of 10,000 people, and 10,000 people can see things the way we do—that's more than enough. If we're able to reach a million people all over the world through what we do, that's enough. Just pushing for more acceptance, more than tolerance—tolerance has a limit—but true acceptance, inclusion, and diversity is what I'm pushing for. There's different kinds of Nigerians and different kinds of Africans, we have to allow everyone to fit into our definition of "African." We want there to be room for other narratives.

Photo by Terna Iwar.

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Image courtesy of Richard Akuson.

'A Nasty Boy' Creator, Richard Akuson, Opens Up About Homophobic Attack that Led Him to Flee Nigeria

The creator of the gender-nonconforming magazine says the incident brought him "even closer to the harsh realities of LGBTQ + people in Nigeria and across the world."

When the Nigerian lawyer, journalist and publisher Richard Akuson decided to create the gender-nonconforming magazine A Nasty Boy in 2017, he knew he'd be taking a risk in a country where toxic masculinity is rampant and homosexuality is punishable by law. He did it anyway.

To him the stories of people and ideas that challenged rigid notions of gender and sexuality were too important to go untold—especially in Nigeria.

The very dangerous threat of homophobia that the publisher sought to challenge with A Nasty Boy, reared its ugly head last year in Nigeria when Akuson was ambushed and beaten in a targeted attack that he claims was in response to his work. This led him to flee the country for the United States where Akuson feels safer.

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These 5 Nigerian Creatives Share How They Use Gender Fluid Styles to Express Themselves

These creatives use fashion to shake up and question the traditions and gender norms that permeate Nigeria.

In America, gender fluidity has moved through fashion into the culture at large. Designers like Eckhaus Latta and Jeremy Scott have proven that the trend is now part of our day-to-day choices. We caught up with five Nigerian creatives—a photographer, blogger, musician, fashion brand, and journalist who are standing together against the oppressive nature of Nigerian culture to learn how they're using their creativity to express gender fluidity.

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In Conversation with Daniel Kaluuya and Melina Matsoukas: 'This isn't a Black Bonnie and Clyde film—our stories are singular, they're ours.'

'Queen and Slim' lands in South Africa.

Melina Matsoukas and Daniel Kaluuya are everything their surroundings at the opulent Saxon Hotel are not—down-to-earth and even comedic at times. Despite the harsh lights and cameras constantly in their faces, they joke around and make the space inviting. They're also eager to know and pronounce the names of everyone they meet correctly. "It's Rufaro with an 'R'? Is that how you say it?" Kaluuya asks me as he shakes my hand.

Matsoukas, a two-time Grammy award winning director and Kaluuya, an A-list actor who's starred in massive titles including Black Panther and Get Out, have every reason to be boastful about their achievements and yet instead, they're relatable.

The duo is in South Africa to promote their recent film Queen Slim which is hitting theaters today and follows the eventful lives of a Black couple on the run after killing a police officer. It's a film steeped in complexity and layered themes to do with racism, police brutality and of course Black love.

We caught up with both of them to talk about just what it took from each of them to bring the powerful story to the big screen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Installation view of Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara © The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2020, photography by Anna-Marie Kellen.

The Met's New Exhibition Celebrates the Rich Artistic History of the Sahel Region

'Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara' is an enxtensive look into the artistic past of the West African region.

West Africa's Sahel region has a long and rich history of artistic expression. In fact, pieces from the area, which spans present-day Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, date all the way back to the first millennium. Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, a new exhibition showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, dives into this history to share an expansive introduction to those who might be unfamiliar with the Sahel's artistic traditions.

"The Western Sahel has always been a part of the history of African art that has been especially rich, and one of the things that I wanted to do with this exhibition, that hasn't done before, is show one of the works of visual art...and present them within the framework of the great states that historians have written about that developed in this region," curator Alisa LaGamma tells Okayafrica. She worked with an extensive team of researchers and curators from across the globe, including Yaëlle Biro, to bring the collection of over 200 pieces to one of New York City's most prestigious art institutions.

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