Rag Tag - Spotlight on Black History Month

Rag Tag tells the story of two Black childhood friends in London who become literally and figuratively separated due to the strong influence of one of the boys' Nigerian heritage. Ironically, their reunion is allowed to flourish in the actual country of Nigeria. The only problem is that the two guys are gay and Nigeria is one of the worst places to be if you're a "batty boy" (a gay pejorative in most countries).
In Nigeria, homosexuality is actually illegal, at times punishable by death. This is due to the presence of Shari'a law. This doesn't apply to non-Muslims of which there is a high Christian population, but discrimination and violence against gay Nigerians are very frequent. Writer-director Adaora Nwandu grew up in Nigeria and is aware of this bigotry. She instead makes this film a love-in-spite-of-homophobia story.
A friend recently told me about Pieter Hugo's series of photographs labeled "Nollywood." For those who don't know, Nollywood is the term that refers to the Cinema or movie industry in Nigeria. In terms of the output number, the videos produced in that west African country make it bigger than those produced in the entire United States.
Rag Tag originally premiered in San Francisco in 2006. It played in several film festivals, including one in Burkina Faso in west Africa before premiering in London in 2007. Ariztical Entertainment didn't make the movie available for American audiences until June 2010 when it was released on DVD. The movie is mostly set in London but the two main characters do venture to Nigeria, and, as far as I know, it is the first film to depict homosexuality in Nigeria in a positive light.
There have been Nigerian actors who have played gay roles in American movies like Razaaq Adoti in Cover. There have also been Nigerian actors playing gay roles where homosexuality has been portrayed as a negative thing like John Dumelo and Muna Obiekwe in Men in Love. An upcoming movie by Dickson Iruegbu called Sinful Saints may not be all that negative, but historically Nollywood has been very unfriendly to gays.
Danny Parsons plays Raymond. Nicknamed Rag, he comes from a broken home in London. His only solace is spending time with Tagbo, nicknamed Tag, who is played by Damola Adelaja with more self-assurance and confidence. Tag doesn't come from a broken home. He understands what it means to have stability and to have something on which to hold. It's only unfortunate that what he holds is a strictly conservative, foreign culture that would rather see boys fighting each other with sticks than loving each other in any kind of romantic way.
This is not to say that the culture is an ignorant one. When Tag takes Rag to Nigeria, perhaps for the first time, it may appear that way superficially. Tag doesn't take Rag into a Nigerian city like Lagos or Abuja. Rag instead gets a dose of the countryside where the roads are unpaved and goats roam unabashedly. They do go to a home with some amenities like a jacuzzi, but what the two boys absorb is the outside afrobeats where people dance openly in traditional dress like dashikis, colorful and flowing.
All of it looks energetically fun, and, even while the two boys are there, they live in a brief bubble where they can be almost affectionate with one another. They can simply be with each other. Such a warm and embracing environment would seem like it could easily be transplanted to some place like America or the United Kingdom. Yet, there are things with Nigerian culture that in many ways keep their affection for one another in the dark.
The weight of that culture sits more on Tag's shoulders than Rag's. Rag is very much a free spirit. He may be lost in many ways with no direction and with at times no sight of a possible future, but he mostly feels free to do what he wants, even though he in fact has more responsibilities than Tag. Rag actually has a daughter. His role as a father is rather a shaky one. He half-heartedly pursues a job with a fire-fighting brigade, but whether or not he'll actually go anywhere with it is shaky as well. It may be because of all that shakiness that Rag retreats to Tag.
After the two boys are separated, it's a decade or so later that Rag goes to find Tagbo. It's almost immediately that he discovers that Tag is not a free spirit. Tag is very much tied to many things, including certain old-world mores. Despite his obvious physical attraction to Rag, Tag has a girlfriend and holds onto her long past the point of reason.
Tag is really only able to let go when it becomes necessasary for him to do so in order to save Rag from getting hurt. Tag does this in several different contexts. If it's not to save him from physical harm, then it's to help him mend or heal. One effective moment lingers when Tag is treating Rag's wounds. Tag tells Rag why he became a lawyer, and, in that minute, things become intimate and beautiful. It's two men expressing love for one another. They kiss and it's not done for comical affect as in the 1998 episode of The Wayans Bros called "Six Degrees of Marlon" or for condemnation as in any Nollywood film.
There have been less than a handful of American TV series that have depicted two black men kissing like HBO's The Wire or LOGO's Noah's Arc in a true and seriously romantic way. Even fewer major motion pictures have depicted it. No studio pictures have done so to my knowledge, and whether it's an independent film like this or any other, there has also never been a depiction of black homosexuality in Africa as a true and seriously romantic thing.
When it came to determining which films to discuss or recommend for Black History Month, this one became a no-brainer. The moment that Rag and Tag do kiss for the first time is in Africa. If you look at the rights and the treatment of gay Africans in countries like Nigeria or Uganda, then you know how monumental that kiss is. If that isn't a moment in Black History, I don't know what is.
Four Stars out of Five.
Unrated but Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


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