University of Huddersfield film lecturer Obi Emelonye will see his new movie Black Mail , which he directed and wrote himself, released across over 100 cinemas across the UK from Friday 26 August.
The film concerns a deadly game of cat and mouse when a well-known film star puts everything on the line after being blackmailed by cybercriminals on the dark web, but Obi’s efforts to bring his vision to the screen saw him having to cope with the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK film industry’s lack of diversity.
Odeon and Cineworld cinemas will be showing Black Mail, making it the biggest release of an independent film and it is a triumph for Obi, who has won numerous awards in his 10-film career over the last two decades.
“For a film that I made with $100,000 in lockdown in 2020 to have come this far is a miracle, I don’t know how this has happened,” says Obi of the film that was made on location London, with the cast and crew having to live in COVID bubbles to get around the restrictions of the pandemic.
“It really was avant garde film-making, but we were tackling a subject matter that was, and is universal and contemporary. That explains the interest in the project, it talks about cyber insecurity and how vulnerable we all are. I always lock off my camera when I speak to people online, and when most people see this film they will go home and do the same too! We are really vulnerable in the face of what is available online,” adds Obi, who has been a lecturer in film making at the university since 2021.
“It really was a labour of love and that was the message to young film makers, that it does not have to be perfect. It does not have to come from the Film Council or the BFI – go ahead and tell your story. If you tell it well and from the heart, there are people willing to pay to watch it.”
Black Mail has already met with considerable success prior to its nationwide release, winning the 2021 Best Film Award at the African Movie Academy Awards and was voted as Best Film at the British Urban Film Festival in 2021 .
But the lack of diversity in UK film, in front of and behind the camera as well as narrow attitudes towards what British films should be, was also an issue that drove Obi on during the writing and making of his latest project.
“Coming to the UK film industry, the lack of diversity is really appalling. About 15% of the UK population is BAME but in UK cinema representation is less than 1%. There are historical, social and political considerations as to why that is, it’s not necessarily someone blocking the door. But rather than feeling sorry for ourselves, it’s about tackling it.
“Only 20 cinemas showed my film The Mirror Boy in 2011, and that was unprecedented, and it grossed £200,000.i The UK film establishment was impressed, it opened the door for independent and particularly black films. But gradually they have lost interest because they are a business, not a charity. The door has opened again and my campaign is saying that there is a scarcity of diverse voices in UK cinema.
“We cannot stay on the side-lines and complain, we should show there are people willing to watch, that we have the numbers, people willing to engage. It’s about giving voices to people who do not have a voice and are emasculated.”
Black Mail will be showcased in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon and has also earned a prestigious screening at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, but Obi is keen to wave the flag for the university as he shows off the fruits of his years in bringing the film to the screen.
“This is the biggest release of an independent film in the UK and represents a great achievement for me personally and for the University of Huddersfield, where I am directly involved in midwifing the next generations of filmmakers, with not just abstract tutelage but also practical guidance gleaned from real world, hands-on experience.”