The Movie Waffler Waffling With Filmmaker Akin Omotoso | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With Filmmaker Akin Omotoso

We chatted with the Nigerian born writer-director-actor about his latest feature, the acclaimed comic drama Tell Me Sweet Something.

Interview by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Although it depicts a tumultuous relationship, there is a real sense of joy and fun to Tell Me Sweet Something. Recent romcoms have tended towards a raunchy style of humour (I’m thinking of Trainwreck), but I was delighted by the colourful revelry of Tell Me Sweet Something. Where do you see your film fitting in within the recent crop of romantic comedies?

We wanted to celebrate love, so every inch of the film had that vibe. We wanted the film to be like your favorite love song and make a film that made you smile, laugh, cry but ultimately feel good, so it’s a nod to past romantic films that did just that. Definitely Love Jones for me was an inspiration. It was so affirming and that’s what we wanted to do.

It doesn’t have song and dance numbers, but Tell Me Sweet Something reminds me of a musical in the sense that there is so much ensemble energy within the film. I really love movies that use the frame so imaginatively - I laughed out loud at the bit with the mime artist following Moratiwa. My question is, how much of Tell Me Sweet Something’s energy was improvised, or were such features as the fashion show meticulously planned/rehearsed?

The film started life back in 2010/11, where a lot of the seeds were set in an improvisational environment. We had 10 actors meet once a year for four weeks and we just improvised around what a love story in Johannesburg would feel like. Then my co-writer Robbie Thorpe and I took a lot of the improvisation and wrote the script. Then a month before shooting we had a rehearsal process but the difference was we didn’t rehearse the script, we rehearsed the characters. So the actors got to know their characters intimately. On set it allowed for a combination of script and spontaneity, which was just magical to capture on screen.

The character of Moratiwa has a lot to prove; she perceives herself as a failure as a writer, a businesswoman and a potential romantic partner. Although you have had a varied and successful career before and behind the camera, is this something you can identify with in any way? How did you understand Moratiwa?

I thought of her in the context of the pressure that society puts on people. So there is this pressure to succeed and everything is measured against that but in some cases you have to first define yourself as a human being. Succeed as a human being and then everything else follows.

While it isn’t explicitly a concern in the film, there are several references to race within Tell Me Sweet Something (the crack about the Crystal at the bar, for example), suggesting that although the characters are not defined by their colour, racial identity is still an issue. How much of a lingering concern is prejudice in Johannesburg, and how far does Tell Me Sweet Something reflect any tension?

This is a great question. Presently there is a whole discourse in South Africa around race and it’s not only here, as we all know. So while race isn’t a theme in the film, it’s an undercurrent that reflects the reality we live in. My characters, like you and I, exist in a world were whiteness is the norm, which is something that we all (including white people) position ourselves in relation to, consciously or not, or whether we have a problem with it or not. You have mentioned the bar scene, and there’s also the scene with Nat - the model - and the two ladies discussing his features as if he were a thing. What I find interesting is that because whiteness is the norm, white people in white contexts are thought of and referred to as people. The question of race hardly comes up in these instances, unless the issue is lack of diversity. White people become white, only in the presence of black people. I wanted to reflect the world I inhabit, where despite whiteness being the norm, black people hanging out and loving black people are thought of and referred to as people.

I really enjoyed Tell Me Sweet Something, but here’s your chance to sell it: why should TMW readers seek out Tell Me Sweet Something?

I am glad you enjoyed it! This is a film to remind lovers of why they love each other in the first place; it’s a film for those that love to draw each other closer and those that haven’t found to be inspired to seek out love. It’s sweet, and in these troubling times who doesn’t want a bit of love?

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