When you think of the scientist-witches who draw power from magically enhanced wigs in Nnedi Okorafor’s “Hello, Moto,” maybe you think of the arresting illustration by Jillian Tamaki that accompanies the Binti author’s short story: a Nigerian woman with a wig sparking off green magic at the ends, the hair crackling with power. But from the first images from director C.J. Obasi’s adaptation Hello, Rain, those colors are even more vibrant, the visuals even more striking; protagonist Rain and her fellow scientist-witches are literally bathed in the magic that raises them up but then tempts them to steal energy from others until they don’t even resemble humans. It’s markedly different from Okorafor’s text yet still taps into the same ideas.
In a recent interview with Shadow and Act, Obasi discusses his adaptation of Okorafor’s brief but evocative story, describing the creative liberties he took while staying true to the core of the story: “There’s a heart and a charm to Nnedi’s stories, and I don’t wanna lose that.” He also delves into what the short film has in common with Black Panther, both telling alternative African stories that he hopes will become more mainstream.
Knowing that he didn’t have the budget to make a feature film adaptation of Okorafor’s work, Obasi turned to her short fiction, saying that something about “Hello, Moto” jumped out at him: “I also loved that it has three powerful women at the core of its narrative—scientist witches at that,” he said. “That stuff just intrigues the hell out of me. And then it has these underlining themes on politics, corruption and black women’s hair. That’s Africa right there. That’s the world! The story hit me real hard.” Just as Obasi was eager to adapt Okorafor’s work, she had enjoyed his zombie thriller Ojuju, so they seemed to be kindred spirits.
Obasi talks creative control and how Hello, Rain and Black Panther are both part of rewriting the same narrative:
TO: Should fans of Nnedi’s original short story expect a faithful adaptation of the work, or did you take some creative liberties in terms of how the story unfolds?
CJO: I took a whole lot of creative liberties—in the make up, costuming, music, VFX—these are things that don’t necessarily jump out to you visually when you read the short story. So I had to sort of try to get inside Nnedi’s head, and I think we’re kindred spirits to a degree. We sort of see eye-to-eye visually and creatively, so I found that what I like, she likes, and that was amazing. I also took liberties in the way the story unfolds and in the narrative style, but I’ll rather let you see it for yourself. I believe it’s as faithful to the source material as an adaptation should be.
TO: The story tackles a number of societal issues (notably beauty standards) in a contemporary science fiction setting. What do you hope that viewers of the film take from, or understand about your intentions with it?
CJO: My intention is to make African beauty look cool, fun and sexy—as it is! It’s our time now, and I wanna see my people looking damn cool, and doing cool things on the big screen. I need that so badly. This is why Black Panther is so important. And I’ve been saying this for years—when Black Panther drops, it’s going to change the world, and change how films are made, because, finally, the world will see that black character-driven films do have a demand, and can make a gazillion dollars in the box office. Black is going to be sexy, like it should have always been. This has always been my dream and lifeblood, to see this day. And I’m so blessed to be a part of rewriting that narrative, in my own small way.
This is a tale you will hear only once, Rain begins “Hello, Moto”: Then it will be gone in a flash of green light. But that’s the great thing about adaptations: They allow for the same story to be retold in new and fascinating ways. Here’s a sneak peek behind the scenes, via Fiery Film:
Hello, Rain is expected to be released in early 2018.