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Akinnuoye-Agbaje's inspiring "Farming" is a violent look at racial hatred (Review)

Watching Farming feels quite like having a metal rod smacked in your face over and over again.

Damson Idris plays Enitan, a troubled black teenager that joins a racist gang of white skinheads, in Farming [TIFF]

With Farming, the Nigerian British-born actor, with his directorial debut, turns the camera towards the dark years that he endured as a black boy raised by a white family in Tilbury, Essex.

Akinnuoye-Agbaje has made no secret of the fact that Farming is a passion project for him, one that took 15 long years, and that is evident in his brutal execution of a movie that pulls no punches in visualising the manifestations of hate - external and, as a consequence, internal. 

The movie's title refers to a phenomenon of Nigerian parents in the United Kingdom handing out their children to be cared for by white families between the 1960s and 1980s.

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This is how Enitan (played by Zeehan Hanson Amissah as a much younger boy, and by Damson Idris as a teenager) ends up with Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale) and Jack Carpenter (Lee Ross) who are career foster parents.

His biological father, Femi (played by Akinnuoye-Agbaje himself), and mother, Tolu (Genevieve Nnaji), pay the Ingrids to raise their child so they can focus on their own education in a foreign land; and that exchange sets off Enitan's descent into a life of anguish.

As a young child, Enitan endures a life where he's stripped of any real sense of belonging, treated as an outsider inside and outside the home.

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He is repeatedly bullied and generally humiliated just because he lives in a place where not a lot of people look like him. Even when he briefly lives with his own kin, he feels so out of place he's almost immediately rejected.

Each stage of his life is signposted by every manner of rejection, abuse and dehumanisation that's enough to break anyone with not enough love to fall back on.

In a haunting performance by Amissah, the audience has to live through the ransacking of young Enitan's fragile mind, hating his skin colour so much that he tries so hard to get rid of it by any means necessary, inviting more ridicule.

Enitan grows into an isolated teenager who has internalised self-hate so much that he hates his black skin and other black people, and cannot fit anywhere.

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Once he attracts the attention of a local racist gang of skinheads, Tilbury Skins, led by Levi (John Dagliesh), a sociopath, Enitan's life takes a turn for the worse, and this is not pretty viewing for the audience.

To lay bare the harshness of his upbringing, Akinnuoye-Agbaje, now 52, chooses to starkly illustrate the dehumanisation his younger self passed through, many times revelling in the violence.

Scene after scene, the audience is hit with wave after wave of physical and psychological torture inflicted on Enitan. It's quite like having a metal rod smacking your face over and over again seemingly without an end.

Farming has boundless energy to brutalise its central character and, as a consequence, its audience, and much of it is down to Idris' brilliant brooding performance.

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There isn't much to be said about the other one-note characters, and Farming has little concern with developing them in any meaningful ways.

Farming winds down to a rushed redemptive happy ending, Enitan emerging out of what was a damaging upbringing to the man Akinnuoye-Agbaje is today.

The movie's rushed final act uses a montage to skim over the vital introspection into how a damage as grave as self-hate can be completely undone.

However, Akinnuoye-Agbaje said at a screening of Farming in Lagos last week that the movie itself is part of the healing process, for him, and everyone involved in his life, including his mother who he said wished she had fought harder to keep him.

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Farming is sometimes disturbing to watch, but Akinnuoye-Agbaje's life since the events of the movie is proof that maybe time is indeed a great healer.

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