A passionate public speaker, a policy analyst, a television pundit, campaigner, Vblogger and an ‘angelic troublemaker incarnate’ are just some of the roll call of hats that Bisi Alimi regularly wears.
One voice amongst many dynamic speakers of note at Voice 4 Change England’s BFI hosted Flip the Script event on youth and democracy, he’s keenly aware of the excellent company he’ll be sharing the day with.
These include names such as the USA’s Tim Reid – actor, director, activist and one-time owner of the Virginia-based New Millennium Film Studios, whose film and television credentials go back to the 1970s. Also George Amponsah and Dionne Walker, filmmaker and producer behind this year’s award-winning UK documentary The Hard Stop, which examines the events that led up to and followed the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting by the police in 2011 lead on to the widespread rioting by predominantly young people throughout the UK. Out of those disturbance came Pauline Pearce, the ‘Heroine of Hackney’ whose impassioned outburst against looters in her Hackney borough went viral, and led to her being asked to stand for Parliament by the Liberal Democrats in 2015. Hers is another strong voice that will feature along Alimi’s at Flip the Script event, with others including pioneering social activist filmmaker Ken Fero.
Both a national and globally focused forum, Flip the Script invites opinions on democracy, censorship and digital activism – all elements of the political spectrum that Alimi easily straddles.
To many Nigerians at home and abroad, he is best known for being the country’s first openly gay man to come out on national TV. This was an exceptionally brave move that was taken a decade before the former President Goodluck Johnathan signed the 2014 Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill sparking national and international outrage.
It comes as no surprise that since the country’s anti-gay law took effect, Alimi eschewed the country’s potential offer of a 14-year prison term and crossed continents to Europe – taking up residency in stealthily gentrifying Bermondsey in south London.
Who knows whether his new location inspires him to be more or less vocal than he would have been had he remained in Nigeria, but his views and visions have a liberating sense of random focus that is always linked to his identity as a campaigner.
‘When I’m on Facebook Live or Periscope, when I write an article, perform, do readings, give public lectures or host a show, I’m doing it as an activist’ he says. He alludes to the fluidity of his work, states that no element is more important than the other, and that there is method and meaning behind the seemingly random nature of his projects. Currently running the Bisi Alimi Foundation (http://www.bisialimifoundation.org/) for equal rights in Nigeria, his devotion to challenging the status quo – in and beyond Africa – keeps him specifically vocal on the topics of democracy and censorship – which are woven through the Flip the Script programme.
‘For me, the worst form of democracy is better than the best form of military or autocratic rule’ he says. ‘Democracy is not so much about what it means, but what it should be. A system of government where everyone is given an equal opportunity to take part in a democratic system of government irrespective of their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or class’.
His views are influenced by the historical conflicts of what democracy means – even during the Greek period, where women and slaves could not engage in the ‘by the people for the people’ rhetoric that sprung from those times. ‘Back then it was more of a government of the privileged for the privileged to determine how to preserve their privilege’ he says, adding that right now ‘there is no better place to exemplify the ugliness of modern day democracy than America. A lot of black people in the south are still denied the right to vote in elections that will impact on their lives and that of their families. We have rich people investing a lot of money in the election process to keep the status quo while they deceive the poor that the kind of government they want for them is the best for them’.
As an individual who has inked the Black Power symbol and the words Black Lives Matter (BLM) on his upper and lower arm respectively, he is literally wearing a commitment to racial equality on a permanent basis. Both movements symbolize past and present concerns about police brutality against the bodies of black men and women and while his ‘wishful thinking’ that BLM will at some point no longer be necessary he feels another sense or ire towards his country of birth, again in terms of gender. ‘I am sick and tired of sexism in Nigeria’ he says. ‘I don’t care if it’s casual or deliberate. I am just sick of it’.
A certain style of feminine energy is also very intertwined with what is essentially Alimi’s ‘first love’ of theatre and performance. This is what he studied at the University of Lagos; he’s nervous about going onstage in a few weeks – to perform a piece that was published in Granta magazine and directed by writer and art historian Kevin Childs – after 12 years of being absent from this type of arena.
However, there has been a more recent return to the stage in a spontaneous but then carefully styled presentation of what could be his alter ego – Ms Posh Pussy. As a host at the opening night of this year’s Africa Writes festival, with the theme Love, Sex and Poetry. ‘I’m not stereotyping, but I know discussing sex with Africans can take a lot of guts as well as a straight face’ he says. I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk about dildos, blowjobs and homoerotic narratives in a shirt and jeans, so I remember turning to my fiancé one morning and saying I think I should do it in drag – and he said why not’.
So, in stepped Posh, who was and is pretty much framed around the idea of assumed posh women who live large on cheap things with Primark and Poundland being part of their retail therapy.
‘There is a sense of rivalry between the two of us’ Alimi jokes, ‘but she has got away with saying many things I dare not say, although I’ve heard she’s charming as well’.
The full list of Flip the Script speakers are:
Bisi Alimi - a vlogger and award winning, HIV, gay and LGBTI activist from Nigeria.
George Amponsah and Dionne Walker – The filmmaker and the producer of The Hard Stop, the award-winning documentary about the events leading up to the 2011 London riots.
Mark Blake – from BTEG (Black Training and Enterprise Group) which works with BME communities to build the capacity of local groups and contribute to their economic regeneration.
Ken Fero – a pioneering filmmaker and director of Injustice (2002) a seminal film about police brutality.
Richard Kuti (Elevation Networks) – the Head of Youth Services, and is the co-founder of the Great Debate Tour.
Joe Mitchell – a renowned writer and blogger on digital participation and democracy in the UK, and a strong advocate of the ‘Open’ movement for change.
Pauline Pearce – the ‘Hackney Heroine’ Pauline Pearce became something of a household name in the UK when her justified outburst at the looting in Hackney during the 2011 London riots went viral.
Tim Reid – an American actor, comedian and film director best known for his roles in prime time US television programmes such as Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82), Marcel “Downtown” Brown on Simon & Simon (1983-87), Ray Campbell on Sister, Sister (1994-99) and William Barnett on That ‘70s Show (2004-06).