Review: ‘Farming’, Unbelievable True Story Of Actor Adewale Akkinnuoye-Agbage’s Skinhead Upbringing

At first, Chappelle Show gave us a hilarious skit about a blind Black Klansman, then Black KKKlansman gave us the true story of a black police officer who infiltrated the KKK, British actor-turned-director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje said, “I see you Hollywood, and I raise you my true life story of me joining a 1980s white skinhead gang.”

Based on Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s own life and set mostly during the 1960s and 1980s in England, Farming explores the concept of “farming”, where recent African immigrants would literally “farm” their children to white foster families in the hope of allowing them to have great opportunities, while they are working or studying. After his parents, Femi (Akinnuoye-Agbaje playing his own father) and Tolu (Genevieve Nnaji) drop him off with his new foster mother Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale) Enitan (Zephan Amissah as a child, Damson Idris as a young man) grows up with a white family in Tilbury. The film shows that this can have devastating consequences in regards to shaping identity and self-esteem as Enitan tries to navigate growing up in a strange world: not really English, and not really African either.

Through his life as an immigrant, Enitan has endured racism in many forms. At home, his foster-mother, Ingrid, always threatened her to stop acting like a “Wooga-Wooga” or he’ll be sent back to “Wooga-Wooga Land.” Ingrid would also go about scamming pawn shops with him, and have him be the fall guy as the black kid to sell the scam. When not at home, he received constant teasing and assaults from kids in the neighborhood and at school. When old enough, his parents take him back and take him home to Nigeria, only for it to be a completely alien environment for him. Not knowing how to interact with his own people, he shuts everyone off, not even speaking. His parents take him back to Ingrid, who reluctantly takes him back (for a check) and his continued torture continues. The only person who shows him any compassion and love is his teacher Ms. Dapo (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), from which he is unsure how to respond.

At the same time, right-wing fascism is growing in England, and the bullying at his school has been replaced by outright brutal beatings by a local group of skinheads called the “Tilbury Skins” led by Levi (John Dalgleish). Enitan’s self-loathing goes from him trying to paint his skin white, and then takes a major C-Turn as he tries to join the Tilbury Skins. Levi decides to entertain the notion and he becomes the gang’s black pet, to the point where his title is officially “Coon” by the skinheads. He assists them with assaulting other black people in town and he is completely brainwashed, to the point where he fights other skinhead gangs with the Tilbury Skins as their unofficial mascot. While Enitan thinks he’s receiving acceptance (because they aren’t beating him up), but they really were stringing him along and still treating him as less than a man.

Unfortunately, the best part of the film is the epilogue of the movie in the end-credits that covers Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s real life, which turns fictional Enitan into real-life Adewale rather seamlessly.  You know that the real story has a great ending, it’s just a little more interesting than the under-written film it’s based on.  Usually, the film is more dramatic than real life, but this turns out to be the opposite in the case of Farming.  As a first-time directing debut for Akinnuoye-Agbaje, it’s fine and you can tell the subject matter is very personal, the writing just seems to be a little flat.  Besides Enitan and Ms. Dapo, the other characters really don’t do much besides go through the motions the story requires.  Besides Levi, the skinheads are very one dimensional and comically racist.  Overall, Farming gives a unique view of racial identity and self-loathing and although it’s hard to believe is true, it is, in fact, true.

Rating: 2.5/5