Inside Story: The Akandé Sisters return to 1745

by Mkuu Amani

MORAYO AND MOYO AKANDE ON WHAT IT TOOK TO SHOOT THEIR MULTI-AWARD WINNING SHORT FILM AND MORE.

1745 – An Untold Story of Slavery stars Moyo Akandé in the lead role of Emma Atkin.  Her real-life sister Morayo Akandé, who also wrote the story, co-stars as her on-screen sister Rebecca Atkin.

The short film tells the story of the sisters’ desperate bid for freedom from a life of enslavement. On horseback in pursuit, is Master Andrews, eager to re-capture his ‘runaways.’

Ahead of them, the rugged, unforgiving terrain that forms the breathtaking yet perilous Scottish highlands.

Inspired by actual events, 1745 – An Untold Story of Slavery brings to the screen a story not often told, whilst also tackling issues that are typically taboo. 

The wealth of nominations and awards that have followed the film’s 2017 release is just one of the factors that have helped to establish the Akandé sisters as exciting, prodigious screen and writing talents.


2017 WAS AN AMAZING YEAR. NOMINATIONS FOR THE BAFTA, BLACK INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL AND BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS, AND WINNING THE UNDERWIRE FILM FESTIVAL AND AFRICA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS. 

WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THAT YEAR FOR YOU, AND WHAT WERE YOUR FAVOURITE MOMENTS?

Morayo: It was an amazing year filled with so many new experiences and opportunities. It was amazing to see audiences from different parts of the world take an interest and relate to our story. Every moment was special and memorable.

One moment that stands out was going to the Africa International Film Festival in Lagos, Nigeria. The two protagonists in ‘1745’ Emma and Rebecca, are originally from Nigeria, so it felt like we were bringing the short story home.

When we screened ‘1745’ the audience was so responsive, cheering out loud and supporting the sisters on their pursuit for freedom. It was incredible.

Moyo: Yeah, the biggest highlight was travelling to Nigeria to share our film with audiences at the Africa International Film Festival. 

This was a very special moment as this is where our parents are from. It’s their home. 

They left and moved to the UK as there were so many opportunities there for them and their children. 

I had only ever visited Nigeria once before, and it had been 14 years since my last trip. So to be able to travel there to share our story, meet some extraordinary up and coming filmmakers and then win Best International Short Film was incredible.

AND THEN IN 2018 AND 2019, NOMINATED FOR THE LONDON SHORT FILM FESTIVAL AND WINNING THE BEST SHORT SCREENPLAY AWARD AT THE SEOUL INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. 

WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS WHEN YOU FOUND OUT ABOUT THE RESULT IN SEOUL? 

Morayo: We were so thrilled to see our story had reached as far as South Korea. And that people were responding to the story.

Moyo: It’s great to see the story is universal and relatable. It was refreshing to see that it resonated at this festival.

YOU’RE CLEARLY BOTH EXTREMELY TALENTED ACTRESSES. 

WHEN DID YOU REALISE THIS, AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THAT YOU WERE TALENTED IN THIS WAY?

Morayo: Thank you. I’ve been in love with film for as long as I can remember, so I always wanted to act and make film. As kids, we joined amateur theatre clubs.

Moyo: I was actually a very shy child growing up. My mum was a little concerned about me not communicating with other kids just before I started primary school, and during the first few years. 

I was extremely quiet in class and kept myself to myself, whereas at home, I was always performing or dancing around the house. She put me into acting and dance classes and then it all snowballed from there.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WIN THE WRITING AND SCREENPLAY AWARDS? AND HOW IMPORTANT ARE THESE AWARDS COMPARED TO THE OTHERS?  

Morayo: It’s great to be acknowledged for your work, but to me, the most meaningful thing about winning an award is that it puts a spotlight on the actual work. You reach a wider audience, and they can learn more about different characters and places and hopefully find similarities within themselves.

When you look at ‘Parasite,’ it’s a Korean film that won the Oscar for Best Film. 

I’m a huge fan of Bong’s work, and after he won the Oscar, his film and other films are now reaching a global audience. 

I think that’s brilliant and it’d be amazing, for example, if we could see more films from people of colour in the US and the UK being acknowledged in this way. 

Awards create and open opportunities. If talented filmmakers of colour are overlooked, so are their films and gradually they disappear in history, as we witnessed with Black History.

THE FILM IS SHOT MAINLY OUTDOORS, AND ALTHOUGH THE LOCATION LOOKS BEAUTIFUL, IT ALSO LOOKS CHALLENGING.  

WHAT WERE THE MAJOR CHALLENGES OF FILMING AT THE LOCATION?

Moyo: The film was shot in the Scottish Highlands. We shot in locations such as Glencoe, Glen Etive and Aberlady.

The landscape up there is beautiful and just breathtaking.

Scottish weather is very temperamental, and it rains a lot.

We shot in November, so you can imagine it was very cold and wet.

There was a lot of stopping and starting throughout the shoot due to the weather, but we persevered.

THERE ARE A FEW SCENES THAT INVOLVED SWIMMING IN THE LAKES. HOW WELL DID YOU BOTH COPE WITH THE CHALLENGE OF COLD WATER AND LEAPING OFF RIDGES INTO LAKES?  

AND, WHO’S ACTUALLY THE MOST CONFIDENT SWIMMER OF THE TWO OF YOU?

Moyo: The scene where my character Emma jumps off the cliff was done in one take. 

I’m not a strong swimmer, so I practised a few weeks before the shoot — jumping off the cliff with the help of a Water Safety team. 

It was a 26ft cliff, so this was pretty daunting. 

Naturally, I’m an active person, so it was a great challenge. The funny thing is, Morayo is the confident swimmer of the two of us.

AS FILMMAKERS TYPICALLY DEALING WITH A LACK OF DIVERSITY WITHIN THE INDUSTRY, AND WITH CREATING’ 1745′ IN MIND, WERE THERE ANY STEPS YOU HAD TO TAKE TO ENSURE THAT YOU WERE REPRESENTED ON SCREEN IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY. 

FOR EXAMPLE, DID YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR OWN HAIR OR MAKE-UP?

Moyo: What mattered most to us was the honest portrayal of these two women in those times.

We wanted to make sure visually they reflected the women of their time, and for the audience to understand that their story was a common one back then. That it actually happened. 

So a lot of attention to detail was made in how they wore their hair, and Ali Mitchell, our amazing Costume Designer, made their period dresses from scratch, with many additional details.

Morayo: She also made and dyed the Mother’s Ankara wrap in the flashback scene too, and sourced this all from images of Yoruba women in Nigeria back in the 18th century. All of this mattered in fleshing out who these women were and the world they lived in. 

We had a fantastic hair and make-up team working with us on set to help create the look. 

It was also important that we showed the sisters individual personalities and their individual journeys throughout the story. It mattered that we showed their wants and desires and that they were more than just submissive servants with no voice.

‘1745’ IS BEAUTIFULLY SHOT. 

THE BLUES AND HUES OF THE EVENING SHOTS ARE JUST AWESOME, AND THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE COLD OF THE CAVE AND THE WARMTH CAPTURED IN THE SISTER’S DREAM STATE ARE BRILLIANTLY PORTRAYED.

HOW MUCH WERE YOU ABLE TO INFLUENCE JULIAN SCHWANITZ’S WORK – OR WAS THAT SIMPLY NOT NECESSARY?

Morayo: Julian’s amazing. It was great working with such a talented cinematographer, he captured it beautifully, right. As the cinematographer, Julian worked closely with the director, but before he came on board ‘1745′, we chatted about characters, and he was super respectful and sensitive to the history and the characters’ journey.

Director Gordon Napier (left) with Cinematographer Julian Schwanitz

Moyo: Julian was a dream to work with; he captured the sisters’ internal trauma and dilemma throughout the journey of the film with such sensitivity and flair. Many people who have watched the film have commented particularly on his cinematography.

IS IT TRUE THAT THE ORIGINAL IDEA FOR THE STORY SAW THE ATKINS SISTERS HAVE SUPERPOWERS?

Morayo: Yes, it’s true.

WHAT WERE THEIR POWERS AND WHY DID YOU ENVISAGE THE SISTERS POSSESSING THEM?

Morayo: Would love to tell you, but a project of that idea is in potential development.

AS A GRAPHIC NOVEL LOVER, I WOULD LOVE TO SEE THE IDEA DEVELOPED. IT FEELS TO ME LIKE THE SISTERS WOULD HAVE NEEDED SUPERPOWERS TO SURVIVE THE ORDEAL AND BEYOND. 

Morayo: I know right, that would be so cool if they had superpowers. I’m imaging the epic scenes in my head now. 

I’m a huge graphic lover. Recently, I really love Nnedi Okorafor’s work. Her comics are filled with amazing concepts and complex characters.

Moyo: We’re currently developing into a feature film. So stay tuned.

WHY DO YOU THINK ‘1745’ HAS BEEN SO WELL RECEIVED?

Moyo: It may be because many people don’t know much about this part of Scotland’s history, so maybe it’s fascinating. 

I think that it’s also very rare to see two female protagonists of colour being the leading and driving force of such a story. 

It’s being told from a fresh perspective which also makes the film unique, and I guess this is why it may have been so well received.

WHEN I WATCH ‘1745’ FOR THE FIRST TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU MOST LIKE ME TO GAIN FROM THE EXPERIENCE? AND IS THERE AN ABIDING MESSAGE YOU ARE TRYING TO SEND OR SHARE?

Morayo: We don’t have control over what audiences take away, but we can only hope that audiences relate to our character’s experience and connect with them.

I hope people gain a stronger understanding of what it would have been like to be enslaved, and what it took to achieve freedom.

WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT PROJECTS AND WHEN WILL THERE BE ANOTHER JOINT VENTURE?

Morayo: We’ve just been awarded funding to make our short film ‘The A.V. Van.’

It’s a dark comedy about two film fanatic sisters trying to reconnect with their estranged deceased father by selling his vintage porn collection.

I’ll be directing, and Moyo and Helen Gladders are the producers. We’re all really excited to be working together and for the opportunity. 

It’ll be produced via the Sharp Shorts, which is part of the Short Circuit an ambitious new film talent initiative for Scotland.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING EACH OF YOU AS FILMMAKERS?

Moyo: As Morayo has mentioned our next project ‘AV Van’ is a complete curveball to ‘1745 ‘. It’s a dark comedy in its genre. 

We feel as black filmmakers that in this industry it can be hard for stories to be commissioned that don’t focus on race, slavery, or the stereotypes that come attached with being a woman or person of colour. 

You are almost expected to write about these subject matters in order to succeed. You can’t just tell regular stories about POC that don’t revolve around these subject matters. 

This is one of the biggest challenges we are facing.

GRAPHIC DESIGNPAUL OMONIYI — PHOTOGRAPHERJONATHAN BIRCH — STILL IMAGES AND POSTER IMAGESCHRISTIAN COOKSEY