James Brown Wants to Be Known for Their Talent

by Cande Duran

James Brown may have been introduced to the world through a viral video, but they have much more to offer, and much more to say.

HBO documentary The Legend of the Underground follows the lives of several members of Nigeria’s underground queer and non-conformist community, including entertainer James Brown. Brown was wrongly arrested in a police raid of an underground party, and gained notoriety after a video of them defending themselves to the Nigerian authorities went viral. Brown spoke with HBO about some of their experiences captured in the film, and using their growing platform to help advance the LGBTQ community.

HBO: Where did the name “James Brown” come from?

Brown: The “James” is my given name, and the “Brown” was inspired by the U.S. James Brown that danced and sang. When I read about the U.S. James I was inspired because I always wanted to become an actor. I wanted to explore my personality. Knowing him and learning about him gave me this edge of me becoming who I really want to become.

HBO: How do you feel now when you hear the phrase, “They didn’t caught me,” which you went viral for?

Brown: I’m kind of happy with myself because I was able to stand out, but I’m not happy with myself because I would have said more. I was so tense. I was scared. I believed I was going to prison, like for life, so I had to say something. That was the idea. But right now, if I listen to it, I love myself, I’m proud of myself. But I'm not happy because I didn’t say more. I would have said more. I have more to say.

HBO: What made you want to stay in Nigeria, after you were contemplating seeking refugee status in the U.S.?

Brown: What really changed my mind was the fact that I want to be known down here, known and respected. Then at some point I want to be respected all over the world. Because I believe in hard work, I believe in sharing my talents. I have my peers, I'm part of LGBT community here, but I have so much more to give than that. I have talent, I can dance, I can sing, I can write songs, I can act. So I want to show Nigeria that you can be whoever you are, you’re not going to be defined by your personality, by your sexual orientation, status, background. You can be defined by your talent, by your God-gifted talent. I was trying to prove the old Nigeria, the old world, wrong.

I’m the kind of person that loves being challenged. I’ve been challenged every moment of my life. I wanted to right so many wrongs, so to me, travelling to the U.S. felt like running from the problem. I believe that preaching for LGBTQ community is very beautiful. I love it, and I want to be in that effort, but it can be done in a different dimension, and people won’t have to hate on it. People will get to understand it. That’s where the entertainment world comes in. At some point, Nigeria, the world at large, will fall in place with it. That’s why I chose to stay back, because I want to do more in Nigeria. But when I know that it’s not safe, then I’d move, yeah.

HBO: How has your life changed since the documentary was filmed?

Brown: When I did that documentary, I was nothing. I had no financial status, no respect. I was known, but I wasn’t respected. But now, I have a place to live, I rent an apartment, I’m working around the clock. Being LGBTQ in Nigeria, being feminine, it’s very hard for us to get money. The only way I can make money is by being myself on social media platforms, using entertainment. Through that, people will pay me well for adverts, some promotion, publicity, a lot of things. I went back to get my own place for myself, then from there I opened James Brown Foundation.

HBO: So you’re starting your own house?

Brown: Yes, because I feel I've gotten much recognition and respect from Nigeria and worldwide, and I have the platform to promote anybody I’m picking. I’m gonna pick people and develop them, talented people. I’ll teach them how to believe, to make money, because for you to be respected in this country, LGBTQ or not, you have to have money. My own children, with their sources of income, will be respected, trust me. They will be respected and they will be known for their personality, and nobody will touch them. So the House of Brown is not about keeping you under my roof, it’s about you monetizing your talents and your gift.

HBO: You talk in the film about the struggles you’ve been through with your family, and yet you still find a positive way to look at things. When you talk about your experience with your mother in the film, you say “it was destiny” and “it happened for the greater good.” Are you just a naturally optimistic person, or did it take you a long time to adopt that outlook?

Brown: My life was a book I needed to learn how to read and how to understand. Ever since I understood my life, ever since I understood my past, my struggle, I have been unique. So I am naturally [optimistic], and I have to learn to have hope and think of the best, imagine the best, and work with it. I'm happy that those things happened to me; I am very powerful because of it. I am powerful of soul, I am very strong, I am very determined. I am determined to be a legend. I want to become better, and I want to change lives.

Discover resources and more about The Legend of the Underground here.

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