Beno Obano Is Inspiring A Generation Of Rugby Stars Through Documentaries
inspiring a new generation
inspiring a new generation
In the nineties, Beno Obano’s parents relocated to the United Kingdom from Nigeria. That move would later inform most of his life as a second-generation British-Nigerian. While most of his mates back home took up professional careers as doctors or lawyer’s, as Beno grew older, he would go on to become a rugby enthusiast after a number of influential people saw potential in his physical build and encouraged him to play.
Nowadays the 26-year-old Bath player and England international collaborates with Amazon to produce documentaries that shine a light on the sport’s racial imbalance. “It’s obvious, when you look at the teams and you see a lot of white people,” he says to The NATIVE, “and you’re like ‘why aren’t there more diverse people?’”.
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Making the documentaries was Beno’s idea of broadening the ideas of Black people in regards to how they engage Rugby, seeing as it had changed the lives of players like himself. The first, ‘Everybody’s Game,’ was inspired by his come-up as a first generation South Londoner who also wanted Nigerians “to be proud and feel some sort of connection” to Rugby.
Eventually, Obano’s documetaries caught the attention of the right eye, gaining him a presence with TV giants Netflix and Amazon after he’d finished making the documentary. The latter responded positively, and that was the start of a partnership which is extending with Beno’s forthcoming docu-series, ‘Prep To Win: Harlequins’.
Speaking about his reason for opting for documetary-style videos, Obano shares, “I don’t like print media that much,” he says, smiling as he lingers over the last word. “Print media is a medium. Someone’s telling your story for you. That was my experience. In England, they’d come interview me and I’d speak to them, and then I read what is written. And it’s not like, wrong, but it’s their perception of what I said. I just thought it’s important to make a film where there’s no mediation. The person saying it is directly speaking to the person they’re trying to reach”.
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There was a need for additional research. “Although I felt what I felt about the sport, I didn’t want it to be anecdotal,” he says. “I wanted to have the statistics to back it up, so I did loads of research around what I actually felt was the case, to support my argument essentially”.
‘Prep To Win: Harlequins’ is about turning things up, he tells me with a half-laugh. Along with some creative collaborators, he brainstormed the idea for a series that advances the game of rugby within its highest tier. “It was perfect,” he says. “From that point onwards, we just ran with it. I then pitched it to different teams, and they said yes. The same process, I showed it to the broadcasters, they said yes and then we moved forward”.
The series focuses on the pre-season journey of different teams. The reasons were practical enough: he wouldn’t have to worry about rights to official games or the lengthy production time of covering an entire season. His major concern was however more skill-influenced. “Pre-season is a part people don’t actually get to see,” he explains. “It’s the preparation phase. Even for this interview, for example, you have to prepare to ask me questions. People don’t see the preparation, but they’ll see the article when it comes out. So I thought if you can shine a light on the preparation, it’s a bit more interesting and more relatable ‘cos everybody has to prepare to perform”.
Beno Obano’s upbringing was effusively Nigerian, and it’s a trait that remains with him till today. In an episode of Pearl Conversations, a podcast hosted by his cousin and professional rugby player Maro Itoje, he admits certain cultural references (like not shaking someone with the left hand) used to confuse him, but he’s grown to understand its dominant message of respect. Likewise, Itoje confirms that “for [Beno] and I rugby has never really been there when we were growing up.” Until secondary school, “rugby was never really a thing for us. Coming from a Nigerian household where if it’s any sport at all it’s football, if it’s not football then it’s books.”
Everyone can’t play football however, and that’s where diversifying sports among Black communities comes into place. His efforts have been paying off: after the release of Everybody’s Game, a notable private school in the UK notified him of their interest to fund the education of some selected boys. “That sort of changes people’s lives and I think sports is able to do that,” he says.
In the past Beno has tried out rapping, and even released a couple of mixtapes. When the conversation shifts to music, he is instantly alert, responding that music pretty much soundtracks most activities in his everyday life. He’s previously opened up into the differences between his music taste and those of his predominantly white teammates, sharing his defiant response when they’d sometimes complain in the gym. In several scenes across his documentaries, you’d hear music from Skepta, DRB Lasgidi, Lojay and Headie One.
He hasn’t been in Nigeria too frequently, and that’s because the December festivities collide with rugby’s busiest period. “I wanted to go this summer, just relax, take it easy,” he says, “that’s kind of what I’m looking forward to doing. Hopefully, I buy a house out there soon and I have somewhere I can just stay. That’s the plan really, ‘cos we all have to go back home at some point.”
Featured image credits/NATIVE