Genre: Comedy & Drama
Locations: NYC & Nigeria
In 2010, I started writing Back Home while I crashed on my sister's couch in New York. The city was the best and worst place on earth; full of so many creative opportunities, but a difficult place to create or live in if you're financially insecure, like me. At the time, I was working as a freelance medical copyeditor to pay the bills, but the work was boring and didn't feed my creative side. I had left film school broke without a degree, unsure about whether or not I'd ever make a film again.
Without an apartment, boyfriend, or job I loved, I flirted with the idea of moving to Nigeria—where I'd spent time traveling and interviewing people for a memoir of my late mother, Elizabeth, who died of cancer. It was the place where I felt closest to her, largely because my grandmother—after whom I was named, and the spitting image of my mother—still lived in the house where she raised Mommy, who took my sisters and I there on family trips "back home” as kids.
While writing the memoir, I spent the most time at Granny's house, sitting with her in the kitchen, eating fresh sugarcane from her farm, or watching the monsoon rains soak the earth. It filled my creative well and, in the process, I realized I still had stories to tell. So I went back to film school.
In my thesis year, I received a text message from my cousin that read: Granny is sick, please call home. By the time I did, my grandmother had already died. She was 100 years old by then, and it had been two years since I'd last seen her. I deeply regretted not having gone home for a visit and couldn't help but feel like all the excuses I'd made—from lack of money for a ticket, to school, to life—were just that, excuses. I'd somehow missed the point of life and love and family. Yet we all, my sisters and I, came home for the funeral, a celebration the size of which I'd never seen.
In many ways, BACK HOME is an autobiographical story with lots of creative license. It's the story of a struggling writer who dropped out of her MFA program, works a low-paying job, and crashes on her sister's couch after fleeing a bedbug-infested apartment. Everything changes when her grandmother gets sick and she goes back home to Nigeria.
The film conflates the events of several of my trips home to write the memoir, during which I fell in love, bookended by the sickness and death of my maternal grandmother.
Through meaningful moments shared with her grandmother and new love, Emem learns that the meaning of life goes beyond material things like an apartment, book deal, and a career. In the process, she discovers that her unique experiences are exactly what make her story worth telling.