Ladi Ladebo, writer and collaborator with Ossie Davis in an early media project of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, has died in London. He was 78.
Ladebo, holder of a marketing and business degree from New York University, offered a marketing plan to the Delta sorority for a novel film project. According to the Sorority’s 15th president, Lillian Pierce Benbow, the proposed film, Countdown at Kusini, would counter the cinema of “Blaxploitation” and address negative images of Blacks in cinema.
“We saw that with movies, and any of the media, you have the usual stereotype presentation of Black women [. . .] either she’s got a handkerchief on her head, humming her song, ‘Jesus, I’ll be home by and by,’ or she’s somebody’s prostitute or in some other way dehumanized,” Benbow said in 1974.
“The [depiction] problem will begin to be solved when Blacks gain control over the making of their own films”.
What eventually followed was a historic collaboration with Ossie Davis and his wife Ruby Dee on Countdown at Kusini, a film written by Ladebo.
Davis recalled his meeting with Delta: “They came to us … I happened to have a son-in-law (Ladi Ladebo, a Nigerian) at that time who was interested in filmmaking and he had rights to a story called Countdown at Kusini.”
The commitment to a pan-African effort had long been on Davis’ personal agenda, having assisted in the direction of Kongi’s Harvest, the first Nigerian feature film which starred Wole Soyinka.
But filming in Nigeria proved to be a significant, costly obstacle. Davis recalls: “When the crew arrived in Nigeria and saw the working conditions, they insisted on more pay.” Other costs began to mount.
Ultimately, the film industry backed away from the film. “They did not believe whites would be interested in Kusini and they weren’t going to tie up a screen on a Saturday and lose profits. So they put it on once, on one screen, on a Wednesday,” Ladebo recalled.
Reviews of the film also hurt its chances. Vincent Canby in the New York Times wrote : “it’s a movie that wants to be ‘serious’ about African political aspirations while also being entertaining. Though it tries hard, it’s neither [. . .]
Despite the failure of Countdown at Kusini, Delta believed the project fulfilled its mission of educational and political enlightenment, and economic empowerment and self-sufficiency.
Kusini was shown at the Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film in the US in 2018 – its first screening in 30 years.
Other films by Ladebo are: Cool Red, and Bisi, Daughter of the River, Heritage, Vendor, and The Silent Sufferer. He also directed several serials for TV including Pariah and The Thrift Collector.
He is survived by his wife, Irene, three daughters and two grandchildren.