‘Madu,’ the story of Nigeria’s viral young ballet dancer, is a film ‘we can all learn from’ 

The emotional film follows tenacious young ballet dancer Anthony Madu as he overcomes mounting obstacles to pursue his passion. 

Madu, Anthony Madu, ballet, Black in ballet, Black dance, Black dancers, Nigeria, Nigerian films, African films, Kachi Benson, Disney, Disney films, Elmhurst Ballet School, theGrio.com
Anthony Madu dances in front of an audience during his summer break trip back to his home in the Ajangbadi suburb of Lagos, Nigeria. (Image: Disney)

Making its debut on Disney+, “Madu” is a captivating film inspired by a new type of young hero. Delving into the story of a then 12-year-old Anthony Madu, a Nigerian boy from a disadvantaged background, the film follows his challenging journey to study ballet at a prestigious school in London. 

In 2020, Madu took the world by storm when a video of him dancing ballet in the rain went viral. The inspiring imagery reached celebrities like Viola Davis, who said the video reminded “her of the beauty of our people…,” adding that “despite the brutal obstacles that have been put in front of us! Our people can fly.”

Madu didn’t only inspire Davis; he also inspired award-winning documentary filmmaker and co-director of “Madu,” Kachi Benson. Speaking with theGrio, Benson noted that what is both compelling and relatable in Madu’s quest is that he is “doing something that isn’t very popular and is not accepted…but he chose to still do it.”

“He’s from a severely economically challenged part of town … I could see a lot of myself in that,” Benson shared. “[A]s a doc filmmaker based in Lagos, some of my friends thought I was crazy for trying to do this, but I chose to still do it anyway, and that really is what drew me to Anthony’s story,” he added. 

In the film, Madu momentarily struggles to stay focused as demons from his past haunt him. The film strikes a precise balance in following Madu thriving at Elmhurst Ballet School and ruminating about the bullies who teased him back in Lagos for being a boy who liked ballet. In Benson’s eyes, the film is about “[Madu’s] search for acceptance and belonging in the midst of chasing this dream and pursuing his passion.”

Though inspired by Madu’s talent, Benson explained that it was equally essential to show the rawness of Madu’s struggles because, ultimately, humans are innately motivated to desire to find their “tribe” and feel connected to others. 

“When you look at the film, one interesting thing that comes to light is the fact that, in a lot of ways, you will see that dance was always his therapy; dance was always his escape; dance was the medicine,” Benson told theGrio. “Even in those dark places, he would always feel this desire and urge to move — and that, in a lot of ways, was his coping mechanism.” 

The award-winning filmmaker further discussed his creative direction and why the team chose to shoot in specific film locations to capture the “raw states” of the youngster’s journey.

“It’s not just a 12-year-old traveling abroad; it’s the hopes and dreams of that family resting on the shoulders,” he explained. “[The family kept] praying for him, saying ‘Your success is our success; your success means that you can open doors for us, open doors for your siblings.'”

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Benson emphasized that it was integral to show how much Madu’s family relied on him, noting that “It could not have been a complete story if we didn’t have that part included.”

“Over the course of the film, we kept coming back to Lagos even though [Madu] was there in the United Kingdom. We would come back and show you his mom and show you his siblings and how they would always touch base with him,” Benson added. 

The film also chronicles Madu’s increasing struggles with his eyesight during ballet and regular academic courses. After he partly fails his eye exams, unable to accurately count the fingers held in front of him, he must confront yet another fear of not actualizing his dreams. The impairment becomes an opportunity to talk through his challenges. 

As Benson told theGrio, “This film is something we can all learn from; how to keep your eyes on the big picture. Once you zero in on what’s important, you stay focused on it. Everything else is just speed bumps on the way, but it shouldn’t stop you.”

Madu, Anthony Madu, ballet, Black in ballet, Black dance, Black dancers, Nigeria, Nigerian films, African films, Kachi Benson, Disney, Disney films, Elmhurst Ballet School, theGrio.com
Anthony Madu practices for the Elmhurst Ballet School of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s summer dance show. (Image: Disney)

When asked about his experience working with one of the world’s largest media conglomerates, Benson admitted, “I never saw this coming. I was stunned when we got the news that Disney was going to be the one making this film with us; I was like, ‘This can’t be real.’ But it is.” 

He went on to praise those who helped make his own journey possible from the first day he picked up a camera. 

As viewers witness Madu dancing with pride in his Lagos village, one can only hope he will one day share a similar tale. According to Benson, he is still at Elmhurst, thriving and shining.

Madu is currently available to stream on Disney+.

Eden Harris is an award-winning journalist from DC who enjoys writing about Africa and its many cultures. She worked as a national politics producer for Spectrum News and is a rising leader in foreign affairs and at the National Press Club. 

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