Interview

Fehinti Balogun: ‘When you speak of truth, it catches on’

The ‘I May Destroy You’ star has dedicated his recent years to the climate fight, with his new digital theatre show ‘Can I Live?’ discussing his experience as a Black environmental activist. He talks to Isobel Lewis about giving up meat, his time with Extinction Rebellion and finding truth in hip hop

Wednesday 15 September 2021 15:10
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<p>‘The climate crisis is gonna take all of us. It’s gonna take risk and truth and heartbreak and support and community'</p>

‘The climate crisis is gonna take all of us. It’s gonna take risk and truth and heartbreak and support and community'

What was the culture that first exposed you to the climate crisis? A David Attenborough documentary? The Day After Tomorrow? An Inconvenient Truth? For Fehinti Balogun, it was James Cameron’s Avatar. “I thought, ‘Oh God, that’s sad isn’t it? Cutting down all these trees,’” he recalls. The actor and musician, best known for his roles in I May Destroy You and Informer, would go on to become a climate activist, working initially for Extinction Rebellion (more on them later) and then independently giving lectures across the country. His latest project, Can I Live?, is a visual-album-cum-theatre-show with theatre company Complicité, using spoken word and rap to share his impassioned anger about the oncoming climate crisis. With the recent UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warning that humanity is at a “code red” level when it comes to the destruction of the earth, it couldn’t be more needed.

Originally intended as a live theatre show before the pandemic hit, Can I Live? is enthralling and innovative. In it, Balogun talks about living with his mum during the pandemic and struggling with her lack of acceptance of his activism. He describes her rolling her eyes and telling a cashier that “he’s trying to save the planet” when he refuses to take a plastic bag. From there unfurls a mix of sketches, songs and animated segments, during which he discusses the realities of the oncoming crisis, people’s inability to face it and his experience as a Black climate activist. It has the feel of Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video, using exciting and witty visuals and music to explain uncomfortable facts.

“I feel like I’ve always connected to truth in music, especially in hip hop,” Balogun tells me. “I think that’s why I connect with Kendrick Lamar so much. Whenever you’re hearing him, like, Untitled Unmastered, To Pimp A Butterfly… that’s him talking about his experience. When you speak of truth it catches on, and with the climate crisis, you just want to tell the truth and what better way to do that than through hip hop?”

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