Mr. Gele, the docu-film, focuses on the man, the story and the craft of the celebrated Houston-based Nigerian Gele (African headwear) artist, Mr. Hakeem Oluwasegun Olaleye popularly known as Mr. Segun Gele. Segun Gele is a self-taught creative who has been able to use his skills as a Gele designer and makeup artist to beautify women around the world. He plays a major role in the Nigerian Fashion community and beyond. In never-before seen footage, the ‘Mr Gele’ documentary captures a glimpse of his life as a husband, father, son and businessman and shines some light into the intrigue that surrounds him as a personality. Insightful interviews are given by his mother, wife, clients and longtime friends. This film is engaging and leaves the audience inspired by a man who has been able to defy all stereotypes and become successful in a female dominated profession.
Before Hakeem Oluwasegun Olaleye turned one, he contracted measles on his hands and feet which left him partially paralyzed. He rose above the physical challenges and later graduated with a Bachelor’s degree majoring in English language from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. In the mid 90s, his creative flair was ignited when he offered to assist a salon owner who was in dire need. His job then was limited to shampooing hair, however a client entrusted him with styling her hair which he did a wonderful job of. This eventually led to Hakeem being in great demand by other popular salons in the Lagos area .
At the time, it was not popular for men to be in the hair salon industry and this made him one of the pioneers. His professional abilities grew and he began working with bridal hair and then delved into the makeup industry.
On a trip to the US, he attended a Nigerian event in Atlanta, GA and came across a well-dressed lady in the parking lot. He noticed she had a headpiece fabric underneath her arm as she was looking for someone to help her tie it. He offered to help her but she was hesitant. Hakeem offered $5 to tie her headwrap, she liked it and paid him $7 instead. He ended up making $265 and from that day onwards, he became popularly known as ‘Segun Gele’. Segun has travelled all over the world to tie geles for brides at weddings and organizes workshops to teach others about the art of tying geles. His boisterous personality and strong connection to his feminine side has incited a few controversial reactions here and there among his followership. However, Mr Segun Gele couldn’t care less and continues to produce beautiful work, making an impact everywhere he goes.
I stumbled across Hakeem’s story on CNN while looking for something to watch on TV. He was being featured as part of their series, ‘African Voices’. It was a joy seeing an African featured and celebrated on T.V especially here in the West. Most of the time ( in my experience at least) images shown about Africans or anything to do with Africa, were negative. But seeing Hakeem being celebrated and recognized in a positive light stuck with me. I knew that I had to dig deeper into his story and produce a documentary about his journey. But I was uncertain on how to approach him about the idea. I sat on this idea for about 3 years! When I finally decided to reach out to him, I told my husband what I was about to do and who I wanted to profile in my documentary. To my surprise, my husband told me that Hakeem’s family used to be live right across from him while growing up in Lagos! Now this definitely gave me the push I needed to move forward. I finally reached out to Hakeem via Instagram's direct message (DM) in the Spring of 2016. I introduced myself ( I made sure to introduce myself as his former neighbor’s wife). I explained what I was trying to do and he was open to the idea almost immediately. What a relief! From that point on we continued to communicate via text and DM. So on July 29th 2016, I set out to Houston, Texas with my Associate Producer ( whose parents live in Houston as well!) to interview him, his family and friends for a weekend. As serendipity would have it, my Director of Photography and dear friend, Akin Okunrinboye, had just relocated to Houston from Atlanta so it all worked out great and it felt like it was meant to be from the very beginning.
I was supposed to film him at a Nigerian wedding which was to occur in August 2016, but due to unforeseen circumstances, the wedding was cancelled. This was a major disappointment to production but we continued to press on. Thankfully, a month later in September 2016, Segun got invited to a Headwrap Expo in Detroit, Michigan to teach and showcase his Gele tying skills at the Ford Community Performance Arts Center. The event attracted an attendance of over a thousand people from different backgrounds and cultures. I was there to document his every move. Post production started in November of 2016 and everything was completed by September 2nd 2017. This is a labor of love and I am excited about sharing this documentary with everyone, his fans and others who may not have heard about this talented awe-inspiring gele artist