(Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 06: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Folake Olowofoyeku visits BuzzFeed's "AM To DM" on September 06, 2019 in New York City.

Art Mirrors Reality in Folake Olowofoyeku’s TV Role as Abishola Adebambo

We speak to Nigerian actress Folake Olowofoyeku about playing the lead on CBS's Bob Hearts Abishola, receiving her late parents' blessing to become an actress and her recent NAACP Image Award nomination.

Folake Olowofoyeku is an incredibly talented actress who is also keenly aware of the inevitability of her own success. "I'm not surprised at my successes in whatever I do, she says confidently. "I know I will be successful as long as I'm dedicated." Olowofoyeku, a Nigerian actress who has had training in theatre, has starred in several productions including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Westworld, Transparent and several others. Born to traditional parents who wanted her to pursue a more conventional profession, Olowofoyeku continues to cement her place in the industry as a successful, committed and versatile actress.

Olowofoyeku's role as Abishola Adebambo in CBS's Bob Hearts Abisholahas been an authentic performance portraying the life of an immigrant trying to live the American dream in tandem with her own culture.

Recently, the 37-year-old actress was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series"—a testament to her genuinely relatable and endearing portrayal of Abishola. Also nominated in her category are Issa Rae (Insecure), Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish), Regina Hall (Black Monday) and Yara Shahidi (Grown-ish).

Bob Hearts Abishola is another hilarious production by the talented Chuck Lorre. Having premiered in 2019, and been renewed for a third season just last month, the comedy series follows the lives of a Nigerian nurse Abishola Adebambo (Olowofoyeku) and Bob Wheeler (Billy Gardell). The latter is a recent divorcee who runs his family's sock business in Detroit but finds himself at the Woodward Memorial Hospital after suffering a heart attack. It is there that he meets Abishola and is immediately smitten with her.

What makes Bob Hearts Abishola stand out is how it not only keeps its audience thoroughly entertained but does so while offering an alternative perspective of African immigrants, their culture, their hopes and dreams—minus the tired stereotypes.

And so we caught up with Olowofoyeku, who is based in Los Angeles, to speak about how comedy has given her her biggest break yet, what she has learned from her character Abishola and her recent NAACP Image Award nomination.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What were your initial thoughts when you first read the script for Bob Hearts Abishola, and what was that casting process like for you?

I didn't read the script until I'd been cast in the show. You have to realize that as a working actor, you go through tons and tons of auditions. At a certain point, I started just saying that I auditioned for a living because that's what I did. The ratio of auditions to actual jobs, in the beginning, is not balanced at all. So I thought it was a very well-written script and usually a good indication of that is, it's easy to memorize. It just flows like water. It's natural. It's written like a natural speaking pattern.

I knew it was Chuck Lorre's pet project, but I didn't know much about anything else. I just approached it like every other audition, focusing on the character's life. What is this character, Abishola, up to in this particular scene? And sometimes, it warrants creating a backstory, to be able to properly execute that audition. In this case, everything just seemed so natural; the character, her experience and accent. It was everything that was very familiar to me, the sort of woman she was.

Bob Hearts Abishola TrailerStill taken from YouTube.

Perhaps not so much in television but certainly in a number of films that have African characters, were you surprised that you, as an African, was actually cast for an African character?

I'm not sure I was surprised as much as I was glad. I think, within the whole culture recently, and our people have been very vocal about the fact that we want authenticity in the portrayal of our stories. I've noticed the change in the past few years, and I was glad that they were actually doing their due diligence in making sure to cast this character authentically.

I'm not a firm believer that as an actor, you have to be the character that you portray, but I think that it shouldn't just be disproportionately people who are not of a particular heritage and background playing and portraying certain characters. I think everyone should have an equal shot.

In what authentic ways would you say that you as a Nigerian, you relate to your character Abishola? If at all.

In so many ways. Sometimes it's kind of like a mind fuck, because we have the same background, but then it's a mind fuck because she's actually doing to her kid what was done to me. So, it's interesting because I wanted to be in the arts, and everyone in my family was against it and I was considered pretty much a joke for a very long time. So, having her go through that experience with her son, telling her son not to go into the arts, I mean, she's definitely a lot more lenient than my family was with me. Yeah, so it's sometimes emotional for me.

It was something that transcends this world in this character for me. Abishola's mother's name is actually my mom's name as well. There are a lot of parallels; even the stroke that Abishola is helping Dottie through. That was my experience as well with my father, growing up. So, it's pretty interesting, but a lot of her experiences are mine, a lot of the things that she endures with her son are experiences that I had in Nigeria while growing up. Obviously, I grew up in Nigeria, I was raised there. I didn't move to America until college. I'd never visited America until I moved here for college.

So, even in creating the character, I didn't have to do too much research. She was already embedded in me: the way she walked, the way she talked and her mannerisms. It's a part of me and it's what I grew up around. I went to an all-girls boarding school in Nigeria, the Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls. And just in that, between our teachers and the matron that took care of us while we were in boarding school, there's a lot to pull from. So, I researched Abishola for almost 20 years.

"So, I researched Abishola for almost 20 years."

Do you ever find a difficulty in discerning between Abishola the character, and you as Folake?

I wouldn't say I have difficulties, but there's a couple situations where they melt together. Remember, I studied theater. I learned all the different methods of acting so I'm able to portray a character and walk away from it at the end of the day without it affecting me or influencing my daily life. But there are certain emotional things that Abishola has experienced and to be able to portray that authentically on television, I need to actually go there personally. So, those would be the only incidences, because to get the visual representation of what Abishola is experiencing, I, Folake have to dive into some of my personal experiences and draw from that.

Bob Hearts Abishola TrailerStill taken from YouTube.

In a previous interview with us, you've said that you're not inherently a funny person, but you can be funny. On that note, are you surprised by your success in a comedy sitcom?

I'm not surprised at my success in it. I'm surprised that it was the launching pad. I'm a very versatile actress. That's been my staple since I started acting in college. I can do pretty much anything from action to drama—I love versatility. It's one of the things that drew me to the craft. I didn't want a redundant life. I appreciate the opportunities acting gave me. So, I'm not surprised at my successes in whatever I do. I know I will be successful as long as I'm dedicated and all that. And so, I'm just surprised that this was the medium that introduced me to the majority of the population.

You've spoken about how you were born to quite traditional parents who wanted you to pursue more conventional avenues professionally. In light of your success in Bob Hearts Abishola, would you say that their views changed?

My parents passed away many years ago. My mom had an opportunity to come and see some of my shows in New York. She saw me play Sally Bowles in Cabaret, which, if you're familiar with, it's a lot of singing and a lot of dancing in scantily chosen outfits. She enjoyed it a lot and she also came to a bunch of my Broadway shows too. She would always go back and report to my dad and tell him how it was all going. She told me she used to reenact the runway walk and all of that for him, which was really warming to hear.

Before they each passed away, they gave me their blessing. My dad passed away first. It was important to my mom that I go on and get my master's in acting if that was what I chose. But she supported and she was excited. And she was alive when I got nominated and won my first award for "Best Actress". So, I think she'd actually be extremely happy about this project.

"Before they each passed away, they gave me their blessing."

What would you say Abishola has taught you, not just as an actress but as a person?

She's helped me understand my parents' perspective. I mean, the whole process of playing this character on American television, first a Nigerian woman, with a Nigerian culture and Nigerian life in America. The whole journey is humbling and it's given me an opportunity to think outside of myself because a lot of my focus for many years was just about what's next. This project is having me sit down, and like Billy Gardell says, focus on gratitude for the opportunity and understand the weight of this character. It's given me an opportunity to be a lot more introspective about my journey and about what I want to focus on and what I want to say with this platform.

Bob Hearts Abishola TrailerStill taken from YouTube.

You were recently nominated for a NAACP Image Award. What does that mean to you, to have been nominated, and more so, what would it mean for you to actually win?

It feels like an acknowledgement of all the hard work we've all been doing; an acknowledgement that we are doing something beautiful here and something worthwhile. Not just me, the entire cast including the writers and creators of the show. We've got a great team here. I mean, we're in the Chuck Lorre universe, so that goes without saying. And that's a term that I've coined, the Chuck Lorre universe, because I'm very happy to be in it.

I think this is a pioneering show. I think we're timely, we're before our time, and that's why Chuck is the genius that he is. I see it as an appreciation for all the work that we're doing. Winning and being nominated, I'd say it kind of evokes the same feelings, and it's a celebration of immigrant people, not just us. And they're appreciative of the importance of creating imagery around immigrants that's positive and authentic. So I want to win. I have to win for the entire cast and crew.

There are always stereotypes attached to certain African immigrants. Do you think that the show has in any way shed light on that specific aspect of what it means to be an African immigrant in a place like the US?

Of course. I mean, you have to think about this because the show is made for Americans mostly in America. But the content is being spread all over the world. If we just focus on America for a second, there are tons of people who've never met Nigerians before in America. And this is network television. So, sometimes their very first introduction to Nigeria is from images that they see on screen. I'm not saying it's always wrong to portray Nigerians as villains or the negative. I'm not saying that at all. It just cannot be the only image.

It's about how you introduce millions of people to a certain culture. The fact that we are being watched on a weekly basis by six million people and counting is educating the world about Nigerians and about immigrants in general. It's almost an educational piece for folks who are not aware and familiar with the culture, from the foods that we eat to our motivation. Sometimes people forget that immigrants are literally just like them.

It's a good reminder that there's a portion of the immigrant community, of the Nigerian community, a large portion actually, that is really just focused on creating a better life for themselves. Just generally good people who want to be surrounded with love and have the ability to provide and have a stable, good standard of living.

I think if people would develop a lot more curiosity towards other people, I think it changes quite a bit. I think it's a really good first step. When you're being genuine and honest, there's no question you can't ask, especially if it's rooted in love. And I think this allows people to have conversations.

Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: NK Is The Future and Star of His Own Show

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ghanaian digital artist NK. The self-proclaimed Afrocentric visual artist's love for drawing and sketching at a young age pushed him to explore the many ways in which modern technology supports and advances creativity. Simply playing around with a popular photo editing app propelled the young artist into a world of self discovery, empowerment, and a keen understanding about how big the Universe we call home actually is. As the digital creative puts it, "I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art." Armed with a keen interest in all things Afrofuturist, NK's futuristic eye has gained the teen artist recognition from some of his industry faves, too.

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your background as an artist and the journey you have taken to get to where it is today.

I grew up with an interest in art and drawing. I loved to draw and sketch, usually with both pen and pencils, whatever was interesting around me. I would make compositions of items within my surroundings and paste them on the walls of my parent’s rooms. My interest in the digital world peaked around the ages of 14 and 15 -- I've always been intrigued by astronauts and futuristic technology. I started digital art in 2017 when I created 2D pieces on the PicsArt app on a phone at home. Eventually, I gained access to the Adobe Photoshop software.

Artists like David Alabo, Beeple, Basquiat, and Juan Carlos Ribas inspired me and also made me think of what I could achieve if I tried. I spent a lot of time watching tutorial videos and related content online to be able to develop my skill. Initially, I created my pieces by combining a number of stock images and online resources to create an entirely new fictional scene. Around early 2020 I had a creative block and was desperate to find new sources of inspiration. Over time I came to the realization that my inspiration surrounded me and that I shouldn’t have to force creativity. I did more research on Afrocentric art and stepped out of my comfort zone to create my first Afrocentric pieces, “Gateway to Paradise” and “Modernization”. These pieces attracted a lot of attention and also the smArt magazine which granted me my first interview and magazine feature opening the door to new relationships in the creative industry, various opportunities, and collaborations.

What are the central themes in your work?

My work is mainly centered around the expression of development in the Black experience and empowering African Culture. I try to factor in Afrofuturism and Afrocentrism in making my pieces whether it’s how my models are dressed, their accessories, or represented by items that surround them. My pieces are intended to put forward the message of creating brighter futures and realities where Africans thrive. This helps give my pieces in themselves an identity.

How did you decide on using a digital medium for your art?

Even though I do draw and sketch, I also feel very comfortable using digital software which to me offers endless possibilities. I believe that using digital media as an African artist helps bridge the gap between technology and cultural art, directly falling in line with my field of interest, Afrofuturism.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The start of the pandemic in 2020 was devastating. A lot happened during that period. It was during the lockdown that I made the decision to transition into creating Afrocentric art. We were made to take a break from school, which freed up a lot of my time. I had the time to research, watch tutorials and practice more. It might have been one of the most defining years for me as an artist. It also granted me a larger audience as everyone was made to work from home. I actually learned a lot and worked hard during that period and this led to my work improving massively.

Can you describe your artistic relationship with ‘Afro-futurism’?

Afrofuturism is a theme I can really relate to as a young African. It's our responsibility to contribute to our development as a people. I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art. I like to think of what we can achieve, the seemingly impossible things, and then I pour out those thoughts and ideas into my art and that is why I immediately fell in love with Afrofuturism. We are the future, the stars of our own show.

Can you talk about your use of colors and accessories in your art?

The most dominant figure in my pieces is usually the black figure/model which usually stands out as the main subject. Regarding the backgrounds, I usually try to make a scene with colors to create a particular mood or in some of my pieces to complement the clothes of the model, usually African prints. They range from solid backgrounds to gradients and various sky textures. I use different cultural accessories both for beautification and also to provide that Afrocentric feel and message. I love to use various beads, bracelets, and traditional cloths with interesting textures to convey these messages of who we are as Africans and where we come from.

Artwork by NK

"Cultural Adornment"

Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for YouTube Beauty

Nigerian-American Jackie Aina Catches Flames For Insensitive New Candle

The s-candle burns bright on Twitter as the Youtuber's 'Sòrò Sókè' candle sparks fury over the political meaning behind the name.

We didn't think this week we would see drama from a candle release. But here we are.

Nigerian-American Youtuber Jackie Aina has angered the Nigerian online community after the latest release from her lifestyle candle brand Forvr Mood. The candle, titled"Sòrò Sókè" which translates to "Speak Up", has the Nigerian community up in arms as the saying was originally used during the inhumane #ENDSARS saga that saw the Nigerian government willfully gun down peaceful protesters.

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Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

'Ile Owo' Director Dare Olaitan on Exploring the Human Condition Through Film

Director Dare Olaitan talks about his filmmaking process and his attempt to re-educate the audience on the impact of unchecked capitalism.

Dare Olaitan was 26 when his first feature film, Ojukokoro: Greed,, was released in the cinemas. The crime thriller, which was released in 2016, received positive reviews and was nominated for the Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Nigerian Film in 2018. Knock Out Blessing, his second film, also got an AMAA nomination the following year. Dwindle, his third, — which is coming to Netflix later this month — was co-directed with Kayode Kasum last year.

In his latest film, Ile Owo, Olaitan aims to capture the horrific by exploring social hierarchies, poverty, class politics, and religion in the Nigerian society. The psychological trailer stars Immaculata Oko, Tina Mba, Akin Lewis, Bisola Aiyeola, Efe Iwara and a host of others.

In this interview with OkayAfrica, Olaitan talks about his filmmaking process and his attempt to re-educate the audience on the impact of unchecked capitalism.

Ile-Owo screenshot two women

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

Ile-Owo is your fourth film, but the first horror. What drew you to this genre and why did you decide horror was the most fitting form to tell the story?

I think horror movies are a great way to deal with social issues by motifs and metaphors to illustrate things that I am concerned about at the moment. I am also interested in the global interest in the horror genre and its ability to travel. I would say Ile Owo isn’t a true horror film. It’s closer to a psychological thriller.

Of course, horror is not new in Nigerian films, and quite a number of millennials, including you, who grew up in the country can attest to watching them. Was there something you wanted to do differently?

I feel like horror exploded in the Nigerian film industry as a reaction to the dictatorship of [Sani] Abacha in the early '90s. This made our films metaphors for the social problems with evangelical and pentecostal churches and movements growing in that time. Ile Owo is a retread of those thoughts and feelings. Just updated for 2022.

It's interesting you mentioned religious movements. Ile Owo confronts social hierarchies, hardship, and the ways religion serves as succor for many. How much can relate to that?

I think it’s impossible to grow up in a third world country and not witness the impact economics has on many people. Religion creates some sense of structure and safety in a chaotic environment. The worse the economic situation of a region the higher the religious fervor.

Can you talk a bit about your technique, particularly on evoking fear on the big screen?

I knew my limitations and the limitations of the crew, so I tried to evoke fear in the mind of the viewer. By creating situations where the audience’s imagination completes the scare thus making it all the more personal.

And did you achieve that? Do you think the audience had enough material to work with?

I think to an extent. There is always room to grow. I learned lessons, I can say that much.

What lessons?

What Nigerians like to watch and how to structure things better. In terms of production, I’ve never done anything of this magnitude. I learned more about VFX.

You've spoken in the past about your interest in making seven films based on the seven deadly sins, which will be titled after each sin. You've made Ojukokoro (Greed). Where does Ile Owo come in? And why is exploring these themes important to you?

The seven deadly sins are an important thematic element for me. They represent some commonality in the human experience. Things people in every culture can relate to and have experienced in their daily lives. Ile Owo is not part of the seven. Igberaga (Pride) is the next one on the slate.

Ile-Owo screenshot man in car

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

What exactly did you want to say in Ile Owo?

Ile Owo is really a film about the subjection of Nigerian women in the traditional marriage structures, how they are exploited by the expectations of culture and lose their lives and youth to support men who use them for personal gain. That was the nugget that informed the writing and creation of the story. I just had to obfuscate through metaphors and motifs.

Past conversations on social media have shown that some key players in Nollywood don't take criticism very well. How do you navigate unpleasant remarks about your work?

I can only speak for myself but I know I have no problem with well-intentioned criticism. I make art so it’s nice to get the thoughts of the people it was created for. I think the problem comes in with poorly-intentioned criticism. I have gotten reviews that called me stupid or foolish. I don’t think reviews like that help anyone and make it harder for creatives to express themselves.

How does your background in Economics and Business Management influence your work as a filmmaker?

It experiences the way I view life as it was the first viewpoint I used to parse reality. It’s evident in all my work as my subject matter almost always covers inequality and the rising gap between the rich and the poor. I think capitalism has become unchecked and I am doing my little part to re-educate the audience.

I recall a character hallucinating in Ojukokoro. There's a similar element in Ile Owo, portrayed by the protagonist's father. You seem keen on exploring the intersection of mental illness and the supernatural.

What is mental illness and what is supernatural? Are they not two shirts cut from the same fabric? I am not sure to be honest. I just like to mess with themes that are interesting to me. I think there is a thing among indigenous creatures where people who have mental illnesses are seen to be closer to the supernatural. Perhaps this is an extension of that.

Director Dare Olaitan

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

As the writer and director, you must have had the most influence on the outcome of this film. What other factors impacted the production? If you could change anything in the process, from ideation to premiere, what would that be?

Nigeria. Making films in Nigeria is very hard. Filmmaking is akin to war. We must conquer the reality and bend it to our will in order to for 90-120 minutes, capture the audience in disbelief and play them to our wishes. Nigeria makes this hard as life here is already war. Budgetary concerns, technical inability to accomplish some of our goals are things that will always impact production. I wish I had more time and money.

What are the three things filmmakers just starting out should bear in mind?

Your message. Your reasons for doing it. Your tone. These things will guide you and stop you from missteps. I wish I had that knowledge when I started.

It's fascinating how you're able to move across different genres: crime, comedy, and psychological thriller. You're a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, and that's evident in your work. Who are some of the filmmakers that have had the most influence on your work and why?

Robert Rodriguez. Martin Scorsese. [Francis Ford] Coppola. These are the people whose films I look up too. We might have the same content in terms of premise but I like to see what they do to navigate problems because as a director all you are doing is really solving problems and translating ideas into images. I watched a lot of their film commentaries when I started out, so their voices sort of guide me.

News Brief

Listen to Fireboy DML's New Album 'Playboy'

Featuring "Bandana," "Peru," "Playboy" and many more hits.

Nigeria's highly-buzzingFireboy DMLcomes out with his new album, Playboy, via YBNL Nation/Empire.

The 14-song record follows the afrobeats trailblazer's hot streak from his sophomore album, Apollo, which debuted at #14 on Billboard World Albums. Fireboy has seen constant success lately with his massive single "Peru" making rounds across the world, recebing a RIAA-certified Gold plaque and, even, getting an Ed Sheeran remix.

"Peru" also hit #1 on the official Afrobeats chart in the UK and topped charts in at least 22 countries including Nigeria, Tanzania, Liberia, Jamaica, France, Kenya, Ireland, and others.

The original and Ed Sheeran remix of "Peru" both feature on Playboy, as well as standout singles like "Bandana" featuring Asake and "Playboy." The album also includes features from Rema (on "Compromise"), Shenseea (on "Diana") and more.

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