Film

Nigerian-American Actress Adepero Oduye on 10 Years of Taking Control

Interview with Nigerian-American Actress Adepero Oduye (Dee Rees's Pariah). Oduye discusses what she's accomplished, her venture into writing, and her upcoming roles.


Adepero Oduye featured in Elle Magazine. Photo: Thomas Whiteside.

*Interview by Maryam Kazeem

It’s been ten years since she started acting and, while Nigerian-American Adepero Oduye knows that her successes are nothing to be shy about, the actress beams with humility. Known for her performance in Dee Rees's Pariah, the progression of Adepero's career demonstrates there's not much of a gap between the kind of actress she wants to be and is. With recognition in Time Magazine's Great Performances (2012) Adepero's name has also been widely circulated for roles she hasn't even auditioned for. The controversial casting of Zoe Saldana in the upcoming Nina Simone project has come with suggestions of alternatives and without a doubt, Oduye's name is in every article, blog post, comment or rant.

In milieu of Hollywood's 'myth' of the tragic black female actor, suggestions that black women cannot succeed unless they take roles playing maids, slaves, or hypersexualized somethings, or that to thrive one must definitely pass the paper bag test, become particularly involuted when we think about a Nigerian-American actress such as Oduye. Born in Brooklyn, NY to Nigerian parents, Adepero is proud of her Nigerian heritage but also cognizant of how her identity interacts with the roles she finds in Hollywood — to others, that is. Her upcoming role in Steve McQueen's Twelve Years A Slave highlights some of the complexities that African actors face when seeking employment in Western based film industries, particularly Hollywood (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Adepero have been somewhat questioned for being Africans, cast as African-American slaves, because that makes so much sense when you really think about it given the temporality and history of the whole thing). When we consider how the world operates in terms of race, notions of beauty and blackness, Adepero's success in Hollywood speaks to something: her will to create and engage in spaces that seek to question or problematize these ideas on a representational meta level, but also through the content of the films she has acted in thus far.

The first time Adepero and I meet we have a long discussion about hair, because let’s face it, amongst “naturals” the conversation is bound to come up. This interview is our third encounter and our conversation flows as we discuss how Adepero looks back on her somewhat abrupt decision to try acting, her growth as an artist, and all that other great identity stuff. I ask Adepero about her five years in the industry, and while she corrects me that she’s actually been acting for ten years, her decade of acting comes as a surprise to her as well, in the way that usually occurs when you're doing something you love.

When I’m acting it’s amazing. I think ten years in what’s been amazing is that when I first started I really had no idea what the journey was going to be like or what it was supposed to be like. All I knew was that I had this thing in me — this passion in me- to act. At the time it was random, but when I look back it actually wasn’t random at all.  So for me to be at this point from where I started? It’s surreal, especially because I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t feel like there were any examples of people who had done it before me- that were like me.

I thought for a while that maybe I was trying to do something that was impossible. I remember thinking “no one wants to see someone who looks like me on the big screen.” Fast forward to being at Sundance and doing the Q&A and at that moment just thinking like “Wow. How did I get here?” Now I know that anything is possible. Right now I almost feel like "now what?” It’s one thing to dream a dream and another thing to do something about it. I feel like at this stage in my life I’m interested in writing, and collaborating and creating projects.  I’ve never really been a person to wait so now I want to be a part of creating more work that I want to see out there. And that’s a new challenge.

While her focus has been acting, Adepero has also started pursuing other aspects of her creativity which come with their own challenges:

I’ve been writing stories; and coming into myself as a writer is a journey I’m experiencing at the moment. I feel like everything has set me up to this point where I feel ready to try and expand and build on what I’ve experienced and achieved. But, in some ways, I also feel like I’m starting out new every day you know? I wrote a short film recently that I’m going to shoot — and before I would be scared to even say I wrote something, but I’m in a different place now where I’m not afraid to mess up.

Next Page
popular
Still from 'Black Lady Goddess'

Check Out the Trailer for 'Black Lady Goddess,' a Satirical Afro-futuristic Series

The upcoming series, by Chelsea Odufu, centers on a "time period where humans have not only found out that God is a Black woman, but reparations have been issued to each person of African descent."

Black Lady Goddess is a new series from Nigerian-Guyanese filmmaker and content creator Chelsea Odufu.

The upcoming show, described as a "satirical afro-futurisitc" tale, takes place in the year 2040, when humans have come into contact with their creator—a Black woman.

"[Black Lady Goddess] follows the life of young activist Ifeoma Washington who is coming into her own in this time period where humans have not only found out that God is a Black woman, but after reparations in the amount of $455,000 has been issued to each person of African descent," reads the official synopsis. The show highlights how those of African descent grapple with the effects of ongoing Western Hegemony.

Still from 'Black Lady Goddess'

The show is heavily inspired by the Dogon Tribe of Mali, a group that has pioneered the study of astronomy for decades, and centers the experiences of Black women. "Black Lady Goddess submerges us into a world where God is a woman breaking away from the usual representation of God being a masculine figure, which we see throughout western canonical literature," says Odufu in an artist statement. "The goal is to break the chains of patriarchy and show that women can hold positions of power, authority, cultural significance and even the highest position of all, the creator of the universe."

Still from 'Black Lady Goddess'

The first season consists of eight 22-minute episodes, created, directed and written by Chelsea Odufu and written and produced by Emann Odufu.

Be on the lookout for the series premiere and check out the trailer for the pilot episode of Black Lady Goddess below.

Black Lady Goddess Pilot Episode Official Trailer www.youtube.com

popular
(Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Bernardine Evaristo's Award-Winning Novel, 'Girl, Woman, Other,' Is Being Adapted Into a Film

The British-Nigerian author's Booker-prize winning book, about the lives of Black-British women, is headed to the big screen.

British-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo's Booker-prize winning novel Girl, Woman, Other is being adapted for the big screen by major British production company Potboiler Television, reports African literary site Brittle Paper.

The production company, helmed by BAFTA winning producer Andrea Calderwood and Gail Egan, is the same company behind the upcoming series adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah on HBO Max. Potboiler Television's previous productions also include the 2019 film The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Keep reading... Show less
Audio
(Youtube)

The 12 Best Ghanaian Songs of the Month

Featuring Stonebwoy, Kuami Eugene, Shatta Wale, Samini, Sarkodie and more.

March has been quite an eventful month around the world. While almost everything has come to a standstill due to the pandemic, the creative world hasn't stopped. In an attempt to keep the content coming during this time of social distancing and self isolation, both the top shots and emerging acts have been showing out. As March comes to a close we give you a list of some of the best songs to come out of Ghana this month. Check them out below.

Follow our GHANA WAVE playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Keep reading... Show less
Audio
Youtube

The 6 Best East African Songs of the Month

Featuring Harmonize, Rayvanny, Mbosso, Vinka and more.

East African artists have been keeping our spirits up with upbeat and catchy releases this month. Here are our picks for the best East African songs of the month.

Follow our East African Grooves playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.