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Hi Hope, tell us your origin story!
I always joke that I’m from the airport. It’s a lot easier to say that than any one particular place. I was born in the UK, but I’m from Nigeria. I grew up between London and Lagos and after a few years, my mum won the US green card lottery and we moved to the States. My home is where my suitcase is. In the past few years I’ve spent quite a lot of time in LA so I’m a combination from all 3 places. From how I speak to how I self-identify, they’ve all had a large influence in who I am.
I wear a few different hats. I write, produce, and act. Which is a bit odd because I started off as a pre-med microbiology student but I had this opportunity to work for a production company and I got really excited and passionate about storytelling.
I co-own a multimedia production company that handles all sorts of things from mobile apps, animated projects to film and television development. I also have a partnership with an independent studio in Los Angeles, called Cinema Collaboratorium. Our focus is on taking the fear out of filmmaking. The idea of making a film or being a part of this industry can be so overwhelming because there are so many gaps in what we know. It takes literally a village to bring a film to life. We’ve built a community of filmmakers from every type of crew member to people that provide post services or actors and writers.
We’re launching a script-to-screen contest where we pick one short film script and giving an opportunity to an aspiring filmmaker by giving them all of the resources of our studio and bringing sponsors on board.
Was there ever a time where you felt discouraged but believed in yourself and continued on?
Being a part of this industry has been really cool but also very eye opening. It’s one of the few areas where you are allowed to openly discriminate because there’s always the rationale of ‘Oh that’s not what the story calls for”. I still experience this constantly where people’s ideas or expectations of who you are or what’s possible for you are really limited to a box.
I’m not the cookie cutter type so I often find myself the ‘wild card’ choice or the ‘interesting’ choice. They often want to play it safe. I might go in for an audition and they’ll say ‘Be yourself’ but they just want things to look like the pre-packaged image of what they think a person should look like. As a woman and as a woman of color, it can be very frustrating to have to politely tap them on the shoulder to say “I am a person. I am real. Perhaps the issue here is that your world experience is a limited.”
In many ways, I’ve had to come to accept that as the norm but I refuse to. I had a manager once who had issues with my hair being in braids saying that it’s not relatable and therefore making it harder for me to be cast. How can you say that’s not relatable? I’m a person, and if you look at the African diaspora there are probably more women wearing their hair in braids than not. It’s really bizarre that by being yourself, you’re being told that you’re unrelatable. I’m a human being.
There have been times where I find that I have to turn an opportunity down because it’s too cliche, stereotypical or frankly embarrassing. For me it’s been really challenging not to sit and complain but rather take some initiative. I’m very actively producing projects that challenge ideas of what people think what an ethnic character should be. The industry continues using the same ethnic tropes which is a bit sad. Why is it unusual or weird for a black girl to be nerdy?
People respond to all types and it’s moreso about developing compelling characters - not whether the person is white or black or whatever. We’re able to relate to all sorts of people from any color any background it’s just about how well the character is presented. That’s the key.
We’re making some progress but there’s still a lot to do. We have to step away from tokenism and include people thoughtfully. You can’t just do it to pacify fans or check the diversity box.
How did you feel about our #NUDEFORALL campaign?
I responded to this campaign so much. There are so many little ways that women of color are told that we’re just not the norm nor the standard. Even in something as simple as picking out a pair of nude underwear or make up. Certain brands still don’t have a wide range that covers all different skin tones. Even something as silly as emoji, we only just got ethnic emojis a year ago!
For years, we’ve just accepted that we’re not represented. You’re constantly pecked at that you’re just this odd exception. Seeing this campaign was a breath of fresh air. Finally, the media, advertising, and products are starting to evolve into being inclusive and that’s exciting to see.
What superpower would you give all women and why?
A sense of self worth. That is something that gets chipped away quite a bit. For your sense of value not to come completely from exterior perception. To approach things coming from a place where you value yourself. Not in a vain or conceited way, but just saying ‘Hey, you know what? I have a perspective, I have life experience, I bring something of value to the table.’ Not needing that to be validated by anyone else. Trust that. It can make a huge difference.
I would want girls to be confident by what they’re curious, motivated and driven by rather than what they are told they should be or what box they fit into.
What’s an interesting adventure you’ve had?
I was recently in Indonesia with friends, there was a terrorist attack in January and I was just down the street from where it happened. I had been headed exactly where the explosion took place that morning. The only reason that I hadn’t left was because I got a phone call for an audition.
The explosion happened at a Starbucks and everyone that knows me, knows that the very first place I would have gone would be Starbucks! To have had a call from the States from my manager about an audition, for that to be the thing that kept me from going into harm’s way was really surreal. It was very strange.
I still had an amazing holiday, I have amazing friends there and nothing will keep me from going back but it put things into perspective. The one thing I love the most is that my friends are all over the world. I love connecting with people that at first glance you’d imagine you wouldn’t have anything in common with but I take real pleasure in having a fun hodge-podge of interesting friends.
What’s a note to self you’d like to be reminded of?
That I’m still learning and growing and it’s ok to figure things out in my own pace.
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