‘Aajirebi’ was the game changer for me — Damilola Oni

The rise of Nollywood actress, Damilola Oni, became imminent in 2017 when she joined the Yoruba magazine breakfast show, ‘Aajirebi’, aired daily on Africa Magic Yoruba. From co-hosting this show, she has attracted attention from a multitude of entertainment lovers nationwide. She told ROTIMI IGE about her journey so far as an entertainer, among other issues.

Where did your love for acting come from?

My love for acting came from my love for good attention. I used to stand in front of the mirror since I was a child. I would make different facial expressions and I generally love being dramatic. I was in the drama unit in my church and they encouraged me to pursue a career in acting. I also watched a lot of Bimbo Akintola while growing up. She was one of my favourite actresses and I wanted to be like her.

How did your parents react to the choice of acting?

My dad was not in support at all in the beginning. My mother was neither here nor there. But I understood the scepticisms of Nigerian parents at their daughter on television. I remember wanting to study Theatre Arts in the university and my father kept asking why I wanted to waste my only shot at tertiary education.

He referred to other actors who are making waves without studying theatre arts just to discourage me. I eventually studied linguistics at the University of Ibadan and majored in Yoruba language. While in school, I tried my hands at acting and people who knew me always reported me to my parents. They eventually came to accept my choice and have supported me fully.

Tell us about your choice of getting a Masters degree and how it has contributed to your profession as an actress.

I did not want a Masters degree. My father, again influenced me to do that. I see reasons with him now because we are in a world where a degree is not enough. I just increased my chances and opportunities to be successful. I also think education is one of the things that make you stand out in this industry. Like people always say, it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

You co-host a prime time breakfast show on African Magic. Do you think that has contributed to your fast rise?

I am grateful for the opportunity to be on ‘Aajirebi’. I am in people’s faces every day because of this platform and yes, it has contributed a lot to my growth. Also as an actor, I am a student of the society. The society provides me with instruments that inspire me to act.

Just like any other art form, acting is an instrument of change; social change and transformational change. ‘Aajirebi’ is a show that is premised around these changes and the hunger for social change has also contributed to my rapid rise. I am also on ‘Borokini’, another daily telenovela on Africa Magic Yoruba where I play Susan. Seeing me in the morning and evening on screens has made me easily recognisable in public. The love has been massive and I am grateful.

What are the challenges you face as a woman in film and how do you deal with them?

The major thing I experience as a woman in the film industry is being objectified. People assume that the characters I play are who I am in real life. That is far from true. I have attractive features and everybody wants to be intimate. It can be very annoying sometimes.

The life expectations that come with my gender is also another challenge, especially when you are in limelight. People expect that you have to be married at a certain age and have kids at a certain age. Even if you are successful in your career and you do not have these other things, you are considered unsuccessful.

Are there limitations that come in Nollywood from being mostly in Yoruba projects?

There is a clear division that is uncalled for. Acting is acting, regardless of the language. The film that won ‘Best Picture’ at the Oscars in 2019 was dominantly in Korean. Simply because the job was well done. If I’m speaking Yoruba and I’m good at my job, why should that hinder my opportunities?

Unfortunately in this industry, it does. We also have to improve the quality of our production so that we can match international standards. This is why I have plans to bridge that divide by continuing to be great at what I do while helping other speakers of the language achieve equality.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I will be excellent at what I do and I will be a force to reckon with in the film industry. In the next five years, I would have done a lot more production work than just acting. I will also be the go-to person for Yoruba language consulting. I have big plans to make my favourite language in the world stay alive.

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