Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us a little about yourself. Who is Ekwa Msangi-Omari?
Ekwa: I am a warm, passionate, talented and humorous African and American woman who makes films! I’m a great lover of people, and that shows in both my work and in my life. Although I was born in California and raised in Kenya, my heritage is rooted in Tanzania. I was educated in the film industry in New York City, so…I draw from many cultures and backgrounds.
QFTD: You come from a family of artists and attended NYU Film School. What experiences in life motivated you to pursue a career in film?
Ekwa: My pursuit started as a challenge from my father, who grew tired of me complaining about all the disappointing films we were subjected to on Kenyan TV in the 80s/90s. He told me to stop complaining and make my own films, so I took him on! Spike Lee was the only African-American filmmaker I’d heard of at the time, so I studied up on him and applied to NYU. However, after four years in a film school that lacked diversity and international creative concepts, I really didn’t think film was for me. It wasn’t until I had taken a class on African cinema and traveled to South Africa that I discovered inspiration. There, I met young people making films that reflected their multi-cultural lives, and I finally saw an avenue for myself in this arena.
QFTD: You have done a lot of work in the industry, being commissioned to finish important film projects. Which one do you think has made the biggest impact on Kenyan culture?
Ekwa: I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done thus far, and they’ve all made their marks in various ways, but the biggest impact – or at least the impact that I envision and want – is yet to come. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
QFTD: I saw the impressive documentary you filmed where a school was built in an impoverished area with the help of German partnership. What was it like working on that project?
Ekwa: I was hired to complete that documentary in place of the original director, who had left the country unexpectedly, so I came on hoping to patch it up and make the client happy. The experience of being at the school itself, in a part of town where I’d normally never set foot due to its dangerous reputation, opened my eyes a lot. Seeing this amazing school constructed for children, who had literally been sharing their compound with city thugs, impressed me so much. The staff was determined to reach their goals, and students had such a drive to earn an education no matter what their circumstances…it was very touching.
QFTD: A goal of yours is to help transform the image of African culture in the eyes of the world. Why is it significant for you to reach this goal?
Ekwa: Given my reasons for becoming a filmmaker that I mentioned earlier, I’m interested not only in changing the image that the West generally holds of Africa/ns, but more important, the images that we, Africans, have of ourselves. I think most Africans know that we don’t all have kwashiorkor and flies on our faces, but there’s a huge deficit of love stories and heroic tales. We need more stories without chaos and corruption. While chaos and corruption do happen a great deal, there is a definite imbalance. Film is the most powerful tool that we have; it is critical that we use it to teach our children who we are, what we look and sound like, and what our history is in our own words. Our stories have been told on our behalf for far too long.
QFTD: Who are some actors you would be excited to work with some day?
Ekwa: Chiwetel Ejiofor and Don Cheadle have always struck me as very sensitive and sensible actors; I always enjoy their work. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to direct Idris Elba! (although, I’d work with him on a character that was much more vulnerable than he normally plays!). I’d love to work with Genevieve Nnaji, one of Nigeria’s leading ladies, because she seems really smart. I’ve loved Sophie Okonedo’s work as well, and I really enjoy Salma Hayek’s passion and creativity with character. However, at the moment, I have my eye fixed on the blossoming Lupita Nyong’o from Kenya; she’s a firecracker!
QFTD: Tell us about the film you've recently been working on.
Ekwa: I’m currently in post-production with a film I shot in Kenya this summer. It’s a comedy about a middle-class man who, on the day of his soccer team’s championship game, has to take his young daughter to the market to get her hair braided. It’s a fun, laugh-out-loud, father-daughter story, inspired by the relationship I had with my father as a child. My cast and crew are all Kenyan, and we had a blast shooting this film. I can’t wait to show it: it’s my best film yet!
QFTD: Sounds compelling! Can’t wait for it to be released.
Ekwa: Thanks so much. I'm excited and very grateful.
To see more from Ekwa, click below.