Written by McKenzie Clarke.
Joan Iyiola co-wrote, produced, and starred in DỌLÁPỌ̀ IS FINE. The unreleased short film is one of the most empowering narratives that our team has had the pleasure of reviewing.The wonderful Dr. Denise Mose and our founder Cedric Beal had the opportunity to have a delightful conversation with her. Please read below to get some creative insight from this very dynamic artist.
DM: Why did you choose to make a film highlighting black hair in this current cultural climate?
JI: One of the reasons when we sort of sat down to make this film is that we knew we needed a time for celebration. So much of our black narratives are being told with an element of darkness to many of the stories, and as we see in the time that we’re in, people feed off that, almost to where people no longer understand that black joy can exist. Despite all of the aggressions, despite all of the complexities about finding out who you really are, we really wanted the end of this story to be something that was positive and propelled us to a narrative that we don’t usually see.
Also, in the U.K. there hasn’t yet been a story of a black female front and center in an environment that is deemed to be of the middle classes. So we also wanted to talk about these young black middle class children and celebrate that. And one aspect we wanted to push and celebrate was how we were shooting black skin, and the variety of black skin tones, so it was important that she was a dark skin black girl.
DM: Where did you find the character DỌLÁPỌ̀, and how old is she in real life?
JI: [laughter] Honestly, she [Doyin Ajiboye] is our future star, isn’t she not? At the time of filming she was 19, and this was her first screen project. The natural energy that she brought to that role, she’s immediately likeable, you’re immediately championing her right? And she has a really wonderful professionalism, asking everyone in the department “What do you need? What do you need for the shot?” … This is who I’m passing the baton to. This is our future.
CB: There were a few words and phrases that really stuck out to me. You had assimilation, presentable, and also “beauty is pain.” What was your motivation? Do you have any personal stories of things that have happened to you that made you want to create these films and put these words and phrases in it?
JI: Thank you. “Beauty is pain” is something that is indicative of the Nigerian matriarch. You know, these are women that are very proud of themselves, proud of their appearance, proud of who they are. And, as well as having to be so savvy and intelligent, they are beautiful. They enjoy fashion. They enjoy looking good. And so this idea of “beauty is pain” is that we will do whatever it takes to make ourselves feel great. From relaxing hair, to weaves, to back in the day when my mom used to use those iron straighteners [laughter], and you would burn your ear and give yourself alopecia, this was a way of saying “Despite everything the world throws, we will look good.” And everything else was part and parcel, a part of the journey you go on.
“Assimilation” was a key word that came late into the script, and it’s a word that a lot of people have held onto because of how powerful it is. And there will be a lot of white audience members, who won’t quite believe that that is still a thing today. “Really? Assimilate? I actually thought we had moved ahead of that.” And in lots of my conversations I’ve had to say that the difference between “assimilation” and “self-expression” for black people in the corporate world is still white. And so we really wanted to hone in to the fact that “this is everyday.”
“Presentable,” yes presentable. I used to have this interesting thing with my mom where she used to look at me before she said words, and I knew that she was judging me on my presentation. [Laughter] Everytime that I came back from university, everytime that I came back from starting work in London, I would arrive and we would just have this face-off, where I could tell that she was just scanning me. And she wouldn’t say it immediately, we would sit down and have food and start chatting and she’d go, “ Is this how you’re wearing it. Is this the way you are wearing this in work?” And I would always be like…. And it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you present yourself in a way that is respectable, and carries on the journey of your heritage and your lineage.
CB: There was a quote that you had that I would like some clarity on. It said, “However hard a lizard does a press up, it will never have an alligator’s chest.” What does that mean?
JI: It’s one of those things, you know, growing up in a Nigerian household, proverbs were everything. It’s like a riddle, and parents would leave it as their final word in an argument, and you would be left going “What?”. [Laughter] The elders were very clever, ...and so we just wanted a moment of light relief, because I still get those messages from my mom. But the reason behind it is that you can try so hard to be somebody else, but all you have is yourself.
CB: Before creating the film was there a research process?
JI: Yeah, I mean. There was. The idea for the film had stayed with me for a long time. I had set up (Productions), and we set that up just under two years ago, and it had come to a point where I knew that my role as an actress in the industry needed to evolve into something else. I really needed to reshape the black narratives that we’re seeing, and I needed to open the door for lots of artists that I knew. We have very few black women in positions of power in film, particularly in the UK. ...Other moments of research were looking at how hair travels, and also being incredibly sensitive to the Indian narrative because it isn’t our main story. So we wanted to approach that with sensitivity, speaking to lots of Indian friends, collaborators, the young girl () we spoke to her family of the kinds of processes they were aware of. We also looked into the roles of (Imagen and Dolapo), the white and black best friend, and we spoke to the actors and also to the actors within that school as well to look at their experiences.