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Damilare Sonoiki On Writing Black Identity In Hollywood

Damilare Sonoiki is a Nigerian screenwriter and producer who has written for Black-ish and The Simpsons. He will be in South Africa later this year for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival. The Daily Vox caught up Sonoiki to find out more about his work.

Sonoiki gained international traction with the release of the trailer for African Booty Scratcher, a show which he had created. It is about a family of Nigerian immigrants and their struggle to balance life in America. That video managed to go viral within a few days of release.

These past few years have also seen an increase in black representation in the entertainment industry with films and movies like Black Panther, Insecure, Girl’s Trip, and Black-ish. Not only have all of these films and movies been huge commercial success, but they have had a great impact on the representation of black identity in popular culture. In all of these popular culture offerings, black identity has been front and center with some of these biggest moments of films in 2017 being of black cultural representation.

Speaking on this movement in film towards understanding and presenting black experience, Sonoki said he does think there is a movement in film towards understanding and presenting the black experience.

“I think it extends to TV as well with shows like Black-ish, Insecure, and Atlanta. The success of Black Panther also seems to have a lot to do with the movement,” he said.

With the introduction of all these new films and television series, the idea of black identity and African identity has been evolving from a monolithic portrayal.

Sonoiki says that African identity is evolving well in Hollywood. “Black Panther was extremely successful and it had a lot of African themes and imagery. I think its success bodes well for African content,” he said.

Sonoki has worked on episodes of Black-ish and The Simpsons, the one show being new to Hollywood while the latter being an established part of the narrative.

Sonoiki said the two shows are very different but it isn’t really about the contrast between the establishment and the new.

“Black identity is a theme that is central to the premise of Black-ish and not central to the premise of The Simpsons,” he said.

Speaking to Blavity two years ago, Sonoiki said representing the Nigerian immigrant experience on television is refreshing.

“It’s always refreshing to look at something and see [your] story on TV and know that you’re not the only one. It lets people know that this is something that other people can relate to and went through too,” he said.

While the film industry has made many strides in its portrayal of black and African identity, there is much room for improvement. Sonoiki said there is always improvement especially with the accents used in the films and television series. “I think African accents can be made to be more authentic, and it would be nice to see more black stories, like there were in the 1990’s in cinema,” Sonoiki said.

The inaugural Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival will be taking place from 16 June until 18 June.The theme of the festival is The Children’s Champion: Celebrating Nelson Mandela’s Centenary. Sonoiki will be hosting a workshop on black identity at the festival.

Speaking about the concept of black identity and the challenges that come with speaking about it to young children, Sonoiki said the concept is challenging for any demographic since it can be so nuanced and a person wants to make sure they are sending the right message.

This year marks the centenary of Nelson Mandela and the reason behind the festival being held. Mandela’s legacy has been hailed around the world as being very important.

On Mandela, Sonoiki said: “Nelson Mandela is an important icon with an inspiring legacy, and I am honored to be a part of the festival.”

Featured image provided by Damilare Sonoiki

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