The vast majority of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of student films produced every year in the United States are not compelling enough to warrant the time spent viewing them, much less the funding it would require to develop them into a feature film. So being invited to a student film showcase, even prestigious film programs, such as the New York Film Academy, frequently means just close family and friends show up, and at best, politely applaud for the content released by unrelated film-makers.
However, one film did stir the crowd. The short which centers around a teenage girl, who at first glance seems to be the quintessential Black American Princess. The short quickly and expertly explore the struggle that African parents have in keeping alive their traditional African values, while their off-spring struggle to weigh the obligation they feel to their parents with values they learn in the Western World. That the film managed to illustrate both sides of the issue sympathetically while dealing with an issue as sensitive as female circumcision, yet remain entertaining, was nothing short of miraculous talent on behalf of the film-maker. The response from the crowd was overwhelming... a film-maker had been born.
The film's writer and director was none other than Kemi Adetiba, a dynamic young lady, who has already gained a great deal of fame as the co-anchor of Studio 53, a life-style show which is broadcasted across the African continent on M-NET as well as on The Africa Channel in the US. I had the opportunity to sit down with Kemi recently and discuss her career to date as well as what other projects she's looking forward to.
How did you get your break in media?
I was always a creative child, but had no idea what I wanted to pursue, so I just ended up trying everything. I studied law, partly for my parents and partly to have a safety net, just in case. But 2 years into pursuing my law degree, I started working [at Rhythm 93.7]. [At the University of Lagos] the degree takes 5 years, but factoring in faculty strikes and the rest, it often takes an extra 6 - 8 months. By the time I had finished, I had already clocked in like three years working full time on the radio."
How did that happen?
I just went in to talk with one of the Bruce brothers at Silverbird studios [one of the largest in radio conglomerates in Nigeria], more out of curiosity than anything else; I wasn't even really sure I was interested in the job. However, they called me back and were like, "you start on Saturday". I thought my first day was a debacle, but apparently Roy called in like "who was that girl [on air]" he loved it. He was told that I was the one he had just hired! They ended up putting a lot of focus on the show and that's how all of that started...
What is Studio 53?
Studio 53 is a cultural based show that highlights African figures, cuisines, sights and sounds. It is about showing people who are not privy to living there on a day to day basis what Africa is all about - you know the ones that think we're running around with bones in our noses-- as well as showing people in Africa what is available in other African countries, because I can live in Nigeria and not know what's going on next door in Ghana. Ghana's got some beautiful places, so instead of buying a ticket and going to Spain, I could actually have as much stimulation if I went there because there are some places in Ghana I would never have known about. For the show, I've gone rafting, been on a cruise off the coast of Mozambique, visited really exotic places - while highlighting the rich culture of Africa.
You left your job on Studio 53 to study directing at the New York Film Academy, some would consider it a risky move. Why was it important for you to do this?
I am one of those people that gets bored doing one thing, I'm sure they have a medical term for it, but I just can't find it right now. Every year I learn a little more about myself and I just want to push barriers and take more risks. I don't put limitations on myself, I had done everything I wanted to do -- but it doesn't seem like a lot to me, it's just an aspect of my character - I'm not happy doing just one aspect [of entertainment] the whole thing makes me happy. I was living perfectly well without directing, but now I will never be happy if I can't direct.
Now that you're done with film school, what will you do next?
I'm working on a lot of projects. I would still like to have a studio and produce music eventually. I renewed my contract with M-NET and will dual responsibilities on Studio 53, to be a host but also to direct.The film has gotten a lot of great feedback; the consensus is that it's a great story and really well written. We're circulating some feature length ideas that we already have pinned down.
Also we have some amazing ideas for the production company I started before I left Nigeria. The only good television we have is when we borrow an international template like "Big Brother" or "American Idol." It's about creating the opportunity to create our own home-grown franchises. We're basically developing television ideas, with other people presenting, in order to raise African content and changing it from the boring stuff we're used to seeing.
I also am developing a variety talk show, called "Late Night Tricks with Kemi Adetiba" a cross between Tyra and Dave Letterman, which I'm excited about because late night has never been done by a woman, especially in an African context. It will be light, fun, with audience participation. I don't want to let the whole cat out of the bag, but it's going to be lots of action.
Watch Kemi on Studio 53 on M-NET in Africa and The African Channel in the United States. Check your local listings for specific times and channels.