Saturday 3rd of June 2023

Nairobi, Kenya

Viola Davis Grace Vanity Fair Magazine July/August Cover

Viola Davis: “My Entire Life Has Been a Protest”

The Oscar and Emmy winner overcame long odds to make it in Hollywood. Then the real work began.
During the fraught, emotional days after the killing of George Floyd, Viola Davis wanted, more than anything, to be out on the streets of Los Angeles, shouting, protesting, holding a sign.

Davis was photographed in Culver City, California, with social distancing precautions in place. Jacket by Lavie by CK; earrings by MOUNSER.PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARIO CALMESE; STYLED BY ELIZABETH STEWART.

She wanted to join the thousands of others who flooded cities across the nation and around the world to call for justice for Floyd and all the other Black men and women unjustly killed by the police.

“She called me and said she was going,” Davis’s close friend and neighbor, the actor Octavia Spencer, tells me by email. “I immediately talked her out of that.” Spencer and Davis were both concerned about putting themselves or their loved ones with health conditions at risk and were acutely aware that due to systemic health care inequality, COVID-19 has a much higher mortality rate for Black Americans. “Both of us cried,” Spencer continues. “This WAS our civil rights movement, and we were sidelined because of health issues. We felt isolated from the movement.”

Then they had an idea: What about a neighborhood demonstration with friends and family members who needed to be mindful of their health? They banded together with Davis’s husband of 17 years, the actor and producer Julius Tennon; fellow actor Yvette Nicole Brown; and a handful of others and camped out on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City. They wore masks, which also rendered them unrecognizable, but even so someone across the street brought them a pizza in a show of solidarity. Davis’s sign read, simply, “AHMAUD ARBERY.”

“We said we’d just be out there for a few minutes, and it ended up being hours, hours,” Davis tells me a few weeks later from her home in Los Angeles. “Almost like a big dam bursting open.” She pauses. “We got a lot of beeps,” she says. “We got a few fingers.” She means middle fingers, of course. “But this was the first time the fingers did not bother me.”

I ask Davis if she had protested like that before, and with a kind of resignation and pride, she says, “I feel like my entire life has been a protest. My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.’”

let me tell you about that voice. I know you’ve heard it. But to be enveloped by it, to have it directed at you, while she is swaddled in plush black terry cloth, at ease in her kitchen, is spine-tingling. Davis’s voice, so much like the stringed instrument she shares a name with, is deeper than you might expect resonant, warm, filled with purpose. Her presence radiates even through cyberspace.

At times, Davis is delivering a reckoning, or a buried history, or a call to arms. Occasionally she says my name to emphasize a point and it stops me in my tracks. Has anyone ever said my name before? Has anyone ever taken such care over it? I have no idea what to do with my hands, my face, but I keep assenting, nodding, just trying not to fall behind.

Our interview takes place on Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating Black emancipation that has never before had so much mainstream recognition. For a woman who entwines her voice and mission inextricably into her career, it’s fitting. Davis, who turns 55 in August, languished in the margins for years before vaulting into the public consciousness in the last decade.

In 2015, she became the first Black woman ever to win an Emmy for lead actress in a drama for How to Get Away With Murder, which finished its twisty, unsettling six-season run this spring. In 2017, she won an Oscar for her supporting role as Rose Maxson in Fences a part for which she also collected a Tony.

She will portray Michelle Obama in Showtime’s upcoming series First Ladies, which is being produced by JuVee Productions, the company run by Davis and her husband. Davis lends extraordinary gravity to the roles she plays, a presence both weighty and magnetic. Her performance in The Help as maid Aibileen Clark helps elevate it from apologetic pablum to a sincere examination of the psychological warfare of deep-seated racism: The emotional stakes of the whole movie happen on her face.

Gown by Armani Privé; earrings by MOUNSER; cuff by Giles & Brother.PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARIO CALMESE; STYLED BY ELIZABETH STEWART.

Davis credits the power of her work to the despair of her impoverished childhood in Central Falls, Rhode Island. The fifth of six children, with an alcoholic and sometimes violent father, the young Viola Davis was often in trouble at school, hungry, and unwashed. Her family couldn’t always afford laundry and soap, let alone breakfast and dinner. She wet the bed until she was 14 and sometimes went to school stinking of urine. “When I was younger,” says Davis, “I did not exert my voice because I did not feel worthy of having a voice.”

It was the support and affection of people who knew she was worthy that lifted her out of what she calls “the hole”: her sisters Deloris, Diane, and Anita, and her mother, Mae Alice. “[They] looked at me and said I was pretty,” she says. “Who’s telling a dark-skinned girl that she’s pretty? Nobody says it. I’m telling you, Sonia, nobody says it. The dark-skinned Black woman’s voice is so steeped in slavery and our history.

If we did speak up, it would cost us our lives. Somewhere in my cellular memory was still that feeling that I do not have the right to speak up about how I’m being treated, that somehow I deserve it.” She pauses. “I did not find my worth on my own.”

In school, Davis learned the accepted version of American history, which only raised more questions. “I was taught so many things that didn’t include me,” she says. “Where was I? What were people like me doing?” One summer when Davis was a teenager, a counselor at Upward Bound heard her and her sister repeating what they’d learned: that the slaves were illiterate. He hauled them to the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society in Providence and showed them microfiche of the Black abolitionists to inspire them. “We sat there for hours and we cried,” says Davis. “We cried the entire time.”

Now let me tell you about Davis’s mind. She insists that she is not at her sharpest at the moment. “For the last six years my brain has been mush because I’ve been on a TV show,” she says. “I used to be a voracious reader.” Her brain, to put it very mildly, does not seem like mush. Over the course of our interview, Davis will quote playwrights Arthur Miller and George C.

Wolfe, author and professor Brené Brown, existentialist psychiatrist Irvin Yalom, civil rights leader Barbara Jordan, Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz, monk and theologian Thomas Merton, Aristotle, and, on the necessity of using ham hocks when making collard greens, Meryl Streep.

“When I was younger I did not exert my voice,” says Davis, “because I did not feel worthy of having a voice.”

Davis does not do small talk. We were only minutes into the interview when she told me that her fundamental need, the root of her being, is to be worthy and valued. It is somewhat disconcerting to converse with someone with so much self-knowledge and not just self-knowledge but knowledge. Right now Davis is reading a book that is opening her mind to her history, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, by Joy DeGruy.

Discussing the book, she runs me through an abbreviated history of the oppression of Black Americans, citing the Casual Killing Act and the Protestant ethic on her way to mass incarceration and Black maternal mortality. Having discovered her worth and she credits theater, as well as her mother, sisters, and educators she clutches it with both hands, refusing to let go.

After graduating from Rhode Island College in 1988, Davis went to Juilliard. Her experience was unlike the other students’. She celebrated her graduation with what her skimpy funds allowed her: instant ramen and pickled pigs feet. Juilliard has since evolved, she believes, but when she was there, “It was a very Eurocentric training. It was the type of school that did not acknowledge my presence in the world.”

When she graduated from Juilliard in 1993, Davis was deep into James Baldwin, Claude Brown, Nikki Giovanni, and Malcolm X. “I was reading everyone at that point,” she says. “Because I was angry.” It was then she began to dive into the plays of August Wilson, a voice not acknowledged at school. Davis won a Tony for King Hedley II and received early acclaim for Seven Guitars on Broadway.

Her turn as Rose Maxson in Fences is considered definitive, and this year, she’ll star as legendary blues singer Ma Rainey in the adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix, as well as executive produce a documentary for the streamer called Giving Voice, about high school students competing in a monologue contest based on his plays. “He writes for us,” Davis says of Wilson. “I love August, because he lets [Black characters] talk. A lot of times I don’t get to talk. And then sometimes even when I do talk, I’m like, that’s not what I would say.” She makes a disdainful moue.

Set during a recording session in 1927, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom inspires a performance from Davis that’s closer to her morally ambiguous lead in How to Get Away With Murder, Annalise Keating, than to the long-suffering Rose Maxson. As Rainey, she’s earthy, sweaty, and demanding, her talent nearly outmatched by her ego.

Heavyset, gold-toothed, and bisexual, Rainey required a transformation: “She was 300 pounds. In Hollywood, that’s a lot…. Everybody wants to be pretty, so they’ll say, Ooh, I don’t want to be 300 pounds, can we just ignore that? In my opinion no. If they say she’s 300 pounds, you have to be 300 pounds, or else you’re not honoring her.” Davis gained weight and wore padding to approximate Rainey’s girth.

The hardest part, she says, isn’t even the superficial circumstances of a character. It’s discovering what they strive for and what holds them back. She quotes a famous passage from Merton’s novel My Argument With the Gestapo: “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”

For Davis, this is both life advice and acting credo. “It’s always something basic,” she says, at the heart of every individual, every character. But it’s the hardest element to isolate. “Sometimes I skip it,” she says dryly. “I say, ‘Maybe I’ll get the revelation later.’ ” For Rainey, she says, it’s about being respected. At one point, in a fit of pique, Rainey asks for three Coca-Colas and won’t perform, or cooperate, until she gets them. Noisily she glugs them down while the white agent, white producer, and her Black band wait. It’s infuriating but also, totally badass.

Partway through our conversation, Davis lifts her screen and carries me from her dazzling white kitchen to a more secluded office. I float past a wall covered in framed pictures; high ceilings; mansion comfort. (“Here’s the thing,” she told The New Yorker in 2016. “Because I grew up in such tight spaces, I don’t get manicures, pedicures, I’m not into cars, but I am into a fabulous house.”) Davis has changed locations because Tennon, her husband, began loading the dishwasher.

I didn’t get to say hello, but I did see his arm, and the open, affectionate look on her face when Davis turned toward him. “We are a loud family,” she tells me as she settles into her office. She says that if her daughter, Genesis, were there, she would absolutely want to say hello. The 10-year-old appeared in her first movie, The Angry Birds Movie 2, last year.

Throughout: hair products by Shea Moisture; makeup by L’Oréal Paris; nail enamel by Essie.PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARIO CALMESE; STYLED BY ELIZABETH STEWART.

The office is one big trophy case, with Davis’s many awards crowded along one wall. Davis does not like the room “As soon as I go in there, my anxiety goes up” so she’s facing away from the statuettes, focusing instead on a photo of her and Streep on the set of 2008’s Doubt. Though Davis had made a name for herself on Broadway, Doubt was her mainstream breakthrough a seven-minute performance that ended up snagging her an Oscar nomination. Streep, during her own awards run for the movie, championed her scene partner, crying out at one point, “Somebody give her a movie!”

“What do you call someone who shares your belief system?” Davis asks me. “She’s in my tribe, Meryl is.”

Streep’s career galvanizes Davis. In an industry that prizes ingenues, both actors have made a mark playing meaty, complex, mature women, though Davis didn’t have the benefit of the first 20 years of Streep’s career, with roles designed to showcase her gifts. At this point, with a production company of her own, Davis knows she can find work. What concerns her are the Black actresses who are younger and fighting not to be invisible—the earlier versions of who she was.

“There’s not enough opportunities out there to bring that unknown, faceless Black actress to the ranks of the known. To pop her!” She names other performers Emma Stone, Reese Witherspoon, Kristen Stewart all “fabulous white actresses,” who have had “a wonderful role for each stage of their lives, that brought them to the stage they are now. We can’t say that for many actors of color.”

Davis took her part as Aibileen in The Help because she herself was hoping to pop. “I was that journeyman actor, trying to get in.” The film became a nationwide sensation and nabbed her another Oscar nomination, but its reductive view of race relations troubled many critics. In 2018, Davis told the New York Times that she regretted taking the role.

She still does, even though The Help recently became the most viewed film on Netflix. Davis is effusive in her praise of writer-director Tate Taylor, who is white, and the majority-female cast. “I cannot tell you the love I have for these women, and the love they have for me,” she says. “But with any movie are people ready for the truth?”

“Viola is one of the great actors of all time,” says Denzel Washington. “She’s been recognized later than some. But some people get the opportunity early, and they’re done by Tuesday.”

The Help was filmed partly in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Davis was acutely conscious of the area’s racist roots: Emmett Till was tortured and killed a few miles away, in Money, and the first White Citizens’ Council was said to be founded in nearby Indianola. The film reaches toward the tragedy of Aibileen’s story, then rapidly undermines its own high stakes, turning racism into a social farce.

“Not a lot of narratives are also invested in our humanity,” says Davis. “They’re invested in the idea of what it means to be Black, but…it’s catering to the white audience. The white audience at the most can sit and get an academic lesson into how we are. Then they leave the movie theater and they talk about what it meant. They’re not moved by who we were.”

Here, Davis references the power of Wilson’s work, versus what she calls “watered-down” material. She points to To Kill a Mockingbird, recently revived as a stage play by Aaron Sorkin on Broadway. It’s beloved for good reason, she says. But, “Atticus Finch was the hero. Tom Robinson was slaughtered and killed in a prison for something he did not do!” She laughs, the humor of disorientation, frustration, disbelief. “He’s not the hero.”

“There’s no one who’s not entertained by The Help. But there’s a part of me that feels like I betrayed myself, and my people, because I was in a movie that wasn’t ready to [tell the whole truth],” Davis says. The Help, like so many other movies, was “created in the filter and the cesspool of systemic racism.”

And, astoundingly, while The Help raised her profile, it did not open the floodgates to more substantive acting roles. People sometimes ask Davis why she did network TV for six years when she had a movie career. “I always ask them, What movies? What were those movies?” she says with an incredulous shake of her head. “Listen, I got Widows” the 2018 action thriller about a team of women who plan a heist—“but if I just relied on the Hollywood pipeline…. No, there are not those roles.”

Widows director Steve McQueen agrees. “The main point for me,” he tells me, unprompted, is that “she needs to play more characters on film. She has got to be given more attention.” He cannot contain his praise for Davis’s talent: “She goes where others dare not tread. She’s not afraid to be human,” adding, “She hasn’t been given her due that’s a fact.”

But Davis has worked wonders with the opportunities she’s been afforded, to say the least. “Viola is one of the great actors of all time, not just her time,” says Denzel Washington, who produced Fences and Ma Rainey while also directing and starring in the former. “She’s been recognized obviously not too late, but later than some. But she’s gone farther than most. So, you know, which would you prefer? Some people get the opportunity early, and they’re done by Tuesday.”

With the #MeToo movement, Hollywood has taken up the cause of sexual harassment and pay discrepancy, highlighting how differently the industry treats men and women. But commenting on harassment and money is still especially fraught for Black talent. Says Davis, “We know as women, when you speak up, you’re labeled a bitch immediately. Unruly immediately. Just as a woman.

Dress by Alexander McQueen; Earrings by Jennifer Fisher; Bracelet by Céline by Phoebe Philo.PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARIO CALMESE; STYLED BY ELIZABETH STEWART

As a woman of color, there is very, very, very little you have to do. All you have to do is maybe roll your eyes, and that’s it.” In moments like that, she feels that post-traumatic slave syndrome once again: “Negro, you do as I say, when I tell you to do it.” Later, she’ll tell me, “If there is a place that is a metaphor for just fitting in and squelching your own authentic voice, Hollywood would be the place.”

With the caveat that “when we talk about our pay as celebrities, it gets almost obnoxious…50 percent of Americans make $30,000 or less,” Davis mentions an old news report in which a female performer making $420,000 per episode for a TV show was frustrated to find that her male costar was commanding $500,000.

(She appears to be referring to House of Cards stars Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey, but there was a similar story about Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey of Grey’s Anatomy.) The discrepancy was wrong, Davis says. “But how I saw it was” she drops her voice an octave “You’re making $420,000 per episode?! Me, Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington, Issa Rae, Gabrielle Union we’re number one on the call sheet!”

Not speaking out is unthinkable for Davis; her voice is her identity, her emancipation. It’s still daunting, though. “Should I say it? Should I not? What’s a good hashtag? Is there going to be some kind of silent backlash, where I just stop getting phone calls? Stop getting jobs?”

And, as if those questions aren’t formidable enough, here’s another: How could Davis ever address everything that demands addressing when racism in this country is both subtle and systemic? I’ve watched Davis do video interviews with white men (like Tom Hanks, in Variety’s Actors on Actors series) and Black women (like Oprah Winfrey, for OWN). The difference is remarkable. Of course Davis is a skilled code switcher. She’d have to be. But her openness in Winfrey’s presence is markedly different to the glassy, careful facade she maintains around Hanks, who for whatever reason, and maybe it’s just excitement or inexperience as an interviewer constantly interrupts her.

Davis brings up Vanity Fair’s own history of inclusiveness, or lack thereof and fair enough. “They’ve had a problem in the past with putting Black women on the covers,” she says. “But that’s a lot of magazines, that’s a lot of beauty campaigns. There’s a real absence of dark-skinned Black women. When you couple that with what’s going on in our culture, and how they treat Black women, you have a double whammy. You are putting us in a complete cloak of invisibility.”

She agreed to star as Annalise in How to Get Away With Murder, as well as serve as a producer, to try to reshape and expand the Overton window for Black women to make moral ambiguity, bisexuality, and wigless, makeup-free grief part of the conversation.

This year, in the New York Times, filmmaker and journalist Kellee Terrell described Annalise as “a pop-culture revelation” and “one of the most complicated black women in television history.” Still, an earlier Times piece lingers like a toxic cloud. In 2014, critic Alessandra Stanley prompted a backlash with her review of the show, describing executive producer Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman” and proclaiming, jaw-droppingly, that Davis was “less classically beautiful than [Kerry] Washington.”

Davis isn’t furious about the Times piece, but neither will she dismiss it as a random or meaningless event. “Whatever her name is from the New York Times…just write a review!” She has to pause here, because I am laughing. “In not just writing a review, you have revealed your own underlying racism. All you see is a Black woman, that’s it. You don’t see a woman.

Davis draws strength from both the Black women who made a path for her and the little girls, like her daughter, following in her footsteps. “We have survived a hellified history.”

“People share their stories with me a lot,” she continues. I nod to her over Zoom. Of course they do. “People hug me in grocery stores. Parking lots at Target.” Stores like Target and Vons, she adds, are her “happy place.” When I consider the little girl she once was, it makes sense. They’re pristine, fluorescent landscapes of the semi-affordable trappings of human dignity a little grocery, a little fashion, a little décor.

As with many of us, the pandemic has given Davis a taste of a slower life. “I don’t put any limits on myself,” she says. “But I feel the disillusionment of being busy…. My work is not all of me.” She pauses, then adds with suppressed mirth: “I used to say when I was younger, Acting is not what I do, it’s who I am. I look back at myself like, what the hell were you talking about?” She laughs her bell-like laugh.

I think I understand. Acting helped her find her voice. But she has discovered that her worth transcends her talent.

“To the world she’s a warrior,” says Octavia Spencer. “To those of us who love her, she’s simply our sister.”

By Sonia Saraiya
Photography By Dario Calmese
Styled By Elizabeth Stewart

Hair By Jamika Wilson; Makeup By Autumn Moultrie; Manicure By Christina Aviles Aude; Set Design By Lizzie Lang; Art Director, Natalie Matutschovksy; Produced On Location By Westy Productions; For Details, Go To Vf.com/credits

This article originally appeared on Vanity Fair 

Jackson Tukei Malinga is Seizing Every Opportunity! One on One Interview

23-year-old Jackson Tukei Malinga caught our attention when in an interview upon signing with an international agency, talked about how he had to walk on foot from Kitebi Mutundwe to Namuwongo then to Kisementi, and then back home.

All this had to be done before 7pm (curfew time). The challenge was for him to produce images to add to his profile before submitting with the Italian agency. Indeed, after going through it, he was signed to Independent Models Italy, a big talent agency based in Milan.

This, to us, is exactly what it means to live through the new normal. Going out of your way to do what it takes, despite all challenges in the way. It’s a tough time for everyone, but what’s life when you can’t live it. Let’s soldier through.

For this fashion story, Abbas Kaijuka of Kai’s Divo Collection had to pick looks from some of his previous collections. As a designer, he too felt the shockwaves of the pandemic in every inch of his business. His plans of producing a new collection were halted. He got stuck in his workshop with countless orders to meet, and nowhere to find fabric. Some of his tailors couldn’t make it to work due to restrictions on all forms of transportation. It hasn’t been easy for everyone.

In the accompanying interview, Malinga talks about his lessons, his fears and how he’s staying hopeful during this challenging time.

Shooting this story had a fair share of challenges, which part of the experience stood out for you? 

Yes, it was really challenging. The day started with a heavy scorch then later it rained heavily in the middle of the shoot. Then it rained again. And yet in all this, I enjoyed the fact that I was shooting with a photographer I had not worked with before, and also in a place that was far away from the city. We did numerous looks, I think this was the first time I was doing more than seven looks in just one shoot. I did not know when we were going to stop, I kept on sinking in the experience rather.

You told us about how you had to walk for miles on foot from home for a photo shoot and then back due to restricted movements because of lockdown. What was going through your mind that day? 

I always want to step out of my comfort zone and do things that have never been done before. So, when an opportunity came my way during such a difficult time, I had to seize it still. We don’t get to shoot a lot here, so when an opportunity tags itself, you have to act fast. I also have always known that enough effort always pays off well, so I was positive something good would come out of it.
Around 15th April, that’s when the idea of shooting some looks of Kaijuka Abbas was brought up. The country was in total lockdown. Abbas has always believed in me so he was okay with idea of having me in it.

And then my modeling boss Joram Muzira, (being a man who has no limits when it comes to pursuing anything) just gave me the energy when he embraced the idea. I remember, after kilometers of trudging from my home in Kitebi to Abbas’ workshop in Namuwongo, then Mawanda road for the photo shoot. After, I walked back home, and made sure to be there before curfew time (7pm).  I remember Joram sending me a WhatsApp congratulatory audio afterwards. That was it!

Is this the most challenging thing you’ve done in pursuit of your dream? 

The most challenging experience I’ve had so far came during my pageantry days. You know I was Mr. MADs. What happened was; I underwent serious depression over a competition for which, I think I was judged unfairly. Having invested in it most of my time and all my savings, things did not turn out as was expected. I had to act like everything was fine, yet deep inside I was breaking down. This is the first time I am opening about it. As a matter of fact, it is the reason I left pageantry and settled for fashion modeling.

Walking for over 20 kilometers is really hard for someone who does not workout. I am physically fit because I always hit the road for workouts. It wasn’t so much of a challenge. Only the thought that I’d be caught up by time. That scared the hell out of me.

Things that challenge us physically are never as hard to deal with as those that do it emotionally or spiritually. It is then that I realised that I guess I’m not as strong as I assume I am after all.

So, how then do you get into modeling?

In 2018, I participate and won the Mr. MADS COMPANY title. Even while in pageantry I would walk some runway shows like the Ugandan Diaspora Business Expo and Social Networking Gala 2018 edition plus the Stevz Fashion show 2019. After going through and beating my depression, I signed with Joram Model Management (JMM). The drive at JMM did not leave me the same. JMM itself is a big brand, so I did not just want to be identified with it. I wanted to be acknowledged for my efforts too. I recently signed with Independent Models Milan, which to me is an indication that, ‘so far so good.’

The modeling business is facing big challenges right now. Brands have limited budget to spend on marketing, crowds are being avoided and digital fashion shows are the new normal. Does that worry you? 

I would have been worried if it was not God who has brought me this far. This new normal is temporary, at least for a few things. So many things are going to change, but one thing I’m certain about; models are not going to be substituted with robots. Hahha.. So, I am not worried. This is an industry that has thrived on physical presence. People want to see the clothes with their eyes. They want to feel and touch them with their hands. It’s such unique experiences that make fashion what it is. I don’t see that getting fazed out.

What’s most challenging and fun about modeling? 

Challenging and fun, wow. I think I will start with the fun…You get to interact and meet with a lot of amazing people ranging from successful models, designers, and more.  And then you are exposed to a lot of experiences (both good and bad) and opportunities, which is a great learning curve.
The Challenges; this is a risky career path to take. You are not guaranteed that once you become a model, then all your dreams will come true. And also, you can only go as far as your looks and appearances can take you. God forbid, you meet with an accident that alters your appearance, your career is over.

And if you survive through it all, when you grow older, you also outgrow the industry. Agencies tend to sign young models. So if you want to earn a fortune out of it, you are not looking at it locally but internationally and even then, you have to save a lot and forget the fun while at it. Yes, the hard truth is: the local industry doesn’t have that much money to help pay all your monthly bills.

The experience of getting signed to an international agency during lockdown. How did you take that in?

When the good news was about to come, Joram told me to pray so much and I believe this is what he does with other models. I was very anxious, this was a dream that was about to happen. I had struggled a lot to achieve the requirements for the international market.

I remember him confirming that I had gotten to the size they wanted. I also remember how he constantly warned me against starving myself in attempt to become slim. All I had to do was routine exercising. After meeting the required size, I was picked up by an agency in a top fashion capital. It took me many days to sink it in. It was such a joyous moment.

We are all adapting differently to this new way of life. How is it happening for you? 

I am actually finding it hard to differentiate between how life was then and now, I have easily adjusted to it. Otherwise, what’s clear now is that I have twelve hours every day to do what I was doing in a space of almost twenty four hours. It’s about prioritising.

As a model, I know during the day, I will step out in the morning and workout, I will go for a photoshoot, go to a designer and see what we can put up in the near future, et cetera and then settle for things that can be done on my smart phone in the evenings like video chats, posting, interacting with different people. So, for me, this new normal is about knowing what to do and when in the shortest time before curfew time strikes.

As a student of Environmental Engineering. Do you think the fashion industry is doing enough to conserve the environment?

I believe the industry is doing something, but perhaps not enough. There’s been a huge debate going on about sustainability.  The pandemic came as a reality check that talking about it is not enough, it’s high time the industry started acting. This is one of the most creative industries; from countless cosmetic products being churned out daily to the numerous clothes produced every other fashion season, it’s time to think about the impact of these products on the environment. And, if we really need all of them.

As models, we are trained to be mindful of this. It is rare to a find a professional model poorly disposing of waste. To me, the fashion industry is not doing so bad, but definitely this is the time to do better.

Back to modeling. Is there a model or models you look up to?

Yes, I have always respected and admired Tyson Beckford. One of the best fashion photographers we have here has joked that my look is reminiscent of Tyson Beckford. Beckford is undoubtably one of the best black models to ever live, and because of that, I look up to him on a lot.

Anything else about you you would like us to know 

I have 5 or 6 years of experience as a model. Tricky to crack? I am twenty three years old. I turned twenty three in April this year. Although with all the pandemic horror, I’m considering not counting this year. I am kidding!!!

Content courtesy of Satifashion Uganda

Rachel Kiwanuka and Cleopatra Koheirwe Exclusive interview with Satisfashion UG

The two stars go beyond being just friends, they have so much in common. Kiwanuka is the Communications Officer at Women at Work International (WAWI), a Not-for-profit organization which works to improve the quality life of women through health and income improvement projects. Koheirwe is the Public Relations Manager at Star Times Uganda, a media company that offers digital terrestrial television and satellite television services in Uganda.

They’ve both been recording artistes; Kiwanuka featured on Pepsi’s World Cup song ‘Oh Africa’ in 2010 together with Keri Hilson and Akon, while Koheirwe was a member of The Obsessions, arguably the most successful music/dance group in Uganda. They’ve both had stints on TV and radio as hosts. They are also actresses and Event hosts. Also, this shoot is not their first time appearing in a photo shoot together. So, it’s not a surprise that they’re close.

As I chat with them via email, because we’re social distancing, I learn that while they are obviously worried about the future, they want everyone to be hopeful. In this cover story, they reflect on their present and future, and what we should all learn from this global pandemic, that is Covid-19.

Rachel K

This video on Tik Tok of you and your mum pulling some dance moves is hilarious, how did it come together?
Thank you! My mom wanted to show me that she can still move at 60 years, so she challenged me and really did an amazing job. We learned the moves on Tik-Tok and boom the video was made.

Model: Rachel Kiwanuka

It looks like you two are very close!
Yes, my mum and I are very close. I draw a lot of inspiration from her. Besides, we work together. I’m at the Communications Officer at WAWI, an organisation she founded in 2003.

What is the biggest life lesson she has taught you?
To always remain humble and be myself. There is nothing as bad as being someone you’re not and being unapproachable.

I guess that’s one of the traits that have kept me going on this entertainment business. I always try and live by that and it shows. She is really the rock in my life.

The situation in the country and the world at large is worrying, how are you staying sane?
I try to keep to myself most of the time, reading, working out, listening to music, writing music. My mom and I love to watch movies so we have been doing that a lot.

Are you living together?

What lessons are you taking from this experience?
My major lesson has been learning how a simple act of personal hygiene can save the planet. This virus has spread because some people don’t wash hands, sanitize, or cover their mouths when coughing, etc. We must be mindful about the people around us and protect each other.

How do you usually deal with personal or work challenges?
I’m a pretty spiritual person. I pray every day. This is something I learned from my mother, I’m always hopeful. Even when I’m overwhelmed, I keep a positive attitude.

Do you think we shall overcome?
Yes, most definitely we shall.

Personally, it has left me quite confused. How can I restore hope in my heart?
It’s going to be alright Hassan. Everyone just needs to stay calm and take the precautions as shared by the Ministry of Health, and slowly, eventually this too shall pass. Staying prayerful helps too. It brings a sense of calmness that we all need.

Let’s talk about you acting. Is it something you’ve always wanted to get into?
Yes, I am acting and it has been a great experience. My brothers and my mom have been acting since I was young, so I grew up in a family that was in the industry. I’ve always wanted to be an actress because I knew I had the potential.

So, when the opportunity came of course I had to go for it. I auditioned for the role and the rest has been history. I do plan on exploring more of this side of me, of course alongside the music.

You travelled back to Uganda after almost 10 years away. Did you have a culture shock? No not at all. I was in Uganda from 2006 -2011. So, I was already used to being in Uganda and knew how to cope and adjust when I came back in 2018. No culture shock at all, I love Uganda and I’m used to everything now.

Let’s talk about your job at WAWI
I’m the Communications Officer at the organisation. It was founded in 2003 by mom together with other women in the entertainment industry. Our purpose is to improve the quality of life of women through health and income enhancement. We use entertainment as the main tool to educate them.

\We also do awareness and sensitization on reproductive health, helping women in rural Uganda learn about things like Family planning. Our biggest campaign is the ‘End Fistula Project’. We help young women understand the importance of safe motherhood to end Fistula, a complication that results from a damaged bladder during child birth. Annually, over half a million women die due to various complications during pregnancy and child birth.

It looks like it keeps you quite busy
Yes it does. But I still get time to do influencer work for brands in the fashion and beauty space. I still do music and acting too. I’m also planning to go back to school to do my Masters. It’s something I’ve been thinking about.

It’s been quite a while. We want new music.
For sure. I have an EP coming out that I have been working on for almost two years now. I have worked with some amazing producers and really can’t wait for it to come out later this year.


The situation in the country and the world at large is worrying, how are you staying sane?
By listening to some uplifting music, spending time with my daughter, but also sanitizing and social distancing.

Model: Cleopatra Koheirwe

What are you listening to?
Gospel music, it soothes me. Mostly Chris Tomlin and Hillsong. I am also listening to my personal favorites such as John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Corinne Bailey Rae among others. They inspire me.

What lessons are you taking from this experience?
That we are all the same, no matter where we come from. Life is precious. It is important to count our blessings and be grateful for each day and the air we breathe.  This pandemic has put the world at a standstill but I think in a way, it is helping us take things slow, spend time with family and also reflect on our lives. We are always caught up in the hustle and bustle of making a living that we never take time to rest. This has pushed us to take a break like it or not.

These challenges are unique and incomparable, but is there a point in your life where your patience and faith were tested to the core?
Yes, there is. The point in my life where my patience and faith were tested was when I lost my mom! I was angry with God! I could not comprehend why he let her die. She meant the world to me. I have grown to accept it and make peace with God, we are good, He has had my back all these years. Prayer has kept me sane.

You are the PRO of StarTimes. You are an actress and all the many other things you do. How do you balance all those commitments with your role as a mother?
Well, as you know, the film industry is still growing here so it is not as busy as it should be. I am able to manage my acting work because it is seasonal, so I fit it into my StarTimes work schedule.  If I am to emcee at a corporate event, these usually happen in the evenings or on weekends so I am able to do that too, and it is also occasional so when booked, I plan my calendar. On a normal working day, I make sure I rush home after work so I can be in time to interact with my daughter, listen to how her day went and also put her to sleep. It is not easy doing all this but I have my priorities set so I make time for each and I ensure I am fully present in all.

Does your daughter understand what’s going on? How are you easing this for her?
She is 6 years old now but in her little world, she’s sort of aware of what is happening because I told her in child language about Corona Virus, and also at her school, they were told about it and advised to wash hands and not hug or shake hands. When school was closed, she told me, “Mommy, there is no school tomorrow because of corona virus. The president said we stay home.” Good thing is I have been spending much more time with her so she is happy and relaxed with no worries. She feels safe.

What’s your biggest worry now?
Well, even if I did not want to worry, I would be lying if I said I am not worried. I am worried about our safety as a country, and if we will make it out of this pandemic. I am also worried that it’s going to affect us economically. I am worried about my family at large and praying everyone is safe. These worries are more than the ones I had a month ago, but I am keeping the faith and hoping for the best.

This is the part that confuses me the most. What could be the reason we are getting these unique challenges? 
Honestly, I have no freaking idea why this is happening. In my mind, it’s a movie. Like ‘a lab test gone wrong’ kind of situation. The film Contagion breaks it down in the way I imagine.

Shall we overcome?
Yes, we shall overcome. My guardian always says, ‘No situation is permanent. Every problem has a solution.” The doctors and governments around the world are working hard at solving and containing Covid-19 so I believe it shall pass. Let’s not dwell on the negative news and let us be cautious not to forward or repost or share info that is not verified. Let us follow the proper channels and avoid causing more panic. Not everyone is strong hearted through such times. So, let us beware.

On a lighter note, what should we watch on StarTimes to keep our spirits up now that we must keep at home?
Well, for starters, for those with smart phones, download the StarTimes ON App and watch lots of entertainment at a tap of a finger for everyone.

There is a variety of content including top TV series such as Empire on Fox, The General’s Daughter on Novela E Plus, local films, a new channel Nina Novelas for the Telemundo fans, educational documentaries and children programs including Home schooling shows, Nat Geo Wild, Investigation Discovery (iD), Music & fun entertainment on our exclusive local channels; Face TV, Magic 1HD and Sanyuka TV and much more. So, despite the Sports hiatus, there is a lot to enjoy on StarTimes and quite affordably too on your decoder or via the App. The choice is yours.

Styled by Kaijuka Abbas (Kai’s Divo Collection)
Makeup by Shades of Beauty
Photographed by Fred Bugembe
Interviewer : Hassan Ssentongo


This article originally appeared on Satifashion Ug

Adut Akech Interviewed By Naomi Campbell for I-D Magazine

Bodysuit haider ackermann. earrings vintage from early halloween.

On Christmas Day 2019, Adut turned 20, leaving her teenage life behind, the last year of which saw her pick up Model Of The Year awards from The Fashion Awards and models.com — an incredible year, but just one of an incredible career so far.
For Adut’s third i-D cover, who better, then, to interview her than the Naomi Campbell (13-time i-D cover star)? A quick phone call across Paris later, and…..

Swimsuit fendi. tights calzedonia. earrings and belt vintage from albright fashion library. shoes y/project.

Naomi: Good morning, Adut!
Adut: Hey mama!

How are you doing today?
I’m in Paris and I’m a little tired. How are you?

I’m in Paris too. I’m at the airport. I’m on my way to Lagos.
Oh yeah! Were you here? I missed you.

I’ve come straight from LA to Paris. Then I’m in Nigeria for one night, then getting back on the plane and straight back to LA.
Oh my god!

The Dior show looked gorgeous yesterday though, it’s a shame I missed it. But let’s start. Let’s get to it. First I want to ask you how you feel about turning 20 in December. You’re not a teenager anymore!
It feels weird! Maybe it’s all in my head, but I feel like the minute I turned 20 I changed… Like on my birthday, I had this moment of reflection. Maybe I’ve got a new attitude towards life now? I feel like I’m older though – it’s crazy to me that I’ve just turned 20.

You’re very mature in a lot of ways, even though you’re still young. You told me this Christmas your mum was going to visit her family and you were going to take care of your siblings.
I have more responsibilities than most people who are 20. So much has gone on in my life already — in my personal life and in my career.

Top and pantashoes balenciaga. belt gucci. earrings vintage from early halloween.

I remember the first time I saw your face, and I thought just, oh my goodness! It was like — bam! Here’s a star. I saw it immediately.
I remember when I closed the Saint Laurent show under the Eiffel Tower. You were backstage, and from there, that was it. We’d already met but then we became friends. We exchanged numbers. You texted me, and it felt really supportive. At that moment I needed that so much. I never thought that kind of support would come from the Naomi Campbell. I felt that love from you, I felt that connection.

I find it so important, because I came up with a group of girls who all really supported each other, and – although I don’t think it’ll ever be the same — I didn’t see the same camaraderie in the generations that followed. But I care about your wellbeing, because without your wellbeing you can’t do all this. One thing I wanted to ask you about was your experience as a black woman in our industry. And since you started out as a model what changes you’ve seen, what developments — how do you feel? You know, you’ve helped to create these developments and changes, too.
This is only my fourth year working as a model, but in those four years I’ve seen a lot of change. The biggest change we can all acknowledge is that the industry is getting more diverse. When I started – when I made my debut — there were so few other black girls, and now there are so many. There are models of colour from so many places around the world working in the industry now, and it’s incredible to see. It makes me so happy.

Dress bottega veneta. belt (top) marc jacobs vintage from albright fashion library. belt (bottom) and bags chanel. earrings vintage from early halloween.

I’ve very much observed you helping to make this change. You have made this advance in inclusion in the industry – but how did you feel about it at the beginning?
To walk for Saint Laurent was amazing. It is a dream to be a part of that, to have the opportunity to walk in that show. But it threw me, because it’s amazing to be working in fashion, but then you think about the lack of diversity there was in the industry then, and you know it’s not right. But across the seasons it started to get better, and now it’s so much better! And it can always get even better.

One thing that makes me so proud of you is the charity work you’ve been doing. You’ve been doing it for a while now, working with the UN Refugee Agency. It’s obviously clear what drives you to give back. But I find that the hope you give is such a powerful thing.
It was something I had always wanted to do, before even modelling, and now I just want to do it more than ever. I actually want to start my own foundation, my own organisation – it’s something deep in my heart. I don’t know what the exact steps are going forward, but I have a lot of support.

You have such a huge platform now. You have a lot of people who look up to you. You’ve given hope to so many.
The work with the UN, everyone knows the reason for it and why I’m passionate about it, why I want to give something back. I want to support them in any way I can.

How did it feel when you won Model of the Year in December at the Fashion Awards?
I mean I was incredibly proud to have some of the most important people in my life there – you and Edward and Pierpaolo [Piccioli]. I love Pierpaolo so much, he’s such a special being. You all have such a special place in my heart. I said this in my speech, you’re my family. I’m not great at reading from a script, writing a speech: I stutter, I mess up. So, with that speech, I just let my heart speak. That award felt bigger than me. That award felt like it was for every single little boy and girl, every woman and man, anyone that finds representation and validation in the work I’ve done. If little girls see me on social media, and get inspired, then that award is for them. I want to inspire other black girls to do this.

I love getting messages from people when they say, “You’ve made our skin colour more acceptable.” It’s also why, for example, I’m heading to Lagos right now. It’s so important to keep in touch with our continent, to promote it, because our African continent is emerging now and it’s beautiful.
It really is, and it gets portrayed so poorly, but I’m happy that people like you are changing the perception of Africa.

You’re using your platform in the right way to change things, too.
I’m trying my best. I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am, to have the platform I have, to spread a message that’s true and that needs to be heard. I want to raise awareness about the things that are overlooked and ignored. Anyone who doesn’t like it? That’s not my concern. I’m learning to speak my truth and stand my ground. You have to fight for what you believe in.

You have the right to say it and the platform to say it from. You know I thought I would never be able to use social media, but I love it. Let’s not deny that we all like to spy on other people and see what they’re up to. But it’s also a way to support each other together and create a community. And if I want to set someone straight, I get on my social media and set them straight.
I love being expressive on social media. It can be beautiful, you can be so free, you can do whatever you want! No one can say no to you.

Top and skirt jeremy scott. earrings vintage from early halloween. shoes jimmy choo.

You’ve achieved a lot in your four years working. And I want to ask, what are your other goals? What’s left to achieve? Personally and professionally. What kind of role model do you want to be to these young girls?
Honestly, I just want to be comfortable, happy, content… You can’t predict the future but I’d love to have a family. Career-wise, I want to do everything I’ve always wanted to do and then more. I don’t want to be known as just a model — I want to be remembered as someone who did something, someone who made a big impact.

I’m not worried because everything you do makes a big impact. You speak from your heart. You are sincere. There’s no bullshit. That’s why I love you.
Everything I do, I feel like it’s for all of us because it takes all of us. If I didn’t have the support I have from you, then I don’t think I would have made it to where I am today.

OK, one more question, and then I’ve got to jump on a plane.
I want to go to the motherland with you!

Let’s make it happen! This year I have to go home. I need to. I need to put my foot down in the motherland. I’m going to do everything in my power to make it happen.

You’re coming! OK, this question. I want to know what keeps you excited and enthusiastic about the business?
I want to know what keeps you going!

For me, I still love to be in front of a camera, to be transformed, to be made into a different person, to become this character.
I love the storytelling of fashion. And when it comes to it, I just love what I do. I love shooting, now. I used to really be a show girl but I feel like I get more and more excited every time I get in front of a camera at the moment, and that I’m getting better every time, too. I think I’ve learned the art of transforming myself, becoming a character — depending on the outfit, the surroundings, what the photographer wants.

Jacket dior. briefs araks. belt (top) vintage phi, belt (bottom) vintage yves saint laurent and earrings vintage from albright fashion library. shoes the attico.

The clothes are so important. They set the tone. What you’re wearing transforms you. I can’t tell you how I’m going to be on set, because it depends on what I’m wearing. But isn’t it so fun?
I’m falling in love with it more and more every day.

This is the start of a new decade. How do you see our industry changing throughout it? Where do we want to be in 2030?
I have so much hope and so much faith, I’m so optimistic to see how far we can go in the next ten years. I think we want to see more diversity, more inclusivity. We want to get to a place where we don’t even have to talk about it. Where it’s not forced.

It feels like everyone is talking to each other on panel discussions about diversity but let’s not talk about it anymore. Let’s do it.
And that’s our work for the next decade. I want to revisit this conversation with you in ten years time, and look back at how things have changed. And let’s make it a totally different conversation we’re having in 2030 about what we want in that decade. All I want is to just be able to celebrate beautiful models of colour.

I’m so proud of you! Have a great time at Paris Couture! Stay hydrated, drink water, get enough sleep, stay healthy, don’t go to too many parties. Although if you work hard you have to play hard, too — have some fun, that’s what it’s all about.
Thank you!

I love you.
I love you more. Have a safe flight.

Photography Daniel Jackson
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois

Hair Esther Langham at Art + Commerce using R+Co “High Dive” Moisture and Shine Cream. Make-up Frank B at The Wall Group.
Nail technician Yuko Tsuchihashi at Susan Price NYC. Photography assistance Jeffrey Pearson and Jeremy Hall.
Styling assistance Christina Smith, Nick Centofanti and Lily Zhang. Hair assistance Gabe Jenkins. Make-up assistance Elle Haein Kim.
Production Rebekah Mikale.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Model Adut Akech at The Society.

This article originally appeared on I-D


Fashion Journey of Lilifeys’ Fashion

Lilifeys’ Fashion is a female haute/ready to wear fashion brand founded in Lagos, Nigeria. The brand achieves her aesthetics by a seamless fusion of African cultural heritage and Western culture to appeal to a global market. Founded by Lilian Ifeyinwa Ndukwu, the brand name is a combination of her names.

​​​​​​​What inspired your fashion journey?
Lilifeys Fashion:  My early childhood passion for my baby doll dresses and the curiosity on how to make such tiny little dresses really influenced and triggered my fashion journey.

Tell us more about  the brand
Lilifeys’ Fashion:  We aim to seasonally roll out collections and designs that are carefully crafted with detailed finishing that fits all types of feminine silhouettes using bold African prints, colours and good textured fabrics to make every LILIFEYS’ woman look like a queen. The Brand’s pieces reflect elegance, style, royalty, and comfort for the stylish, trendy and confident woman. Our core value is detailed attention to fabric selection, perfection, quality and fitting.
We target educated, female urban high profile clients, who wants to be stylish, trendy, and comfortable, with a feel of royalty irrespective of their body shapes.

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10 Questions With Osborne Ojarimoni Creative Director, Erenti

Erenti was established out of the aspiration to discover a distinctive approach to showcase African class and elegance through modern, urban apparel and accessories. With a strong appreciation of African authenticity and rawness, Erenti pursues to merge culture and contemporary designs to make its brand truly noticeable on a global platform.

What inspired your fashion journey?
Erenti:   After I started to realize how much deeper the pride of appearance, I fell in love with the masterpieces of clothing. The result of architecture and design, inspiration and dedication, individual vision and collaborative effort the fabrics that determined our daily directions and told the stories of our personalities.

Tell us about the aims and targets of the brand
Erenti:   We aim to establish ourselves in the Men’s African Fashion industry both Lagos and London, earn market share and be more memorable.
We are currently working on  improving our brand image, recognition and to enhance engagement with ambassadors
We hope to build strong networking ties in Lagos and London.

What was your first ever fashion creation, what inspired it? Did you like it?
Erenti:  Most of my inspiration and reincarnation are motivated by Amancio Ortega Gaona owner of Zara
I was instantly captivated by the way he made Zara truly his own.  His clothes are more than just basic coloured polos and shirts. I have read most of Zara magazines and used them as inspiration to create my first menswear native piece which was a dark green with a slim fit feel.  I cut out pictures and visualized pieces that I would actually bring to life.

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