From Africa to Hollywood

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Africans of Hollywood

They say if you can make it in Hollywood, you can make it anywhere. However Kenyan-born, Los Angeles-based filmmaker, Phyllis Thinkii disagrees; she believes that creatives should succeed in their home country, and as a result, Hollywood will come to them!

“The people I know in the African entertainment market are because of what they have done in their respective countries. People like Pierra Makena of Kenya, Pearl Thusi of South Africa, Yvonne Nelson of Ghana or even Ann Kansiime of Uganda,” mentions Thinkii.

“Bloom in the country where you are and the western market will recognise your talent in your country and recruite you from there,” she advises.

However for Africans who have “made it” or have already come to Hollywood in search for greater fame, the American dream is still a cut-throat industry, causing some to even form support groups.

In her latest work, Africans of Hollywood, Thinkii aims to show how the great lesson of Ubuntu can help African artists pursue their craft in a foreign land.

“The show, Africans of Hollywood came about after reading and hearing many mentors and even Hollywood executives always stressing that a writer should write what they know and what they’re passionate about, not what the market needs. And I realised that the story of the immigrant struggle in Hollywood, especially the African immigrant struggle in Hollywood, had not been told,” shares Thinkii.

The show features a group of friends from the African continent including countries like Burundi, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. Much like Thinkii, who comes from Kenya and has been living and working in Hollywood for 12 years now, her characters portray different African backgrounds, experiences and journeys.

Kiki, played by Adinett Nsabimana, has newly arrived in Hollywood and is still naïve in her expectations of the place. While Tory, played by Salome Mergia, has been in Hollywood the longest amongst her friends. She has already gone through all the struggles and is now cynical of the whole “American dream.”

Other characters include uber optimistic aspirant actor Terry, played by Usman Ojibara; the deranged composer Daniel, played by Tuksie Mogoje; and Rose Wakesho who plays the role of Rose, a performer who’s desperate to make it.

“The main theme of the show is: one needs a support group while you’re pursuing your dreams. No matter what the team goes through, they have to value their friendship. At the end of the day, your support system, your close friendships will always help you endure the harshness of life and that of pursuing dreams,” says Thinkii.

Thinkii’s own Hollywood journey started in 1998 when she moved to Washington DC to study computer science. She later fell in love with the art of storytelling and decided to leave the computer industry in 2005 in favour of Hollywood.

“While in college in Washington DC, I’d watch a TV show, then write something similar to it for the Kenyan audience. I later came to learn the Hollywood term for what I was doing was called a ‘specking of a show’.”

Amongst her previous works is a web series called 16 and Awesome, a few sketches entitled, How to piss off an African and a book on Amazon called Karimi – a tale based on an African princess.

It is because of her tough and persistent journey in the Hollywood industry, that she felt inspired to write her latest work, Africans of Hollywood. The show’s script won over the heart of a Hollywood writer, who then agreed to mentor Thinkii for six months, while teaching her the ins and outs of television writing.

“It is a hard career and anyone crazy enough to pursue it must approach it like a calling otherwise you abandon the harsh realities of it. So I decided who better to tell this story than me; an African, who knows how challenging it is to make it in this market,” shares Thinkii.

Thinkii says that Africans of Hollywood carries a similar tone to that of HBO’s hit television series Entourage, bringing a good mix of witty humour and drama to the story. “Our uber talented director, Josh Aguilar brought the idea that Hollywood needs to be a character in the show and I fully agreed with him. Josh and our talented cameraman, Kak Lee filmed the pilot episode with the Black Magic camera and imbued the essence of Hollywood by carefully crafting every shot, every angle to enhance not only the performances of the actors but to capture the beauty of our biggest star, Los Angeles.”

Africans of Hollywood will consist of 13 episodes, which will each be 10 to 15 minutes in length. The first season of the show is currently underway and aims to finish filming in February 2018.

The show’s rollout is scheduled to happen by April 2018. “For now, we will keep it on YouTube, until we can negotiate another network or VOD platform for it,” says Thinkii.

Thinkii’s hope for the show is that it gets viewed worldwide and that it’s seen for its lessons on the harsh realities artists go through while pursuing their Hollywood dreams, and what it takes to make a dream of any sorts happen.

“I’m glad I never gave myself a time limit to pursue this dream. A lot of people in the Hollywood community tell you that you need atleast 10 years in this business to see the fruition of your hard work. Hard work with capital ‘H’. People work hard here,” stresses Thinkii.

Like the quote in the movie, Pretty Woman: “Everyone comes to Hollywood, but not everyone stays.” Thinkii is persevering through the struggles of an African in Hollywood and she intends on staying and living her dream!

TECH CHECK

EQUIPMENT:

  • Camera: Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema camera

KEY CREW:

  • Creator/showrunner: Phyllis Thinkii
  • Producer: Phyllis Thinkii
  • Director: Josh Aguilar
  • 1st Assistant director: Francisco Nunez
  • Editor: Jayden Avery Romero
  • Director of Photography: Kak Lee
  • Set decorator: Anna Ayvazyan
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Gezzy S Sibisi
Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.

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