Sope Aluko: The Shaman of Wakanda
When Sope Aluko landed a role in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to play Shaman in the comic book movie adaptation of Black Panther, she joined the list of iconic actors credited for making one of the greatest movies celebrating African heritage in this modern age.
The US-based Nigerian mother of two, who has been married for 20 years, started off working in corporate America for about 15 years in Brand Marketing, also dabbling in Engineering. But somewhere along the line, she gave it all up for acting.
Aluko had an engaging chat with Guardian Life during which she discussed her selection as Shaman, the representation of Africans in Hollywood stories, her personal life and challenges as a black woman in America.
How was the experience, working on the Black Panther film?
My experience in Black Panther was nothing short of magical. It was something that we all knew was going to be pretty big but didn’t realise how big it was going to be. I worked on set for five weeks; it was a wonderful experience bonding with the cast and crew.
What have your challenges been as a Nigerian woman in Hollywood?
There are various challenges in Hollywood, being a black woman, a mother, wife, but particularly as a Nigerian woman. I think, prior to the insurgence of African roles, there were just not enough roles for us. Hopefully, it is changing. I am seeing breakdowns of roles that are more specific, looking for Nigerian characters. I would like to see a lot more of that. Having more opportunity is a major challenge for black women in Hollywood, even more so as a Nigerian woman.
It’s easy to remember names like John Boyega, David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor, but there are not a lot of Nigerian women in Hollywood at the moment. Is there a difficulty for women of Nigerian descent in the industry?
There are more men in the industry, no matter what race, than there are women, specifically for Nigerian actors. I see your point in terms of knowing more big names but let’s not forget we have names like Carmen Ejogo, Yvonne Orji and so many other people who have been flying under the radar. There are a lot more Nigerian female actresses that are coming through in Hollywood and that is exciting to see.
What lessons will you give to any young woman out there aspiring to be like you, based on your own experiences?
The one advice I would give is just own yourself. In this industry, you don’t want to be the same as everybody else, although they will try and make you be. Just be confident in yourself, what you bring to the table and your individuality. Your confidence will surge and you will be successful just from that. There are already so many things against one in this industry. You don’t want to feel that you’re less than or not black or American or Nigerian enough. Get that out of your head and just be you.
Aluko has other projects for us to look forward to, including another Marvel film, a new movie with Taraji P Henson set to be released this year and a guest starring on Counterpart, a show on Star Network with Academy Award-winning actor JK Simmons. Being one who loves watching old Hollywood films, she says passionately, “I believe we are standing on shoulders of others that were great in this industry and it behoves us if you don’t know the history.”