Ann Adeniyi: I Made the Movie, ‘Dark Days’, to Campaign Against Violence in Nigeria

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Young, ebullient and industrious; she is making a name for herself. In a world of her own, she embodies elegance, determination, and creativity. Ann Adeniyi, a Nollywood actress, writer, and producer, was born in Kabba, Kogi State. At 25, she has come a long way in the film industry which she joined as a cinematographer and writer.

Beginning her illustrious film career in 2010, Adeniyi can be best described as a goal-getter and eclectic entertainer. Some of her movie credits include Pendulum, Twist, and Dark Days with various nominations and awards to boot. The gregarious, beautiful actress, a graduate of Library and Information Science, known mainly for her roles in English-speaking films, at her creative best is set to premiere her latest movie, Dark Days. She speaks with Funke Olaode about her experience being an actress, parent’s reaction, sexual harassment and why her latest movie must be a watch for all and sundry

What motivated you to study Library and Information Science?
I didn’t willingly decide to study Library and Information Science at the university. Initially, Mass Communication was what I put in for but was admitted to study Library Science. As one who has attended movie academies and decided to go to school to study a chosen course, I had my life planned out. At first, I decided I wasn’t going to accept the course I was offered on admission as I didn’t know the great benefits it has. But you know, no matter what you plan, you never know what life has planned for you. I felt God must have had a reason for me to be given Library Science instead of Mass Communication. I went for the course and I haven’t regretted doing so. I am a proud librarian.

Since when have you been acting?
I have been acting since my primary school days. Acting, to me, is fun. It will amuse you to know that whenever we were preparing for a programme during my school days, and I was given a role to play, I always ensured every member of my family was part of my personal rehearsals. Even without being given any task at school, I would bring home play booklets from the Library and dramatised their contents before my siblings.

Has Library Science helped your acting career in any way?
It is a multidiscipline, drawing on many other fields. Library and Information Science offers many pathways to explore. Every trained librarian has the ability to create good relationships and work well with people. He or she has good written and verbal communication skills; intelligence and curiosity; research and computer skills; an eye for details, love for learning; understanding trends in the media; computers/technology; the internet and publishing. All this has improved my social life – the thirst for knowledge and information across various fields helped me as a scriptwriter.

You were 18 when you first starred in a movie. Did you experience any panic?
People usually panic before the camera for the first time because the camera adds to the idea of being seen just like a stage does. The primary reason for such panic is the same reason that drives stage fright: the fear of being seen and judged by people. But in my case, I never had camera fright. Maybe because I was always with the camera as a cinematographer before I started acting. I always try to forget the equipment that is focused on me. The mind plays a key role in all of this. So, I learn to control my mind.

How did your parents react when they realised you were going into acting?
I am the type who learns a lot from people and I make decisions independently. Acting with its moral baggage of being for flirts, indecency, and immorality, parents who care about their daughter must at first be worried about her being an actress. My parents care so much about my sensitive decisions. I came from a very dedicated Christian family. I’m the last daughter and I grew up having my dad as my closest friend. When I started, it wasn’t a friendly development with them. I’ve been acting in school and they didn’t see anything wrong with it. But they never knew I would want to make a career out of it. I enrolled in a film school after my secondary education instead of focusing more on getting admission into the university. My reason for going to the film school was because I lost the first admission into the University of Lagos. So I complained that I couldn’t remain idle until the following year, leading me to attend two film schools. I reminded myself that this is my destiny and I chose to follow my dreams. I know that my parents were just worried out of the love they have for me. So I followed my dreams and today I have all their support.

Have you experienced sexual harassment in the film industry?
The most effective weapon against sexual harassment is prevention. Harassment does not disappear on its own. In fact, it is more likely that when the problem is not addressed, the harassment will worsen and become more difficult to remedy as time goes on. The burden of preventing sexual harassment rests on me, so I tap into my emotional intelligence and there are certain things I always avoid. As a movie producer, always on the go to get sponsors, I’ve had it really hard with men. Most of them ended up not offering assistance because they eventually tried to harass me and I refused to dance to their tunes. I sponsored the films I produced not that I have so much money, but because potential sponsors failed to turn up and my work needed to get done. I’m used to men’s tactics. For instance, to avoid sexual harassment, I try not to make eye contact. Not even for a millisecond. Because if I do, his brain will somehow register a ‘Yes, I don’t mind being harassed.’ Wearing a pair of glasses helps in that regard.
I have beautiful, big boobs; if I have to meet somebody who is likely to harass me, I cover them up properly – it doesn’t work sometimes though. Sometimes, I also try not to wear my trendy red lipstick. Red lips are a biological sign of sexual arousal which is capable of awakening the baboon in men. I know when not to be funny, holding my humour and focusing on saying things of value and substance. It can be very annoying when even with all these measures some men still make a pass at me. My self-discipline keeps me going.

At this age, you seem unstoppable. What keeps you going?
I’m a strong fighter who doesn’t need anyone’s conviction and encouragement to do what I’m convinced is good for me. I started fending for myself quite early in life. I’m a big dreamer. People find my dreams annoying because they believe my dreams can’t materialise. But right from the early stage of my life, I remind myself that if my dreams are not big enough to be laughed at, then they are not big enough. I spend some hours of my birthdays indoor, meditating on what I’ve done with my life so far. I feel that I’m growing older, therefore there’s the need for me to strive harder for stardom. As expected, when I’m married, I’ll have less time for running around to make things happen. The right time to fight hard is now.  I feel a sense of responsibility for my family and generation. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Rather, I want to be a blessing to everyone.

Are you in a relationship and when do you plan to settle down?
Yes, I’m in a relationship; and about settling down. I wish to do so in 2019. Though I can’t tell what God’s plan is for me. But I deeply wish it happens next year.

What challenges do you face an actress?
Being an actress gives me a sense of fulfilment and joy. But it has taken away a lot of my easy living and in some cases, my respect. The first challenge is the perception of people that actresses are wayward. You can imagine somebody who respects you so much giving a scowl on hearing or seeing that you have become an actress. They relate whatever role they see us play on the screen to our reality and that is really unfair.  Another challenge in being an actress is that people find it difficult to believe one’s feelings in reality. They believe one is always acting things up just like one does on the screen. Even at my worst moments, when I’m uncontrollably pushed to the point of tears, I could hear ‘Don’t mind her, she’s acting.’ This really gets me devastated – not being able to separate my character on the screen from my realities is a big challenge for me.
Lastly, I find it challenging when people who are supposed to assist me financially feel that I must have made a lot of money being an actress and thus, refuse to help. Many also put their responsibilities on me. Acting can be money-spinning, but not for upcoming artistes in Nollywood, there are sacrifices one must make for now before being in the limelight. I get paid but what I earn from acting can’t pay half of my bills. People don’t understand this.

Tell us about your new movie, Dark Days.
Dark Days, directed by Deejay Sa’id, is a story that showcases religious crisis and its havoc on innocent citizens and the society at large. It treats the critical case of violence in the religious sphere of the nation. It’s meant to treat the perception of those who endorse war as a way of settlement on cases that can be handled in a more peaceful way which leads to total destruction of everything good that the society ever possessed and leaves the surviving victims in a lifetime of misery, deprivation, and loss. What we don’t see unless we’re the victims ourselves is what life is afterward. We rarely get the glimpse of survivors struggling to cope with grief and illness or disability. War, like a disease, can in time be eradicated; and that’s what I’m working to achieve. People ought to learn to overcome the belief that brutality is an acceptable way of dealing with disputes. It’s a human weakness, not strength, to solve problems with cruelty, brutality, and murder. We should be mature enough to decide that wartime atrocities are crimes; people can be arrested for them and punished. This desired change starts from individual’s mindsets. That is why all Nigerians must watch Dark Days. So, in 2018, I’ll start my project, ‘A heart of love for an eye’, which means that forgiveness and reasonable settlements should be reached when one party has been hurt by the other, either intentionally, or unintentionally. This campaign will be carried out on each premiere of Dark Days across selected states. The project was established especially to control violence and make everyone understand that when there’s a war, everyone is a loser. The project is a huge one; I’ll need sponsors. Financing it has been a major challenge for me. But I hope that individuals and organisations will support the initiative.

Stage plays are gaining ground again in Nigeria; will you be interested in that genre?
In many ways, the presentation of drama in theatre, film, and television are much alike. Historically, the stage play is the foundation of all dramas. The difference for me is that stage play is more stressful than acting on the screen – but it’s not a challenge. I never had any previous plan to join. But if approached by a director and it’s convenient for me, I’ll gladly accept it.

Nigeria’s film industry is growing by leaps and bounds; do you agree?
I agree that good things are happening in the industry. The industry is stepping up and adequately surmounting the initial challenge of creativity and role interpretations. It is growing fast. It’s an indication of a great development and I’m glad to be a part of it.  But if you study the industry, you will find out that producers keep recycling actors and actresses. We do not inject new faces into the industry which I consider a threat to the sustainability of the industry.

What do you intend to do differently as an actress and as a producer?
What I intend to do differently is to build a production platform where actors’ monopoly will be avoided. A platform where the greatness of my film will not be determined just by the superstars I feature. But the greatness and the star of any actor will be determined or rated by his appearance in my film.  For this reason, Dark Days has been produced and the project ‘A heart of love for an eye’ was introduced to be implemented in 2018.

Which Nollywood actor inspires you most?
Funke Akindele and Kunle Afolayan.