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After poem for my people, Chioma in Nollywood directorial debut

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Chioma is a designer, writer, and multimedia artist. She began writing poems and songs for other artists. She is a union art director, experienced in commercials, feature films, and music videos. She pokes with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on her third book of poetry, which will be released in June, and her Nollywood feature film which she has written and will be her directorial debut.

It is nearly 12:30 pm, this hot Friday afternoon. There is congestion on the road following a threat by fuel marketers. A young lady walks into the lobby of this five-star hotel on Isaac John Street, GRA Ikeja. She stands by the door and holds up her hand to indicate that she is around.

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The lobby is quiet. Translucent. Words and stories settle into silence, as the lady and her guest settle down for this interview. Her words now are quietness and sounding breath, as the conversation rolls on.

“Do you mind a glass of fruit drink?” she asks as she tugs at her purse.

“I’m very okay,” her guest replies.

Welcome to Chioma’s world, a place where there’s no dull moment, you doubt? Only a few minutes will convince you.

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She says quietly as if it is a big secret and she’s embarrassed to reveal it. “I don’t have a surname. My surname is a part of my professional moniker. I have three books published under the name ‘Chioma’, no surname. I also have a music album under the name ‘Chioma’, no surname.”

You wonder why she decides to blank out the surname.

“In America, there are not many Chiomas. Here in Nigeria, your surname implies certain things about you. It implies a history. It implies a background. There is a lack of meritocracy in this country that we suffer from. We suffer from the advancement is based on who your father was or who your mother was. What stature and society the people who came before you were deemed to have. So, I go by my name. It is an indication that I come solely based on my publication and my skills, not any lineage not any story that preceded me. I am simply who I am. Chioma!”

So, what does Chioma do?

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“I do myriad of things,” she laughs out loud.

Initially, she had envisaged a career in Broadway.

By her own admission, her decision to become a filmmaker was sealed at age three, when she realised all she wanted was a life of make-belief.

“From the time I was little I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I always knew I wanted to be a screenwriter. I wanted to work in theatre. I was trained in music and dance since I was three years old,” she says.

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Chioma mumbles, “I wanted to study abroad, but was eventually admitted at the University of Southern California, the largest film school and I was admitted into the screenwriting programme. I was probably about 17. When I started university, I realised that I did not have much story to tell — Not having had many experiences. I realised I’d just be mainly borrowing from other people’s experiences.”

One of the things that she wanted to do to fill up the gap was to travel abroad for study. “But that was not permitted for film students in my school, because our film programme was extremely competitive, intensive and it was a four-year programme. So, I decided to try to see if I could find another major that would be more accommodating. I was thinking of switching majors: Study for a year and come back. The major that I found was international business. It was the easiest one. The problem was that I had to take calculus. I was exceptionally terrible in my first year of calculus.”

Her mind is obsessed with her forthcoming directorial debut.

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“I spent a good amount of time in Mushin, yesterday,” she smiles.

Mushin?

“Yes”

“I go there for location recce and getting measurements, floor plans, and things that I will need to create computer models of the set. The Director of Photography (DOP), sound, lighting, etc will use those for planning,” she points to the dummy in her laptop.

“My old furniture are old and one flooded,” she says, laughing. “I’ve been making furniture as my little pet project. It has given me the opportunity to create new designs. And the carpenters really like the work.”

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She jokes, “I have found out that the best metal people are in Somolu. So, I go there too.”

The artist says, “I usually work with the director to prepare these, as production designer, but since I’m the director now, it’s less pressure.”

Chioma is a designer, writer, and multimedia artist. Her third book of poetry will be released in June, the same month; she will begin shooting a Nollywood feature film, which she has written.

“I will be making my directorial debut in June, but I rather spend less time on the film. Forty per cent of the script was written in this very hotel,” she says helpfully.

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After leaving a career as a quantitative analyst, she began writing poems and songs for other artists. She also began working as an art director, thus, becoming experienced in commercials, feature films, and music videos.

Over the years, her clients have grown to include music titans such as P!nk, Jay-Z, and Davido, as well as brands such as, Finish Line and Toyota.

THROUGH her writing, Chioma chronicles her own experiences as a creative entrepreneur and expresses the plight of independent artists, particularly artists of colour and other underrepresented groups.

Definitely, your poetry will take a back seat now?

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“It may or may not. My writing is basically a daily exercise. I’m most proud of this collection. I hope that it helps people to realise that our home is a place of refuge, that the state of disarray we find ourselves in is not merely incidental, that our commodities are being used to develop everywhere else in the world, but our home and that the only reason we allow ourselves to continually be looted is that we focus on bad leadership, as opposed to asking who benefits from the bad leaders,” she says.

Her poetry interrogates African spirituality, identity, and politics. As a spiritualist, she is interested in the liberation of the mind. Beyond the imagery, which lifts out from the pages of the book, Chioma gives her readers the opportunity to breathe. She allows her activism to flow like rhythm of the wind in the readers’ sub-conscious.

In one of the poems that make up the collection titled, Unarmed Youth, Chioma’s anger could be seen in the mind eyes. She says:

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Don’t Wonder why
They’re killing You
 They Murder for
Red, White + Blue
Who sold them Guns?
Who Trained their Troops?
They Murder for
Red, White + Blue.
“This may not be the most striking piece from Poems for My People III: Back to Black, but it’s the cornerstone of my message,” she says.

You ask, how much of Chioma’s worries go into her production?

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“I try not to keep track. If you let one doubt in, it’s like opening up a dam of resistance. Instead, I focus on the vision — The pieces of it and how I’m going to put them together. That’s the great thing about building sets. It’s an object: My favourite thing is to sit while they put up the set. All the pieces fall into place.”

She adds in summation: “There are always challenges with any production, most are unforeseen. The best we can do is, be as thorough as possible with planning.”

With her Nollywood directorial debut taking a long to come, the first thing that comes to mind is, why commercial and videos before feature films?

“That’s how the industry is in America. Commercials make the most money. Music videos have the biggest art budgets and films are mostly union production

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It typically takes 10 years to be inducted into the union. So, that’s why the film is always last. I was inducted within three years. Yes, it actually happened unexpectedly but it’s divine intervention, not anything I did differently than others.”

She is the creator of the popular skincare line, Nok Apothecary, which is currently sold in over 27 locations in the United States. But the thought process was a slow movement to poverty.

“I didn’t realise that. I just had this dream that I was going to start this company then two years, ‘you’re gonna see me in my house in Hollywood, no. I had to sell everything. I had to work. I had to take on a second job to take care of my employees. It was in the process of this that all my friends who had finished from school had said ‘you know what, why do you come and work on set and I said over my dead body. I have a company, I can’t leave this to work on set but I did. So the first job I ever worked was a job with Chanel and it was in Malibu,” she says.

Chioma’s credit includes production designer Queen of Nothing (2019), a trailer; The Art Cartel (2019), a TV series written by her. She was also the production designer of All I Want, a music video (2019) by Russ Ft. Davido. She was equally production designer of the music video [2017] titled, Issues, involving PnB Rock ft. Russ.

Production Designer in Russ’ Wife You Up, a music video released in 2017. Clearance Supervisor in Honey Boy, a film made in 2019.

Set dresser in Jellywolf, a short done in 2017. Set designer for Swagger! | Apple TV Series (2019), assistant art director, Finish Line, Bodega Fresh: Back to the Bodega | Commercial (2019); assistant art director, P!nk, Beautiful Trauma, a music video in 2017. Assistant art director in Jay-Z’s Moonlight, a music video produced in 2017. She was also the assistant art director of Rockstar, a music video by Post Malone ft. 21 Savage (2017). Set decoration buyer in Sodastream, a commercial done in 2017.

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