‘I guess I’ve mastered the art of multi-tasking’
Juliet Ibrahim is a multiple award-winning actor, musician, director, producer and compere. Starting out as a model in the 2000s, walking the runway for major brands in Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, she made her film debut in Crime to Christ in 2007 and immediately became the toast of filmmakers in Nollywood and Ghallywood. She made her directorial debut with a reality series, Every Woman Has A Story and has production credit for The Number One Fan and Shattered Romance, both of which enjoyed critical success in Nigeria and Ghana and has four music singles to her name. A graduate of the Ghana Institute of Languages, she has a certificate in Marketing and Advertising from the Ghana Institute of Journalism and is a graduate of the International School of Aviation. Jack of many trades and mistress of all, she is the owner of a fashion brand, cosmetic line and production house. Set to release her memoirs, which promises to be explosive, Juliet sat down with Guardian Woman to talk about it. Titled “A Toast To Life,” she says it will detail her triumph over adversity amongst other interesting things never before revealed.
You describe your life as a rollercoaster ride with many unexpected moments; can you take us briefly through your life journey?
My childhood was pretty much easy-going yet at the same time frustrating, being the eldest of four kids. I grew up faster and went through experiences, both good and bad to be strong for my siblings. I experienced three civil wars. I saw my parents and relatives being harassed right before my eyes, but I would say have been able to use these experiences to mould me into the strong woman I am today. I spent most parts of my childhood living as a refugee due to those wars and grew up in four different countries. Because my parents were business people, they took us around a lot. Even in adulthood as expected in life, we all go through ups and downs as we go through our journey on earth. Just like everyone else, I too have faced good times and unpleasant times. I have come to learn that experiences do not define us; it is how we learn and grow from such experiences that truly matters.
Surviving three civil wars for someone so young must have been very hard. How would you say the experience shaped you?
The experience has helped me develop an unbreakable resilience. Because my mentality is, “If I could survive that, surely I can survive any and everything life throws my way.” It has also shaped me in the sense that it taught me to appreciate the good in every situation, even the most terrible ones. For instance, I believe growing up in those countries (Lebanon, Liberia and Ivory Coast) had a major positive impact on my life, despite the chaos. I speak and write fluent French and English. I have been able to experience various cultures, hence my quick adaptability to any culture, language and food everywhere I go. I also think those experiences inspired my love for traveling and experiencing new environments. Those experiences also made me tough and determined to become successful in life.
You said you’ve always wanted to be a star, did you ever envision becoming who you are today?
I wanted to be a superstar while I was young, but I didn’t really take acting as something I would want to do when I grew up because I was very shy. I’m still shy, but I think maturity has helped somewhat in covering it up. It’s singing I had always wanted to do. So, when I started acting, it created a platform for me to be able to sing and express myself. I have always wanted to do music. I started my music career from the church some years back. But I was, however, prepared for a future career in acting at a young age because I also took drama classes and took part in a couple of playlets while growing up in Cote d’Ivoire. However, I didn’t know then that acting could bring me into the limelight. I have always been someone who is very creative, and so while growing up, acting and singing served as creative outlets for me. In addition to being an actress and singer, I would say I am a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist.
From modeling to business then music and finally, the movie world, why did you finally decide on the movie industry and what made you do so?
I wouldn’t really say that I “decided” on the movie industry, because I juggle my career in the movie industry with being an entrepreneur, executing philanthropic initiatives via the Juliet Ibrahim Foundation (JIF) as well as being a compere and a brand ambassador for numerous brands and now, I’m an author. So you see, I wear many hats. I don’t restrict myself to only the movie industry, as I believe that every individual should be versatile. God didn’t bring us into this life to be just one thing. I believe as human beings, our purpose is multi-faceted.
You have been in the movie industry for over a decade now, how would you describe the journey?
It has been quite fulfilling, as I have explored various facets of the industry beyond acting. I remember years ago, when I found myself on set when I first started acting, I was trying to tell the director I was working with, how to shoot a particular scene. At that moment, I knew that my passion transcended just being an actress. I knew that I was very creative, and that I might as well put it into work behind the camera as well as in front of it. After so many years, I still derive joy in acting and being behind the camera. As an actor, you bring out a side of you that people don’t get to see, and then you use your talent to be able to make someone at home be touched by whatever that character is going through. As a director, you are the one who is going to put that story of that character into character. Without you the director, the actor cannot give what you want the audience to feel. As a producer, without you going out there to look for funds to produce a movie, there’s not going to be a movie. So, everything works together and I’m grateful to still be able to do what I love till today.
How easy or difficult is it for a woman trying to get into the movie industry?
Times have changed; I don’t believe it is as difficult as it once was. There are so many great, talented women that are even outshining the men in the African movie industry today. When you talk about top actors, you will find the names of actresses on the lips of many. When it comes to directing and producing, it is also the same thing. Your talent, hard work, and determination to succeed will always take you far and help you get the recognition you deserve. It may take some time, but if you keep your eyes on the prize, your day will surely come.
As a movie director, how are you giving opportunities to younger women coming behind you?
I am always on the lookout for talented up and coming actresses, because afterall, they are the future. I am always excited when I come across new faces in the industry and I do my best to help give them a platform whenever I come across opportunities for them to showcase their talent.
You also boast of a fashion and cosmetic line alongside your production house, how are you keeping your hands in so many pies?
What can I say? I guess I have mastered the art of multi-tasking. When you are a mom, and a single one at that, trust me, nobody will teach you those skills. They just come naturally out of necessity. I’m proud that my lashes are now selling in major stores and on Amazon.
Tell us about your Foundation which you started in 2011?
The Juliet Ibrahim Foundation (JIF) was launched in December 2011. My love and compassion for people and my ill aunt at the time led me to set up the NGO and to start an awareness campaign about cancer of the kidney and other kidney-related diseases. JIF is aimed at helping Nigerians, Ghanaians, and other West African citizens know their status and prevent kidney diseases from getting to the incurable stage. JIF is poised to help save lives and put smiles on the faces of the less fortunate suffering from kidney cancer and other kidney related illnesses, but cannot afford the medical expenses. The Foundation is also a strong advocate for the fight against Ebola; a cause I am so passionate about and even has an audio and video awareness song on the killer virus. JIF has also impacted lives in other ways in the society through fundraising and adding its voice to various health hazards such as the Benue flood.
You have a book to be released soon titled, “A Toast to Life,” What kind of content should we expect?
You can expect to read so many things about me that you never knew before. The book is a memoir and is a deeply personal narrative of my triumph over adversity faced at different stages in my life and my journey to true self-love. By telling my story through this medium, it is my intention to uplift our women, and remind them that despite the many challenges experienced, there truly is always light at the end of the tunnel.
How important is mentoring for women especially those in the entertainment industry?
It is extremely important, especially for younger women who are just trying to break into the industry. It can be a tough place to be in when you are just starting out. So many people may try to take advantage of you because they know you are so hungry to fulfill your dreams. In the process, many women fall victim to exploitation and abuse. We need mentorship for these young women to ensure that no unscrupulous characters try to take advantage of them. Mentorship is also needed so that these young women can embrace their individuality and not try to copy the legends that have come before them. It can be so tempting to say “I want to be the next Joke Silva” or “I want to be the next Juliet Ibrahim.” We need to teach and mentor these young women so that they embrace the fact that their individuality is special, and they are free to become the best versions of themselves, not somebody else.
Tell us something that has influenced your life and career positively today
My faith in God and the support of my family and loved ones, these are all factors that have shaped my life and career positively.
In what practical ways are you helping and supporting other women to grow?
Women Supporting Women (WSW) is a philosophy I live by everyday. I am always willing to help fellow women in any way possible. Whether it’s through helping them secure the right opportunities to advance their career or helping those in need through my foundation. I am always willing and ready to lend a helping hand because I have lived through some difficult times in the past. So I understand how comforting it can be to receive genuine help from people who genuinely want to see you grow.
If you could influence change, what change would you effect for African women?
The freedom to shatter cultural expectations that limit us. I want to change the world’s perceptions about us. For instance, why should society look down on single mothers? Why does society think that just because we are women, they are certain spaces we can’t compete in, or positions we can’t occupy? If I could waive a magic wand over this entire content and change the world’s perceptions of us to a 100 percent positive one, believe me, I would in a second. The only superpower I have right now is the power and influence I can wield through media, film and my foundation. I hope to continue to use these platforms to help change the narrative in my own way.
Who and what inspire/drives you?
I would say my faith in God and the love and support from my family and loved ones.
As a very busy woman and mother, how do you effectively achieve work life balance?
I always say I am a super-being. I combine it all by the grace of God and the strength within me as a woman. I am a career woman so I have to juggle them accordingly but I also have a good team I work with that help ease the load.
What does your typical day look like?
If I’m not working, that is, filming or anchoring an event, I’ll be at home resting and spending time with my son, Jayden.
What do you do to relax? What is your guilty pleasure?
I love traveling and dining out or I’ll probably go to the cinema with friends or family to eat the largest popcorn available while watching a movie. Sometimes I’ll watch two movies at a go.
You mentioned you have been unlucky in love; would you give it another chance given the right circumstances?
I definitely would!
What last words do you want to say to women that have been inspired by you?
Whatever you want to do in life, You must first of all make sure that’s exactly what you want to do, have a passion for it, learn it, give it your best and strive to be the best at it.