Ojy Okpe: ‘In building your career as a woman, understand the power you possess’
Ojy Okpe is an international model, television anchor and budding filmmaker. She bagged a degree in Communications and Film Production from the St. John’s University, New York. The TV anchor at Arise TV is breaking new boundaries using her hit show, What’s Trending With Ojy Okpe, to tell meaningful stories, while taking viewers on insightful and entertaining creative journeys.
Modelling actually paved the way for Ojy’s foray into television as an executive at Arise TV, a portfolio under which she has developed and produced mini bio-documentaries. The Emmy award winner honed her passion for film ever since her first day on a Hollywood production where she worked on multi-million dollar films such as The Devil Wears Prada, Spiderman 3 and Confessions of a Shopaholic. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her career journey and growth as a model, TV host and filmmaker.
Share with us your career journey?
I started my career as a fashion model; Jan Malan, a talent scout from South Africa discovered me, he then entered me into the Face of Africa Competition, which was truly the beginning of successful careers for a lot of African fashion models.
I was a finalist at the competition which took place in Ghana and was automatically signed to Storm model management in Johannesburg, South Africa and that was when my global journey began.
I transitioned from modelling, about seven or eight years ago, after studying film and production in college. Film is my second passion. My first and true passion is fashion.
It is such an exhilarating career, I loved the fact that I was always in front of the camera, posing for photographers. I learnt a lot from creative people, the art of being beautiful and staying graceful was a privilege.
I began to enjoy the life of production, and wanted to re-create everything about fashion and style and so, I went to film school.
I studied film production at the New York Film Academy and graduated from St John’s University, also in New York with a major in Mass Communication and a minor in Film Production.
I joined Arise News in 2013 as a producer for the documentary unit and transitioned to becoming an anchor. I co-host the Morning Show with my team made up of Dr. Reuben Abati, Tundun Abiola and Rufai Oseni, on weekdays. Also With Adefemi Akinsanya and Steve Ayorinde on Sundays.
What’s Trending With Ojy Okpe on the Morning Show connects all aspects of life. We discuss various topics, including sports, entertainment, politics, human angle stories and global trending topics.
What I really love about my show is that we are able to connect with our audience, and tell impactful stories that sometimes bring about change in Nigeria.
How have you been able to combine your passion for film, television, modelling and fashion?
When you think about the fact that I wear many hats, from the outside, it would seem a herculean task. But you know as human beings, we are able to multi-task, evolve and adapt, especially when you have passion for what you do. For me, it comes pretty easy. I love what I do and I don’t think I would ever advice anybody to do what they don’t enjoy doing.
Right now, I’m not producing film as much as I would love to, but I am on a live show daily and I produce my entire show. So in a way, it’s like making a film.
I have a routine, which has kept me grounded and that routine is part of my success.
How have you evolved over the years?
Evolution is quite relative, I believe that what I do right now is all-encompassing. So, when I transitioned from modelling to producing and anchoring, it felt like a natural fit because I grew up being in front of the camera. But as a woman and a mother, I have evolved in the sense that I now think of how my actions may impact my future.
So, what I would tell my younger self now, is don’t just live in the moment. In as much as it is important to live in the moment, there are consequences, so make good decisions and think of how your actions will affect your future.
Tell us about your show, What’s Trending with Ojy Okpe and how you are living your dreams through it?
Earlier, I mentioned what the show is about, what I’d like to add is that, What’s Trending also projects the crimes that are being committed in Nigeria. It’s also a show about the upliftment of people. We showcase people that have done well. We cover stories from the grassroots, we talk about what young women and children who have found themselves in unfortunate circumstances are going through, we educate people and try to recommend solutions.
What I also like about the show is that it can take any form; it could be light, it could be serious, it could be entertaining.
I have cried on my show, we have exchanged laughs, and have argued when we disagree on certain topics. I also want to use this opportunity to thank our viewers, because they too contribute to our discussions through their comments; they are able to add their voice to our content.
So, the show is such a great mix, I don’t think that I would want to do anything else at this point in my life because I am in a position where my voice can impact change and I do believe that I’m living my dreams through my show, because I am giving back to society.
Share with us how your growing up influenced your passion for what you do today?
I have always wanted to be a fashion model, my mother owned a fashion house. I grew up just enjoying looking through her catalogues, and admiring the models and clothes.
I admired super models like Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer. I had pictures of them on the wall of my bedroom.
Fashion was everything to me, I knew that one day I would be in the world of fashion and modelling.
I remember when my mother would dress my older sister and I as twins; we had all these beautiful garments, they were all looks from her catalogues. I particularly loved the look of Princess Diana, she was my ideal role model, she was so graceful and was a huge influence in my life. Most of the garments I wear now to the studio during my show, are modelled after her. That woman was one of the most beautiful women that ever lived, my mother loved her too and so I assume growing up in that environment shaped who I am today.
What do you consider a high point of your career?
Well, for my career as a model, what stood out for me was the first time I walked during New York Fashion Week; that was when I moved from South Africa to New York. We had a model scout from Ford Models who came to South Africa to select me and a bunch of other models, to walk for a few designers during Fashion Week. New York Fashion week is such a huge platform where magazine editors, designers, photographers, casting directors and model agencies select models for future jobs.
I began booking more jobs after the shows. I believe that was September 2000. That event I would say was truly a high point in my career as a model.
As for my producing career, a high point would be when I first joined Arise News in 2013 and was made the assistant director of features and special programming for the channel’s documentary unit in New York.
The unit produced a documentary titled ‘Game Changers: How the Harlem Globetrotters Battled Racism’.
We submitted it to the New York Emmys. I thought it was a very important subject about racism when we submitted it, but then was skeptical about our chances of winning the Emmys.
I assumed our chances were quite slim because Arise News was a young TV station at the time. However, we submitted it for the Best Documentary category, and Arise News won in that category. It was the 58th New York Emmys. That victory became a game changer in my life, it was a turning point in my producing career.
Share with us some of the challenges you have encountered in your journey and how have you scaled through?
When I started my career as a Television Anchor, I had to report a lot on politics. At the time I joined Arise in Nigeria, I was still a fashion model from New York where I lived for almost 20 years, and so, I wasn’t familiar with Nigerian politics, and for me, reporting on politics was like learning how to ride a bicycle.
It was in 2018 and I had to co-Anchor the Morning Show with Dr. Reuben Abati who is vast in Nigerian politics and in everything, be it arts, entertainment, sports or business.
It was a huge challenge for me because I had to study a lot. I had to present basically an exam paper for a live show daily, so it was something I did out of my comfort zone. At the same time, it was a wonderful experience because I was learning.
I struggled for about a year or so before I was able to gain my balance and began understanding Nigerian politics. I remember Dr. Abati telling me that I shouldn’t worry because no matter how hard I tried, some people would always look at me as a pretty face and as a model. He said it would take some time before people would realise that I’m not just a pretty face, but also an intelligent woman who can make contributions across various fields. So, I just persevered and scaled through.
A lot of young women struggle with building their career due to stereotypes, how would you advise them?
I do not want to sound too cliché by saying whatever a man can do a woman can do better, but it’s actually the truth, because we are women and as women, we populated this earth and so just for that singular fact alone, I think it’s a huge encouragement for women to know that we are not just ordinary, we are like mini gods on earth.
So, when you are trying to build your career, you should really understand the power you possess as a woman on this planet. Once you are able to understand that, then that’s the first step.
In building your career, you should never take ‘No’ for an answer, because I think there is a culture where men, especially in Nigeria, are so chauvinistic in a way they try to make you feel inferior. So, the first thing that they want to do is to make you feel that you are not good enough, but you are actually good enough and you are so powerful.
So, it is important to add the power you possess as a woman into building your career.
Also, go further by doing a lot of research to make sure that whatever career path you are going to choose is the right path for you.
It is always good to practice within your field; that is your strength, always work from an angle of strength. However, passion for me is also very important. Whatever you are doing in your career, make sure you are 100 percent passionate about it, because that’s the only way it can come with ease.
Understand your power, choose a career that you are passionate about, and with ample research, the sky really is your starting point.
What is your philosophy of life?
My philosophy of life is ‘Never Take No for An Answer’ and Always Be Your Brother’s Keeper’.