Sope Aluko

Words + Interview By: Tyrone Davis

Sope Aluko is a talented actress, originally from Nigeria. After growing up in the UK and getting her education, she later decided to leave an established career to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. She has appeared in many projects and has joined the Marvel family, appearing in “Black Panther” and “Venom” which is due in theatres soon. We spoke about a lot but there was so much more I wanted to ask her. Maybe I’ll get a chance at a later time.

What was childhood like for you?
I am very blessed to have had a wonderful childhood. I was born in Nigeria (West Africa), the third child of four daughters. Because my father was a Diplomat, we got to travel and live in various countries around the world, like Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, Indonesia, Kenya etc. So, I got to experience a very multicultural, educational and exciting upbringing.

My mother was in the military (Army) and we lived in Germany for about 3 years, starting when I was about 8 years old. She had an African friend that was in the Army as well and he introduced her/us to 2 of his female cousins who also lived there. They had no ties to the military and it confused me as to what they were doing living in Europe as civilians when they were from Africa. It blew my mind even more after we visited the UK and I saw there were a lot of black people living there. As an adult, I’ve learned how that was possible but in your experience, what brought you to the UK from Nigeria? 
As you know, Nigeria is part of the British commonwealth even though we have been independent for 58 years now so that explains the large population of Nigerians settled in the UK. Initially, my sisters and I hopped around from school to school in the various countries that my father was posted until my parents felt it best to maintain more stability in our education. That was when they decided it best for us to attend private boarding schools in the UK while they were posted out.  I started boarding school at 10 years old and did all my schooling in the UK right up until my Masters Degree. I also worked for a bit in London after University. So that’s how the UK came into the picture for me. 

How many languages do you speak and was it your goal to learn multiple or did it just happen when you relocated to different countries? 
I speak 4 languages and other than my native language. I picked them up while living in the respective countries. I have lived in about 7 countries, I think. My father spoke 8 languages and I remember him sharing with me as a child that it was important to learn the culture, environment, food and particularly the language of people in the country we lived in. He said it was the best demonstration of love and respect for them.

What was your support system like from your parents in regard to you wanting to become an entertainer?
My parents didn’t warm up to the idea of me being an actor only because they didn’t feel that was a stable career path. As with most traditional Nigerian parents, especially with 4 daughters, they wanted us to pursue sustainable careers to help support us in the future. Sadly, both my parents are deceased and never got to see me pursue my dream of acting.

Was taking that leap of faith and giving up your day job to pursue your dreams an easy decision? Why or why not?
It was the hardest decision I ever made in my life, especially since I was earning a comfortable six figure salary. I not only gave up the stability of a consistent pay check, I had to humble myself and start from the very bottom of the industry in order to get a full understanding of how the business works. It was tough for sure. It also didn’t help that my entire family and close friends thought I was crazy taking this step. So support was pretty much non existent for a while, lol.

Why was the short film, “JOY” important?
One of the main reasons I chose to be an actor was to lend a voice to the voiceless which is why I am very much drawn to social awareness issues particularly pertaining to the African diaspora. As a young girl, I grew up ‘casually’ and unknowingly with other young girls who had been violated by FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). It wasn’t until I was older that I fully realized the atrocity and I was both appalled and helpless. So, the short film JOY is a passion project I am very proud of. It was my hardest role because it meant a lot to me to honor the victims of FGM effectively and appropriately. Ironically soon after we shot the film, the Nigerian government announced the ban of FGM in Nigeria. Other sub-Saharan countries have followed suit, but unfortunately progress and education is still slow.

Being that acting is something you always wanted to do, who inspired you early on?
My first inspiration was a Nigerian Actress, Patty Boulaye who I saw play the lead in a film when I was 7 years old. I was absolutely enthralled. Coupled with a dear Aunt of mine (my namesake), Sope Sodeinde who was classically trained in the UK and worked very successfully in both TV and film. I so admired her for boldly going after her dreams even when others ridiculed her in our cultural environment back then. She was my supreme hero! Sadly she’s deceased now and I never got to share that with her.

How did you feel when you earned the role in Marvel’s, “Black Panther” and what did it mean to you, overall?
I was absolutely elated! I had auditioned for 4 roles prior so it had been a journey for a while. I am so grateful to the casting directors for continuously bringing me back in and I ultimately landed a role. The entire experience has been a huge blessing to me personally and professionally. I am now a “cool” mum to my teenage boys and their friends!

Acting in the film was one thing, but to see the finished product had to have been something completely different. Were you able to enjoy it the same way the rest of us did? 
Absolutely! I enjoyed it over and over again at each of the many kids screenings I attended when it first came out in South Florida (where I live with my family). I still continue to enjoy it whenever I watch it on DVD, Netflix or on the plane…It’s still all very surreal!

As a whole, black people were excited about the film and had something to be proud of and now “Wakanda” has become a thing. I’m bothered just a little bit because I’d hope we (African Americans) would take pride in Africa as a whole, rather than a fictional country. At the same time, it’s a start. What’s your take on it?
There’s a lot I’d like to say here, but I think the key take away should be that although ‘Wakanda’ is a fictitious country in Africa, it clearly showcases all aspects of the African continent. The fact that Africa is rich in mineral resources, culture, tradition, ancestry, heritage at the forefront of cutting edge technological advancements/inventions, music, fashion and the list goes on…You see that is the Africa I know, which I am excited the world finally got to see in the form of Wakanda. It’s a really good thing for our black youth today to know they are descendants of Kings, Queens and all that greatness!

I think a lot of that stems from the fact that we’ve only been shown one type of Africa for most of our lives and haven’t seen it being presented as an empire with Kings, Queens and royalty (aside from Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America) Being that the continent of Africa is huge and contains many countries, what are many of the misconceptions about Africa that you can clear up? 
Where do you want me to start? So many! In my opinion, in the past Hollywood has done a poor job of depicting Africa or countries within the African continent in film. It just never felt like they had done their homework. It felt like they were throwing stuff together and making it up as they went along for added value. That always bothered me and other Africans. We felt disrespected and that our opinions didn’t count. So with Black Panther, for the first time in a very, very long time, Africa was thoroughly researched and given its just due. I believe that is one of the reasons why Black Panther has been so successful around the globe. I just hope the benchmark has been set and it doesn’t slide back.

Let’s talk about the relationship between Africans and African Americans for a bit. We (African Americans) have been told that as a whole, Africans don’t necessarily care for us. Can you give any insight on that?
That’s so funny, because I heard that African Americans don’t care for Africans. One of those terrible myths started to create division amongst us I’m afraid. We should know better.    

What can we do to improve our connection with each other? Are there any avenues that you know of that can aid in that?
I don’t know about you but I see connections built around me all the time. I have such a diverse group of friends including African Americans, Jamaicans, Trinis, other West Indians…Intermarriages cross culturally both within my family and friends…I honestly don’t see the problem. I guess it depends on where you live? I live in Miami and that’s quite a “melting pot”. But, if you have experienced some division then as I mentioned earlier, the best way to build a connection in my experience is to learn about your fellow brother/sister’s culture. Travel if you can. Travel is such an overlooked educational opportunity. And if one can’t afford to travel then there are so many other research resources.

Ironically, “Black Panther” touched on that relationship between us in a major way. How did you feel about Kilmonger’s methods? 
That is the beauty in Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole co-writing a story that addresses many questions or misconceptions. I consider the role of Killmonger as “The Rebel with a Cause” as opposed to a villain. He had valid points which T’Challa painfully had to address. I feel Black Panther opened the dialogue for us to collectively discuss topical issues. This indirectly creates an opportunity for us to learn more about one another, embrace our differences and ultimately set us on a path for a stronger partnership.

Keeping it Marvel, you are next up in Marvel’s, “Venom”. I’m excited about this film as well. Tell us about your role.
Yes! I am so excited about Venom and I love being part of the Marvel family! Unfortunately at this time, I really can’t say much about my role until the film is released on October 5th. You will have to wait and see!

Were you a comic book fan growing up? If not, how do you go about preparing for roles of this nature? I imagine you’d have to go back and research the main character’s background and what the film is all about, just like with any other film but this being a little different than your norm. 
Yes, I loved to read comics growing up and I had my favorites for sure. And you’re correct, as actors, it is such an added advantage to be able to research old comics in order to get a better understanding and perspective of the characters we have to play. I also have the added advantage of having 2 teenage boys that are Marvel super fans so they were great resources for me if I ever needed their help as long as it didn’t fall within my NDA contractual territory which I take very seriously (even with my immediate family). 

Why is April 10th a special day?
Oh wow! You know about that? Well, I had the distinguished honor to have had the Mayor and Commissioners of Miami-Dade County proclaim April 10th, 2018 as “Sope Aluko Day”! Based on my years of work as a South Florida Actor and my role in Black Panther. I still have no words… God is amazing!

After “Venom”, what can we expect from you? Anything special coming up?
I am in a movie called Best of Enemies with Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell coming out in 2019. It’s based on a true story and is really quite special. I also have a couple of upcoming projects, but due to NDA’s and all that I am unable to share right now. Stay tuned!

How can people reach you on social media?
Please follow me and my amazing acting/life journey on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @sopealuko.

Any last words? 
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me and for developing these thought provoking questions! God bless you.

Photo By: Gray Hammer

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