Interview with Joan Iyiola (Screenwriter of Dọlápọ̀ Is Fine)

Hi Joan, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, I’d like to ask why you decided to set the background of DỌLÁPỌ̀ IS FINE against a young woman going from boarding school into the working world – was there something that particularly attracted you to the idea of utilising the boarding school, as you excellently do, as both a plot device and a means of informing the
audience about your central character?

Yes, I understood the world from my own experiences, but I have yet to see a young black
woman’s experience set within this landscape in the UK cinema. The history, architecture, traditions work as a device to showcase Dọlápọ̀’s growth through it.

The film is of course set in the UK so how applicable do you think Dọlápọ̀’s experiences are to someone from the US watching?

What I have learnt from this film is that the more specific we are as filmmakers the more universal the themes. When we premiered at the American Black Film Festival, I realised that the black experience is shared across the globe, and I have been greatly warmed by the responses from audiences in the US.

Why do you think there is such discrimination against black women showing their natural afro hair?

Because of systemic racism within our society.

How important do you think films like DỌLÁPỌ̀ IS FINE are in the wake of Black Live Matter?

For us it was important to showcase joy, to lift us through the trauma that so many of us have suffered, and to also offer a counter narrative of the black experience.

What is it like, on the production side, like working with two big international companies like Netflix and HBO? Does it change your outlook towards your film?

It is a fantastic experience, and offers learning at a high level. It doesn’t change my outlook towards our film, but I feel incredibly grateful that the film is able to reach such a wide audience.

How do you think coronavirus will impact the film industry?

It will change what we make, and how we are able to make it. Things will be tough for a while, but the innovation that I have seen from artists makes me feel so hopeful.

What was the writing process for the film like?

So enjoyable! I loved crafting the screenplay from Chibundu Onuzo’s short story, and working on new scenes for the film.

What was the filming process like for the film?

A whirlwind! Exhilarating, demanding, a great joy!

What was the casting process for the film like?

Really fun! The cast is led by Doyin Ajiboye, a fantastic newcomer to the industry, a member of NYT, and represented by IAG. Doyin is destined for great things! Katie Friedli Walton plays alongside her as Imogen, and is in her final year at Oxford University, and is also a volunteer at The Mono Box (an arts organisation of which I am one of the co-founders). Gina McKee, Pamela Nomvete and Joseph Mydell are all actors that I have worked with at various stages within my career, and it was an honour to have them on board for my first film project!

How does this project compare to other films you’ve worked on?

Oh this project will always be special in my heart! It is the first film that I have made and I will
never forget the experience.

What has the reception to the film been like?

Absolutely amazing. We’ve been blown away by the response. What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

This is a story of empowerment and we hope that it encourages the viewer to find self-acceptance and to celebrate their authentic selves. You were of course the first black woman to play the Duchess of Malfi back in 2018 and have worked extensively in theatre. There has been a great deal of discussion as to how progressive the theatre world is, in terms of for example colour blind casting, as compared to cinema – how justified do you think the comparison is and do you think film has something to learn from theatre?

To be honest, I have never wanted anyone to not see my colour, because then they won’t see me. What I can say is that I have played a wide range of roles within theatre, and they have given me the basis of what is possible as an artist, and so I use these experience to guide me when looking for roles in film. All of my favourite actors began in theatre, so the mediums very much speak to one another, and as such learn from each other in equal measure.

What future projects have you got planned?

I am currently filming a series of short films at the moment, and I also have a few TV Series
ideas that are in development.

With thanks to Joan. Make sure to check out Dọlápọ̀ Is Fine. 

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