BrandArena: CNN’s African Voices Changemakers meets Yvonne Orji

Saturday, 27 June 2020

CNN’s African Voices Changemakers meets Yvonne Orji

On this week’s African Voices Changemakers, CNN International’s Arit Okpo meets actor and comedian Yvonne Orji, one of the stars of HBO’s Insecure.

Orji was born in Nigeria and raised in the United States. In her new HBO stand-up special Momma, I Made It, she takes a camera crew to her hometown to give a glimpse of how she grew up. Orji speaks about this experience and her goal of showing the real Nigeria, “It felt good to be able to like capture home and you know, a lot of times when people go home it's like they want to only see, "Make sure you show Third Mainland Bridge", "Make sure you show Alara", make sure you show just the niceness of...  and I wasn't interested in showing a version of Nigeria.”

Orji is proud of her Nigerian/American identity and often bases her humour around this duality. She discusses the idea of negative stereotypes and changing these, “When you have a nation like Nigeria, that's like, no, we want the world to see us different. It's like, you know, the world is going to see you, how the world sees you. You just make sure your character speaks louder than anything else you want to say.”

Although her parents wanted her to be a doctor, Orji knew she desired a job in entertainment. She acknowledges that her parent’s heritage and growing up during the Biafra War shaped their views, “My dad tells me all the time he was supposed to go to London and go to school and then the war hit, family members went missing so it was like there's no option but to stay here. So it's like what do you mean you still want to go fulfil purpose and your dreams.  You have to stay here and help the family, so it was always family first.  And so, you have us kids and we're all like "I want to pursue my passion", "I want to purse my dreams", and they are like "passion and what?"”

Orji’s big break came in the role of Molly in Insecure. She tells Okpo about landing the part, “I auditioned without knowing what could happen. So that was the first audition. And then after that there were four more that year. So, it took five auditions and about two months with so much competition and it was crazy that when I got the news and I couldn't be happier, and it's been a blessing ever since.”

Often seen as a divisive character, Orji explores why some viewers have such strong feelings on Molly, “I think that's why there's such a visceral reaction with her this season and these characters are so relatable because we see ourselves in them and we see the things we don't want to see in ourselves. And then so it's, it's jarring to be like, is that me?”

Despite these adverse feelings, Orji says that she respects the character. She tells CNN, “I admire her messiness. There's a part of me that wishes I, you know, did I miss my window to be messy? Because once you're, once you have a certain age, you're like, wait ain't got time to make stupid mistakes just for the lessons.”

African Voices Changemakers airs on Friday 12th June at 1030 SAST on CNN International.

The show also airs at the following times:

  • Saturday 13th June at 0130 SAST,1330 SAST and 1730 SAST
  • Sunday 14th June at 0600 SAST, 1030 SAST and 2100 SAST
  • Monday 15th June at 0630 SAST

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