By Laju Arenyeka
“We are not Nigerians” Venus and Serena Williams said. It is beginning to seem cliché that Nigerians are quick to speculate about the roots of successful Africans abroad. It doesn’t matter whether they can speak a Nigerian language, or have an American accent; whether they grew up in Lagos or spent their childhood on the streets of London.
We crave for a certain affiliation, and hold a strange hope that at least some of the Hollywood stars we see on our television screens, have ancestors who once graced our neighbourhoods. Venus and Serena hurt our feelings, but these stars cannot deny us. Even if they wanted to, like eba to soup, we would attach ourselves to their famous skirts because blood is thicker than water!
Wikipedia refers to this Hotel Rwanda star as an ‘English’ actor (But we know better). Hakeem was born in Lagos in 1962 to Nigerian parents, and was based in South Africa for a while. He is best known for his portrayal of Georges Rutaganda in the 2004 motion picture Hotel Rwanda. He also starred as Colonel Iké Dubaku in season 7 of the Fox television series 24 and the TV film tie-in 24: Redemption. This Hollywood hunk made us proud when he starred in the Nollywood blockbuster Last flight to Abuja.
Hotel Rwanda had another Nigerian on the cast that would be downright uncharacteristic of us not to claim. Sophie Okonedo received an Academy award nomination for her role in the movie. If she had won it, it wouldn’t have mattered that her Nigerian father left home when since she was five, it would be ours to boast of. Sophie also received a Golden Globe nomination for Tsunami: The Aftermath, and BAFTA nominations for Criminal Justice and Mrs. Mandela.
Her other film roles included Aeon Flux, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Dirty Pretty Things, Skin, and The Secret Life of Bees. Okonedo was born in London, England, the daughter of Joan (née Allman), a pilates teacher, and Henry Okonedo (1939–2009), who worked for the government. Her father was Nigerian, and her mother, an Ashkenazi Jew, was born in the East End, to Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Poland and Russia. She was raised in her mother’s Jewish faith.
David Oyelowo, his British wife Jessica and his three beautiful sons are ours to claim. This versatile actor has graced some of the best productions in theatre and television. Oyelowo played the role of MI5 officer Danny Hunter in the British TV drama series Spooks from 2002 to 2004. More recently he starred in A Raisin in the Sun
(2011), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), The Help (2011), Selma (2011) where he played Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln (2012) and many more. He also starred in Blood and Oil, a controversial production which many believe is not a true representation of the happenings of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Next week, watch out for more Hollywood stars with Nigerian parentage. You just might find out the actual roots Beyonce, Rihanna and Will Smith. Besides, who knows the real meaning of ‘L’ in Samuel L Jackson… Lekan? No promises, just Dis n Dat!