She’s mostly  mistaken for the first ever Black-American fashion model, actress and singer to win Miss America beauty pageant in 1983, because they both share the same name ‘Vanessa Williams’,but while  this Vanessa William isn’t the one that sang the Pochohontas’s ‘Colours of the Wind’ and appeared  in films such as ‘Shaft’, ‘Eraser,” Our Vanessa Williams did feature  in Wesley Snipes’ ‘New Jack City’, ‘Sarafina’,and TV series like ‘Soulfood’ and ‘Melrose Place’.

She was in Nigeria recently where she attended this year’s edition of the Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF, which held in, Calabar, Cross River State last month. In this engaging interview, she talks about her career, her vision and why she cannot go into marriage again.

Vanessa Williams
Vanessa Williams

You have been in Nigeria for the past seven days, what’s your impression about the country?

My biggest impression has been heartwarming. I feel so welcomed, loved and I’m at home. I was talking to someone about how empowering it is to be a daughter of the diaspora and coming home to Africa and really feel my deep connection without any word spoken.

There is this openhearted feeling that I hail from this great continent and that all this people look like me. All these different variations of beauty, of blackness. It is so overwhelming and fills me with a lot of pride and power.

Have you been to Africa before now?

I had the opportunity of being in South Africa  for a project. I shot a film in South Africa with a South African Film maker, about sixteen years ago. Prior to that, my first trip to Africa was to Senegal for vacation, I had been working in Spain and I was so close to the continent, I wanted to come home.

I was initially going to go to Morocco, it being the closest country to Spain, but when we looked into our travel plans, Senegal just seemed right, so I was in Senegal and Gambia and it was breathtaking; the seas, oceans, black people clad in beautiful colours. I knewthat  I was at home. I felt the energy and souls of my ancestors.

How did you get to know about AFRIFF?

I got to know about it from my brother, Rock Mendonboa, who I believed had attended all of them. We played husband and wife in the series ‘ Soulfood’.We stay in touch as colleagues, we worked together on a project about two years ago.

We are family, all of us in Soulfood remain a family and so he told me about the film festival and got me in touch with Chioma and she brought me over here the way she has brought many of the other folks to come and be a part of it and I’m just really grateful.

What have you heard and what came to your mind when you were about to come to Nigeria?

I didn’t really have any reservations or apprehension. I grew up in New York, Brooklyn. I knew that in any cosmopolitan city, the rumours are usually worse than one’s actual experience. I knew that it was a place, particularly in a city like Lagos where I would have to be careful, I knew it wasn’t somewhere I would have to travel alone, but I had no apprehension that I wouldn’t be safe.

hings can happen anywhere in the world. I knew that Nigeria is an aggressive city but I knew I would be safe. Having travelled to other parts of Africa, I sort of knew what to expect.

Vanessa Williams
Vanessa Williams

Is this your first time in Nigeria?


What’s your impression now compared to what you’ve heard about the country?

I don’t feel like I’ve seen enough. Outside of Tinapa and Calabar which has been really good in terms of the festival because we have all been sort of insulated here, living together, having breakfast and dinners, going to see films, doing workshops together. I have been sort of insulated in this bubble of creativity, so I haven’t really seen much beyond the festival experience.

This is one of the reasons why I want to come back. I’m looking forward to twelve hours in Lagos when we leave here tomorrow. From what i’ve seen, it’s a beautiful landscape we have here in this resort. I felt safe and I felt  the beauty and I have not really gone outside the resort to experience anything that hasn’t been part of the festival.

If given the opportunity, would you like to be part of Nollywood?

Absolutely, that’s why I’m here. I see Nollywood as this evolving industry made up of people like me with stories that are human experiences with an African diaspora sensibility.

In America, there is a whole lot of factions of African- Americans who want to celebrate those things that make us Africans, that connect us to Africa. I know how to tie a wrapper, do a headwrap like any Nigerian sister around here. I also had the opportunity of working in theatre, to work with Wole Soyinka, the notable writer here.

Is coming to AFRIFF like a homecoming to you?

Absolutely, I’m excited being a part of it and taking it to the next level.

You are a singer, actress and a model, and you happen to be the first Black-American to win Miss America…..
No, that’s the blue-eyed Vanessa .L. Williams. She has a light skin with blue eyes, I have a brown skin with brown eyes, that’s the distinction. She has a middle initial, I have no middle initial. But sometimes, I’m mistaken as her, but that’s not me, that’s another Vanessa Williams, though we are both from New  York.

Have you both met each other?

We have and I’m friends with her brother. The thing is I was professionally active in all the unions before her. But she got famous before I got famous.

Are you still into music?

Yes, I am. Honestly, I must say it did sort of deter me in some ways from doing my music because I was like, while she’s doing her thing, I ‘ll just do this. So, I just sort of have apprehension about what I have to say musically, I could live it off, but with any passion that I have, I don’t want to die with my music in me. I’ve been writing and singing all my life and I’ll continue. So I’m in the studio now with a couple of music producers and I’ll be putting out some music offerings in the near future as well.

Are you married?

I was. I have two sons, aged sixteen and ten. My younger son was ten while I was here at the festival. He allowed me to come to the festival and miss his birthday.

We heard that you are married?

The internet is all wrong, the internet said that I’m married to a guy that I worked with and I’m not. I’ve only been married once and never to the actor that they claimed I was married to. I was married to Andrea Wise-man, but we’ve been separated for six years, but on the Wikipedia, it has me married to another actor, John Marshall Jones, he’s just a friend and a colleague.

We are supposed to be doing a movie later on this year or early next year. And they also gave me a third child, but all of that is a mistake. I only have two sons. On Wikipedia, they gave me a son and a marriage that I never had.

If by God’s grace you find a husband in Nigeria, would you go for it?

(Laughs)First of all, I never want a husband again. I’m not looking for a husband in Nigeria or anywhere.

Does it mean that you can never be in love again?

I am in love. I have love in my life but I am not looking to partner in a traditional kind of way.

Don’t you intend to get serious with the person?

I don’t intend to marry. Love is serious and fun. It doesn’t have to be legally binding for my happiness.


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