Yes! I’m a feminist – Tope Tedela talks more on gender advocacy
Temitope Christopher Tedela popularly known as Tope Tedela, is a multi-award-winning Nigerian actor, and producer of film, television, and stage play.
His journey into professional acting took off in 2006, when he was cast as Julian on family TV Drama-Edge of Paradise, while still a student at the University of Lagos.
Combining education and his love for acting was not an easy feat for this Ogun State indigene, who decided to take a break and come back to movies after his studies.
Since then, Tope Tedela has not looked back on his decision into Nollywood, giving exceptional performances and of course, being rewarded with various movie awards such as AMVCA’s Best Actor in A Drama in 2014, Best of Nollywood’s Best Actor in A Leading Role, also in 2014.
The producer of Slow Country and King Invincible, in this interview, talks about his career in Nollywood and the future he hopes to build in the billion-dollar industry.
How did your acting career start?
About a year after I finished secondary school, I told an older family friend who was working in advertising that I was interested in being an actor. He was kind enough to invite me to a movie set where I played an extra—what we call waka pass. Also, I participated in plays in the church around that same time. I got into university and after my first year, I auditioned for the TV series Edge of Paradise and got cast as Julian. Things began to unfold afterward. Along the line, school began to suffer and I didn’t want to abandon my degre. So, I took a hiatus to focus on school and returned to acting some years afterward.
Was acting what you’ve always wanted?
Acting was what I wanted but I didn’t even know it. I loved film as a child growing up, and I remember empathizing with some of the characters that I saw and I wondered what it would be like also channeling the characters I watched.
I tried to be different things at different points in my life — accountant, aeronautical engineer—sometimes I was just plain confused. But once I realized that acting was a career that I could pursue, I poured myself wholly into it.
What are some of the challenges you faced at the beginning and still facing in Nollywood?
I think fear and rejection are the major challenges I had. Fear of where the next job is coming from, fear of failure, and constantly asking yourself if you made the right decision and so on. Every actor faces rejection at varying degrees and the ability to develop a thick skin, is essential to having a healthy emotional and mental state.
What has been your favourite and most remarkable role since you started?
I have played a variety of roles and, I constantly look to challenging myself. Different roles tingle your insides in different ways. My roles as Gboyega in What Lies Within, Lala in A Mile From Home, Kyle Stevens-Adedoyin in Surulere, Major Egan in A Soldier’s Story, Officer John Okoli in Catcher, Gregory Ameh in The Happyness Limited and a whole lot more, come to mind. So the more I try to say what my favourite is, the more another stands beside it.
Who has been your favourite personality to work with in Nollywood; be it an actor or producer?
I have collaborated with a number of level-headed, talented and professional individuals in Nollywood. They have all been amazing in their own ways, so mentioning a couple of names wouldn’t be fair to the others. Now, while I can’t highlight just one person as my favorite, I can tell you whom I look forward to working with: and that will be Tunde Kelani. Working with him will be an awesome icing on the cake of directors under whose direction I want to be.
What has been your most challenging role to date?
My performance as Gregory Ameh in The Happyness Limited scarred my being. I remember it because playing the role began to rub off on me, and I think I was an emotional mess in the middle of making the film.
Which international or local star do you wish to be on the same set with someday?
I will absolutely love to share a scene with Amy Adams, Benicio Del Toro, Denzel Washington, Genevieve Nnaji, Joke Silva, Ramsey Nouah and Viola Davis. These people are amazing and blow my mind every time with their performances.
The world is presently a battle of the sexes, with women trying to overcome patriarchy. Have you ever found yourself being patriarchal recently or maybe in the past? How did you retrace your steps if you did and if you didn’t, what did you do?
I learn, unlearn and relearn things. When it comes to unhealthy behaviour that affects women, I am constantly reminded that I have a responsibility in my corner of the world, to speak out against the subjugation of women. I’ll be honest and this is my opinion; our society is pitted against the woman and it irks me to see this malaise.
Considering your perspective on issues relating to women, would you call yourself a feminist?
Yes. I identify with feminism and the core ideas behind it. I can go into a long sermon about the different strands of feminism which I identify with; but thinking about it, that’ll be a waste of space. I think people should read up on it to know more. I’m a believer that women should have equal access and equal rights to opportunities. So yes, I’m a feminist.
A lot of men find it difficult to relate with feminist or even support the cause. Why do you think that is?
Inequality and imbalance in any system serve the interest of certain parties or groups. These parties and groups will not relinquish the perks they enjoy without a fight. Herein lies a part of the problem. I think we as men, have to ask ourselves questions about the root causes of our resistance against the flourishing of the woman. Why do I feel threatened? Why do I think I, as a man, deserve this thing but it should be different for the woman? For example, If we both have jobs and roles in different banks, why is it the exclusive preserve of one party to take care of the food, while the other party stares at the ceiling? Is there a strain in the woman’s gene that says ‘Look at me: I am to be used and abused and must not aspire to attain my innermost goals and desires’? These are just basic approaches but I hope you see where I am going.
Have you always had this positive perspective about women or growing up changed it for you?
Let me just say, I saw how women gave up their dreams and aspirations because of men, and how men in the name of love or whatever else, made women feel like they had no right to want to have a life. And, most of these women never spoke up. They claimed they couldn’t do anything about their situations and ended up being miserable.
We have a culture that makes the male gender believe that he is the superior one, and that women should kowtow to him, or that she needs permission from him to be. We need to change the entitlement culture of men.
So, I love to see women decide to not take any nonsense, and try to actualize their highest selves.
How did you see women as a child compared to now and what was your unlearning and relearning process like?
I am an over-thinker and this can be both a good and bad thing. I say this because, I grew up thinking that women were for only taking care of the children, looking after the home and other ideas along those lines. As I neared adulthood, I started to question certain things that I had seen. If it was a woman’s job to only do those things I mentioned, then, what happens when the children leave the home? What happens if a woman doesn’t even want to have children in a marriage? What happens if a woman doesn’t even want to get married? What happens if a woman wants to live in a hotel all the days of her life? What will then be her role? If a woman can afford to take care of herself wholly, what then Is the role of the man in a relationship? How did we get the notion that the woman can’t lead? Why am I threatened if a woman is meant to lead a project and I’m meant to work under her supervision? There are so many questions to ask and if a person is honest, the answers will reveal ingrained beliefs about gender roles as it relates to the woman.
For a man who speaks up for the right of women, what’s the craziest thing you’ve heard about your position and how did that make you feel?
I’ve heard stuff like ‘woman wrapper’ and some other things which I’ll rather not mention (Laughs). I feel like there’s still a long way to go in terms of women’s rights, equality and everything in between. The road to freedom may be laced with thorns and thistles but, the hurt and pain is part of the journey to change.
If you’ll have a daughter tomorrow, what is that one thing you’ll teach her to survive in a patriarchal world like ours?
When I have a daughter, because I hope to, I’ll tell her not to let society or any man shrink her to accommodate any of his or anybody’s insecurities or ego.
Let’s talk about women in Nollywood, how’s the support system like?
I still hear horror stories from women about their sojourn in Nollywood. I hope one day, we can open the can of worms, discuss or call out people who hinder the flourishing of women. That said, there are a lot of women aligning and giving one another support. This is a beauty to behold.
Rumour is still making the round about women sleeping their way into roles. What do you think is fueling such rumours and how can it be curbed?
The notion that women have to sleep their way into roles, is a microcosm of the broader notion, that successful women got successful because they slept their way there. I think it is vile, disrespectful, and nonsensical because it paints an incomplete picture.
On the one hand, there are men and women in positions of power who abuse their power by trying to sexually exploit people. That is a part of the problem. On the other hand are individuals, male and female, desperate and non-desperate, who are willing to give their bodies away in exchange for what it is they want. We have to try to look at issues holistically and not erroneously jump into conclusions.
Who are some of the women that inspire you in Nollywood and why?
There are several women who inspire me both in front and behind the camera. Their compassion, hard work, skill set, talents, ability to make things happen against all odds, ability to constantly reinvent themselves, and so much more is simply admirable. Some of them are Bolanle Austen-Peters, Dakore Egbuson, Genevieve Nnaji, Ifeoma Chukwuogo, Judith Audu, Lala Akindoju, Mildred Okwo, Mo Abudu, Rita Dominic, Vanessa Nzediegwu to mention but a few.
Do you think we will ever have a Nigeria where women are given their rightful positions in boardroom, politics, education and every relevant male-dominated sector?
I hope I don’t come off as pessimistic, but, I think it’s going to take a while with the realities staring us in the face. Take for example, the President Buhari’s ministerial nomination list released recently, it has only seven women out of a total of 43 nominees. Despite these seeming realities, there has been a wave of conversations among men and women in different thought communities about breaking the strongholds of patriarchy. I hope it gets better moving forward; but, the realities we are faced with is telling us it might take longer than we’d like.
Among the plethora of male privileges that exist, which is the most ridiculous that you feel tops the list?
‘That’s how men are’, ‘boys will be boys’, ‘it’s a man’s world’ are some of the ridiculous beliefs that fuel the patriarchal culture that we see. We have to change that if moving forward is a plan we have as men.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a man and how have you been able to handle that?
I can’t think of a most difficult thing but, we live in a system that largely expects the man to be macho, to have it all together and not show vulnerability. I think this is a hoax and it is unhealthy for any man to live in this bubble. I am trying to be in touch with my emotions and express how I feel. I get sad. I cry. I don’t have it all together sometimes. And I think that’s okay. There’ll be moments of highs and lows, I observe it for what it is, and I move along in my life’s journey.
What’s your style like?
My style is relaxed, chilled and laid back. I will dress up if I have to otherwise, I revert to default mode.
What’s that one fashion item you’ll always be seen with?
If you’re not acting, what do you do to relax?
I play the guitar, I read, I practice yoga, I swim or play tennis.
What’s that one thing people don’t know Tope Tedela is good at?
I’m a very good ‘tinko-tinko’ player. Funny but yeah, it is true.
If you have to do this all over again, what are you going to do differently?
I will be fearless in the pursuit of my dreams from the onset of adulthood; that said, I’ll advise everyone with an understanding of their dream to pursue it fearlessly.
What are your future plans in Nollywood?
Hmmm… for me, I think Distribution is a major aspect of Nollywood we have to crack. I am looking to work in that space so that we can harness the infinite potential of our beloved Nollywood.
By Linda Orajekwe