Oreka Godis is a descendant of the Otaro and Ekarabome Royal Dynasty of Ogori, Kogi State, Nigeria. Born to a father who served in the Nigerian military and a mother who worked as a nurse in England and the U.S., Oreka had quite the nomadic childhood. Oreka relocated to Nigeria in 2009 to work for The Beat 99.9FM where she co-anchored the biggest breakfast show in Lagos.
Now, she is known for her acting and her latest role is in FACES, a gritty drama about the shared experience of minority communities impacted by HIV. Set in London in 2017, the film speaks to the complex and sometimes competing narratives associated with HIV and their impact on individuals, relationships, and society.
You seem to have had quite the nomadic childhood. Would you describe yourself as a “third culture kid,” and how would you say that background influenced your perspective as an African woman in global media?
For me, the good thing about having your home be wherever you lay your head is how close to other cultures you get.You can tug gently on the strings that make up the fabric of each of our beings. That you get to feel the texture of other people’s lives, observe and respectfully participate in their traditions when invited and fully appreciate how wonderful we are as creations of a great God. I understand the life of a nomad isn’t for everyone and while I may sadly forget names and faces over time, I never forget the people and how their world made me feel.
Whatever I may have lost in the stability of living in one place all my life, I have gained instead, such deep appreciation for the complexity of the human experience. My upbringing informed my belief that we must share our stories in the media and have them travel far and wide. For it is our responsibility to define how our voices should be represented on the global stage.
You also have a very multifaceted background – music, debate, track-and-field, Clinical Sciences, MC-ing, to name a few, with excellent performance in each. What then inspired you to go into media, and acting specifically?
I grew up as the child who was always dancing. I’ve never heard a beat that I couldn’t move to and I loved performing for my family. I was fortunate to be raised in homes where a career path wasn’t chosen for you. Everyone was encouraged and empowered to discover who they are – and I thought I would be a doctor. I am amazed at where my career is today but if you speak with my mom or sister Omoloye, they’ll tell you that I was born to perform.
My father is an undiscovered sketch artist. My sister was a theatre arts performer. My uncle, a composer, my aunt a model and presenter. In my family we have chefs, musicians, authors, impressionists, comedians – and though none of them chased it professionally, the creative gene is in the bloodline. I’d felt its pulse, heard it throbbing in my years, but I ignored it. It took many years after university for me to embrace my destiny in the media industry. I am very grateful to be a working actor.
You relocated to Nigeria in 2009, a tough decision for a lot of people in the diaspora, especially those who get comfortable with the systems abroad. What prompted this move, and how did it impact your career outlook?
I moved to Nigeria because I wanted to reconnect with my roots and be closer with my grandmother, Juliana Godis, who has since passed on. I was working for a bank in London and as such, moving to Nigeria was not just a change of environment, everything changed for me: lifestyle, career.
I often jest that even my life expectancy changed as a result of living in Nigeria. The first three years were grueling. The next four years that followed were just as tough if not tougher and if I’m being honest, I gave up many times.
What has helped is having people that believe in me, and who constantly pray for me: my mother, Grace, friends like Temisan and Omolara who funded my dreams and even drama school when I needed it. Without their support, I am certain my life would have taken a completely more dissatisfying turn. Nigeria has given me the chance to represent her at the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organisation. She has given me a chance to work with people like Jason Njoku at iROKO, the absolute game changer that is EbonyLife TV’s Mo Abudu and I have continued to be put in positions where I get to represent both the United Kingdom and Nigeria.
I am grateful because it is a far more rewarding life than what I led before and in the words of Mo Abudu, my career outlook now is: if you can dream it, you can achieve it.
Let’s talk about FACES. The movie is centered around the impact of HIV in minority communities are marginalized with regards to sexual health in the UK. Aside the obvious, why do you think that the dialogue this film opens up is important?
Health is wealth. Sexually transmitted disease is not a ‘first world problem’. It is a global issue that we must not allow ourselves to become desensitized from. The themes Faces explores, I believe should be top of mind for us in order to build strong, tolerant global communities.
Could you describe, without giving too much away of course, your character in the movie and why this role was important for you to play?
Chika is from a middle class family who is determined to move to the next wrung of ultimate Nigerian society woman. There are sacrifices she is willing to make and possibly things she will even turn a blind eye to. Given the choice, she will choose the perception of perfection over tangible happiness. She has a plan and the rest of the world must fit into her plan, not the other way round. She is very much a ‘move-or-you-will-be-moved’ kind of person.
I see a vulnerability in Chika which she so desperately masks with confidence. There are moments when she cracks a little and (I feel) she really does want to be loved. While I do not agree with everything Chika does, I am so grateful for the opportunity to live her life. I hope that as you watch Faces, you knows that you have a right to love and be loved in the right way. No relationship is supposed to feel like a prison sentence. No one ever attains happiness through settling for a life of dissatisfaction. No one ever utterly despises another unless it illuminates part of their own self that they fear.
Was there anything unexpected that you learned while working on this film?
For this role, I think the main requirement was to be human and empathetic to the plight of others. As a change maker, Joseph a. Adesunloye was a most attentive director, but also very trusting of his actors. It meant that the environment he created was one that allowed for such wonderful discussions and exchange of ideas that I believe just by being a part of Faces, my life and knowledge has been made richer. I even picked up the tiniest bit of French!
So while there were no expectations impressed upon me, I definitely have learnt a lot thanks to this wonderful movie that’s the first of many movements towards building a better, more tolerable world.
Being yourself an intersection of cultures, do you see any similarities between the issues addressed in FACES and those you may have observed back home?
Absolutely. Just pick up any newspaper in Nigeria and all of the themes in Faces are there. Even embedded in the subtext of articles in the business section, these issues whisper across. It’s why I will continue to pray that my Nigeria will allow the message of Faces be shared and not stifled.
I interact with people on a regular basis who say they have nowhere to turn because of what they have been told is unacceptable thoughts, questions or behaviour. Married men have stopped me in unusual places seeking advice for issues they cannot bring up with their pastor.
Teenagers find me online and thank me for sharing information – such as SlideSafe, a discreet platform that answers the question of being sexually active in a society that almost embarrasses you for wanting to buy a female condom or daring to request to know your sexual health status. Not to mention access to care or the cost of initial testing and counseling.
As a people, we are work in progress.
As a self-professed storyteller above all, do you see yourself working on a similar project in Nigeria?
I would like nothing more than to have Faces premiere on Nigerian soil. The people in Faces are not foreign to us and the ordeals they experience, I believe will resonate with many in Nigeria. I would be very happy to get involved with similar advocacy projects – and I have done in the past for instance with ‘Timothy’, a short film shot with Nigerian Nollywood champion, Omoni Oboli, directed by Ejiro Onobrakpor; it was an Afrinolly film sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the message there was to highlight the dangers of contraband medicine.
While I do not have power over the Nigerian movie industry, I am doing my bit to be part of the change I wish for Nigeria and Africa by carefully choosing projects that I engage, using my own platforms – Love Lounge on EbonyLife TV, and my ‘The Unsullied Podcast’, to key into important conversations around sexual and mental health. If through my work, regardless of which platform I use, I can bring light important issues some have considered taboo and help but one person, I will have lived a fulfilled life.