Top Yoruba actress, Shade Omoniyi popularly known as ‘Lepa Shandy’, has opened up on how tribalism and sexual harassment almost derailed her career when she started out in Nollywood.The actress, who has successfully produced some movies ( Omi Owuro, Akano and Ifihan), and acted in a dozen flicks declared that but for patience, a firm desire to succeed and the advice of a close pal, she could have quit the industry and missed stardom. Dreams The light skinned beauty, who quit banking to pursue her acting career in 1995, and whose lead role in the blockbuster flick, Lepa Shandy, transformed her into a household name in 2001 said she was a starry Ã¢â‚¬â€œeyed-wannabe when she hit Nollywood: Ã¢â‚¬Å“When I came into the industry, I was full of dreams. As a youngster, I had dreams of being great in acting. My dad always took us to the National Theatre when we were youngers to see movies.
Recalling her elder sister’s love for movies she continued: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Occasionally, my elder sister and I would sneak out to the cinemas without his permission. We were that crazy about films! My sister knew all the stars and their names because she always read the opening and end credits. In fact, she was so crazy about movies, she, and not I should have ended up the actress!Ã¢â‚¬Â Consequently, after her Bank was liquidated, her eyes turned to her first love-acting. It was the mid 1990s.
Shy Lepa Shandy started as a production person but because artistes were getting all the credit, despite all the work production people did, she decided to opt for acting.
One of the first people she worked with in those days was boss of Soundcity, Tajudeen Adepetu: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I diversified because my bank was liquidated. I came into the industry on the set of Family Circle. I started as a production person. We did a lot of the work but artistes got all the credit. I had always wanted to act. I came in on Family Circle. We were managing the production. I was a make-up person. Then I worked on the set of Tajudeen Adepetu; he was up-and-coming then but now, he’s a big man. Back then, people did not know me because we were working behind the scenes. Those behind the scenes were the ones who actually did the work but at the end of the day, the artistes got the credits. So I said to myself, I have to stop this behind-the-scenes thing. I want to start doing the real thing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I started with the English sector. I was in Family Circle. My experience at the earlier stage in the English sector of the industry was I must confess, too tribalistic. I can say that anytime any day,Ã¢â‚¬Â she added with emphasis.
Justifying her allegation of tribalism she continued Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then we had open auditions so if you made it everybody knew because it was an open thing. But by the time the list was published, you will hardly find two Yoruba names on it! I know some Yoruba people who changed their names because it was the only way they could get roles,Ã¢â‚¬Â she added, laughing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was not ready to do that! Sometimes you left home as early as 7am but when you got to the audition grounds, you’d be surprised to meet like 50 people already there and some would have written the names of their friends on the audition list.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She said the experience was so discouraging that she was on the edge of quitting when a friend came to her rescue.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was too discouraging,Ã¢â‚¬Â she lamented, waving her hands to drive home her point, Ã¢â‚¬Å“this was 1995/1996. But I was still going. I refused to be discouraged because of the interest I had in it. I was bent on succeeding. The truth is, if you don’t have interest in acting, you can’t survive in Nollywood.Ã¢â‚¬Â
However, all her hard work was not rewarded until a fellow Yoruba actor advised her. He told her that what she was looking for in Sokoto was in the pocket of sokoto.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was on the verge of quitting. A friend by the name of Ayo Badmus came to my rescue. He was the one that brought me to ANTP. He normally came to my house and my salon and he saw what I was going through and advised me. He said he was there before and so he could appreciate my pains. He told me to shift base because that was exactly how he found his feet. According to him, once I made a name, I could go back to doing English movies if I wished.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She headed the advice and that move culminated in her being involved in Tomori, her first movie role ever. It was a Yoruba-language-based flick that had the likes of Ambassador Olusola and Gbenga Shonuga on board. The year was 1997.
However, her big break came in 2001 when she played the lead role for Lepa Shandy, the controversial movie that shot her to national consciousness.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Come to your level,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said, remebering Ayo’s words that galvanized her into dumping the English sector of Nollywood, Ã¢â‚¬Å“these are your people, they speak your language. Those others don’t speak your language. You can hardly understand them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Though I had my doubts but I gave it a try and that was how Tomori, my first movie ever, came along. I played the role of a twin. It was packaged by Gbenga Shonuga and Ambassador Segun Olusola. I have no regrets. I was very comfortable there.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She also shared her experience on sexual harassment: Ã¢â‚¬Å“ I wouldn’t want this to be in the papers naturally but I won’t mention names. You know the way you guys are. I have faced harassment. Between the both of us, men will always come; it now depends on how you handle them. Somebody did something to me that made me cry. I had a friend, Shadiya of Family Circle. A director said that I should bring her that they wanted to use her for a job. So I said ‘if you guys are giving her a job, you would have to give me a job because I have to take care of her.’ He gave all the reassurances but at the end of the day, he got interested in me. He wanted me to do more than just acting! I was more concerned about the girl because she said she wanted to be in a movie. She was very excited! At the end of the day, he did not give her the role. I was like hey, what’s going on? But he said that I was the one he really wanted. I was pissed-off and I gave it straight to them in the face! I am a soldier’s daughter!Ã¢â‚¬Â
A star @ last
However, Tomori got her relative recognition but it did not establish her as a household name. Lepa Shandy, released in 2001, changed all that. Today, she is one of the most sought after Yoruba actresses. She also doubles as a movie producer with three movies to her credit.
I want to produce an English language based-movie.