In the past ten years only 13% of all UK films have featured one or more Black actors in a lead role. Disturbingly, this lack of representation isn’t limited to on-screen portrayal but extends across the film industry as a whole. In an attempt to combat this issue, Converse have partnered with world-renowned actor and producer John Boyega who approached the brand with a yearning to create opportunities for under-represented creatives.
Together they developed the ‘Create Next Film Project’ which has seen Boyega work with five young Black London filmmakers to mentor and fund their first short films. Included in the five rising stars is Kemi-Anna Adeeko, a 22 year old filmmaker passionate about changing the creative landscape and inspiring other young Black creatives to use their voice. F Word sat down with Kemi ahead of the screening of her up and coming short film to talk inspiration, representation and her vision for the future!
Rachel Edwards: Hi Kemi! I have to ask... can you give us some spoilers on the film you’re making with Converse!?
Kemi-Anna Adeeko: (Laughs) No big spoilers but I can tell you that it’s about a young immigrant family who come to the UK. You kind of see their first experiences and the interactions they have as they discover what it’s like to be an immigrant or Black in London in the '90s.
R.E: Is a lot of the film personal to you and your own experiences?
K.A: Yeah I definitely pulled inspiration from my life. I moved to London when I was three with my family and obviously as immigrants you have different experiences - as a Black woman you have different experiences. I used that as inspiration as I created the stories. It’s not a true story but it’s based on true events.
R.E: How did you feel when Converse approached you?
K.A: I was mind blown! It’s such an incredible opportunity. I was shocked and wondering if it was real! And at the same time super grateful because it meant I got to create my first short and it was funded. There’s such a great mentorship and team behind me so I was super excited.
R.E: It’s so exciting! How did you get into filmmaking?
K.A: It was through music videos. I made a music video for a friend called Shamiya Battles and I found that I really loved that side of creating. I’ve explored creativity my whole life - I started through music and then when I went to university I was doing photography so I’ve done a bunch of things but I feel so satisfied when I am filmmaking.
R.E: What age were you when you made that first music video?
K.A: I was around 20 so not that long ago!
R.E: And things really took off from then! I think that happens, when something clicks the right things start coming towards you...
K.A: Exactly, I tried so many things but this is me.
R.E: Did you study filmmaking at all or are you very much hands-on and self taught?
K.A: I studied advertising so there’s an element of production in that but I wasn’t learning anything about filmmaking or film production so definitely self-taught. I kind of learned on the job and with the help of amazing mentors that I have around me. The mentors on this film project - Bounce Cinema’s Mathieu has been an amazing mentor who has really taught me and helped me.
R.E: I think it’s so important to have a mentor in those early stages to help you push through any self doubt! Do you remember the first film that inspired you to want to make your own film?
K.A: I think when I was younger and I was watching movies I never really thought that I could make one myself but I would say it was music videos. When I was in sixth form Solange dropped her album and watching her music videos I was like ‘I would love to make something like this’. Even though they are music videos they are so cinematic. They’re beautiful imagery that you can screenshot at any second so I knew I wanted to make something like that.
R.E: I used to watch all the music video channels when I got home from school - '90s music videos were amazing. I’m interested because you said that you never thought you could make a film, you never thought you could be on that side of it. Why do you think that is? Why do you think you had that ingrained in you that you couldn’t do it?
K.A: I think being from an immigrant family, creative roots are not usually what’s favoured. We usually want stability and a good career which looks like working in healthcare or finance. But also when I was at school no one ever told me I could do something like that, there was no creativity involved. And I think another issue is the lack of representation in the film and creative industry for Black women. I never thought I could be one of those people in those rooms.
R.E: The lack of representation is such a big issue because how can you imagine being something you never see? This is why this project is so important because hopefully it will inspire other people to believe in themselves too. Do you think the education system should change so that it’s more creative?
K.A: One hundred percent. I went to Grammar school so there was literally no creativity, no media studies or anything. It was like ‘strictly academic subjects will make you succeed’ so I just thought there was no other root. But when I went to uni I was more open to creativity and explored those roots.
R.E: So I know you went to sleep at 6am today because you were working on your film all night! I’m intrigued, what’s your creative process like?
K.A: I think there’s an element of structure but it’s very free-flowing. I do have steps I take, for example when I think of an idea I will look for inspiration and try to build a treatment and put what’s in my head on paper or on a screen so I can visualise it. But from there it’s just trying to hit deadlines! I usually work at crazy times of night because it’s quiet.
R.E: Do you need a deadline so that you work a lot at the last minute or are you good at planning things out?
K.A: I do plan things out but sometimes with creative things like writing or thinking of visual ideas you can’t. Sometimes I’ll have the most inspiration at the beginning of the process and I’m done and ready for the deadline and sometimes I have to wait until the right things come to me.
R.E: Is there a weird place you find yourself feeling inspired? Like a lot of people say it hits them in the shower or when they go for a run?
K.A: I don’t think there’s one place but usually when I’m watching a film or a music video or an advert. I think seeing other people create inspires creativity. And not even just film and TV, also songs or anything visual or creative inspires me.
R.E: What change do you want to see in the film industry going forward?
K.A: One hundred percent representation but not just seeing more diverse people in the room but also giving opportunities to young people from lower earning households. And more education from a younger age. I think if people are exposed to what they can do from a young age there will be more greatness being born younger. I feel like children have so much to share and if the creative side of our brain is exercised earlier we can create better work. Education, more creativity in the education system would be sick and more opportunities for young Black kids.
R.E: Totally, letting children see what they are capable of from a young age, having those opportunities in place from the start.
K.A: I would also say more companies or more organisations who can help help support, like the Converse Create Next Film Project. If not for this I would not be able to create this film at this time. I think it’s incredible. A lot of people say things or pretend to care about something but when you put your money where your mouth is and invest in Black filmmakers the proof is there.
R.E: This is so true - it’s not a token in a campaign just for show but it inspires change from the ground up. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
K.A: Make stuff with whatever you have! I am an aspiring filmmaker, I’m at the beginning of my career so I feel like I can’t give advice!
R.E: No you’re being modest!
K.A: (Laughs) I say go out and make stuff. Even before this film, most of the things I made were me and my friends at uni going to the park and doing a shoot. Or making stuff with nothing, especially in lockdown. I was just shooting stuff at home with whatever I had, even if it’s just a phone. You never know how you’ll be discovered or what opportunity you could be given from that.
R.E: That’s such good advice! I think people make so many excuses like ‘I don’t have the right materials’ or ‘I don’t have enough time’ and I think what you’re saying about just taking those steps is the only way to build confidence. Is there anything that surprised you since entering into the industry?
K.A: I think the amount of people it takes to work on a project. This is the biggest production I’ve worked on and seeing how many people are involved for each specific thing and also the production team Bounce Cinema and everyone who’s been involved and all the behind the scenes to make the vision come to life is mad. People work so hard to make stuff happen. I feel lucky because I have such a great team and if not it would have been really hard!
R.E: It sounds like you have a great network of support around you. What has been your proudest moment since starting out?
K.A: I think definitely the shoot day of my film. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Just a lot of work and we had been working on it for six months prior so getting through the day and capturing what I needed to capture. At the end of that I was just so proud.
R.E: I can imagine! And the pressure that goes into that as well because there are always variables you can’t control. Did you feel pressure on the day or did you stay calm?
K.A: Yeah a lot of pressure but I was told I kept a cool exterior!
R.E: I can imagine that, I can see you keeping calm!
K.A: I think just worry about the things you can worry about because what else can you do! But again there was so much pressure on the day which is natural when you care about what you’re doing. You want to deliver what you intended to. I wanted to tell the story I aimed to tell. I got through the day and shot the film and I’m so proud.
R.E: I’m so excited to see it. Who would play you in the film of your life?
K.A: Who would play me? I don’t know, I feel like when I’ve been watching TV or movies I’ve never seen anyone who looks like me which is another problem in the film industry. But if it’s an actor that I love I’d say Issa Rae even though she looks nothing like me. I would be satisfied because she’s incredible and hilarious.
R.E: What plans do you have for the future that you’re excited about?
K.A: Just to make more stuff, that’s literally it! More films, music videos, documentaries and obviously really excited for these films to come out.
R.E: Is there one genre that you’ve not explored that you’d like to?
K.A: I’d love to do sci-fi! I feel like there aren’t many sci-fi movies filled with Black people so I feel like a fun sci-fi would be great.
R.E: Is there one specific place outside of London you’d like to go to shoot in future?
K.A: I’d love to visit New York to work there! I feel like they have an amazing work mentality and there are so many creatives that I’d love to connect with. But I’ve always wanted to shoot in Nigeria where I’m from. I think it would just be the most beautiful imagery and tell a story of where I’m from.
R.E: This would be amazing! And lastly... what’s your favourite F Word?
K.A: I’m going to say funds. Funds, support and mentorship!
Kemi’s top 5 ‘must see’ films to put on your watch list: Small Axe film series
Lemonade by Beyoncé
Summer of Soul
The Harder They Fall
Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma documentary by Topaz Jones
Sign up to attend the Create Next Film Project Premier where each film will be screened for the first-time in Soho, London via the link here.