Who are our heroes?
Leading actresses meet the women who inspire them. WE. BLACK WOMEN. is an exhibition curated by Donmar Associate Artist Joan Iyiola that shifts our perspective on British history by putting the collective experiences of black women at the centre of the conversation. (all image Helen Murray)
Featuring Sheila Atim, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Joyclen Buffong, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Noma Dumezweni, Dr Christine Ekechi, Decima Francis MBE, Akua Gyamfi, Naomie Harris, Afua Hirsch, Joan Iyiola, Anaya Kamara, Faith Locken, June Nicol-Dundas, and Susan Wokoma.
In partnership with Apatan Productions, with photography by Myah Jeffers (Portrait of Britain Winner) and Helen Murray (Widening the Lens) and cinematography by Stephen Ofori (Dọlápọ̀ is fine), this free exhibition will be presented in the Donmar’s foyer spaces from 6 May 2022.
Joan Iyiola is an artist, working as an actress, writer and producer. As an actress, Joan’s credits span film, television and theatre, most recently including Changing Destiny (Young Vic), The Duchess of Malfi (RSC), Tree (Young Vic), Too Close (ITV), Enterprice (BBC/Netflix) and Black Earth Rising (BBC/Netflix). Joan is co-founder of The Mono Box, a non-profit arts organisation that supports and nurtures the development of emerging and professional talent with workshops and courses, digital resources and new writing opportunities most notably, RESET THE STAGE and PLAYSTART. Joan is also co-founder of Apatan Productions, under which she co-wrote, produced and acted in Dọlápộ is Fine. The film was longlisted for a BAFTA in 2021, awarded the HBO Short Film Award in 2020 and has been acquired by Netflix and HBO. Apatan Productions currently has a number of commissioned TV projects in development. Joan was recently named as one of Digital Spy’s 30 Black British Stars of Tomorrow, and was selected for BFI Network x BAFTA’s Crew for 2021.
Sheila Atim MBE has garnered a host of accolades and awards that belie the fact she’s a relative newcomer to the industry. In 2018, Sheila won the Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, for her performance as ‘Marianne Laine’ in Girl From The North Country at the Old Vic Theatre. She received rave reviews as ‘Emilia’, acting alongside Mark Rylance and Andre Holland in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London and has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Donmar Warehouse and the National Theatre. In 2021 she performed with Ivanno Jeremiah in the Donmar’s revival of Constellations, for which she has been nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress. TV credits include The Underground Railroad, Bruised, The Irregulars, Harlots, The Pale Horse, The Feed and Bounty Hunters.
As well as her Olivier Award, Sheila has won the Critics’ Circle Award, The Clarence Derwent Award and was nominated at the Evening Standard Awards. Sheila’s debut play, Anguis, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019. That same year, Sheila composed the music for Time is Love, Che Walker’s production at the Finborough Theatre.
Pippa Bennett-Warner can be seen in the forthcoming See How They Run and A Bit of Light. Other notable film credits include The Foreigner, Wakefield, Johnny English Strikes Again, and Patient Zero. Her television credits include MotherFatherSon, Harlots, Gangs of London, Maxxx, political thriller from David Hare Roadkill, Sitting in Limbo Chloe, Silent Witness, The Trials of Jimmy Rose, Doctor Who, The Secrets, Law & Order: UK, The Smoke, Vera, Southcliffe, and Case Histories. For theatre, her work includes The Beaux’ Stratagem (Royal National Theatre), The Witness (Royal Court Theatre), Richard II (Donmar Warehouse), The Swan (National Theatre), King Lear (Donmar Warehouse), Ruined (Almeida Theatre), Caroline or Change (National Theatre).
Joyclen Buffong is a youth leader and founder of Rise 365. She has been the Youth Programme Manager for both Concorde and the Stoke Newington Youth Hubs since 2002. She founded Rise 365, whose mission is to support young people and adults to achieve their goals, break down barriers and provide opportunities for them to flourish via mentorship and support programmes.
Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s versatility as an actress is reflected in the diverse range of theatre, television and film credits she has acquired across her career. Most recently, she was seen in the blockbuster film Dune for Warner Bros, playing the role of Dr Liet Kynes. She also joined the cast for Enola Holmes on Netflix, as Tula Quik in Sky’s drama Intergalactic and in Washington Black for Hulu. Her theatre credits include Victory Condition (Royal Court Theatre), Meet Me at Dawn, Swallow (Traverse Theatre), The Almightly Sometimes (Royal Exchange Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Liverpool Everyman) and The Not Black and White Season (Tricycle Theatre). For television, her other work includes Sex Education, Years & Years, The Long Song, Top Boy, The Bible, Cucumber, The Mimic, Bad Girls, Doctor Who, and EastEnders; and for film, The Intent 2: The Come Up, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Three and Out.
Noma Dumezweni –
Dr Christine Ekechi is an entrepreneur and consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. She graduated from St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Medical School, holds a master’s degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and currently specialises in early pregnancy and acute gynaecology care. Her previous public health experience includes working with the UN, UNICEF, and national governments in the UK and beyond. Dr Ekechi is a health advocate, championing for the reduction in gender and racial inequalities in healthcare. She is the Co-Chair of the Race Equality Taskforce at the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists and sits on the board as a Trustee for gynaecology cancer charity, The Eve Appeal. Dr Ekechi is equally focussed on maternity safety and serves as a member of the Multi-Professional Advisory Panel for Baby Lifeline.
Decima Francis MBE is an actress, director, campaigner and founder of From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation. Born in St Kitts, Decima was among the first four women to have directed at the Royal National Theatre. She founded SASS Theatre Company, in Southwark in 1984 and then founded the Roxbury Outreach Shakespeare Experience as both a theatre company and a school’s outreach programme in 1988, taking the first production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1989. She is now an anti-gang campaigner, having founded From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation, in 1996 in the London Borough of Southwark.
Akua Gyamfi is a journalist, entertainment commentator and founder of the multi-award- winning platform British Black list. Akua has a vast career in the entertainment industry spanning fashion, film, television, theatre and online media.
Following her role at the BBC, within the Performing Arts Fund, BBC Writersroom and then BBC R&D, Akua launched The British Blacklist in 2012, a media outlet dedicated to reporting up-to-date news on British black professionals in screen, stage, sound, and literature.
She also produces podcasts Your Aunties Could Never (popular culture, and TBB Talks (interviews with Black creatives from around the globe).
Alongside writer/producer Leon Mayne, Akua is the co-creator/co-exec producer and host of industry Web & Podcast series The Circle.
In 2019 Akua joined forces with Soul Film, The New Black Film Collective, and We Are Parable to launch the S.O.U.L. Film Festival, an annual event which showcases the best of Black filmmakers and content creators from the UK and the wider Diaspora.
Naomie Harris is a BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominated performer. Her screen work includes No Time To Die, Swan Song, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Third Day, Black and Blue (NAACP nomination), Moonlight (Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Academy Award nominations as well as the Best Supporting Actress Award at the London Critics Circle Awards), Skyfall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opposite Idris Elba (nominations for two London Critics Circle Awards and an NAACP Image Award), Andy Serkis’ Venom: Let There be Carnage, Mowgli, Rampage, Sam Mendes’ Spectre, Collateral Beauty opposite Will Smith, Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw, Our Kind of Traitor, The First Grader, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, After The Sunset, and the highly acclaimed BBC mini-series White Teeth. Her breakthrough role was in Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later, and she later starred in Boyle’s production of Frankenstein, opposite Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, at London’s National Theatre.
Afua Hirsch is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, film-maker and former barrister. Known for her work on black culture, history, identity and culture in the African diaspora and worldwide, Afua has been senior correspondent at the Guardian Newspaper and Sky News, and presented documentaries including ‘African Renaissance’; a three part documentary series for the BBC on African art, ‘Enslaved’; a six part series for Epix about the history of the transatlantic slave trade with Samuel L Jackson, and podcast series; ‘We Need to Talk about the British Empire’, for Audible.
Afua is the author of ‘Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging’ – winner of the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Prize – and the bestselling children’s book ‘Equal To Everything’. She is currently the Wallis Annenberg Chair of Journalism at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Afua is the founder of ‘Born in Me Productions’, an independent production company focusing on scripted and non-scripted television, movies and podcasting. Afua is currently based in London.
Anaya Karama is the multi award winning hairdresser & inspirational entrepreneur, founder of Anaya Hair and Beauty London. She survived a gruesome car accident in 2006 that took her dad’s life in Sierra Leone. Born in Chatham, Kent, United Kingdom and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa. Anaya is a graduate of both London Metropolitan University and Newham College, obtaining an MSc in Information Systems Development & Mathematics and Hair & Beauty respectively. She was the 2015 REEBA recipient of the Inspiration Entrepreneur award and has received 23+ accolades for her entrepreneurial work. Alongside her mobile hairdressing and beauty organisation, Anaya mentors and employs 19 independent hair stylist across the UK and continues to empower her local community in Sierra Leone via her foundation in memory of her parents, ASMOK (Alpha Saba & Mariatu Oya Kamara).
Faith Locken is a real estate professional and the Founder of We Rise In. Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, Faith founded We Rise In, a business whose mission is to inspire, elevate, and develop the careers of black professionals across industries. We Rise In does this by offering black professionals the opportunity to develop themselves via programmes (mentorship and leadership) and connect with each other through events and network membership.
June Nicol-Dundas is an ex-deputy head teacher and foster parent. Raised in Freetown Sierra Leone, June moved to the UK in 1988 and enrolled in Goldsmith College as a Fashion Design student. Before completing her degree, she took on a permanent full-time role as a primary school teacher across schools in the London Borough of Southwark, later becoming the deputy headteacher and Religious Education, Music and Assessment lead at St John’s Walworth CofE Primary School. In 2014 she was interim headteacher of two schools at Medway, Kent and was seconded to work in other schools to help raise standards. Following her 43-year teaching career, June became a foster parent in 2019 and continues to devote her love and time to her children, grandchildren and foster children.
Susan Wokoma is an actor, writer and soon to be first time director.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), Susan has gone on to appear in films such as: ENOLA HOLMES, THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, HALF OF A YELLOW SUN and THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE 2. Her television credits include: CHEATERS, TOAST OF TINSELTOWN, THE HOUSE, RULES OF THE GAME, YEAR OF THE RABBIT, TRUTH SEEKERS, DARK MONEY, CRAZYHEAD, CRASHING, PORTERS and CHEWING GUM.
Susan has performed in many renowned theatres including National Theatre, The Bush, The Royal Court, Regent’s Open Air Theatre, St Ann’s Warehouse in New York, Sheffield Crucible and most recently TEENAGE DICK at the Donmar Warehouse.
Susan wrote, starred in and produced an award winning short film called Love The Sinner (SKY/Roughcut). She has written on shows such as The Reluctant Landlord (SKY); been in the writers room for Sex Education series 2 (Netflix) and will make her directorial debut with the feature film THREE WEEKS (BBC/BFI/Dorothy Street Pictures) which Susan also wrote and will star in.
Susan is a patron of the charity The Monobox and is also a regular co-host of the hit comedy podcast The Guilty Feminist alongside its creator Deborah Frances-White. https://bit.ly/3w9xcdl