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In an interview with SOPECAM's editorial team, Cameroonian Hollywood actress Constance Ejuma, dispelled the myths about the film industry, especially in Hollywood
From Cameroon to Hollywood, was it an easy path to stardom?
No! It has not been an easy journey. Any kind of pursuit in the arts is always challenging. Acting particularly is difficult because it is very competitive, especially in Hollywood. It is however interesting for me to come to Cameroon and have everybody excited about my accomplishments. But from my own perspective, I have not done much. In an environment like Los Angeles, I am still walking up the ladder. I have not had my big breakthrough. I am still trying to get bigger roles on TV and in films. It is a struggle to get opportunities, auditions and to be considered for any role. Everybody in the world is going to Hollywood. There is just one role in a movie and almost 500 people are auditioning for that role. Hollywood is difficult. When you see an actor once on TV that is many audition sessions, they have undertaken to be considered. It is not easy to be an actor or actress in Hollywood.
You were part of Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie. How was the experience?
It was not an easy path to be part of Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie. Getting the role was not easy. After my first audition, I did not get the role. It was only after a year, when the film had already been shot and there was another opportunity to audition for a role, since the production crew was reshooting a particular scene and they needed more people to cast on the scene. I had to compete with many other people to get the role of a stunt performer as a “Dora Milaje” warrior. I was happy to get that opportunity. “Black Panther” is the only major film I have participated in as an actress. But my role in “Black Panther” confuses people a lot. I feel that I am often mistaken for the main “Dora Milaje” in “Black Panther”. When people see the film poster, they assume that it is me. But that is not me. I am not clearly seen in that movie. I had to struggle to find myself in that movie.
How do you see the Cameroon film industry?
I do not have a deep knowledge of the film industry in Cameroon. I have one or two friends who are film makers in Cameroon. But I do not have a lot of exposure to Cameroonian films. Except those which have been distributed internationally like the “Fisherman’s Diary” which was on Netflix. I have also watched documentaries like those produced by Jean Marie Teno. He is kind of a legend. Also, when I attended the Cameroon International Film Festival (CAMIFF) seven years ago, I had the opportunity to watch films produced locally. I found the films interesting and entertaining. If I have the opportunity to talk individually with film makers in Cameroon, I will be glad to give them my opinion.
The Cameroonian film industry has made significant growth over the last 10 years. Unfortunately it still faces major marketing and distribution problems especially at the international scene. Any advice on how Cameroonian film makers can go around this?
Distribution is a challenge for everyone, everywhere, at every level and every market. I had a challenge getting my film “Ben and Ara” distributed. I had that film in film festivals for two years before we got distribution. My producing partner and I had to fight very hard to reach out to many different types of distributors in order to even get noticed. It was really hard, and the distributor who decided to take us on did it as a favour to somebody else.
Now, when you have platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime people are figuring all kinds of ways to get their films on these platforms. But is Netflix going to promote that film? Is Netflix going to show the film’s poster when someone accesses their account? Is your film going to feature on the “trending” column? How will people know that your film exist in order to find it on Netflix’s library - the film libraries of these platforms are quite big. So you still need to have a marketing budget in order to create awareness of your film. You have to pay for posters, pay for advertisement on radio, television, everywhere possible in order to create awareness and single out your film.
If you don’t have the marketing budget, you might have to meet a distributor. When you approach a distributor, some already have the kind of film they are looking for; drama, horror etc. If your film does not fit in any of their desired categories, they might not be interested. At times they are looking if there is any recognizable face in your movie that will make it easier for them to sell. You see that distribution isn’t easy for anyone, so you shouldn’t think that Cameroon market is being excluded for a particular reason.
What advice to young people interested in acting and living the American dream in the cinema world?
It is a difficult path. But people should do what they can and where they are. People have the misconception that it is only by going to Hollywood that one can become a star or make movies. People are making movies everywhere in Cameroon and Africa in general. Technology has made things more accessible. If you are interested to become an actor or film maker, start to cultivate the love of story. If you are studying literature, pay attention to your studies, read plays and novels. Write sketches, use your phone and get your friends to shoot and post on your social media platform. When you create content that is interesting, you will get someone’s attention.
You must not leave Cameroon or go to Hollywood to become a successful story teller. To me acting is a passion and I just have to continue pursuing it. My goal is to make acting the main job. But this is not what is happening. I did not go to Hollywood to work in an office. I went there to do movies. But because this is not happening, I had to look for another job to sustain myself while I keep searching for acting roles.
What do you do out of the cinema universe?
I work for a media company in Los Angeles for the past 17 years. I do something called “search engine” optimization. Essentially I’ am making sure that content created by our company gets more visibility on search engines like Google, Yahoo and you can name them. So, while I’ am acting, I am also doing that.
But my goal is to be a full time actress. But right now, I am a part time actress.
What are your prospects as an actress?
As an actress, I have accomplished a few things. I have more credits in TV and I have done shows like “FBI Most Wanted”, “The Good Doctor”, “Seal Team”, “Scorpion”, “Monk” and “Criminals Minds: Beyond Borders”, and web series. But I am not where I want to be. I will continue to strive to get to the level of visibility that I want in Hollywood. At this point, I have opportunities to be guest on TV shows. But I hope to be a regular cast member on a show. In this way I appear in all episodes of a show instead of being called once in a while. I will also love to be cast in bigger movies. I am still walking my way to the top. I am not even near where I want to be.
Do you make a good living as an actor as we will like to think?
No! If you’ve looked at my resumé you will notice that I have been in Hollywood for 15 years. If you calculate the number of jobs that I have gotten to the number of years that I have been there, I am getting an average of one job per year and typically, a job takes one week to shoot. For example, I did “Seal Team” in 2021; I did one episode on that show; the shoot took one week and I got paid for one week of work. What do you think I am doing with my life the other eleven months of the year? I have a job, I go to the office, and I work in front of a computer like every other normal person. This is the case for many actors in Hollywood. There is a saying that ‘only two percent of actors who work in the United States make a living from acting.’ The rest of the time, they are teaching, they are nurses, lawyers and waitresses in restaurants. They are doing all kind of jobs. So let me dispel this myth that we are rich people. Those who are making money are the likes of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. They are making 20 million dollars (about FCFA 12 million) per movie.
Interviewed by Trevor SONE