Let’s jump 20 years into the future — imagine it is 2040, the world discovers that God is a black woman, and reparations have been issued to all aboriginators. That’s the afro-futuristic universe that narrative filmmaker Chelsea Odufu is bringing to life on the screen. A multi-hyphenate in every sense of the word, stemming from Guyanese and Nigerian roots, Chelsea Odufu has made a career in creating visuals portraying black and brown people with agency, ingenuity, and resilience.
We spoke with the filmmaker about discovering herself as a creator, her process, and what we can expect from her newest afro-futuristic series Black Lady Goddess.
Let's start with the place. Where are you from, where are you now, and what are some places you called home along the way?
I was born and raised in Newark, NJ, but have been fortunate to travel to many countries along my creative journey. Along the way, Dakar, Senegal was definitely a country I considered as home. The culture, the food, the views, the vibes, it is a magical place that has brought me so much inspiration and peace.
Due to the pandemic, I recently returned back home from Lagos, Nigeria, where I was directing a feature film. It was my first time in Nigeria, although I'm Nigerian-American, so I'm still reflecting on that entire experience personally and professionally. My experience has me interested in spending a bit more time in Lagos exploring the film and art scene here. There is something special that happens when your art allows you to explore things about yourself. That's when you know you are moving in alignment with your calling.
Tell us a bit about your first memory of discovering yourself as an artist.
I've honestly been an artist for as long as I can remember. The most impactful moment in my career was directing scenes from my film Ori Inu: In Search of Self on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. I was 21 years old at the time and flew about fifteen or so black and brown artists to make this film. We were creating meaningful, high-quality art, and each living out a part of our dreams while making it happen. It was something that a few months prior was my wildest dream, but then I manifested it. It was a moment in my life where the vision of my future self became extremely clear. That project taught me always to dream big, to be ambitious, and never to let lack of money compromise the initial vision.
You have your hand in just about every piece of weaving a story together. Is there a piece of your creative process that brings you the most joy?
I overwhelm myself with how many roles I play on my projects, from producing to directing, to writing, to casting, to editing to creating art and costumes. Sometimes I am embarrassed to credit myself for each role cause I feel like I am doing too much. Nevertheless, directing is definitely my favorite part of the process.
I've always liked being the boss and bringing my thoughts from idea to fruition or bringing other people's vision to life. In film, directing is the part that focuses on bringing out genuine human emotions from your characters without telling them exactly how you want something done. It almost feels like psychology at times. In music videos or commercials, it is a lot more visually driven. There is a lot of healing that takes place for me within the process of directing actors, especially when I am directing work I wrote.
You recently completed the pilot for an Afrofuturist TV series 'Black Lady Goddess,' could you tell us more about what inspired this project?
I have always been curious about alternate creation narratives or about who ancient civilizations considered to be God. I believe showcasing Black Godliness on screen is a source of empowerment for African people as who you pray to is who you believe is your master at the core. Creating Black Lady Goddess as a character was my way of adding to that imagery.
Black Lady Goddess was first inspired by my frustration with cultural appropriation. I would see publications like Vogue, celebrate things on Caucasians that Black people were historically criticized for having or wearing for decades. So I created a ridiculous scenario where God was an African woman and that a malfunctioning human would visit her asking for her race to be changed.
The goal was to establish two things: one which was Black people or aboriginators are direct descendants from the Original Man on planet earth and to shed light on the many ways other races culturally appropriate black culture without understanding the true lived experience of Black people.
After working on that idea for about two years, my brother suggested I incorporate a reparations storyline into the project as the global reparations discussion was becoming increasingly popular. This new plot twist allowed me to expand the project from a web series to a TV Pilot.
What are you listening to right now?
During this Corona Quarantine time, I am listening to a lot of Santi on repeat. His music is definitely my mood right now. It's the music that I listen to get me in that right creative headspace or encourages me to manifest the vision.
Where can we keep up with you and your work?
Follow my work via my website at www.ochelsy.com as well as my Instagram @chelsthedirector