Cinema : Behind The “Stage” Of Cameroon’s Black Panther

Constance Ejuma, the Cameroonian-born award-winning actress and producer who has spent 17 years in Los Angeles, pursuing a career in acting is determined to achieve her passion in acting despite the difficult path that lies ahead in the Hollywood film industry. Ejuma says it is all about pressing onward. According to her, if she had given up during her early years in Los Angeles, she would not have been where she is today, although stressing that she is not where she wants to be. While waiting for a major breakthrough in her acting career, she has credits for being part of the stunt performer in Marvel’s Black Panther movie. In the world of theatre, she has crafted a one woman show entitled 'Ghost Town' about the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon. It premiered at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival. In the corporate world, Constance is the Vice President of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at Penske Media Corporation. Today, Constance Ejuma speaks to Cameroon Tribune on her cinema journey, her stay in the United States of America and how she could contribute to Cameroon’s film industry. 

What brings you to Cameroon? 
I am in Cameroon to visit my family. My uncle opened a school last year. The pupils just completed their first academic year. I am here to commemorate the initiative and celebrate with the pupils. The school was established in honour of my grandmother who greatly supported education and did everything to make sure all her children went to school. She worked very hard to put money together and send her children to school. We, her descendants, have decided to honour her legacy in this way.

From Cameroon to Hollywood, was it an easy ride to stardom? 
No! When I left Cameroon I was not thinking about acting or Hollywood. I left Cameroon when I was 10 years old. It was not until when I was a teenager that I became interested in acting. Once I realized acting was something I wanted I do, I started to attend acting classes. When I went to the University of Toronto, I studied Theatre. Few years later, I moved to Los Angeles because I felt that was the centre of acting in the world. I had the courage to move from Washington D.C to Los Angeles. I started to attend acting classes, and audition sessions. I also identified a creative and acting community that I joined. 
But, 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 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 and auditions and to be considered for any role. 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. Even 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. I have produced an independent film “Ben and Ara”, in which I was the lead actress. 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.

After featuring in Black Panther, what has this added to your acting career?
After Black Panther, I had the opportunity to be cast as an African Warrior Queen in Jennifer Lopez’s music video for the hit single “El Anillo”. The director of the music video wanted to incorporate the look of the Dora Milaje warriors. The next music video project I featured in was Beyonce’s “Black is King” hit. But to be honest, in terms of my acting career in the US, not much has come out of my featuring in the movie, Black Panther. But, one of the benefits to have been part of Black Panther cast is the recognition I have had in Cameroon. 

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 happen to have access to Netflix. I have also watched documentaries like those produced by Jean Marie Teno. He is kind of a legend and I do know if many Cameroonians know his works or are interested in what he does. 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. 

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 actress or film maker, start to cultivate the love of story. If you are studying literature, pay attention to your studies, read plays and novels. Writ...



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