To kick-start the month of July is a superhero whom I would describe as the titanic but without the iceberg. She has massive talent, audacious personality and an alto resonant voice. Miss Gladys Oyenbot. (Gdah).
When I consider Gdah, I am at a loss of words for her. She means a lot to me. She is responsible for introducing me to my first professional gig in Kampala right after undergraduate studies. Ever since then she has been a persistent inconspicuous guardian angel.
I first saw Gdah perform in Heavens Gates and Hells Flames by Watoto Church or KPC as it was known then. At the time, I didn’t know it was her. She was playing the role of a sexy, indecently dressed partygoer who eventually goes to hell and I remember thinking – what kind of Christian would play this role? This is when I really started to consider individuals who are willing to play the seemingly “ungodly” roles in order to deliver Godly messages. When I met Gdah, these are some of the questions I asked her. Such as how to be a Christian in the industry and how to navigate the choice of roles. Gdah is a straight arrow aiming for a target. Her confidence in God always shone through our conversations and is still a huge testimony to how God is penetrating the industry with his light.
It was five years back that Gdah sat across from me at a right angle, looked away and uttered, “Anyway, you’re light skinned so you’re most likely to get those nice, nice roles. It is easier for light skinned people in the industry to get roles.”
“Huh!” I exclaimed. Did that really exist in Uganda too -discriminating in casting according to color? Typecasting? Why are we reinforcing that narrative? It was and still is ridiculous to me. Here are Ugandan film makers who want to flood the industry with stories Ugandans understand and not a western narrative where the black person is always some kind of victim but yet, even in our own story telling we are perpetuating a western narrative inadvertently. So what is the use? How do we really see ourselves? Through whose lense?
Because of her dark skin color, Gdah is most likely to be typecast as some victim in a western movie and also as the underdog in a Ugandan movie. Seriously! And to make matters worse this amazing actress comes from a tribe of people who pride in being as dark as possible; it’s a sign of beauty. So Gdah is met with this dilemma. On the one hand she has to be dark to be considered beautiful by her tribe and on the other she has to be lighter in order to be cast in the roles that she would prefer. I was flabbergasted. I still am. Unfortunately, what she spoke has been true for me. My light skin has got me through some doors and prevents me from doing that I would desire just because I am not the color for it. Despite the industries plight to move away from a western narrative and mode of storytelling, in some ways we continue to maintain it, which is sad.
Gdah is a beast of an actress. She owns her scripts and executes her roles as if the writer wrote them specifically for her. Her dedication to the craft and her God is something I admire. When I feel as though I have reached a wall and can’t go on, I look beside me and see Gdah scaling her mountains and I’m like, PSHHH! What is a wall? Thanks Gdah!