My name is Djaka, I am an actress, producer and recently a director. I am also a jazz singer, a former dancer, a woman of color, and above all a citizen of the world! I was born and raised in Paris, then lived in Hong Kong before moving to New York. Since January I have been living in Los Angeles, which allows me to combine my creativity with the business side of the industry I am in. In fact, right now I'm constantly between New York and Los Angeles, so I kind of live out of a suitcase!
What made you want to become an actress?
My father was an actor, I think that had something to do with it! And if it sounds like a cliché to say that I think I was born an actress, it sounds very true and very deep inside me. Probably because, for me, there is no art without activism, and that's why I wanted to become an actress: to change the world! Comedians and actors are sometimes put in the box of 'rich and famous people', but we must not forget that at the base, in the society, it is the Greek orators who brought the word and who contributed to the political life... they were a reflection of the society (they are often the first ones to have their heads cut off in the History!) So it's a very important place and it comes with a lot of responsibilities (even more nowadays with social networks!): through a screen, through the representation of moments of life, of emotions, you can really touch a million people!
Your first short film was just released, and was selected for the Harlem Film Festival and the NY African Film Festival 2019! Tell us about it!
I wrote 'Jazz in Wakanda' last July. If you count in front of and behind the camera, my team was 75% women... The film is about identity, I wrote it after a complicated time in my life at work, I decided I was finally ready to express myself fully. I also found my voice, driven by everything that's going on in the world, the politicians and their shameful use of populism in recent years. In New York we had voted 99% against Trump, we were really affected, there was a silence in the city the days after. Even if we should not forget that he did not win the popular vote, it is not the same voting system here. And I've always wanted to write about the phenomenon of trying to put people in boxes. For example, when I was cast in France, I was either 'not black enough' for some roles, or 'not white enough' for others. I was offered the cop, the model, the prostitute...! As a result, while I was signed with two of the biggest French agencies, first with Cinéart and then with Artmedia, I decided to leave France, with which I have a somewhat complicated 'love/hate' relationship: I had the impression that I didn't "exist" as much, I had no representation (we're back to representation on the screen, which is so important!). I had no role model... so I chose Whitney Houston - she was the only one I could identify with! I was obsessed with her... I met her when I was 5 years old! She really has a big place in my heart... my biggest fantasy is to play her in a movie one day!
And how did your producer's hat come about?
In New York, I had an incredible opportunity to produce films and documentaries for a big company: I stayed there for 3 years and it really shaped me as a producer. But I also wanted to produce films that spoke to me, so at some point I had to 'take a leap of faith' as they say. I left that company last January and started as an independent producer, obviously also to develop my own projects as an actress and director. It was right in the middle of the #MeToo movement, with women's voices finally being emancipated, it galvanized me, it's a subject that of course has always animated me.
And this has played an important role in your journey?
Where does this strength of character come from?
What role has the 'female force' played in your life, in your career?
My mother has been a very important presence in my life: my parents separated when I was 6, and my father left to pursue his acting career in Los Angeles. I grew up in a French middle class environment, with ups and downs, but with a very strong female understanding. My mother always told me 'I trust you 100%, don't betray that trust'! She was always behind me with my homework (I loved school!), she taught me to read at a very young age, I had a real literary and philosophical culture at a very early age, and by the age of 10 I was trilingual in French - English - Spanish. So I grew up with a lot of culture around me, even when my parents were still together: one of my first memories is Miles Davis on TV, and then African music, Afro-Cuban rhythms, jazz... and a lot of MGM movies from the 30's to the 60's, like Casablanca, Mogambo,... and then Rita Hayworth, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart... I grew up with this "old time" Hollywood! I'm an old and nostalgic soul... and I'm not really into social networks (except for work), I like real contact, travels, real meetings!
Here we talk about hair: what is your relationship with it?
How did you learn to love your hair? When did it happen?
The 3 questions we ask all our Shaeri girls:
What is your #hairtop?When I finally found and bought (for the first time in my life!) a hair dryer: the perfect hair dryer, with a great diffuser, that I found in the US at Deva Curls! It makes my hair look like Beyoncé's, with an incredible volume... and it's silly but I feel like a woman because I finally have a hair dryer ;)) I used to see my mom with a blow dryer, but I never had access to it because it normally kills curls - but not this one! ;)
And your #hairflop ?
And do you have a #hairtips?
I use virgin coconut oil every day to moisturize and nourish my hair, it's really top notch. And also from time to time I don't wash it for like 5 days: it's super rare but they love it!
Finally, last question: what's your news?
I just shot Nairobi, a short film written and directed by Philip Youmans (a very young 19 year old director who just won the grand prize at the Tribeca Film Festival 2019 for his feature film "Burning Cane"), produced by Solange Knowles and her production company - she's a fan of this young and talented director! Nairobi is about the Muslim and West African communities in Harlem and Uptown - and I'm starring in it, I'm super proud...