Jade Anouka hasn’t stopped during lockdown. In the space of three months, she starred in Aisha Zia’s powerful isolation video, Bedlam Before the Burnout, produced a Shakespeare video which went viral (helmed by Judi Dench, no less), as well as writing, directing and starring in her own powerful new short film, Her & Her – and all from her south London flat.
Her & Her links powerfully to the Black Lives Matter movement as it explores what life is like in 21st century London for a mixed-race, queer couple. Told partly in poetry (Jade is a renowned poet), partly in prose, it’s also soundtracked by champion beatboxer Grace Savage.
NME caught up with Jade to hear about her many lockdown projects, her work with the ‘Black Panther Peckham’ campaign (a movement to get young people into the cinema who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance) and filming season two of acclaimed Philip Pullman drama His Dark Materials.
You wrote, directed and starred in a short film, Her & Her, during lockdown. How did you manage under such challenging circumstances?
“It was a lot! There were three months of solid work and it was pretty constant. I’d never written for film and Grace Savage [who did the score] has never written music for film: we were both very new to this.
“When we got to filming, that was fun. I shot all of it on my phone. It’s amazing that I can create a visually interesting film just with the phone that I have in my pocket and use every day. We did about five full days and we had to do everything ourselves: set up the space, set up the camera, set up the lights, do our own make-up, everything.”
Her & Her resonates with the Black Lives Matter movement so much. Did the events this summer impact your script?
“It was actually written before that, yet it resonated so much. These are things that I live with anyway, being a queer, Black woman in this world. You live with these things daily. When all the Black Lives Matter protests were happening – the toppling of the statue in Bristol and all of that, it cemented the same feelings I have every day. It was great to see that it’s having so much more of an impact globally with everyone. That wasn’t what I went out doing, trying to create change, but just saying the realities of what life is like being black and British can make a difference. I hope it brings change.”
You’re meant to be on stage right now with your one-woman play, Heart, which you’ve described as “not about Blackness.” What can we expect from this?
“Yes, as soon as there’s a Black writer and a Black performer or lead, people start to think that they know what the show is going to be about and that it’s going to be about a struggle, about their Blackness. I was like, ‘This is a play that is being written by a Black woman and stars a Black woman and is about a Black woman, but that’s just because that’s her life.’ It’s more about the connection of being othered. It’s not just Black women that feel othered. There are lots of different ways that people can feel othered and less than in this world. It’s a story for them.”
What have you made of the government’s response to the closure of theatres and live venues?
“It took so long for the help to come. It’s devastating. Most theatres just can’t survive with half their audience. I just don’t know when we’re going to be back. It’s been heartbreaking hearing all the stories, when you keep hearing about job losses as well that are happening now and theatres closing.”
Did you manage to complete filming on His Dark Materials prior to lockdown?
“Yes! That was finished before. I can’t say much about it, but the brilliant thing is that it’s all there in the books. I play Ruta Skadi, who is a witch queen. She’s queen of the Lake Lubana clan. You’ve got Serafina Pekkala, who we saw in the first season, who is queen of Lanka Enara and I’m queen of Lake Lubana. We see them together to try and tackle the Magisterium. I can’t wait to see it, after post production with all the extra stuff, the witches flying and the demons. It’s going to be great!”
Last year, you organised a free viewing of Black Panther for over 200 teenagers. Any plans to do another?
“Hopefully, yes. That came about because I saw Viola Davis was doing one in the States. At the time, I was thinking, ‘This is brilliant.’ I’d grown up loving superhero movies. Suddenly, there’s one where there are people that look like me in it and they are brilliant and the women are warriors and they’re not just in the sidelines. They’re not just a love interest. I thought, ‘This is what young people need to see,’ and especially young Black people.”
You’ve also been working on developing a new drama course for young people?
“Yeah, it’s a brand new, part-time drama school. I thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity to start a drama school and do it the right way.’ There’s been a lot come up recently – especially through the Black Lives Matter movement – about Black students who have had a really difficult time at drama school, and drama schools not being equipped to understand the problems that are within the institution.
“I’m really looking forward to making sure that there’s a safe space for people to talk about any issues and to make sure that the curriculum is representative of the students there.”
What’s next then?
“I’m doing a lot of writing. It’s about creating stuff and getting it ready, so when we come back, we come back with a bang. We come back with brilliant new work. That’s my hope, anyway.”