As Rwanda’s nascent film industry continues to grow, budding young actors and film directors were recently given lessons on how to make a career in the industry by American film actor and director Morocco Omari, who was in the country on vacation.
Television drama series fans will identify Omari as Tariq Cousins, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent in the series ‘Empire’. He however, has also featured in various Television series like Prison break, Chicago fire, and Homeland.
Not that it was his first time visiting Rwanda or Africa, but unlike other celebrities, Omari used the chance to give acting and directing lessons, in a master class workshop for Rwandan film actors and directors.
About 40 Rwandan actors and film directors signed up for the two- day masterclass, where they took part in acting lessons.
At the venue, Kwetu Film Institute where I met him, Omari appears poised and witty, despite his commanding voice and towering height. My first question for him was why the workshop had to be free of charge, and in his heavy American accent he responds:
“I had a lot of people help me and so with people giving up their time, I felt like I could give my time every time that I get an opportunity to give. I thought about this before I came and since I was here, why not?
“I was like, “what would I look like going there and charging people money to do a workshop?” You know, people break cultures all the time and sometimes we have to give and plant those seeds. I told the actors that I would be excited to see them get in touch and tell their own stories, shoot films and getting stronger as artistes- for me I would love to know that I was a part of that and its conception.”
“It’s not always about “oh let me make some money” because a lot of times, we Americans always seem like we are capitalists. A few hours out of my life to give back to the people, that’s nothing. It was a gift for me to be working with these beautiful spirits and watched them do their thing so it benefited me as much as it benefited them. For me it’s worth more than gold. I’m honored that they trusted me and they showed me that they were excited to be here as much as I was. A brother does have to eat but two days, I enjoyed myself as one of my highlights in the trip,” he says.
He also admits that one of his first impressions of his audience was their very reserved and laid back culture of the Rwandan people, at least from his American lens.
“We Americans can be aggressive sometimes so once we get past the actors being laid back and allowing themselves to have fun, tackle scenes and get by the emotions of the scene is amazing.”
On contributing to Africa’s film industry
For a start, Omari is of African descent, which he says explains his name. Morocco Omari was given to him by his father, who he refers to as “the wise old man”, as something to live up to.
But for someone who’s made it in the world’s biggest, oldest and most profitable film industry in the world, what draws him to being a part of the film and acting communities in Africa, that are mostly just starting to grow?
“The stories in Africa,” he says, “are so rich and there are so many stories that need to be told. In America, we kind of live in a bubble, so many hospital shows, police shows and we got bored. When I come to Africa and I hear all these stories and I’m like “that should be a movie, or that should be a show.” I’m inspired, as an artiste because I am learning something new.
“Not only am I being entertained, I’m being educated as well. So anytime that I can learn something new for me and my growth- spiritually, physically and mentally- I’m a part of it. I know how as an artist I can always go home and make some money as an actor and then I can come home to the motherland and give.”
He quickly adds: “I think that the continent has been ripped enough from all those different countries that snatched off their resources so they don’t need me here to come and snatch off their stories. I would rather they shoot it from Rwanda, like I told them, “tell your stories. You are going to tell the story of Rwanda better than Hollywood. Hollywood is going to probably hire African Americans who don’t speak the language and the key role is not going to look like you.” We have to tell our own stories, that’s the best way to do it and then be so good so they can’t deny it.”
With many script writers and directors wanting to penetrate through the international market, and Kinyarwanda being the dominant language used in local films, Omari further highlights the need for actors to equip themselves with different accents and doing their best at content productivity.
“You know, you can’t say that every Rwandan film is going to get through because if you look at ‘City of God’ which was just Brazilian they spoke Portuguese with subtitles. If the movie is good, if it’s compelling, we will sit and read the subtitles.
But as actors, if you want to take your talent to another market you have to learn different accents. You have to work on that otherwise you are going to be the Rwandan actor and that’s all you’re going to play. Even in America we have that East Coast dialect, we have the Chicago, Atlanta, Tennessee, Los Angeles, we have all kinds of different dialects that as actors we have learned, if you want to do it correct,” he cautions
In January next year, he will be heading to Uganda and Kenya where he hopes to extend his skills.
The 43 year old’s childhood, that was characterized by drugs, gangs and violence was drastically transformed to being a marine- a career he chose to help him learn discipline, to joining the film industry as an actor, producer, screen writer and director.
I ask him what life has taught him over the years, to which, after thorough thought responds: “Life has taught me that you can dream big. I come from the west side of Chicago and I‘m in Rwanda doing workshop. Who would have thought that would happen? I have learned to dream big because dreams can come true and keep coming true, and that anything is possible. To always be open to learn and grow and to never say never.
To experience life and to travel because travel has enriched my life so much and educated me so much that when I go home, I will be sorry for people who don’t even do it because they will never see the beauty of Rwanda or Victoria falls, or touch the pyramids.”
His parting shot is a word to those that want to make it big in the film industry.
“I would tell them to never let success go to your head and never let failures go to your heart. To keep walking forward, don’t enjoy the journey, because you want to enjoy the destination. To be open. To continue to learn and work hard. To be human. To be open.
Always be curious. To travel, as it helps you with your art. To never give up and to never let anyone tell you that your dream can’t come true. To give back, to pay forward and take some time to yourself to relax. It’s not always about work, work, work. You have to have that balance of just walking the earth enjoying life and enjoy the ride.”