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Stella Damasus: More Than A Pretty Face

Stella Damasus is one of Nollywood’s biggest and most popular female stars. However, when the lights are out and the cameras are not rolling, this free spirited woman with a strong sense of self and desire to impact the lives of young people is busy building a business empire. A little while back, she told me, why Nollywood’s women must rise up and correct the objectification of women being promoted within the industry.

Stella DamasusStella Obiageli Damasus has the regal persona of royalty, a radiant smile, charming personality and an elegant poise, which has won the hearts of many across Nigeria and the wider African community. If it is true that names determine the outcome of one’s life, then Damasus is living proof it. Stella means ‘star’ and Obiageli translates as ‘one who has come to enjoy life.’ Damasus seems to embody all that her names say she is. Yet, she remains grounded, stating that her passion in life is for the youth. “I would do anything to help change the mindset of our young people who are growing into what they see in life. I’m passionate about doing things that will help their minds grow positively. For me, it’s not about stardom but the legacy we are going to leave for those coming behind us.” This is reflected in the philosophy by which she lives. “It’s not about the years in your life but the life in your years and how you are able to affect your generation positively. Your work will speak for you,” she says. Damasus believes if you are alive and not making impact, then you are merely existing and not living.

Born in Delta State, Nigeria, Damasus grew up in Benin City and studied theatre arts at the University of Lagos. At 32, she is a mother of two, Isabel, 11 and Angelica, 8; a creative spirit, Damasus is an actress and a savvy business woman with diverse interests in the creative industry. She is President/CEO of Gig Factor Entertainment Consultants, an events consulting firm which specialises in sound re-enforcement, stage designs, lighting and multi-media productions. She is also founder of Stella Damasus Archives (SDA) a production company she started in 2008 with the desire to influence the Nigerian film and television landscape. So far, the company has produced the Stella Damasus Show; a magazine lifestyle programme aimed at women and has film projects in the pipelines.

Damasus has been in Nollywood for over a decade and often says she got into the industry by accident. She describes her experience as good and eye opening. “I’m glad to be a part of it because Nollywood is one way Nigerians in the Diaspora have been able to connect with home, even as far as learning languages, nuances and general lifestyle practices.” At a time when the industry is been criticised for its one dimensional and stereotypical portrayal of women, Damasus believes this is the hour those in the industry must stand up and be counted. “80% of Nollywood practitioners are men. So, automatically and by no fault of theirs, they portray us, women, exactly the way they see us. The women in Nollywood are not strong yet.  Only a few have been given the chance to do something different.  That’s why as many of us women, with the smallest opportunity within the industry need to rise up and correct all the negative impressions and bias. There are a lot of women in Nigerian/African history, whose stories we can make into movies and use to portray the strength of women. We don’t always have to be victims of society or circumstance. We can make movies that portray us in a better light as strong, confident, independent, hardworking and resourceful women.

Stella DamasusRespected for her craft, Damasus is aware of the dangers of being boxed-up. Over the years, she has been cast heavily as a victim, a trend she is working to change. She says while there is no role she cannot take on because what matters is her interpretation of the character; the script has to be good, have a message and challenge her. “Playing a victim is not a role I’m most at ease with. It just so happens that once you’re known to act a certain part well, everyone else wants you to continue to act that way and it somewhat becomes a stereotype role. In all honesty, I don’t like nor enjoy it at all. It doesn’t show my versatility. So, my way of trying to break out of that is by accepting different characters and saying NO to any script, which doesn’t portray me as a dynamic actress.” It only makes sense that Damasus would send a word of warning to others about the fame bug within Nigeria’s burgeoning entertainment industry. “Being popular or famous should not be the main reason anyone wants to get into the film or entertainment industry. You must have the talent and skill, and it takes a lot of hard work, focus, determination, consistency and persistency to remain relevant in this industry. You need to practise your craft, read widely and learn from others. You also need a lot of stamina to be able to stand criticisms and face media bashings because all these come with the package. “

An actress of stella quality she maybe but Damasus has had her fair share of life’s tumultuous happenings.  In 2004, she lost her husband, Jaiye Aboderin to a heart attack and was banned for a year from acting by the Actor’s Guild of Nigeria in addition to a vicious rumour mill of affairs within the Nigerian media. However, none of this has hardened or stopped her from reaching out to others. Damasus says she finds fulfilment in working with charities.  She has worked with the World Food Programme in Liberia, Angel of Hope, SOS Children Village and the Young Widows Association of Nigeria by consulting organising events and raising funds. She has plans to work with ACTION AID, a charity she says is “Doing a fantastic job, helping the less privileged people in developing countries.”

More than a pretty face, Damasus is politically conscious of the challenges which besiege Nigeria, as the nation enters a new era. “Nigeria is the way it is right now because of our mindset and attitude towards everything around us. Everyone wants to acquire wealth by all means at the expense of others. There’s a lot of impatience, dishonesty, and injustice,” she says. Earlier this year, she joined the youth movement and took part in the rally, Enough Is Enough, in Abuja, the nation’s capital.  Asked if she was concerned about the impact it could have on her career, Damasus said “No, I was and I’m not afraid at all. I believe in freedom of speech, so I didn’t feel threatened that my career would be at stake. I wanted to express myself, and I have no regrets whatsoever. I took part in the rally because I was tired of sitting at home and complaining. I have children, nieces and nephews, who are going to grow up in a country where things are not right. I decided to stand up with the youth of the country and let my voice be heard for the sake of my children and the upcoming generation.”

A woman frustrated by society’s many impositions, Damasus said “Society wants to play God, decide who you are and what you do, and determine your destiny. That makes me angry and uncomfortable because only God is able to decide what each person becomes or does not become. So, I have resolved in my heart never to conform to the standards of society but to be myself regardless of what anyone thinks or says.” Based on this conviction, Damasus adds the one thing she would like to change about life and society, is “People’s negative mindset, especially in Nigeria. People are selfish, hypocritical and we are not fair to those beneath us. I wish I could change all of these.”

Images: SDA Productions

This article first appeared in the New African Woman magazine, Issue 7


5 Responses to “Stella Damasus: More Than A Pretty Face”

  1. Lara Daniels says:

    Stella is authentic. I adore her and after reading this piece, I adore her more.

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    She is a lovely human being and from the little I know, honest. That smile is enough to make you warm up to her.

  3. Debrah says:

    her story motivates women to strive for the best irrespective of the society dictates. More power to u Stella!

    Belinda, this is just one of your wonders. Very beautiful article.

  4. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Debrah, good to know you find her interesting and of course, approving of the article 🙂

  5. Chibundu says:

    Aw one of my favourite Nollywood actresses. She does carry herself very well in her movies.

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