Leila Afua Djansi certainly needs no introduction. She is arguably Ghana’s most established filmmaker and director ever. Her first film was awarded a 2009 worldFest Platinum Award for the film Grass Between My Lips, a story of female circumcision and early marriage, set in a northern Ghana village.
In 2010, her debut feature, I Sing of a Well was nominated for 11 African Movie Academy Awards. The film won 3 awards: Best Sound, Best Costume and the Jury Special Award for Over-All Best Film. In 2011, Djansi was presented with the BAFTA/LA Pan African Film Festival Choice Award for the film I Sing of a Well.
Djansi’s 2011 film Sinking Sands received 10 African Movie Academy Award nominations, with Ama K Abebrese winning the Best Actress Award and Djansi earning the Best Original Screenplay Award. At the first Ghana Movie Awards in 2011, Djansi’s Sinking Sands received awards for “Best Art Direction”, “Best Costume”, “Best West African Film” and “Best Picture”. Sinking Sands was nominated in 14 categories.
In fact her pedigree is just enviable but she had a patchy start to her career at the beginning. Sharing an inspirational post on Facebook, Leila wrote: “I’m hoping this story inspires some young woman out there. I was on the Stories Matter panel at the ongoing Bentonville Film Festival and one of the panelists was Kathy O’Brien from Unilever and head of the Dove campaign where they show that women are beautiful no matter what. It’s inspired me to tell my story. — Many years ago, my father was sick with stroke, things were hard at home. I was struggling in the Ghana film industry working without pay and I looked emaciated from starvation. At TV3 one day, one of the Gama executives said to me: ‘Leila, I have a film I’m working on and I really see you playing the housemaid’.
Not that there’s anything wrong with playing that character, but I was not an actor. He only said that because of how I looked. That same day, I went home broke because the men at Gama were all caught up gawking over a pretty light skinned girl in the office, they refused to pay me. Not too long ago, someone on Ghanacelebrities website said I am so ugly, my mother should have aborted my pregnancy.
With this my ugly face, I look back on my journey of the past 20 years and I say to young women out there: YOU CAN BE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO BE, NO MATTER WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE.
No woman wakes up looking like a cover girl. After all the paint on the face is stripped away, what else is there? Beautiful women have died and are forgotten. It’s your choice. I’m at a point in my career now where no one, ever, would or can come up to me and tell me what I can or cannot be based on what I look like. As far as I am concerned, I; look like a boss!”