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Oprah Winfrey is joining her Selma and The Butler co-star David Oyelowo to make an equally meaningful impact in the world off-screen as they did onscreen.
Winfrey will donate $100,000 in Oyelowo’s honor to the GEANCO Foundation which specializes in providing vital healthcare and education needs to girls in Nigeria. Oyelowo and Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), are both involved with the foundation and coincidentally both British actors of Nigerian descent who have been friends since they were teenagers.
Oyelowo told THR his concern in helping improve the sexism, health and education standards in Nigeria has partly been fueled from watching the lives touched by Oprah, an influential woman whom he now calls a mother figure. While filming Disney’s upcoming Queen of Katwe with Lupita Nyong’o this year, Oyelowo visited the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and has frequently discussed with her the importance of taking a hands-on approach in supporting marginalized women.
“I can’t afford to have been around her as much as I have and not take her example because it’s just an incredible example of what is possible when you look beyond yourself,” said Oyelowo of Winfrey.
The money from the Oprah Winfrey Foundation will transform two schools in Nigeria, sponsored by Ejiofor and Oyelowo, providing children with the proper learning supplies (computers, books, notebooks) and medicine. A portion of the funds will also be distributed to organizations directly working with the recovery of the rescued girls (who often come back traumatized and pregnant) from extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria.
“I, of course, like a lot of people, was disturbed by the kidnapping of the girls in Chibok and the fact that this awful situation was very much around the idea of wanting girls in particular to not be educated,” said Oyelowo. “I think that’s basically an attempt at not just ruining those girl’s future but Nigeria’s future.”
The violent acts of Boko Haram sparked a national interest including the social media movement #BringBackOurGirls. The issue of sexism and marginalization of the vulnerable captured Oyelowo’s attention to want to make a difference in Nigeria where he lived for seven years.
“It’s a big subject for me this,” added Oyelowo. “Even in film for female directors and the way females are represented on film behind the camera. That kind of sexism is as bad as racism, but the thing about sexism is you’re talking about 50 percent of the population who are being marginalized in this way. It’s a hot button subject for me – the marginalization of women generally, but young girls specifically because they are still vulnerable.”
While GEANCO has captured the interest of talent including Forest Whitaker and Kimora Lee Simmons, Oyelowo and Ejiofor’s efforts will be be honored when they receive the Global Promise Award at the foundation’s Hollywood gala on Sept. 21, hosted by ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley. Benefits from the fundraiser will go towards the foundation’s ultimate goal of having the largest hospital in Nigeria where they can continue to provide various medical screenings and surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, that are otherwise unavailable to many Nigerian families.
“We’re really the only hope in a certain part of Nigeria so it’s really satisfying for me to go do something that no one else is doing,” said GEANCO co-founder Afam Onyema who established the foundation in 2005 with his father Godwin Onyema. “I can’t wait for people like Chiwetel and David to come talk to the patients and see what we’re doing and what their support is helping us to do. Especially when we have a long term plan to have a world class hospital in Nigeria so that these necessary surgeries can happen all day every day in Nigeria.”
The gala will be a soothing celebration after Oyelowo’s possible Emmy he could take home for his performance in HBO’s Nightingale. After the Oscar buzz generated from Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Oyelowo says he’s going into the Emmys with nothing but “appreciation.”
“We made Nightingale as a very small independent film that we had no real idea where it would end up, but I can tell you for a fact we’d never thought it would end up on HBO and millions of people getting to actually see it let alone being nominated for awards,” said Oyelowo. “Unlike with Selma where you’re doing a film about Dr. King and it’s a studio movie you expect and hope that the film will have a broad and far reach. This one it’s flabbergasting. I’m going into the Emmys in the place of celebration.”
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