Nkeki Obi-Melekwe: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
BOLD is excited to put a spotlight on incredible black women and their stories of representation. Ever I Saw Your Face highlights the beauty and importance of representation in art with three simple questions. It captures how representation not only inspires us to dream, but moves us internally and works to re-humanize us as black women.
Meet Nkeki Obi-Melekwe. Nkeki made her Broadway debut as Tina Turner (at some performances) in Tina - The Tina Turner Musical after starring in the West End production. She recently appeared in Alice By Heart (MCC) and Half Time (Paper Mill Playhouse). TV: “Bull" (CBS) and “Smilf” (Showtime). Nkeki is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
1. When was the first time you saw yourself in art and it changed you?
When I was growing up, I loved watching Raven Symone on That's So Raven, because I felt like she was really similar to me. I knew that I wasn't exactly her; the skin color was off, the body type was off, the American-ness was off. But the personality was there, so I sorta kinda saw myself, or someone that I could maybe be. But it wasn't until I was in college when I watched Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum on Netflix that I saw myself truly for the first time.
2. Tell us more about Michaela and what Chewing Gum did for you?
I felt she was just like me. Or that I was just like her, in my outlook on life. It was exhilarating! Just the knowledge that there is an incredible actress who’s as dark as you are and as quirky as you are and as bizarre as you are and has the same big, African facial features that you have (and are self conscious about) and someone put her and all that she is on TV, is huge! And it extended beyond the show itself as well, knowing that it wasn't just a character that Michaela was playing, it was also someone and something that she wrote. There's something in that that made it resonate with me even more.
She was figuring it out as she went! I loved that she was on this quest for sexual gratification. It's very rare that dark-skinned black women get to sexualize themselves, rather than having everybody else do it for them, if it all. She was just so weird and I loved it. Tracey was being herself, which made it all the more poignant and relatable to me.
3. Why does representation matter to you?
I'll give you an example. If not for representation, I would have always thought that I was meant to be the best friend, the comic relief, the black girl. I didn’t think anything bad of it. I wanted that. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to that. But I wanted to be the very top, and I ONLY aspired to that, because I thought that that was the furthest someone like me could go. It wasn't until my adulthood that I saw that that wasn't so, and that didn't have to be all I was. Before then that's all I thought I could be and now I have such a vast awareness of the wholeness of myself and how I function in this world. I'm not sure I saw myself or knew my potential in this way. I'm not sure I would have seen myself this way if not for representation.
Thanks Nkeki for sharing your story. We stan Michaela Coel along with you!
We want to know the first time you saw your face and how it changed you.
Share your story of representation using the hashtag #boldrepresentation and tag us @iamaboldwoman.