Vixen Exclusive: Director Yonie Solomon + Actress Helen Gedlu Talk ‘An Ethiopian Love’
Cultural pride is and will always be on trend, but even more it’s what’s right. Removing the typical Hollywood standards, such as an over-the-top urban character or ghetto baby mamas, Yonie Solomon decided to construct an indie, classic love story, An Ethiopian Love, that salutes his heritage and has a universal relativity. Starring as the lead character, Desta, Yonie plays alongside rising on-screen talent Helen Gedlu, Augisha Tesfasilase, Sara Gebremedhin, Jonathan Woldaub and Syed Bukhari. From the trailer alone, this romantic comedy seems loaded with good-hearted humor, relationship drama and depth. While building great content on the back of guerilla marketing, rehearsals and the like was no easy task, Solomon was determined to send a message. Sure, the Ethiopian community will be able to directly identify with the film, but all first generation persons or immigrants of this country will see themselves in this feature that tips its hat to self-identity.
The cast is set to kickoff a screening tour in late April or early May, hitting major cities in the U.S. and several college campuses. Naturally, the international audience will get a chance to view it as well. VV tapped Solomon and Gedlu–both first generation Ethiopian Americans–for an exclusive chat about pride, the film’s exploration of love and how they incorporated style to get the message across. -Niki McGloster
What are the top common misconceptions about Ethiopia?
Helen: What they show on TV, kind of making it seem like everyone in Africa is just poor and starving. That’s [only] part of it. They just make us look horrible on TV. It’s frustrating because it’s like, wow, it’s not like that everywhere. I don’t know why they do it.
Yonie: That’s a huge one, in terms of being Ethiopian and living in America. It was crazy because that was one of the reasons why I wanted to do the movie. There’s a central theme surrounding African immigrants, and that is that they come from this savage country, where ever they’re from, be it Ethiopia or West Africa or where ever, and that Africa, as a whole continent, has nothing to offer. It’s crazy because I didn’t go there until I was 12 [years old], so I was exposed to the same things growing up in society. I shared those same views, whether they were subconscious or conscious, even with my parents in my ear saying [Ethiopia] is beautiful. So that’s the biggest one, by far. You mention Ethiopia, and it’s synonymous with starvation and political conflict. Not to say there isn’t trouble there, but if you look at the numbers, it’s like 80 million people in Ethiopia at this point, four million suffering from famine. It’s not something I’m trying to neglect putting out this type of movie, but what I’m trying to do is primarily empower Ethiopians, as well as abroad, in addition to kind of show a different side of Ethiopia to the world.
What was the reason for targeting love and relationships in this film?
Yonie: I moved to L.A. in ’05 to become an actor. Initially, I was there to do what everybody does in L.A.: get an agent and audition. I’m too impatient; I had to do something, so I started to dip my hands in different areas. Basically, I started creating projects. I work in the music video industry, and I was doing a lot of projects that were being deemed as urban because that’s what I was labeled as in L.A. and growing up in America. It wasn’t until I kind of looked into my own community to see that there’s an audience there, a demographic that’s untapped, that basically nobody’s catering to. I know that love stories kind of rule everything, whether it be Titanic or Avatar. It’s always love stories at the center of those. That’s where the love angle came from–just being able to be universal. Living in L.A. and seeing how the industry works, and realizing how to capitalize the most on something that’s untapped.
Helen, tell me how you got on board with this project.
Helen: Me and Yonie have known each other for a long time, since we were kids. I used to go to church with him, and his mom would teach at our church and stuff like that. I was out in L.A. dancing professionally, and he knew that I wanted to get into other things as far as acting, singing and all those types of things. He asked me to be a part of it, and I jumped on board. I think it’s dope. I support it 100 percent. I’m Ethiopian, so I would love to be a positive face for the Ethiopian community.
For people that don’t know, or for people who haven’t seen the trailer, what are your roles in your characters in this film?
Yonie: My character’s name is Desta, and he’s a first generation Ethiopian American, as are the other people in the movie. He’s going through trials and tribulations of being a young 23-year-old college graduate in a relationship, and the movie explores the relationships between his friends, his girlfriend and all that. But, he’s kind of a square, and I say that in regards to kind of how the market value is of urban characters in movies. In white movies, there are always normal, regular characters. Adam Sandler’s a regular character in a lot of his movies, and Matt Damon. Any of these romantic comedies, there are regular characters. A lot of times you have the “urban” characters being extra, where the latin dude is broke or the black dude is a player. You know, it’s always extras that go along with those guys. So in this movie, he’s a very central character that a lot of people can relate to. They watch the movie through his eyes. He’s kind of neutral to a certain extent.