An interview with director and writer Chelsea Odufu on her new film Ori Inu: In Search Of Self

The Hoodwitch: Hi Chelsea, When we began seeing images circulating social media for the film Ori Inu: in Search Of Selfwe were absolutely in love! what was your biggest inspiration behind writing  the sstory, and more specifically on a religion that is not known by most westerners (Candomblé)? Are you a  practitioner of Candomblé, or is this a practice from your own family? 

Chelsea: I’m not a practitioner of Candomble and was in fact only introduced to the religion last year August when my brother Emann and I were brainstorming ideas for my thesis film at New York University. Around that time I had just finished shooting OSHUN NYCs first music video "Gyenyame", which pulled me into the realm of exploring magical realism and Black Godliness. Working with  OSHUN NYC to personify Yemojah and Oshun definitely motivatedme to do this kind of work, to empower African Diasporic people. To reconnect with the ancestry and more importantly, to find their innate Black Queen Magic or Black King Magic. In retrospect the journey that I’ve undergone since Gyenyame has been magical.  So when my brother showed me an article  from NPR about religious persecution going on in Bahia Brazil on Afro Brazilians that practiced Candomblé I felt enraged and was certain that my film was going to shed light on this issue.

The HW: Have you worked with any of the Orixás ?

Chelsea: I’ve never worked with any of the Orixas but I can happily say I’m doing work for them. My spirituality is grounded and influenced by so many different things and religions I’ve been exposed to. My Spirituality is still evolving on my journey in search of self.

The HW: As a woman with South American and African ancestry, I wanted to create a website that was largely focused on spirituality, but more specifically occultism, natural magick, and the lost traditions/practices from my ancestors. Your story really appealed to me, as I understood what it felt to be torn between two worlds. Practices that were deemed “devil worship” or “evil” by Christian family, I realized were just lost aspects of our true culture, and who we were as a people. Our connection to the Earth, the stars, animals, and each other. How has creating this film furthered or developed your own spiritual practice?

Chelsea: That’s craz,y  I’m in fact also South American and African (Guyanese and Nigerian to be specific) so I completely understand how difficult it is to navigate between two worlds not including the fact that I am American as well.  

For the majority of my life I was ashamed to be African because I grew up in the era where the "African booty scratcher" jokes came a mile a minute. People used to joke about my last name Odufu, not to mention I had a dark skin complex growing up. So legitimately everything African made me uncomfortable. I didn't want to be exposed to anything African and worked hard to be seen as “Just black” ...whatever that means.  Being raised in a Guyanese household my family would always tell stories about the magical things that roamed the lands of Guyana from mermaids to Old Hags, or Baku man who would pelt your house down. I was always fascinated by these folktales. However, I was raised as  a Jehovah Witness and attended Christian schools my entire life. I would only hear the regurgitated stigmas everyone had about traditional practices of our ancestors.  Although this film has not made me decide to get my lekes necklaces, I embrace and respect the Orixas and am certainly interested in learning more about them. I am literally my protagonist Natalia Diaz on a spiritual journey in search of self and I think making this film on a spiritual level has helped me love myself, and live each day as a positive person.

The HW: Afro-Brazilian candomblé  practitioners are stepping out of the shadows to be recognized as a “real” religion in Brazil. They are no longer hiding behind the veil or cover of Catholicism, much like Santeria practitioners who also worked under the guise of Catholic deities. It’s so important now more than ever for African religions to hold festivals, and ceremonies openly and freely to take away the negative stigmas associated with the practices. Do you think that your film will inspire others to seek out more information regarding Candomblé ? or perhaps other spiritual paths that might have otherwise been hidden or condemned?

Chelsea: Yes, I absolutely think that this film will motivate people especially people who the spirit world has already been calling to embrace this journey they are supposed to undertake. Part of my brother’s and I goal when creating Ori Inu was to remove the negative stigmas surrounding African Spirituality. We realized from the beginning, that unfortunately making a film about Vodou or Santeria (two very popular African Spiritual practices) would prevent us from getting this done, as people already have too many preconceived notions about what these practitioners do. Hence why we chose Candomblé. Candomblé is such an interesting religion as there is no good or bad in the religion and it is solely about fulfilling your destiny on this Earth through your Ori Inu or your Orixa. That concept alone is so universal and something all people can connect with. We also realized that  our movie aesthetically had to be so appealing and have a cool factor for people to easily embrace it whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jewish, or Nwabian.  We knew that all of the Orixas being represented in our film had to look Epic because if Yemojah was beautiful and had a super cool costume, by nature, people would be intrigued to learn more. Being melenated, very Black, Afro-punk, and spiritual is trendy right now. Especially amidst the huge racial tensions currently going on in America.  Because of that, we are going to see a lot of Black people curious to know more about African traditions and practices. We are living in a time of re-awakening and in my opinion a modern day Civil Rights Movement. The spiritual revolution has just begun, so I hope that my art activist work through. Creating Ori Inu has an impact on African Diasporic people to stay woke.  

The HW: The casting for Ori Inu looks incredible! serious black girl magic!  what went  into your process in casting the perfect characters? You even have one of our featured Goddesses Of The Week Trae Harris in the film. But what really drew us in were the behind the scenes photos of Folasade Adeoso as goddess mother Yemanja (Yemaya), not gonna lie, we slightly died.

Chelsea: (laughs) casting was a wonderful process and definitely one of the films most exciting moments.  Going into the casting process as vain as it sounds, I was like I want this entire cast to be beautiful melanated people primarily due to the lack of chocolate folks on screen. I knew I wanted Yemojah to be super chocolate with high cheek bones, and so Folasade was aesthetically perfect for the role.  At first when my brother and I wrote this film we had no idea that the film would manifest into something so big and ambitious.  

Originally, I was going to simply hold auditions using standard casting websites but after hearing one of my former classmates at NYU booked a famous actress to be in his film, I realized that their was no reason why I couldn't get a famous actress in my film as well. I spent endless nights reaching out to actors agents. I probably reached out to over 100 black actors and actresses in hopes that someone would find it interesting. To be honest, I didn't know they even had that many prominent Black actors in the game due to the lack of dope Black film and TV content. 

Possibly a couple days after I sent out my first set of emails I got a call from the beautiful Tony Award winning actress Tonya Pinkins who said she would love to play the role of Mama Lola in my film. I began to look for young Black actresses who acted with Tonya and I came across Shaka King’s movie Newlyweeds, where I fell in love with Trae Harris. I reached out to Trae’s manager and the rest was history. Even before that, before I had a script written I knew I wanted to cast my home girl Helen Beyene a recent graduate from NYU, as the lead of my film. I think Helen is so beautiful! and Ilow-key have the biggest crush on her. She is so talented and I literally couldn't imagine anyone playing the role of Natalia Diaz but her. Ori Inu is literally a celebration of blackness.

The HW: Which God/Goddess do you most identify with and why? was there any specific energy you felt you channeled in the process of creating Ori Inu ?

Chelsea: I think my brother and I channeled a lot energy when creating Ori Inu specifically when working on the scenes when the Orixas were present. At times the energy in the room would became so overwhelming that we would have to take breaks from writing to keep ourselves grounded.

I personally connect with Oshun a lot. Especially as I was introduced into this world while doing work for her and Yemojah. A long the process of making this film I would always meet priestesses of Oshun who would approach me and drop hella gems. Even on my location scouting trip to Trinidad, I met this Spiritual Baptist Woman who was a priestess of Oshun and just finished a river cleansing. After engaging in almost 30 min conversation with this woman I took her advice to shoot my film in the North of Trinidad Grand Rivere where the two sisters meet (where the river and the sea meet).  I believe I am a child of Oshun. I connect so much with how people describe her and I am interested to see how she continues to be reintroduced into my life.

The HW: Where can our readers see the film? when does it come out, give us all the details!

Chelsea: To be honest with you, I can’t even answer the question as Ori Inu film has not yet even began to enter its film festival journey. The first step in gaining prestige around the film is to win festivals in order to reach a larger production expenses so we hope everyone supports our Kickstater. Ori Inu will be Epic according to Huffington Post Black Voices so make sure you stay tuned and support the movement. Spread the word about Ori Inu, Donate to Ori Inu, Tweet, Vlog, Blog whatever as this film is a film of the people a film of African Diapsoric people.  

The HW: Thank you Chelsea for taking the time to share your magic with us, and the rest of the world! we are so thrilled for you andOri Inu!

Chelsea: Thanks so much for having me Hood witch! Peace, light, and love world.

Check out the list of links below to find updates, and news on Ori Inu: In Search Of Self.


*Also This extra special trailer release event taking place Saturday, September 12th in Brooklyn, New York.