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David Oyelowo: 'My Nigerian heritage shaped me'

AFRICAN PRIDE: David Oyelowo

BRITISH ACTOR David Oyelowo has expressed his pride at growing up in Nigeria, where being black is “the norm”.

The Selma star, who lived in his parents’ country of birth from the age of six to 13, told The Voice that life in Nigeria gave him a level of “respect” and instilled in him a sense of confidence that came from being in a culture where he “wasn’t a minority”.

“The depth of how my Nigerian heritage has shaped me is so deep, far and wide,” the actor said.

“Living in Nigeria for seven years in a society where I wasn’t a minority and in a very proud culture – a culture that cannot be told it’s lesser than anyone – that has served me hugely in my industry.

“I call it the Sydney Poitier syndrome, in that I think he [Poitier] achieved all that he did because he also grew up in a culture where he wasn’t a minority and that allowed him to cut through the dross and just be himself and achieve great things.”

Reflecting on life in Nigeria, Oyelowo, who stars in the upcoming films A United Kingdom and Queen of Katwe – both of which are set in Africa – says that the experience taught him a host of values – some of which weren’t shared by his peers when he returned to the UK.

“It was wonderful being in a culture where you are the norm,” says the married father-of-four. “You are the leaders. You are everywhere.

“There was also the respect for elders and the respect for oneself; the respect for education and intelligence – these were formative things for me. These were values that I never forgot when I came back to the UK. But these were values that had been marginalised with my peers. I mean, respect for elders was not a huge priority among my peers when I moved back to the UK!”

The 40-year-old added: “Going to Highbury Boys Secondary School in Islington [north London], the respect for education wasn’t something that my peers seemed to share. But those values helped me and stood me in good stead in terms of progression.”

Oyelowo’s sense of African pride has also been evident through his recent outfit choices. At several screenings of Queen of Katwe – including the film’s premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – the actor graced the red carpet with co-star Lupita Nyong’o, wearing traditional African attire.

“I have two films set in Africa – this is a real moment for me,” Oyelowo laughs. “I’ve wanted this for so long because it’s a reflection of who I am, so I guess what I wear is also a reflection of who I am.

“I think there is something so beautiful about African culture. The regality of it, the unashamed qualities of it – and I like wearing those clothes! It’s a celebration of these two films that I’m so proud of.”

Read the full, exclusive interview with David Oyelowo in Life & Style, in the next issue of The Voice (out October 27)

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