Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kids! Interview with Zuriel Oduwole

By Victoria Feng, Assistant Editor and AKOM Editor


Zuriel Oduwole is a student filmmaker who has a focus on girls’ education in Africa. Her latest film is Follow the Ball for Education. She has been featured in numerous publications, including being the youngest person to be featured on Forbes Africa.

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to get into filmmaking?

Zuriel Oduwole (ZO): That’s a cool question. So I entered a competition through my school sponsored by the History Channel. It’s called the National History Day competition held for schools across the U.S. I was nine years old then, but most kids that entered it were 11 years old and older, till 16 or 17. We had to tell a historic story event two ways, either by acting it out with a group or using film and doing it yourself. It was tough because I couldn’t get enough people to act my idea, so, I had to do the film. I learned very fast everything about filmmaking because the rules were you had to shoot the film yourself, download yourself, edit yourself, and produce it all by yourself. That was my first-ever film at the age of nine, and it was on the Ghana Revolution. I traveled to Ghana with my parents to meet the person who started the revolution—Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, who also became the president of Ghana. It changed my world and my understanding of things, and I loved the whole process. That’s how I got into filmmaking.

AK: What advice would you give to girls being denied education in Africa?

ZO: I don’t know that I have advice. I guess more like encouragement to let them know that the only way to get out of their hardships and ensure they have a brighter future is by education. So, I encourage them to fight, speak, and dig in because I don’t know any other way they can come out of their hardship. The worst part is that by the ages of 13 or 14, they are getting ready for marriage because they are not in school. That’s so very uncool, and sad, and also cruel. Their lives as a girl are over by then because there is no fun, no dreaming, no friends to hang out with or play outside; it’s time to be someone’s wife. I can’t even imagine that. Sad, sad, sad.

AK: What was the most challenging part of creating your documentaries?

ZO: First, time. I still go to school and have homework, exams, tests, and field trips. So, I have to balance school with the documentaries. My first three documentaries were shorts—meaning just 10 minutes long but a lot of work to make them. My last two documentaries were feature documentaries, meaning they were over 55 minutes long. Now, that’s even more work. My newest documentary, which premiered in Morocco last month, took me three years to make, and I just turned 15. So that’s just a little under a quarter of my life it took to make it. The other thing is the time it takes to travel. My last documentary film was shot in five countries on three continents. That’s a lot of travels and jet lag, and it requires taking your equipment, your crew, and your team and family. I started shooting in June 2014 in Brazil, then Ethiopia, then Nigeria, then Mauritius near Madagascar, and then here in the U.S. There are other challenges, too, like the editing. You might see there is a problem with the clip; then you are looking for another clip to represent the story board because you already did the story board, but the file gets corrupted. That’s always a pain. Editing it is tricky. You ever watched a TV show or a film, and the mouth does not match the words being said because it is off by one or two seconds? That’s an editing problem. But I enjoy making films, even with the challenges, because there is serious power in media.

AK: If you could change one thing about this world, what would it be, and why?

ZO: Oh, that’s a simple one—that girls are treated exactly the same as boys all over the world form the day they are born. That way, by the time they become women, they would be treated the same as men, which you know does not happen now at all, and that’s not even cool. But as you know, there are some things girls have done, achieved, or been recognized for that boys haven’t. For example, the youngest person in the world to be featured and interviewed in Forbes Magazine at the age of 10 is a girl—not a boy. The youngest person to be received one-on-one by the U.S. Secretary of State in his office in Washington at the age of 14 is a girl, and also, the youngest person to meet one-on-one with more than 22 world leaders in their offices or in places like that to talk global policy issues is a girl. So, if girls are doing cool stuff like that and many more things, why are they treated less than boys would? So, that’s one thing I would change because it’s not fair. I don’t think it’s right.

AK: So far, what do you view as your biggest achievements/successes?

ZO: I would say being able to show myself as an example of what an educated girl can do. You hear about things like the International Day of the Girl Child or people campaigning to let girls go to school, so they can do things when they get older. Well, I am showing that this is so true but that we can also do things when we are still young, like 10, 12, 14, or 15—like I’m doing. We don’t have to wait till we have left college and are working in a company; we can change things from now. Last year in 2016, I went to speak at the UN about global warming. Later after the event, I was invited to meet privately with three world leaders in their embassies at the UN to talk about my ideas on global warming. They were the leaders of Samoa, Jamaica, and Tuvalu, and that was amazing—that I shared my ideas with them. Also, I was the youngest person at age 12 to be featured in ELLE Magazine as part of the 33 women who changed the world in 2015, by ELLE Canada. That was super cool.

AK: Are there any individuals who have helped you on your journey? How they did assist you?

ZO: Wow, many people, starting with my family: my mom and dad. My dad had to quit his job four years ago, so he could travel with me on my projects because most of them are overseas. My mom helps me plan my schedules and the countries I visit. My younger siblings Azaliah, Arielle, and Ismachiah keep me company; sometimes we just catch up on Skype and WhatsApp, and that helps when I’m overseas. My family helps me a lot. Then we have sponsors, who pay for my travels; sometimes, the airline gives us six tickets to travel to my project places, or sometimes the companies allow me stay in their hotels, like Hilton Hotels Africa group. They are cool like that. When I traveled to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Windhoek in Namibia, Abuja in Nigeria, and Paris in France, I stayed at the Hilton because they gave me and my family rooms.

AK: What are your goals for the future, both professionally and personally?

ZO: Personally, I want to continue with my girls’ education projects and teaching young women filmmaking. I have now done a filmmaking class in five countries since February 2016 when I started, so now for more than 200 young people, including in Namibia, Kenya, Mexico, and Mauritius. A student from my first filmmaking class in Namibia made her own 45-minute film with a borrowed camera. That’s just extra cool with sugar on top. I was so excited when I found out. And that lets me know I am doing something right. I also want to talk to more world leaders about creating policies that can affect the girls positively in their countries. Professionally, well, I would have to wait 20 years or so to get there.

AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?

ZO: If they don’t follow their dreams, no one else will, and then the dream dies. That would be sad. Also, because dreams are free, they should dream big. My friend President Ellen Johnson of Liberia, whom I met twice, said this: “If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough.” So, dream super-size big! It’s free to dream, you know.

AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?

ZO: Oh, as I learned, someone who is successful is not someone who has never failed but someone who actually failed but did not give up. That’s someone who is successful because that person triumphed over failure.