• SHARE

“Women of Color in Japan” opens with scenes of what Tokyo is known for: crowds, fashionable teens, trains. Very quickly, however, a voiceover reminds us of what it’s not known for.

“Japan is a place that is known for its futurism,” says the narrator, “but even as a forward-thinking country it is still playing catch up in how it handles diversity.”

The voice we’re hearing belongs to Nigerian American filmmaker Amarachi Nwosu, who this year earned a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Africa list in part thanks to her efforts in dismantling stereotypes in Japan. Her most recent documentary is “Women of Color in Japan,” a short film that follows three women of different ethnicities who navigate their opportunities and challenges in Tokyo.

Nwosu’s mission to promote diversity and inclusion was borne of frustration. When she began working in creative spaces, she noticed that the diverse community she lived in wasn’t being represented.

“God puts in your heart what bothers you about the world, and it makes you want to create change,” she says, adding that, more often than not for people of color, the melanin of their skin is defined for them, and their identities are often projected instead of developed in popular culture.

This gap in representation led her to create Melanin Unscripted, a global platform and agency that promotes inclusion through visual content, podcasts, creative collaborations and more. Nwosu embodies the goal of her inspirations, actress, writer and producer Issa Rae and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

“I don’t want to wait for someone to open this door for me to recognize my value,” she says. “The only way I can do that is to validate myself and build my own door, and keep that open for other people to enter instead of gatekeeping.”

The Melanin Unscripted team is based around the world with people working from Lagos, Berlin, Seoul and Washington, D.C. But back in 2015, Nwosu studied abroad at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. She was inspired by her brother, who lived in Beijing for a year after graduating high school and taught her that living abroad can make a person more cultured, more aware and more understanding of the global community we all live in.

Her experiences in Japan led to her first documentary, “Black in Tokyo,” which started out as a group project for her documentary filmmaking class. As the only Black person in her class, she felt inspired to portray Black experiences with a cinematic approach. After leaving Japan, she wanted to continue the story and wound up editing the film when she lived in London, releasing it in 2017. Four years later, she continues to see the impact her work is making, which now sits at more than 1.5 million views on YouTube. The film had a screening in Washington that sold out after one day and, when borders open up in Japan again, she hopes to screen the film in the country it was filmed in. For now, she’s making do with social media reach.

“The difference between me and someone I admire is how many eyes they have access to,” Nwosu says. For creators such as herself, viewership is often impacted by algorithms and sharing on social media. Through “Women of Color in Japan,” Nwosu demonstrates how working in creative fields has empowered its three subjects.

‘Women of Color in Japan’

After the release of “Black in Tokyo,” Nwosu says she had already started planning “Women of Color in Japan,” as she felt that more women needed to see themselves on-screen.

The film follows three women: Ameya Jane, a photographer, filmmaker and writer who was raised in Japan; Uzochi Okoronkwo, a fashion entrepreneur; and Tiffany Cadillac, a DJ, selector and musician who was born in Tokyo. In the documentary, each of them opens up about navigating their multicultural identities in the country and in their respective industries. For all of them, the challenge of living in Japan involves finding representation, adapting to change and feeling accepted in certain spaces. At the beginning of the film, Ameya shares her journey as a minority.

“I think in Japan, it’s not so much that I feel disconnected to my race, it’s more that I just feel ‘other’ … like I just feel that I’m foreign,” she tells the camera. “I don’t feel like being Indian or any of those other things. I feel like I’m just treated as something that’s just not Japanese.”

Nwosu is aiming to release a new documentary by the end of this year that focuses on 20 creatives living in the African nations of Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda and South Africa. The story is centered on people of different ages and genders who are reshaping the image of the continent through different creative outlets. While the rest of the world often consumes art out of these regions, Nwosu says there is little public knowledge of the artists themselves.

Case in point, one of the creatives featured in this new documentary is an artist that has reached millions of people in Japan: Nigerian singer-songwriter CKay made it to No. 1 on Spotify Japan with his track “Love Nwantiti.” Gen Z may know this song via TikTok, and Nwosu says she will explore the idea of moving beyond viral breakouts and defying the monolithic image of the continent in her film.

“Creativity is the root for connections and understanding them,” she says. “I don’t think we understand how connected we really are until we are fully exposed to how diverse the world is.”

For this filmmaker and Melanin Unscripted, being seen is not necessarily about what skin tone the main character is, but rather about the parts of their story you can connect with.

“Filmmaking is difficult in the current landscape of the world, but with new problems there are new solutions,” Nwosu says. The first half of the “Women of Color in Japan” documentary was filmed at the end of 2018, and the production process took a turn as COVID-19 emerged and began to spread around the world. Nwosu ended up completing the production with a remote crew.

Still, Nwosu sees some positives that have come out of Japan amid the pandemic.

“Local models of color are finding more opportunities on big media platforms,” she says. “You don’t have to fly out models to represent the ones already there.”

Advice for current and aspiring creatives

One of the ultimate life lessons that the filmmaker has learned is that discomfort and disruption is an opportunity for growth, and that the beauty of life is collaboration. For the creatives out there, Nwosu emphasizes that patience comes first, especially with ourselves. It can take months or even years to create something that is both timely and timeless. She also points out that since no one can possibly control everything, it is important to go with the flow.

“You can have faith and be optimistic during discomfort,” she says. “Continue to believe in what you are producing.”

As Nwosu continues to run Melanin Unscripted with her team, she aims to give more people opportunities to tell their stories and to help fund young creators. For 2022, she hopes to secure a film deal in a feature length or TV series format.

“I want to do things people can’t imagine would be possible,” she says. “The limit isn’t the sky, it’s the starting point.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)