PROFILE LONDON : Putting Black joy in the spotlight. Nigerian-British writer is creating new voices to express cultural identity.

The first play Theresa Ikoko wrote wasn't necessarily meant to be a play - not yet, anyway.

At that point it was simply a story she had written for herself after years of collecting characters and scenes in her head, all of them rooted in the communities she knew as a Nigerian-British woman. 

When she read parts of it over the phone to a friend several years ago, he was taken by the way she had captured the experience of being Black and British.

''After I finished, he said to me. ''Thresa, there's no difference between this and Shakespeare as far as I'm concerned,'' Ms. Ikoko said with a laugh while sitting on a park bench in East London.

It has since been a remarkable rise for the playwright turned screenwriter, who until last year was working as a case manager at a youth's violence organization, pretending to compose long emails and writing scenes instead.

Ms. Ikoko eventually submitted her writing to the Talawa Theater Company, Britain's renowned Black-led theater group, which jumped at the chance to produce it as a play.

The work. ''Normal,'' ran as a stage reading in 2014, and a year later she wrote ''Girls,'' a play about about three girls abducted by a terrorist group. That earned her the Alfred Pagon Award for Best New Play of 2015 and the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2016.

On Friday last, her first movie, ''Rocks,'' which she wrote with Claire Wilson, opened in Britain.

It centers on the  joy and resilience of young woman of color - a group rarely given mainstream attention in British film - and positions Ms. Ikoko as a major new voice.  

This year, she joins a wave of young Black writers, producers and directors carving out space in an industry that has been prone to either exclude them or crush them with expectations demanding that their work cover only issues of race.

''It's like my movie has to dismantle racism,'' Ms. Ikoko said. ''And I had to offer reparations. It also has to dethrone the monarchy and restore the stolen artifacts back to Benin. But it's 90 minutes on a low budget.

Yet for Ms. Ikoko, ''there's so much more that comes with being Black apart from dealing with racism.'' And that has meant creating work that also focuses on Black joy.

The World Students Society thanks author Allison Mccann.


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