Lucy Bunyenyezi on charting her way into the entertainment world
Lucy is like a matryoshka; the Russian nesting doll that can be taken apart to reveal smaller dolls fitting inside one another. Her innate wisdom, unabashed sense of morality tempered with a surprising pragmatism make her such an inspiring person. She is living proof that chasing each and every one of our dreams makes our lives richer and fuller. She recounts her journey to shespell.com.
Breaking into the industry
I often have to tell myself that life is a constant learning curve and the more risks I take the more rewards I will get. In my book, results of worthy risks can never be negative; at least they will teach you a lesson that will get you closer to your dream. When I was young, I allowed people’s fears to stop me from making the necessary strides for my life. But all that is in the past.
My breakthrough came when I finally managed to persuade my mother to let me venture into the arts full time. This was not easy. I had to study and complete my degree in Social Policy, Politics and Sociology while reminding her every step of the way that I was headed for film school afterwards. Now I am so glad I did it because it has positively influenced my daily interactions. With a mother’s intuition, she was worried about the vultures that circle around the entertainment circles looking for innocent souls to devour. Every person in this industry will tell you their own experience with their particular vultures; some stories have become cute anecdotes to tell friends over a glass of wine but most of them are horrendous tales of abuse that leave their victims scarred and traumatised.
I remember a few years ago when I was still trying my hand at modeling, I was approached by one of the companies in the UK claiming to have identified my potential and that I was perfect for a campaign they were working on. You have no idea how exciting this was for me. So we make an appointment to meet. After a dazzling chat I felt the penny drop when they started asking for money they said would be needed to integrate me into the campaign. It dawned on me that they were trying to exploit me. Just as my mother feared it is very easy to find yourself in a situation where you are a victim when you think the people in the room are there to support you.
When I came to Uganda and tried to get into acting, I found the same exploitation at every turn. A lot of my friends in the industry testify to signing up and working with agents who never paid them for their work. Yet, they had signed up thinking the agencies would protect them from being exploited. Others realised that their salaries had been revised downwards without their knowledge. A few lucky girls end up getting paid something in return for other favours. With this state of affairs is it any wonder that people still think of the industry as mediocre and unprofitable?
Because most of the time we are blinded by our ambition and passion, it just gets so easy to be caught up in a situation you are being exploited without your knowledge. And, because one can never be completely sure about people’s intentions that is why it makes sense to seek advice. I always seek advice from my sisters, my mum and my brother. My brother never hesitates giving me his invaluable male perspective; it might not always be accurate but it helps me achieve some sort of balance.
Changing the narrative
So, yes, my mother was right in her fear, but with time and consistency I proved to her that I was serious about becoming an artiste and I was capable of keeping myself safe. This industry is very competitive. You know from the get go that very few will make it, win awards and become icons. This knowledge ignites a desperate hunger to be part of the small percentage. It is this hunger that leads to compromise, abuse, trauma and addictions. This does not apply to everyone though. Everybody’s circumstances are unique; your experiences are determined by your upbringing because it forms the basis of your character. As much as people try to defy their upbringing, there is always a sprinkle that clings to you that can explain why you are who you are. Bearing this in mind, I think it is important for parents to talk to their children about the things that they consider taboo. There are these young girls who grow up shielded and enter the world with a shocking naiveté. Growing up in international schools I was exposed to children from both extremes. On the one hand, there are the innocent Ugandan children for whom sex is a taboo subject at home and on the other hand, there are children from abroad who go with their mothers to pick up contraceptives. How can such children be expected to function in the same circumstances? This is why I have teamed up with fellow artistes to work on projects that will hopefully change some of these conceptions that have negative effects on society. What we tell our children today will make a difference in their lives tomorrow.
My other passion is showing off Uganda’s rich culture in a way that is fun, quirky and relevant for our times. Together with my friend Estella Karuhanga we run a Vlog (Estella & Lucy UG) that focuses on “Travel”, “Food” and “Culture”.
Do not be afraid to love. But first of all search within yourself to find out who you are. For heaven’s sake do not assign yourself a role to love someone else if it does not mirror what is inside.