Filmmaker Fum Fum Ko speaks about storytelling, passion, and her new series - Nneka The Uber Driver.
Fall might be the most revered month for television, but our favorite show this season is premiering online. Created by filmmaker Fum Fum Ko, Nneka The Uber Driver follows the life of Nneka, a Nigerian-American Harvard graduate who defies her parents desire for her to become a medical doctor and takes up a job as an Uber driver instead. In light of the show's September 20th debut, WomenWerk talked to the creative force behind Nneka The Uber Driver, Executive Director Fum Fum Ko, about about her hilarious and heartfelt new series and why many Africans living in the diaspora find her title character so relatable.
WW: What inspired the series, Nneka The Uber Driver?
Fum Fum Ko: In February of 2014, I started driving for Uber to make some extra cash. I worked full time at an elementary school as the Site Director of the ACE Afterschool Enrichment Program. I wanted to make some extra cash to buy camera equipment for some of my other film projects. When I applied to be a driver, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was a bit worried that a violent person may get in the car and attack me. So I packed a taser and switchblade in the driver's side door. I didn’t tell my dad about driving for Uber, because I was worried he would take my car away. Besides it being a bit dangerous, I was also driving a Mercedes to Uber….which is silly because I was putting a lot of wear and tear on the car and the maintenance is high. But at the time, all I could think of was “Oooooh let me get this easy money!”
I enjoyed Ubering and I had some awkward/funny encounters with passengers. After a long night of Ubering, I would sometimes posts funny stories about my night on Facebook. People would laugh and some would comment that I should make a web series about it. And I was like…hmmm maybe I should! During that same time, or maybe before, I met Nickclette Izuegbu (the lead actress of Nneka The Uber Driver) and we instantly connected. She told me she was an actress and a writer and I told her about my idea to create Nneka The Uber Driver. She shared some similarities with me. She actually went to Harvard and the plan was to attend medical school but she was more passionate about acting. I went to Baylor University and originally wanted to go to medical school but then I decided that it wasn’t for me. Both of us were heavily encouraged by our parents to go to medical school. Parental pressure is a big issue for many young people and we wanted to highlight that in the web series.And so we started writing. We came up with ideas and skits and then Nickclette would flesh them out because she is a great writer.
WW: What do you want viewers to take away from Nneka's story?
Fum Fum Ko: Ultimately, the premise of the series is very relatable. A lot of people deal with the pressure of trying to live for their parents or please their parents. When stories are relatable, people find joy and comfort in the story. We want people to laugh, we want people to feel joy when they watch the series. We want them to know that they are not the only one.
We want people to know that it is important to do what you feel you need to do and not just do things to please others. You have to live for yourself.
WW: There's a lot of talk about expectations, especially from African parents. Career paths seem narrow for young Africans and if almost every African parent had their way all their kids would be doctors or lawyers, it seems like the series is responding to this in some way, do you agree?
Fum Fum Ko: Yes, it is the time to be creative…especially for millennials. Yes, you are guaranteed a nice salary if you are the right type of lawyer or doctor but there are so many other jobs and careers out there. We believe it is important to do what makes you feel happy.
WW: As a writer and all-around storyteller, what do you think makes a good story?
Fum Fum Ko: Stories that are relatable. Stories that speak to a person’s heart and relate to their truth. People find stories compelling when they can see themselves in the story.
WW: Who are some other writers that you’re inspired by?
Fum Fum Ko: I'm inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Issa Rae, Spike Lee, Duplass Brothers, and more recently the Duffer Brothers (the writers of Stranger Things)
WW: What advice do you have for young African creatives who are looking to turn their crafts into careers?
Fum Fum Ko: Do some research, talk with friends and family and really meditate on whether or not you really want to make your craft a career. Take that first step and just do it! It takes time to receive the fruits of your labor and you most likely will have many obstacles but that is always a part of the journey to success. Be wary of people who try to discourage you, they may be trying to help but sometimes they just can't see your vision.
Watch the show's official trailer below, and don't forget to subscribe and tune in on September 20th for the show's debut!