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Susan Wokoma: ‘New black talent deserves to be cultivated’

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Susan Wokoma is smart, personable, and very funny – and she knows all about standing out as a bright spark in the comedy world. From playing an annoying younger sister in Chewing Gum, to a bad-ass demon hunter in Crazyhead, Susan knows how to make her mark on each sitcom she appears in. She tells Pride about her latest projects for screen and stage – and her ultimate goal for when she’s in her sixties… 

I’m in a West End show right now – and loving it. In Labour of Love, I play a woman called Margot over the course of 27 years. First, we see Margot as a young, cool constituent in the area, and then she eventually becomes deputy leader of the local Labour council. She’s someone who’s far away from the Westminster version of politics, someone from the local community who is very passionate and just decides to get involved. They’re the sort of people you admire, who really want to get stuck in and make a change – and you see how her views really change over time. And she’s very funny. 

I’m political by default. I think I realised that about three years ago – being a woman, a black woman, a working class black woman, there are so many structures and decisions that are directly infringing upon my rights, whether it’s sexism, racism, missing out on opportunities. I became political a few years ago because I thought it’d be much better to be well versed in the things that are affecting me, rather than staying blissfully unaware.

Susan as Margot in ‘Labour of Love’ (Photo: Johan Persson)

With black creatives, there’s a pressure to get your project exactly right the first time. That makes me sad – because the way to cultivate new black talent is to say ‘here’s a chance! And here’s another’ – getting the same amount of continued opportunities as our white friends and colleagues. We aren’t afforded that. It’s almost like, if it works the first time, awesome; if it doesn’t work, there’s your chance gone. That’s something I’d like to see changed, because I feel if you make a mistake, or if your project doesn’t necessarily take off, it helps you learn. New black talent deserves to be cultivated in the same way other talent is. 

I think black women are getting more of a chance to show their silly side… and it’s down to work like Chewing Gum, and [black women] feeling empowered to write their own stories. Everybody loves a success, and if they see something working, other channels are going to take notice. Chewing Gum has paved the way. Daniel Lawrence Taylor [creator of Timewasters], who’s been around for ages, he’s been part of this build-up too – and people are catching on more and more. 

I’m writing, myself, at the moment. I have one pilot in the works here, and another in the States – I’m very excited, because that was always the end game. I love acting so much, but I’ve always imagined myself in my sixties, writing and getting my ideas commissioned. That’s the dream.

I’m loving the range of characters I’m getting to play! I’m in a show for the Dave channel called Porters, about three hospital porters and the things they get up to. It’s quite ridiculous at times, but dark because these things are based on real things that actually happen in hospitals – not everyone gets out alive, you know? But I was excited about my part on Porters, because it was originally written for a guy – but it’s now played by a woman! It’s one of those small victories, and evidence that people are opening their minds. The leads of a show don’t have to be three men! And hey, one can be a black woman as well.

Susan Wokoma can be seen in Labour of Love, on now until 2 December 2017 at the Noël Coward Theatre, London.

Profile photo of Nicole Vassell

Nicole is Pride's Entertainment and Features Editor; favourite topics include Beyoncé, where to get dinner, and musical theatre.

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