Born in Ibadan, Nigeria, Yetide Badaki has always had a story to tell. Coming from a family of storytellers, her family would gather for story time when the power would cut out. An unfortunate and common occurrence in that country. Then Badaki’s father would often captivate the family with his larger-than-life storytelling.
“In these moments when the lights were out, we would take it as a cue to go out into the backyard and the elders would just start telling us stories,” Badaki remembered. This family ritual would be instilled into Badaki and would take it with her for the rest of her life.
After moving to the United States to pursue acting, it would take Badaki a decade to land her role as Bilquis, more commonly known as, The Queen of Sheba in the Starz series, American Gods. This cadre of character actors all share the fact that they have played black or brown queens, who have been whitewashed for a mainstream audience. Mainstream Hollywood didn’t believe that black women could sell themselves, let alone an actress with Nigerian lineage.
“There was a pure geek-out moment, pure joy on getting to play something so layered and so complex,” Badaki said about the role. “We don’t often get to see ourselves portrayed as the gods and goddesses that we are. The initial moment was a blerd (black nerd) moment. Having had the joy of knowing the works of Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor, I just had to celebrate for a moment,” she said.
Badaki came in and blew the established Hollywood system out of the water by delivering a memorable and uncompromising performance.
Story runs in her veins
But as all things do, Badaki’s time as the goddess, Bilquis, would come to an end. American Gods would end its run following a third season. That didn’t stop this born storyteller from continuing to tell stories of regalia. Most recently Badaki has partnered with executive producer, 50 Cent, A.K.A, Curtis Jackson, for their newest series, Queen Nzinga, a Starz TV show centered around the famous queen herself.
“You are going to see moments on TV that you have never seen before. It’s going to be gritty, hard-hitting, and action-filled,” Badaki said.
There are other projects Badaki has in the works. The most recent being the announcement of her newest series, Najivamp, a series about a Nigerian vampire that is also being developed simultaneously with a comic book by Payback Entertainment. Badaki is once again bringing to life a story not seen by mainstream Hollywood.
A full Nigerian renaissance has hit the world and it is not apologizing. Other recent accomplishments include the casting of Nigerian-descended, Ncuti Gatwa, as the titular British hero, “The Doctor”, from the long-running TV series, “Doctor Who”.
“This level of creativity and art, as well as inspiration and passion for storytelling in all forms, has always been there, people are just now noticing on a larger scale,” Badaki said.