Changemakers: Meet Jade Anouka – actor, poet and activist

Jade Anouka is a star of stage and screen – and she combines her acting with activism, including launching the Black Panther Peckham campaign

Jade Anouka is a star of the stage and rising star of the screen. She can currently be seen in Cleaning Up, ITV’s new Thursday night drama with Sheridan Smith, playing Canary Wharf cleaners looking to fill their boots with some of the extreme wealth that surrounds them on a daily basis.

This year, she also plays a DJ in Idris Elba’s new Netflix comedy Turn Up Charlie and appears in promising British film Fisherman’s Friends with Daniel Mays and Tuppence Middleton. Anouka has also previously appeared in Doctor Who, Trauma and Chewing Gum, but it is on the stage where Anouka is best known – particularly as one of the leading lights in Phyllida Lloyd’s groundbreaking, inspiring all-female Shakespeare trilogy at the Donmar Warehouse and on Broadway.

Anouka is also a published poet and regularly performs her work (check out I Am A Woman on YouTube, below), a writer, and has given a TEDTalk (Being Black, Being a Woman, Being Other), right here in Peckham, where we meet.

Like some of her peers, Anouka is combining acting with activism. As her profile becomes bigger and voice becomes louder, she is making active change, kicking off last year with Black Panther Peckham.

I knew there are a lot of young people in the area who could benefit from seeing Black Panther

“When I heard Black Panther was coming out, I just knew it was a massive deal,” she says. “I was always a massive superhero fan but never experienced anything like this. How amazing it would have felt to see this as a teenager. The women in it were so powerful.

“I heard Viola Davis and a few others were hiring cinemas in the States to get young people who couldn’t normally afford it to see the film because they thought it was important. I felt that exact way, that young black people particularly needed to see this film.

“South East London is where I grew up and I knew there are a lot of young people in the area who could benefit from seeing Black Panther. I put up a GoFundMe page, Tweeted it, and it chimed with people.

“So I hired the smallest screen at the Peckhamplex cinema. But as we raised more, we kept upgrading until we got the biggest screen and brought 200 kids to see the film – with free smoothies, free popcorn, and Disney donating some merch.

“It was such a special day. The young people watching it together, with their peers, not having to feel like they were being disruptive – they were very vocal, really responded to the film. And I got friends on board – the actor Paapa Essiedu and one of the stunt girls from the film to be on a Q&A to answer questions about the industry.”

When we did the Shakespeare trilogy, it was a proper shared experience. We felt like we were making change

What’s next – a Black Panther Peckham sequel of sorts? Possibly. But also a push to widen and diversify theatre audiences.

“When we did the Shakespeare trilogy, it was a proper shared experience. We felt like we were making change. And there is much more you can do with theatre – you need to actively engage new audiences.

“We worked in prisons [with the Clean Break Theatre Company] talking about the themes of the plays, performed them in prisons and schools. And the Donmar did free tickets for under 26s to be on the front row – because there is no point doing all this if young people can’t afford to go.

“It was a great start but more of that that can be done in the theatre. We gave some of the money left over from Black Panther Peckham to the Black Ticket Project.

“I remember going to the theatre maybe twice with my school – it was never in my mind to use my money to go to the theatre, it felt like a luxury, it felt elitist.

“It is difficult if you save all your money to go to a big show and you get the cheapest ticket so you are at the back behind a post. It is easy to think you the theatre is not for you. Lots of theatres are trying to expand their audiences – but some have to work harder. Some theatres don’t understand how alien they can feel.

“The more I work, the more say I may have, or the more sway, and the more you can do with it. With Black Panther, it surprised me how many people sat up and listened. It was kinda powerful to realise how much we can do and how relatively easy it is. I mean, I nearly had a heart attack trying to get it done, I am not an organiser. But I jumped in. I told people I was doing it so I had to make it happen. Sometimes that is the best way.”

Photo: Matt Writtle/Eyevine