Fola Evans-Akingbola Talks … Untold Stories: Hair on Set

Fola Evans-Akingbola, is an actress known for roles in Netflix’s “The Night Agent” and Amazon’s “Ten Percent,”.

However she’s stepping from in front of the camera to behind it with her first project “Untold Stories: Hair On Set.” This powerful documentary acquired by Sky UK&I delves into the untold struggles of Afro hair on film sets, featuring exclusive interviews with industry stars.

The film aims to be a celebration and catalyst for positive change in the entertainment industry. We spoke to Fola about the importance of its existence and what it took to bring it to life …

Please introduce yourself …

I’m Fola Evans-Akingbola. I’m a South-East London girl, born and raised. I am a storyteller by way of acting and now directing/producing.

Tell us a bit about Good Girl Productions … 

I started Good Girl Productions in 2021 so that I could have more creative control over the stories that I want to put out into the world. Rather than complain when I don’t see what I want to see on screen, I want to put my money where my mouth is, and create those stories myself. 

Why was Untold Stories: Hair on Set the first project you decided to make?

Untold Stories: Hair on Set was a project born out of frustration and necessity. For years I had been speaking with my loved ones about this issue on sets and how I want to do something about it. It got to the point where enough of them were saying to me, “So go do it” I didn’t have a choice but to focus on this project first. Urgent change is needed around the subject of Afro/Curly hair on set and so to kick this project down the road and delay it just wasn’t an option. 

What’s your role on the project? 

This was a self-funded project, so because the core team was a small team, we all played multiple roles. For me it was, co-director, executive producer, producer, and presenter.

Afua Hirsch & Fola Akingbola – Untold Stories: Hair on Set

Being an actress how have you navigated those moments when the hair team didn’t get it? Have you been the type to speak up or have you suffered in silence? 

A combination of the two. Very often I suffer in silence or secretly try to fix it myself in my trailer. I would sometimes do my hair myself before I arrive on set so that minimal work has to be done by the team. However, in the past 2-3 years I have started trying to be more vocal and express to the hair team what I need and what isn’t working. Even though I shouldn’t have to, if I don’t say something how will they know I’m not happy? Making this documentary has definitely forced me to advocate for myself more in those moments. It can be challenging and uncomfortable but communication is always going to help the situation. It’s important for me to say that most hair teams are made up of wonderful, kind people who are very talented at what they do. The issue for some of them is about skillset in this particular area and lack of knowledge about textured hair. 

Tell us about your team …

This project wouldn’t have manifested into what it is now without so many people. From the crew and contributors to the locations or organisations that let us film with them and everyone in between. That being said, I have to shout out Jordan Pitt and Lee Daley from One Umbrella Productions. They were the most incredible, hardworking and reliable collaborators. We often shot long hours at the weekends but they always believed in the film and kept a positive energy. I also want to shout out Andy Mundy Castle from Doc Hearts. He came on board and was instrumental in getting this project over the line. We were very lucky to have someone so accomplished and experienced give us their time and wisdom. It has truly been a case of, “teamwork makes the dreamwork”. 

What does the story of Untold Stories: Hair on Set mean to you personally? 

Initially I was very resistant to being in front of camera so much for this documentary, but Jordan really encouraged me to put more of my personal perspective into the film. The film is a love letter to my curls and a commitment to treat them better. It has been incredibly therapeutic making this film because the subject of my hair has been key to helping me think through my identity, my mixed-race heritage, and my sense of belonging. The project is my small contribution to the work that has been going on for decades around race, identity and our hair and I hope it adds a new perspective to the conversation. 

Tell us about a challenging moment during Untold Stories: Hair on Set that you had to dig deep to get through it? 

The filming days themselves were heaven and each interview day always encouraged us to keep going. I always left those interviews reinvigorated. The hard part was keeping the momentum going in between, and finding the money and time to keep moving forward. It was easy to get tired and feel disheartened when things weren’t moving as quickly as I would have liked. I think the final few months were the hardest because I instinctively knew we needed to push it over the finish line and have it completed before Black History Month – but time was against us, money was dwindling and we were all tired. Nevertheless, even in the challenging moments, it was the most incredible process and I learnt so much. 

 Lee MJ Daley, Andy Mundy-Castle, Fola Akingbola & Jordan Pitt – Untold Stories: Hair on Set

Tell us a memorable moment from idea to final edit? 

It’s hard to choose, but for me it was in 2022. I was in Canada and I interviewed a young Canadian actress called Izzy Birch. She’s about 7 years old, she’s incredible and already so successful. Hearing her speak so playfully and lovingly about her hair was such a joy and yet, even at her young age, she had already had negative experiences on set with her hair. The next generation should not be going through these same demoralising things with their hair. If that happens then we’ve all failed. It was after speaking with her that I profoundly felt that I was doing the right thing by making this film. Izzy’s slow-motion portrait is in the documentary, but unfortunately her full interview didn’t make it into the film because we chose to focus on British talent. She is 100% a star to keep an eye on. We’ll be seeing her on the big screen very soon, I have no doubt. Hopefully with her hair looking fabulous too.

Which scene best defines what you love about this project and its significance? 

It is not one scene for me – it is all the actor contributions as a collection that define what I love about the film. The community and love that we all have for the topic is very telling. It is easy to think this is a superficial film about hair on glamourous million dollar sets, but actually it’s a deeply personal subject close to many people’s hearts. The calibre of actors willing to give their time and energy to sit down on camera and speak about it is testament to the significance of the subject matter. I love that we’ve all come together to speak on camera about something that has been whispered about behind closed doors for so long. What has been happening on sets is a microcosm of society and I think people who have nothing to do with the entertainment industry will still be able to relate to what the film is about at its core: how everyday frictions that you might gloss over can in fact reveal something deeper about race, identity, and what it means to be different in a place you call home. 

Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?

I always knew that alongside my acting career I wanted to also be behind the camera telling stories. My first short film, Grandma’s 80th Surprise, that I co-directed with Curtis Lum whet my appetite for directing. I knew I wanted to make a longer film but I had no idea that it would be a documentary and I had no idea it would be about hair on set! I view this as the beginning – longevity and building a body of work is the goal. 

What’s next? 

I have two films coming out next year that I acted in – Back in Action for Netflix which stars Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz; and Upgraded for Amazon which stars Marisa Tomei and Camila Mendes. Behind the camera, I will get back to writing the next draft of a fiction feature film that I’ve been working on. 

How do we keep up to date with you and your work? 

Instagram: @folaevansakingbola 

Untold Stories: Hair on Set is available to watch on Sky Documentaries and NOW.


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