Diana Dimiri : She Moves In Her Own Way

Diana Dimiri Drawing.jpg

Diana Dimiri is no slouch. In the three years she’s spent on this campus she’s starred in dozens of plays and has directed, produced, costume-designed and written for others. All the while maintaining the image that she’s literally the coolest person you’ll ever meet. Oh and she is, if you didn’t already know.

We meet in her dimly lit living room on a dreary Friday night. She’s dressed up head to toe, like a film star about to head to the Vanity Fair Oscar party. I know from the moment I walk in to her apartment that this conversation will be different to most and not just because of her red-hot leather pants. We’ve also been friends for three years, since we first met in the basement of a house in Evanston, the stench of Skol vodka in our nostrils, as we met other international students as part of a bonding event.

We’ve seen glimpses of each other at our darkest moments. It’s because of this why I feel comfortable to talk with the student prodigy for journalistic purposes. While many traditional reporters would scoff at the idea of a friend interviewing another friend, it is that confidence between us which is why i believe I can speak with her, that and a nearly finished bottle of coffee-flavored gin which we slowly sip before our dinner at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (as featured in this guide). As we speak, Dimiri has a smile on her face, one which is as infectious as her coquettish laugh. It would be easy upon first glance, not to take her seriously, to approach her as a simple drama kid with too much energy. You would be wrong to think this, there’s much beneath the surface to explore. Even with three years under our belts, even I understand that Diana has yet to come into her own, and that makes knowing her even more exciting.

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Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, the opportunities to experience the dramatic arts were few and far between. Yet it was in a traditional English boarding school, in “Speech and Drama” class where she aptly found her voice. Since then, she's taken full advantage of attending Northwestern to expand on her knowledge and experience. 

Diana started her college career with a bang, in the acclaimed show “For Colored Girls.” An emotional artistic vignette, filled with the kind of passion and storytelling that would come to define her short time on campus. Last year she stunned in the often confusing, but always intriguing “Sincerity, Forever.” For the uncultured of us (myself, occasionally included), we didn’t always understand her stint as Jesus (during our interview I referred to her role as ‘the demon’). Yet she speaks with a profound sense of maturity and comprehension. One which you sense few can master at their young age. Yet Dimiri holds herself like a woman not unscathed, yet not bruised by the world. A woman who keeps her experiences close to her chest and her mind, allowing them to inform her actions, her thoughts and her emotions, without victimization or self-pity.

Speaking to her in person you understand that her direction may be guided by a self-determination for others to see the side to the world that she loves. She speaks about wanting to show "Black joy," wanting to have movies with Black astronaughts or characters whose plot has nothing to do with race. This drive has seeped into her own work on campus. 

She picks projects carefully, with an understanding for the type of art she wants to create. When pushed about which type this it, she constructs her answer with poise and an almost forensic attention to detail. “I want to make art that explores the different types of voices in the world, and not just the majority, aren’t you tired of seeing shows of straight white dudes?”

It is this connection that she makes in the work she produces. In her uniquely complex play “In The Continuum”, which she directed in the Fall of 2017, we see intelligent narratives surrounding Black women’s experiences of HIV on an unfiltered display. 

She boldly states that the HIV/AIDS crisis has ignored the black female experience. A problem she identified and attempted to solve with her play. This alone confirms Dimiri’s status as a woman ready to confront the misinformation doled out by the media and by the creative industry.

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At Northwestern, Dimiri has been given the chance to flourish, her weeks filled to the brim with burgeoning projects all feeding her creative bone. Yet, the process of putting on “In The Continuum” proved to be a revealing one. With only a few black women in the dramatic arts at Northwestern, casting proved to be a nightmare. With other projects on campus demanding women of color, the problem was not lack of opportunity, but a lack of talent. Northwestern has inverted the problem of Hollywood, where scores of actors of color look for the scraps given to them by the industry. While in a way this is something to feel good about - with many different projects available to diverse artists, it shows how the university needs to push for more inclusion and diversity in these realms of study. Regardless, Dimiri used the resources at her disposal to make a play that proved to be an emotional rollercoaster, one which few could forget. 

However, before the red carpet is rolled out and the Time 100 blurbs are written, Dimiri has a way to go. She plans to do her masters in cinematography, something she has always aimed for. She lists schools on the West Coast as places her sights are set on, with Hollywood surely the ultimate goal. Yet, her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria remains the environment in which she hopes to make the biggest impact. She says she wants to start a production company and provide a growing talent pool with the kind of choices and opportunity she has been afforded in her education. While many young upstarts in the creative world see the end game as fame and fortune, Dimiri is here to make a legacy and a future for others like her. 

As we wrap up our chat, our uber 5 minutes away, we briefly touch upon the tricky subject of mental health. As an artist Dimiri expresses the need to create in order to reflect on her own state of mind. As a poet, currently working on a collection of pieces which will inform her soon to be completed script for "How Black Girls Fall In Love," many of her life experiences in the last few years have given her food for thought and inspiration. However, she says, the process can be tiresome, cathartic and humbling - all at the same time. She ends our interview intimating that behind her vast creative output is a layer of pain, hurt and frustration. However there's also a large injection of hope and ambition, keeping her on track.

The only way to understand Diana is to not approach her with gloves. She’s a fully formed artist waiting for your emotional maturity and only once you’ve proved your chops in that department are you allowed in. What I’ve learned from Diana is clear: she has an immense ability to be both strong and vulnerable. Two mental characteristics not usually associated with one and other. However Diana is successfully promoting the power in being insecure and self-reflective and the inherent beauty of overcoming the emotional volatility young people face in these troubling times. 

Perhaps that’s the sign of a true artist, one who can redefine how we view and process our emotions. If it is a sign, then we are in the presence of someone truly special.

 

Eish Sumra