Austin’s Modern Woman: Funmi Ogunro

Her name is Olufunmilay Ogunro, but you can call her Fum Fum. The Austin native shone like a jewel as she recently wrapped production on her short film, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? NAIJA EDITION. It’s a rendition of the classic Sidney Poitier film, but this time, the family is Nigerian American.

“In the film, Ade is a young Nigerian woman with a good life, family, friends and career. She battles between introducing her new love to her family and leaving town. It’s a dark comedy that reexamines the boundaries of love,” Ogunro says. “It’s inspired by my life and some of my friends’ lives.”

The film also features original art by DJ Mahealani portraying John Coltrane, the jazz saxophonist and composer who is attributed as once saying, “My goal is to live the truly religious life and express it in my music.” Tigre Liu’s portrait of three-octave jazz singer Elle Fitzgerald is also in the film. A customized Nigerian-inspired painting by Liu is being posterized, and Ogunro is offering a signed copy as a Kickstarter reward in the effort to crowd-fund the project, get it edited, premiered at a local venue (hopefully at The Marchesa in the old Lincoln theatre, or maybe at the Carver Museum and Cultural Center in East Austin), and submitted to film festivals including the Austin Film Festival, the African American Film Festival, Tribeca and Sundance.

Ogunro’s father is Nigerian and her mother is from Detroit. As a child, Ogunro spent summers at her mother’s literacy non-profit in East Austin, where her dad’s office was also located. Ogunro now lives on the East Side and says she can relate to DO THE RIGHT THING director Spike Lee’s February speech at the Pratt Institute, which has been criticized in the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS for bemoaning the presence of white “hipsters” in Brooklyn, an area from which Lee moved in the nineties.

“I listened to some of his speech, and I understand his frustration,” Ogunro says. “I agree with his frustration about gentrification and people moving in and disregarding the culture that’s already there. I am already stressed out by living in Austin with a relatively small Black population, and it hurts to see gentrification happen. So, I don’t think his statement was hateful or a ‘rant.’ It was his truth and comes from a place of hurt.”

From her home in East Austin, Ogunro plans to bike or take the Metrorail to SXSW this week, accompanied by her sister who lives in Pflugerville but is spending the week in Austin for the annual spring conference that features film and interactive and music festivals. Ogunro uses the conference’s volunteer opportunities to network with other Austinites.

“Anybody who knows me knows I love South By Southwest so much,” Ogunro says. “I am a volunteer…it is such a great networking opportunity. My two film producers and photographer, I met at South By last year. I always look forward to the Blacks In Technology events especially because you do not usually see that much in Austin in terms of Black events.”

This year, MVMT50 will host the Blacks in Technology (BIT) events. Mvmt50 is the new name adopted to distinguish the Austin event from what has become a nationwide term for bringing together African American innovators. MVMT50 bills itself as “a coalition of African American and people of color in technology organizations and industry thought leaders,” and alternatively as a connector for “black creators + innovators + disrupters.” The MVMT50 SXSW line-up this year includes panels, parties and mentor sessions.

Ogunro’s other work includes directing the afterschool enrichment program at Rodriguez Elementary and hosting FUNMI & FRIENDS, a locally produced SESAME-STREET style show that teaches kids about nutrition through episodes featuring Funmi and her puppet friends. Book People on Lamar, Texas’ largest independently owned bookstore, will soon begin selling the show’s DVDs, though no new episodes are currently in production.

“The most popular episode is our Beyoncé episode,” Ogunro says. “In the episode, we want to make our own version of Beyoncé’s LET’S MOVE video, and a puppet named Juliebee and I argue about who should be Beyoncé. A friend (DeAndré Upshaw) comes out and says he should be Beyoncé. During the argument, Juliebee’s wig comes off. So, we have a singing contest and, of course, Juliebee wins.”

In April, Ogunro will begin filming the JUNETEENTH JAMBOREE, directed by Michael Emery for KLRU. It’s her fourth year to host the program that will air around June 19, the day that is the oldest known celebration of the end of American enslavement of Africans. This year, Ogunro will host from the Robertson Plantation and meet a family that has emotional connection to the plantation, while informing viewers about African American history, including Bell County’s Jeff Hamilton, who was a personal servant to Texas legend Sam Houston, as well as about Clyde McQueen, who wrote a book about African American churches in Texas.

“When I started filming JUNETEENTH JAMBOREE in 2010, that’s when I realized that I could not just be a director and producer, I could be a host,” Ogunro says. With her glowing complexion and captivating smile, we wonder she didn’t realize sooner. Ogunro is a testament that she lives by her motto: “Eat well, and Keep it Moving.”

Those interested in supporting GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? NAIJA EDITION have until Mar. 23 to contribute through Kickstarter. Learn more about Funmi & Friends on her website.

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