INTERVIEW: Neomi Ng’ang’a
The Kenyan actress chats to us about her roles, her challenges, her status as a plus-size fashion icon and her passion for empowering other women.
There is no one quite as sassy as Neomi Ng’ang’a … not anyone that I have met, anyway. Just check out her Instagram page, and I guarantee, you will feel inadequate. Maybe envious. It’s not her flawless stylish pictures that intrigue you, it’s the confidence in her own body and in her model poses – the kind that could easily grace the cover of a fashion magazine. Lucky for us TV lovers, she brings this fierceness, style and sass to Sumu La Penzi, currently available for streaming on Showmax.
Also featuring other beauties Serah Ndanu, Avril, and Joyce Maina, Sumu La Penzi is still Kenya’s sexiest show ever made. In this exclusive interview, Neomi Ng’ang’a, who plays the high-end pimp Ama, tells us why four urban women navigating the hectic and treacherous life in Nairobi City was a story that needed to be told.
You’re not only an actress: you’re also now a fashion icon. Tell us about your journey getting here.
Being an actress was my first love and I have never left it. While I was still in production, people would ask me about my outfits and how I felt so comfortable in everything I wore. Others would stop me in the streets while some fans on my social media pages would ask questions about where I shopped and how I dressed my body. That really got me inspired, it only meant there was a big gap that needed to be filled in the fashion industry for plus-size women. And my own Style by Neomi was born. We customise and tailor designs for all women but our main focus is the curvy African woman.
Tell us more about the challenges you had to face to get where you are today.
People embraced Style by Neomi the moment it was launched; I was attracting clients from countries like Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and even the USA. But I faced some challenges; other fashion designers were not very receptive to my idea because I was still starting out. Also, some people were unwilling to represent me because they’d be stereotyped as “fat”. As a plus-size fashion designer, it wasn’t easy to dress celebrities who wanted to be perceived in a certain way rather than curvy. And of course, sourcing material locally was quite expensive.
That’s one of the best things I’ve heard so far. We wrapped up production about four years ago and my fans have been on my case asking if we are coming back on air again or not. Now I can tell them that they can watch the whole of Season 1 on Showmax. It’s the best thing really for my fans who loved Sumu la Penzi and the character I played.
There are so many TV shows you can binge-watch on Showmax. What do streaming services like Showmax mean for the industry?
The world is evolving and everything is moving online. Being able to watch your favourite show online and ing your own comfort and at your convenience, on your phone or any device of your choice, that is just making life very easy, fun and more entertaining. It’s a good thing that we are no longer living in those days when you had to rush home to catch a show.
Sumu La Penzi was quite popular among Kenyans when it came out. As a character on the show, why do you think that is?
It was popular because it connected with Kenyans and what they go through on a daily basis. After all, it’s a story about the lives of Nairobi women, everything they go through in love and relationships and how they deal with men and other challenges in their lives.
What makes your character Ama special?
Ama is a learned character, quite an aggressive woman who is good at running her own business and handling everything around her. It’s hard to show it, but deep down she is loving and caring despite her shady business.
If you were to play someone other than Ama on the show, who would it be between Eva, Tindi and Mariam?
It definitely wouldn’t be Eva, she’s too emotional and that is draining. Tindi is sweet but she has zero exposure. I’d go with Mariam because I like putting people in their place, especially men who take women for granted.
You also had a role in the naughty Fundimentals which is also on Showmax. Tell us more!
It took a lot for me to accept this role but it was a good challenge. Fundimentals was a brilliant, funny movie and we were confident as a production to showcase life in Nairobi as it is. Again, for my fans who keep asking where they can find it, I’ll be happy to direct them to Showmax.
Wow, Demigods, that was so long ago. The story was deep, it wasn’t like any normal show. I played Sarah Hassan’s mother, a woman who for a long time was in denial about her husband continually raping her daughter. It was one of those characters that take you on an emotional journey throughout the entire production. Every time I came on set, I would take some time to myself just so I could take in my character. I had to buy into the character and put myself in that situation. It took a lot from me but I enjoyed the whole experience.
What can you say has been the most defining moment in your career?
Every chance I get is a defining moment, that means I’m headed in the right direction and I am doing the best that I can. But my greatest moment of satisfaction was when I created Team Curvy Kenya, and I started bringing plus-size women together on a platform where they could share their ideas and be empowered to be ambassadors of confidence. Whenever I get these messages from women all over telling me how I have inspired them and changed their lives, I think those are my best moments. Team Curvy Kenya is something that is very close to my heart because I know the struggles and the challenges these women go through. I’ve heard their stories – some have gone through divorce or career changes because of their weight.
What’s next for Neomi Ng’ang’a?
I want to take Team Curvy to the next level and make a reality show out of it. I also want to expand Style by Neomi by moving to fashion runways and collaborating with other countries to make it even bigger. I am also coming up with fashion academies so I can nurture plus-size fashion stylists in Kenya.