‘Africans have stories for eternities,’ says Joselyn Dumas, Ghana’s ‘Oprah Winfrey’

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Friday, 30 September 2022 18:01, updated on Wednesday, 5 October 2022 10:05

Joselyn Dumas, 20 July 2022 (photo twitter: @Joselyn_Dumas)

My interview with Joselyn Dumas takes me to a cigar shop on a busy Wednesday evening in London's Canary Wharf. Surrounded by £240 ($273) stogies and a man who rattled on about the cigar-making process, Dumas stands there patiently, with an occasional side glance, and a smile familiar to anyone who has ever watched the 42-year-old Ghanaian TV host and actress.

Ever glamorous, even in a light tank top and jeans with heels, and looking surprisingly fresh for someone from a trip to Ibiza, the jack-of-all-entertainment-trades was due for a well-earned break; and a cigar, apparently.

Dumas began her illustrious career as a paralegal in Ghana, working multiple jobs to fund her love of luxury, she says. After a stint of entrepreneurial courses and project management training schemes, she wanted more.

The big break

Then came her big break in the entertainment industry — as with so many other people, the result of gumption and blind luck.

“My friend told me there was a TV station in Ghana, which had someone leaving and they needed someone to replace her,” she says. “I walked in there, auditioned, and they showed it to the executive producer.”

The next day, she was live on air — her first hosting experience in a list that would eventually include the following: entertainment programme Rhythmz; The One Show, modelled after the long-standing BBC TV talk show; and At Home with Joselyn Dumas.

At Home jump-started a trend of talk shows in the country, earning Dumas the moniker of ‘the Oprah Winfrey of Ghana’, after the famous US talk show host.

“There is nobody in Ghana or any visiting artists that I have not interviewed,” she says. “From Busta Rhymes to Lethal Bizzle — it was really exciting.”

Perfect picture

In another twist of fate – or perhaps good connections – Dumas was called to try out for a role in the 2009 film The Perfect Picture, directed by Shirley Frimpong-Manso.

“I sucked,” Dumas says while laughing. “My most horrible audition.” She ended up with a small cameo in the film.

However, this experience kicked off an acting career that would soon see Dumas star in her most famous role: Jennifer Adams, from the 2011-2012 hit film series Adams Apples. Since then, her acting résumé has had a clear theme at its heart: That of a strong, African woman.

People resonate with my character because it was that little voice inside of you that could tell that man off.

“I played the alter-ego of many African women. We are so reserved because as girls we are taught to be seen and not heard,” she says. “We have to insulate our opinions because, otherwise, you are seen as too forward, aggressive…I hate that word. People resonate with my character because it was that little voice inside of you that could tell that man off. Jennifer was that person.”

Big boom

Dumas’ career has coincided with a boom in African cinema and television.

In 2020, Netflix ran an ad campaign, “Made by Africans, Watched by the World”, promoting African artists and storytelling. Tech giant Meta (formerly Facebook) recently ran a similar campaign in May, “Made by Africans, Loved by the World”, celebrating African creativity.

Dumas says Netflix’s increased investment in the continent means positive things for Ghana. While Nigeria dwarfs its neighbours — Lagos alone is home to 15 million people, half the entire population of Ghana — the success of its movie industry Nollywood – producing ripple effects across the region.

“I am also a producer, and I have seen that cinema culture is dying,” she says. “It started dying in Africa before it started dying in the UK. Nigeria has a huge cinema culture, thankfully. If Nigeria wins, Ghana wins. Netflix sees Nollywood.”

While Hollywood appears to be running out of ideas, she says, Africa is filled with opportunities for fresh storytelling.

“They’re remaking Bible stories now. We have stories for eternities, folklores, kingdoms and chieftaincies,” she says. “There are always social, economic and cultural lessons to learn.”

Political advocacy

After Dumas’ 14 years in the business, one of her crowning achievements has been the creation of the Virgo Sun production company, which creates documentaries, feature films, television shows and ads.

This has allowed Dumas to pursue stories that might not get a popular following on mainstream networks. She is currently working on a project about the stigmatisation of people with HIV, a move that many will see as controversial given Ghana’s history of laws and widespread attitudes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT).

The project is based on a true story, but Dumas says she is still tweaking the script to ensure it is respectful to her inspiration for the story and to the audience.

“If we all say we follow God and God is love, then don’t make people who are different feel like they are different,” she says. “As long as you’re not trying to impose it. People are resigning to suicide because they are being chastised by society.”

Once we start chastising people, then they’re going to come out and show it to our faces

Dumas’ moderate political alignment is also reflected in her opinions on rising youth activism around LGBT issues.

“People that feel like they are not being given their due will protest and we don’t want that in Africa,” she says. “People who are doing it in the privacy of their own home — that’s their business. Once we start chastising people, then they’re going to come out and show it to our faces: ‘This is who we are, accept us or not’. For me, that’s where the conflict is.”

Changing lives

Dumas’ passion for social issues, inspired by her reporting experiences early in her career, has also led her to create a foundation focusing on children in Ghana.

The Joselyn Dumas Foundation’s outreach includes providing exercise books and clean drinking water. Particularly close to her heart is the issue of access to sanitary products; the foundation is working with the US non profit CouldYou? to provide biodegradable menstrual cups to underprivileged girls in rural areas.

In Ghana, 95% of girls occasionally miss school due to menstruation. Barely half the schools surveyed by a non-governmental organisation have “lockable, clean, working latrines” for girls.

Dumas’ involvement with CouldYou? began in 2015 when she starred as a street hawker in the movie Silver Rain. During filming, she met a girl who used a sheath of plastic as a sanitary pad.

“I thought, what can I do to make her life easier?” Dumas says. “I can’t give her sanitary pads every month, even if I give her a one-year supply. I mean, a girl [has] her period from 13 to 45.”

That’s when she got in touch with CouldYou? founder and CEO Christine Garde-Denning.

Change a life

“If I can change one girl’s life a month, if everyone can change one child’s life a month, then the world would be a much better place,” Dumas says.

Dumas has also served as a Royal Commonwealth Society Goodwill Ambassador for Africa and worked with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Global Landscapes Forum, holding climate conversations in Europe to foster relationships between African countries and Western ones.

Climate change and the impact on water bodies, fishing and farming have an economic strain on the farmers, and this impacts their children.

To highlight the threat posed by climate change and the poor management of natural resources, she uses the example of an African family that relies on fishing for its income. With fish stocks dwindling, the daughter would likely have to stop school and look for a job.

“She will probably find some man who gets her pregnant at 16,” Dumas says. “Climate change and the impact on water bodies, fishing and farming have an economic strain on the farmers, and this impacts their children. It’s a ripple effect.”

What’s next?

As we wrap up, Dumas talks about her daughter, who is soon to attend university in the US. I ask Dumas what’s next for her.

She pauses for a while then says: “For the first time in my life, I don’t know what is next… I am excited about the prospects, but I think God is telling me to be still. […].”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options