Many films and television shows driven from the female perspective deal with a lead searching for a romantic companion with funny tidbits along the way in her quest for true love. The genre ‘chick-flick’ although entertaining, tends to portray some two-dimensional female characters that are motivated by little else than their careers and/or romance. On the other hand, there is a typical role for women to be cast as a sexy sidekick in an action-packed adventure. Slowly, Hollywood is stepping away from this type of pigeon-holing, and deeper characters are being written for female leads. The new feature film Shine Bright does just that, and explores the relationship of two sisters dealing with life’s tragedies, love, conflict and surprises. It’s a story about self-discovery and follows how two sisters react differently when faced with grief and their journey to overcome it.
Actress Gioya Tuma-Waku plays Dalia in the film. Dalia is the best friend and right-hand-woman of Genesis, the younger sister in the story, played by Maya Brattkus who is known for her role in the indie film Wild Prairie Rose. They are teens dealing with dating, social media, the pressures of graduating, and enjoying their last year in high school.
“I wanted to be in this film because it’s a beautiful story about the bond between sisters and their journey overcoming pain and grief. I love female driven stories or any stories that have strong female leads because this industry is mostly male driven and as a woman, I enjoy stories that I can relate to and stories that are written from our perspective but that are not clichéd and those are the kind of roles I want to be seen in,” said Tuma-Waku.
The film is written and directed by James Avelar, known for the 2008 film Look at Me, and who also owns the production company Calixtro Films. Avelar describes working with Tuma-Waku as a delight, saying the moment he met her, he knew she would be an integral part to his film. Now, he wants to work with her on all his future films.
“Good actors are very hard to come by. When I met Gioya to go over the role, I knew she was that character. Given that the character was a teenager and Gioya is not, her youthfulness and innocence was the right look I needed for the character. She became a teenager, and it is not that easy for most actors who are over 21 to go back and live and act like a teenager,” said Avelar. “Gioya is also a great improviser. She came up with dialogue that helped the scene, which made it better, and made her character more believable. What makes her a great actress also, is her interaction with the other actors. She was giving, caring and helpful in any way to move the story along. Coming to rehearsals, editing dialogue, even reading other parts when the other actors could not show up for rehearsals.”
Tuma-Waku is originally from the Congo, but was raised in South Africa. She wanted to work on the film because it is a coming-of-age but is female driven, describing the importance of Hollywood starting to diversify, and that includes gender just as much as it includes ethnicity and culture. This is something that Avelar captured in his story.
“James is a wonderful director because he allows you to take he’s written on the page and combine it with your own imagination and script. It was great to be allowed the freedom to add certain things while still adhering to the essence of the script. Some directors don’t allow you to deviate at all from the script but James wanted us to use our natural instincts. And when your character is a teenager, you want to be able to play around with her and be a little silly because the age calls for it,” said Tuma-Waku.
Being silly while playing Dalia was definitely fun for Tuma-Waku. Dalia is a teenager who loves to party and is very techno savvy, but is also a good student and she looks out for her best friend. Although she is playing a teenager, Tuma-Waku says there are similarities between herself and her character.
“Dalia is very protective her best friend and will be the first to raise any concerns she has about people who she thinks are a good influence. I get pretty protective of my close friends too. I don’t like or want anyone messing with their happiness,” said Tuma-Waku. “I could also be a lot quirkier with her dress sense, which is similar to how I used to dress but have grown out of it.”
Tuma-Waku has also appeared in a webisode of Pre-Dates, and an improv based short called Dr. Brown where she was able to go back to her African roots as well as an original theatre piece called Circles in which captured the audience in the leading role at the well known James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance. She has also been cast in a pilot called Up The Ladder and is currently filming two webseries called Dreamchaserz, where she is cast in the supporting role and The Palms Series, where the lead role was offered to her by the producer whom she had previously worked with on Pre-Dates.
Shine Bright also stars actress Rebecca Grimes, playing the older sister Andie. Grimes immediately thought of Tuma-Waku and recommended her for the role, knowing the talent and versatility that Tuma-Waku possesses as an actress.
“When you find people who you work well with, you stick with them,” said Tuma-Waku. “You see this happening every day in the industry, even with the biggest stars and directors, because you know the kind of quality of work you will get, and I got to work with amazing people.”
Shine Bright is currently in post-production and expected to premiere later this year. There is no doubt that with such an impactful storyline and strong cast, it will be making its way through the film festival circuit.
“I wish people would support indies like these more often. Because these are the people who have a dream and no funding but find a way to barely make it work because they are so passionate and eager to tell their story and share it with everyone,” Tuma-Waku concluded. “This is a beautiful film about two sisters who had to rely on each other and are forced to grow up too fast, and should be seen by people, especially the younger generation, because it’s something that actually happens a lot more than it is talked about.”