Amanda Dara is many things; eloquent, confident, self-aware and all-around brilliant. She is also a woman who has mastered the art of making lemonade out of the lemons life throws at her. This conversation holds a mirror to the unsurprising yet dangerous standards upheld by the society we live in.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Amanda Dara. I am a TV personality, an actress and an entrepreneur. I studied Computer Information Systems at Babcock University and graduated in 2015. I didn’t practice what I studied and went on to become a TV host at Rave TV for about a year. After my service year, I decided to try my hands at making a name for myself in the media industry and after so many trials and errors, I got a job at EbonyLife where I hosted a TV show. I participated in a competition with thousands of people and I came out as one of the top 3 winners to host a show called moment Z which was under ‘Moments With Mo’.
How did you end up in entrepreneurship?
In 2017, I decided to start up my own business called Dara Naturals – which at the time was an online organic skincare brand. We started with two products; coconut oil and raw honey and built up from that. At the time, I wanted it to be a platform where you can get all kinds of organic products and distribute them to other people as well, but that kind of changed as time went on. By October, Dara Naturals will be four years in business.
Amazing! Congratulations! So you’re now a full-time entrepreneur?
Well… I still have my brand as a red carpet host. I joined TVC, and I host an entertainment show from 12 to 2 pm daily. I’ve also ventured into acting; I played a small role in Castle and Castle and Wallflower. I have done a couple of other movies that are coming out soon. I’ve also done some modelling on the side as well as social media influencing. This is essentially what my journey has been since I finished university till now in a nutshell.
Wow! That’s quite the resumé and this is all after you studied something completely away from your current career path at Uni… How did you make that decision?
So studying Computer Information Systems at Babcock University was almost automatic for me. I was one of those kids that had a computer when I was 10. I had a desktop in my room even though we didn’t own a TV. Well, we had a TV but it was broken and nobody ever fixed it because we all had internet in our rooms and we seemed okay with that. So, I was just always on my computer system playing games, and watching all sorts of things on YouTube. As a teenager, when people asked me “what do you want to be?“, I already knew what I wanted to be. There were two options. I liked to plant, it was very funny. I used to plant corn and beans and yam in our house and I would tell them “oh you don’t need to buy anymore”, so it was between studying agriculture or studying IT. It was just me following what I thought was my hobby, it wasn’t anything so deep.
I entered school at 15, and I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do. I just knew that I enjoyed the tech space. I wanted to study computer science but my dad discouraged me. He told me to study Computer Information systems, that it is better I learn a bit of the business of IT. So, in CIS – unlike Computer Science – we learn the basics of coding, programming, website designing, networking, database but we also do things like macroeconomics, microeconomics, accounting, labour economics, cost accounting, financial accounting. So, you learn the business side of it as well.
This is my first time hearing of that course. Thank you for teaching me something new. Going into this tech space, you genuinely thought it was what you wanted to do. Did this opinion change in school or after school?
So when I was in school, I had this lecturer that taught me C. It is a programming language that’s outdated right now. I remember she asked us to develop a program to calculate how much your boyfriend loves you. Our classes were super chilled and fun. She came from the UK, I enjoyed IT. But by the time I entered the 200 and 300 levels, I started having some lecturers that were very boring and annoying.
At 400 level, I realized that I was thriving in courses like e-commerce, modelling and simulation, etc. I was thriving more in the economic parts of my course than the development part like the programming, website designing and the rest. So let’s say I would have a B or an A in an economics course, I would have a C in an IT course. I think I just realized that this is not bad but I think I’m going to go along the lines of marketing these products rather than developing them. I thought that that was what I was going to go into at the time and that’s what I was trying to focus on. After school, I did my IT in a place called Data Sciences where I carried out a ton of data entry. I was so bored out of my mind that one day, I just decided, “okay this thing is not for me”. I didn’t plan on leaving IT entirely, I just wanted to focus on a particular aspect of it. So, maybe if I was still in it, I would have been more of the front end than the backend.
But you did leave IT entirely…
I did. My getting into presenting is a very funny story too. I went to braid my hair at a salon opposite a TV station, I came out and someone approached me and asked, “have you ever done TV before?” and I said no. Then he said, “You look like you would be a good tv presenter” and that was it. That was how I got that job.
Wow! Just like that?
Yeah. I had never done media before. I had just finished school. I had not even gotten my certificate because I was waiting at home for graduation. It was just very exciting. I was like “oh what do you mean presenter? As in I should just be talking?” I thought it was easy until I did my first show: it was a 4-minute segment and we shot for like 7 hours! No jokes! I was so bad at it. But I got better at it and that’s how I made the switch. It wasn’t planned – most of the things that happen in my life are not planned to be honest. It’s just me following the vibe.
So, after this opportunity fell in your lap, did you become intentional about getting into the media world or did it take another miracle to spark your interest?
I became more intentional. When I served, I worked in Trend FM radio station. I tried to keep it along that line and I tried to apply for a lot of jobs, and that’s when I applied for Ebony Life as well. In between that process, I went to FRCN and I got a little bit of training, but that was just like two months. I think I have learnt more on the job than any other thing.
The way I see it, being in the media is quite related to acting. Would you say that being a presenter first sort of helped you delve into acting?
Oh definitely. I feel like acting is putting on a persona that isn’t you – putting it on confidently and making it believable. I feel like first of all, you have to have your confidence which I had already gotten from being in the media and all of that. Talking to so many people, interviewing so many people; gives you the confidence to try out new things. You know you can sell anything with confidence. So, I think that that helped, and then obviously, I started small. So, in castle and castle, I was an extra that had maybe like 5 lines. I was able to watch great acts like RMD and Dakore do their thing and learn from them. I am one of those people that I can learn from watching so I think I have been able to study a lot of people.
Sometime last year though, I got the opportunity on a set. It was a series and I was playing a lead – it is not yet out. I had to get formal training for that, so I got formal training on acting, like a crash course in December last year. I think that that formal training opened my eyes to the theory of what I had been practicalizing…like oh this is why you have to do this. I am a fast learner and once I understood the basics of why I was acting the way I was acting, I think it made me a better actor.
How many movies have you been in?
About 5 to 10
Not bad. Do you think you have an edge when it comes to getting jobs as a presenter or an actress?
Definitely. When I got my ebony life job, Denrele was one of my judges, and he said ” she is telegenic!”. There is something called telegenic, it is an added advantage. I think your physical advantage does help, it is just like what gets you the attention for the first few seconds, but what comes out of your mouth is what will keep the person. So, that helped me get the attention, but when I look back 6 years ago – when I weigh myself as a presenter now and then – I would say I’m like 100 times better. I don’t know if I’d watch myself then.
Haha! I was very shy, reserved, I wasn’t so confident, but you know, you grow with these things. I was lucky to have a team that coached me. The person that picked me to do that first job was the director of the show. So, he and I used to have one-on-one classes where he would be like “stay in this position and present”. “Oh you did it wrong, do it again and again and again”. It might not have been formal training but I did get training from this person, and that’s why I always mention him because he is a huge part of the story. Not a lot of people will take that time to do that but I believe I was just lucky. He took the risk with me like I like this person and I think I want to bring her up to speed. I was the youngest on set, I was 19 at the time.
You used the word telegenic. Also, it was my first time hearing it but its meaning is apparent. So, what about the disadvantages of getting jobs? Are there any?
Oh yeah, this same thing that we just talked about; being telegenic.
Interesting. How so?
It is a blessing and a curse. A lot of people just think because you are in this industry, “she is just a fine girl, she no gets sense“. They tend to undermine your capacity or your skill because they feel what are you even bringing to the table? so you have to constantly prove yourself like I can do this! I have done this! The things that they would ask a male presenter is not what they would ask a female presenter. They would most likely feel like he knows what he is doing more than she knows what she is doing and she is just there because she is fine. So, even if you are good, you still have to prove yourself.
But, it is also because, if I am being honest, like in every profession, there are people who have also gotten to where they are without the skill but based on how they look. But whether you are fine or not, that is just the first 3 seconds. When you turn on the TV and you see a very beautiful actress, that is just the first 3 secs. When she opens her mouth and she is super boring, you change the channel. Or maybe you give her 10 more seconds and then you’re like “what’s this one talking about? Next!” Unless she distracts you further with her outfit, her shoes. Then when you move on from her outfit, you move on to the set that she is in, if it is a beautiful location. Maybe you now move on to the people she is acting with, maybe that person too is fine. All of that is just going to buy you like a minute tops. After that minute, you will be like “What’s happening here? This thing is boring mtcheew Next!”. So, I feel like some people who have developed just one part of themselves (the physical) and didn’t develop the other part, make it difficult for you to put your stance and say I am worthy of this because I know what I’m doing. So, that has been one of my challenges.
You can’t also wing it. Like you want to go for a pitch, you don’t dress up, you don’t wear your nice shoes, your lashes, or get your makeup done and you want to go and be doing what? It is an industry that judges you based on how you look. So, perception is everything and that personally can lead to a lot of pressure. So, it is a blessing and a curse
Any specific example where your capacity was questioned based on your looks?
Definitely. That’s the story of my life even before I started a career in presenting. I remember when I was in the university and I got one of the highest grades that semester, a lecturer was like “who did you copy from because obviously, you don’t know anything”. I was confused. It’s now become something I don’t take note of anymore because it is now a part of my life. You just tend to develop a thick skin and say “I have nothing to prove to this person. I know my worth” So, I close my eyes to it. I don’t read those kinds of comments, I don’t check my DMs. But it’s something that happens so often that speaking about one particular experience is a bit hard. It is just one of the realities of being a “desirable” woman in the media industry. I don’t think there are any of my colleagues that will say otherwise.
Unfortunately, the industry is highly focused on looks. Too much is at stake for the price of desirability.
Exactly. For me, I started to look at it as a foot in the door. Like if you wanna see the glam, no wahala. I will glam up for you, wear nice clothes, shoes, perfume… Then I will open my mouth and speak sense.
Ha! I like that
That’s just the way I decided to take it. I decided to make lemonade out of it. Because when you think about some of the doors that open up to you or some of the people you meet just because you are good looking, it is ridiculous. Like you don’t even have to schedule a formal meeting. Like you are just there, sitting at a wedding and some person comes to sit beside you or sends his card over. So you can decide to think “oh my God, they are insulting me” or you can decide to make lemonade out of lemons and be like well, I don’t have anything to do with you right now, but when I decide to launch one big thing somewhere, I will invite you. That’s my approach to life.
That’s an interesting way to use pretty privilege. You recently opened a spa, congratulations. How do you handle it all? Have you ever thought about quitting one of the things you do?
So I used to work 4 to 5 days but I now work twice a week, I changed my contract. For acting, if I have to act for maybe 2 weeks, I take days off from work or I try to work it around my schedule. For my business, I’ve had to employ some spa therapists and I now have a wonderful team. I try to bridge that gap between employer and employee where we are just like friends but we are getting work done and it works for me. A lot of them take it as their own side business which is fine by me too.
For instance, we clocked a month recently, and we did well for our first month in business, and I gave everybody a bonus. Those are the kind of things I do to kinda encourage them like thank you so much for taking my business like yours. Recently, I introduced a system where if you bring in a client, you get 10% of the revenue and it will be added to your salary. I do these kinds of things because I know what it’s like in Nigeria and I know I’m not going to sit there and neglect the other things I do. So, that is my way of cheating the system. Sometimes it does get very overwhelming and some things suffer.
What does the future look like for the Amanda Dara Brand and your skincare brand?
For Amanda Dara, I see the future hosting plenty of shows, acting in big movies and growing to become a relevant person. I prefer to use the word relevant rather than famous. And of course, earn a better income. escalating what is already there to a much bigger platform such that you don’t even have to introduce yourself when you go to certain places, that’s the dream. Then for my skincare brand, I am trying to push affordable luxury for the spa where instead of spa treatments looking like something you have to save up for on your birthday, it looks like something you say “oh I have 2 hours to kill, let me go get a facial”. Bringing affordable luxury into the spa system is my aim. Then spreading out beyond Lagos, having a spot in other states. There is a market there, I think Lagos is already saturated.
Thank you very much for chatting with me. This was such an interesting conversation, I’m glad we did it. I can’t wait to see the amazing things you do, and in my little corner, I’ll be rooting for Amanda Dara.
Let me be honest, I am concerned about an industry that requires people to have beauty currency to excel, and yet, turns around and enforces a stereotype on them. It seems to me that just like in other fields, women in the media cannot win, regardless. First, you must meet the beauty standard, which implies that women who are fat, disabled or dark-skinned are already at a natural disadvantage given the fatphobic, ableist and colourist nature of our society. And even women like Amanda Dara, who hold this beauty currency, spend a good part of their career proving themselves over and over again to people who believe that “beauty” and “capacity” cannot coexist. The common denominator is being a woman and it is exhausting.