It is 2:30pm; thirty minutes later than I promised Nana Kagga to arrive at Sheraton Hotel for the interview. Meeting her for the first time, I identify her by the Afro on her head, much to my relief.
On arrival at the Sheraton, we exchange greetings as I apologise for being late. In the next two minutes, I realise that Kagga talks to anyone about anything at any time. “So which teams made it to the world cup semifinals” she asks as we walk to the pool side to start the interview. “Belgium, France, Croatia and England,” I reply as we sit at the bar side, order drinks and kick off the interview.
When I ask about her choice of hairstyle, Kagga reveals that she chose to wear the Afro because she hates the salon.
Some of the hair creams do not smell good and when she goes to bed, the pillow and the sheets smell like the salon creams which keeps her from getting a good night’s rest. “I resorted to combing my hair and keeping it natural and that is how I found comfort in an Afro. Also, being a proud African in Hollywood, an Afro would represent me well,” Kagga says with a smile.
As the interview progresses, I learn that she is not a people person but a loner, who immediately seeks to know how long the interview is going to take. Given that she likes to talk, it is clear that it will go on longer than we thought.
Working with Guns
After graduating as a chemical engineer, Kagga got a job at Laguna Industry in New Mexico in the United States. She worked in the department of Modification of Prototypes for Weapons. The company specialised in testing gun powder and also manufacturing bullet proof material.
“At the company I was offered work in relation with guns as contracted by the US Military. I was excited and could not turn it down. That particular department was the most fascinating and it was always fun and a good experience when we went out once in a while to test guns,” Kagga says, adding that she left the job not because she was no longer interested in it but because it was not where she belonged. She is Ugandan and she wanted to be at home.
One life lesson that Kagga learnt while working with Laguna is that no one is immortal. She realised that just a single mistake could lead to one’s death and because of that, she is not afraid of death.
A happy acident
After seven years working with Laguna, Kagga decided to return to Uganda but since one of her friends was going to Hollywood and she wanted to get a feel of it, she tagged along. “My friend was of Philippine origin, when we reached there, they did not want more light skinned actresses but rather black people and it happened that Lupita Nyong’o and I were the only blacks and by ‘mistake’ I got the role because I was black,” Kagga recalls.
Starting out in Hollywood
Kagga says that during her first days in Hollywood, the casting director did everything possible to annoy the actors, especially the blacks. “He made me hate Hollywood and I would not have anyone to envy those actors.
In Hollywood while dealing with these directors, you are never beautiful, never tall, never short enough and this forces one to work on perfection which is not what I want and I would never let my daughter go there,” Kagga says.
Kagga only started to live comfortably in Hollywood when she decided to be and act herself. “My father is a force of nature. He does not know anything called impossible. That is the way I decided to do things and I thrived on regardless of what they said,” Kagga recalls.
It was then that she landed the role in Star Trek.
Kagga believes that she has managed to feature in many Hollywood productions because she is black. “At that time, it was either me or Lupita Nyongo although she had been there before me,” Kagga says, From then on, she was always personally contacted and that is how she won roles in movies such as A Good Day to be Black and Sexy, Cowgirls and Indians, He’s Just Not That Into you and CSI: NY, among others.
Eventually, after years of acting, she realised she had to be home and there was nothing special in Hollywood. “The actors and actresses that we praise back in Africa portray two different characters and when you meet them in person, they are the arrogant ones, drunkards and in total, they are a turn off,” she says.
At that time, she had a young daughter Naava, and in Hollywood, no one cared that you had to take care of your baby and be on set at the same time. It became stressful for her and following the fact that her daughter needed to get back to Uganda to see where she comes from.
While in Uganda, she followed the movie industry closely and realised most of the script and storyline was tragic, it was all about witchcraft and at that moment, DStv and our local TV stations were saturated with Nigerian and South African content.
“When I watched these movies, I could not identify well with the actors or actresses, it was not the same as in the US and that was when I decided to sit down and write something for my understanding,” Kagga says.
A writing career is born
Her first writing attempt was The Life in 2012, which premiered at Gatto Matto bar in Bugolobi, a suburb of Kampala.
“The premiere did not start well. The projector failed to start for three hours but fortunately it later worked,” Kagga reminisces. She recalls that people waited to see the movie but she considered that day her biggest failure because she likes to perfect everything. “At that time, I was working at Tullow Oil as a petroleum engineer in the exportation field and when my first movie got to Dstv, I had not seen it coming.”
Kagga remembers getting a call from someone at DStv, telling her they liked the movie and wanted to show it.
When The Life was a success story, she decided to take a break from her job at Tullow Oil to write more scripts.
“One day while sitting with my laptop in a café in Kampala, trying to come up with a script, Cedric Babu found me and asked what I was working on,” Nana recalls, adding, “After taking Babu through what I was writing, he got interested and came on board. That is how we wrote 12 episodes of the TV series known as Beneath The Lies.
To make the best out of Beneath the Lies Kagga and Babu chose to make use of a cast dominated by public figures (read celebrities). They contacted Raba Daba, Comedian Daniel Omara, Gaetano Kaggwa, Hellen Lukoma, Flavia Tumusiime and Dedan Muyiira, among others.
“These celebrities were so cooperative that they never asked for any money to feature in Beneath the Lies and they were quick to grasp when it came to rehearsals,” Kagga recalls.
After airing on a local television, she realised that Ugandan TVs were not willing to pay good money to movie producers and this forced her to withdraw and operate online.
“Since TVs were not willing to pay enough money for our content, I realised that Ann Kansiime is making millions of money from her YouTube channel and I decided to pick a leaf,” Kagga says, adding that it is the reason she went to YouTube and opened up a channel for her company Savanna Moon.
Kagga's YouTube Channel
Nana’s YouTube channel is just getting the audience and one day she believes that subscribers will increase in number and she will reap off her YouTube channel just like how Kansiime is doing right now. “I upload short clips that I write and direct to my YouTube channel,” Kagga says, adding that she has done clips such as Adonis, The Life Coach and other clips that have adult content like online talk shows.