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Graduate student spotlight: Ph.D. candidate Adelaja Oriola Oriade and his work on representation in Hollywood

Adelaja Oriola Oriade (Laja) is an international student from Nigeria working to get his Ph.D. in Mass Communication. Through hard work and dedication, Laja has immersed his life in the study of intra-racial discourse and controversies about the cross-ethnic casting of Black actors for historic African and African American roles in Hollywood-produced movies. 

Q: Why did you choose Ohio University to pursue your graduate degree?

A: Like all applicants, I wasn't applying to just Ohio University. I applied to quite a few, but those choices were based on my research about the departments and schools. The media school (the School of Media Arts and Studies) here is awesome; it is highly rated in the country. When I was coming, I was thinking of doing an African research and Ohio University embraced a lot of Africans, and students from all over the world. OHIO offered a unique experience. So, it was one of the reasons I was thinking “I might be home away from home if I get the admission to Ohio University.”

Q: How have the resources in the School of Media Arts and Studies (MDIA) helped you most on your Ph.D. journey?

A: Currently I'm in a lab where I'm working on software I personally cannot afford, and that's the beauty of it- the convenience of having everything you need. Walking down the hallway and picking the next lab where everything you're trying to work is available within a building. There is a recording studio and there is a photo booth to take official pictures for free. I can rent equipment; I shot a documentary about a smoke shop on Court Street. Everything was convenient within the department and school. Beyond that, the faculty has been very open to collaborations, especially with other schools.  So, I think the flexibility of the faculty has given me the opportunity to extend and branch outside of the department. I've gone to geography, I've gone to political science, and the faculty worked with me the entire time. So, it gives me a very wide horizon to play around, faculty and facilities wise. It's just been a wonderful experience for these four years.

Q: So, I heard you were working on representation in Hollywood, could you explain a little more about what exactly you do in that field?

A: So, it's an interesting field that people really have not paid attention to. I think the discourse of race in America has been very centered around Whites versus People of Color. But there's a new area that people are not focusing on: its crisis between minority groups. If you've seen movies like "Selma," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "The Woman King," "Concussion," all of these stories that talk about historical African American leaders or continental African leaders like Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko, Idi Amin of Uganda. The producers of these movies have cross-cast actors for the lead roles. For movies about historical African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, and Idi Amin, most of the time, the actors that play the lead roles are usually African American actors. On the flip side, Black immigrants have also played historic African American roles such as Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and Fred Hampton. They are all immigrants that have African roots. So, there's a kind of cross-ethnic casting going on and this has caused a kind of rift between Black immigrants in the US and African Americans. So, my research is me trying to study and explore the perception of the two Black groups - African Americans and Black immigrants – about the casting approach as employed by Hollywood. On the surface, it just looks like just acting, but there's more to delve into.

Q: What do you plan on doing after you graduate?

A: One very important thing that I have not mentioned that has been a blessing being in this program is the opportunity I have gotten to teach. In my first year, I was a teaching assistant. I think based on the appraisal by the department, they decided I could teach a class. So, I've been teaching since fall of 2020. I’ve taught sophomore students Media Analysis and Criticism, and I've also taught Media and the Digital Divide. So, I think that is my professional direction, to get a position as an assistant professor and just commit myself to a life of research and teaching.

Q: For anybody else who is thinking about pursuing a career in this field or possibly wanting to get their Ph.D., do you have any advice for them?

A: I think my advice would be that it has to be your passion; It's a very lonely and tiresome journey. For example, right now it's the weekend, everybody's going to go out and party, but I'm going to be in this lab until 3 a.m. So, if you don't have the passion for it, I don't think it's a journey you want to take on. You must be ready to make mistakes. You must be ready to take corrections. You must be able to ask for help. It just takes patience. There will be times for failure and there will be times for correction and there will be times for success, which is the ultimate goal of it. It is also important to choose the right school where there is a support system that helps. For example, as an African student at Ohio University, I feel at home. There is a big African body, and I am Nigerian. There is an African association that meets every Friday during the semester. Those are the buffers for surviving grad school. You must have those buffers because sometimes you must just shut down the computer and step out. Those are the opportunities that OHIO has offered.

Q: Was there a moment where you realized I want to commit the rest of my life to this?

A: My mom was a teacher for more than 35 years and my dad also used to do training. So, I think my first point of contact with being around teaching was from my parents. And then during my undergrad I used to have tutorial sessions with my colleagues, and I just thought it came naturally for me to be able to explain things. I wouldn't say that at that time I thought about committing a life to academia, but over time, after working in a private bank for five months, I knew I wanted more. I worked at a bank for about five months, and I knew it wasn’t right for me. I knew I didn't want to be there. In my eighth month, I resigned and went for a master's in communication. My undergrad was in mass communication in Nigeria. Then my master's was also in Nigeria, University of Ibadan, where I studied communication and languages. I think it was from there I knew that I was on the right direction. After my master's, the next thing I did was just apply to schools where I could better myself. That is how I got here. It was during my master's degree; I just knew that it was the direction. Like maybe not during my master's, but before my master's, when I worked in the private industry. I just felt out of place. It just looked like I was not in the right environment. So, I went back to school to create the environment that I wanted, and now I'm here.

April 17, 2023
Stuart Landry