Nneka Onuorah interview: ‘Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls’
“The universe is interesting to me because I actually have been introduced to Lizzo in different ways,” explains Nneka Onuorah, director of “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” on Amazon Prime Video. “One time I was asked to do a documentary on Lizzo and then that kind of fell through. I had friends who used to dance for her and we were trying to collaborate on something and it fell through.” But now Onuorah is the director of the inspirational competition series that searches for Lizzo’s next group of backup dancers. She joins Gold Derby as part of our Meet the Experts: Reality TV panel (watch the exclusive video interview above).
“Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” is being heralded for the way in which it represents certain women that usually don’t see themselves on the stage or on the screen. How did Onuorah get attached to this program? “[The executive producers] were like, Nneka, we think you would be the perfect person to do this Lizzo project… because I used to be a dancer, I lived as a plus-size dancer and worked as a plus-size dancer before I started directing.” She’s typically attracted to projects that are about “underrepresented communities that have to do with movement and freedom and fun.”
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During her first meeting with the three-time Grammy winner, the director recalls, “Lizzo really made it very, very, very clear that her vision for these girls was to really tell a story that’s about them, getting them booked, showcasing their talent and showing the world that they exist in powerful ways and happy ways.” The goal of the series is for the aspiring dancers to survive all the way to the end of the competition, where they’ll then be rewarded with a spot on the superstar’s tour bus.
“I was like, this is actually the perfect project for me,” Onuorah readily admits. “In one way, because it represents who I am and I feel connected to the girls specifically and Lizzo. But beyond that, it’s a chance to revolutionize the genre itself. I come from a documentary background, so I was like, I want to call this docu-ality. I want to bring a sense of authenticity and let the authenticity and storytelling lead the format.”
It’s “freeing as a director” to oversee a story structure that doesn’t follow a usual pattern or formula each week, she says. “People are very used to directors only calling this shot, that shot. I was like, listen, I come from documentary. In order for the audience to connect to these women in this competition, we have to know them, we have to tell a story through their body, through their clothes, what colors they wear.”
Also in our exclusive video interview, Onuorah talks about the episode in which she directed the music video challenge, what she thought of how Lizzo handled a contestant who “hit on me,” and how the 100% That Bitch Award and the Juice Award help accentuate the fact that “encouragement is important” in life.