The first time I can recall seeing Kofi Siriboe’s face was when he starred as the menacing Flaco in Justin Tipping’s debut film, “Kicks.” In a narrative about inner city masculinity and the feelings of isolation and loneliness that often plague us during adolescence, Siriboe’s Flaco radiated pain and rage. Amongst an entire cast of fresh-faced newcomers, he had clearly announced himself. Just a few months later, his face would be everywhere.
Last summer, I was sent preview screeners for Ava DuVernay’s then highly-anticipated “Queen Sugar.” With a stoic gaze encapsulating grief and determination, Siriboe embodied author Natalie Baszile’s, Ralph Angel Bordelon. He was transformed into a young father desperate to carve out a future for himself and his young son Blue, amidst the shackles that have choked formerly incarcerated Black men into submission. From the moment OWN began promoting the critically-acclaimed series with images of Siriboe dressed in all- white, seated next to Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner who play his sisters, Nova and Charley respectively, it was clear that Siriboe had arrived in Hollywood. It’s been a whirlwind year, to say the least.
The second season of “Queen Sugar” is currently filming in New Orleans, Louisiana, but in the midst of a hectic shooting schedule, Kofi Siriboe and I took some time out to chat. For those of us looking from the outside in, it may appear that Siriboe was catapulted into the spotlight out of nowhere, but that’s just not the case. The 23-year old chuckled when I referred to him as Oprah’s darling. He told me, “It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t meet Oprah [Winfrey] and Ava [DuVernay] all at once. I met Ava first. A phone call came from Ava, and I got the job. Then I met Oprah at the table read, and we had an instant connection. But she’s Oprah; I feel like she has that with everybody.”
Still, it’s obvious that Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey saw something magnetic in Siriboe. His Ralph Angel is an even more robust and fleshed out character than the one you’ll find in Baszile’s novel. With the Black Lives Matter Movement and our eroding judicial system in the background, Ralph Angel is trying to manage different facets of himself, while raising a little Black boy in the present-day South. When analyzing his character’s struggles Siriboe said, “Ralph Angel in being formerly incarcerated, and him being from New Orleans, him being a father; those are things that don’t actually pertain to me in real life. But [he] wants to be his best self and is dealing with the duality of who he wants to be, and who he feels he has to be, through the eyes of the world and his choices, and through lack of identity. I feel like that’s a universal challenge for any human being.”
For Siriboe the “Queen Sugar” family has become much more than a workplace, and he speaks warmly of his appreciation for Ms. DuVernay and Ms. Winfrey who have nurtured his talent and taken him under their wings while treating him as a peer and respecting his artistry. “Queen Sugar” is set to return for its sophomore season towards to end of next month and there is bound to be a ton of change within the Bordelon family.
After discovering a revised copy of his late father’s will at the end of last season, Ralph Angel is about to make some very tough decisions. Following such a tumultuous first season, I asked Siriboe what Ralph Angel’s journey might look like when the story picks up. Without giving too much away, the LA native told me, “He’s really just trying to step into the shoes of his father, and really live up to that legacy. I feel like there’s a lot of regret of the fact that he wasn’t able to do that while his father was still alive. But at this point, he has to do what he has to do and that can’t change. I feel like his focus is just being who he always thought himself to be, and the challenges are, [that] he’s still trying to prove himself to his family and his sisters specifically.”
Although long days spent filming “Queen Sugar” have certainly kept him busy over the past several months, don’t expect Siriboe to slow down anytime soon. This summer, he will be starring in Malcolm D. Lee’s “Girls Trip” alongside legends like Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Larenz Tate. In the film, he will play Malik, Pinkett’s love interest. When we discussed why he was intrigued by the project, which comes from the mind of “black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, Siriboe said he was excited about doing a comedy. “I feel like ‘Queen Sugar’ is really really heavy and deals with a lot of social issues, and we really go there every Wednesday,” he said. “It was nice to be lightened up for a little bit, and to be doing it in such great company.”
A versatile resume is just one of the things that separate Siriboe from other young actors in the entertainment industry. He is incredibly humble and a consummate gentleman, particularly when it comes to defending Black women who are often the subjects of scorn and ridicule in the media. His support has been championed by even his “Queen Sugar” director Ava DuVernay who clearly appreciates when her leading man finds the time to check in on her while she’s on set. After praising his mother and Black women on Twitter a few months ago, Siriboe faced some backlash from trolls who took offense for whatever reason. However, he refused to back down. “I think it’s very important… if you look at what is going on in the world, there’s an imbalance. I feel like with men and women; there’s just a lack of equality when it comes to that,” he stated. “When it comes to something going with young men or men, I feel like we always have people coming to our [defense], our moms, our sisters, everybody. Everybody’s always right there. But, when it comes to the women, we just don’t respond as much. We don’t come together. We don’t unite. I just realize that Black men covering Black women like that is very important. I feel like it’s intentional when we don’t pay attention to something that’s very obvious.”
With films like “Girls Trip” and other opportunities that are bound to come down the pipeline for Siriboe, I’m certain that this isn’t the last time that he will be navigating the often turbulent waters that come when you have such a public profession. When I asked how he plans to continue dealing with some of the more abrasive aspects of fame while focusing on his craft, he was clear. “I feel like it takes a lot to be able to withstand everything that comes with it. So it’s an everyday process, I’m learning, I’m exploring, and I’m experiencing new things every day,” he replied thoughtfully, “But every single day you learn something new being around people like Oprah and Ava, you have to watch and pay attention. So just staying confident, connected, and grounded and remembering what’s important outside of career, and industry. For me that’s God, that’s my parents, for me that’s my family, my brothers, and my friends. It’s just the life that I had and will always have beyond acting.”
At this point, the sky is the limited for this talented young man, and he won’t be confining himself to only working in front of the camera. When I inquired about what’s next for him, Siriboe was enthusiastic about his plans. “I love writing; I love directing; I love creating. I just shot my own short film, “Jump” last year in New York, so that’s something I’ve been working on editing right now. I feel like I want to write something, star in it, and then after that potentially star in more things that I write. I think that I would love to direct,” Siriboe declared. “I really have a passion for telling stories behind the scenes. Photography has always been a big part of my life. I just think in a perfect world I would be in a position where I could do whatever I want, and that’s not to say that I can’t do that now. But honestly, trajectory-wise it’s just doing what I’m doing now. As that progresses, as that evolves, I’ll evolve. And hopefully, I’ll just continue to do more and more, telling lots of stories.”
Right now, Siriboe’s name is being considered for an Emmy nomination for an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama. A nomination alone could bring even more visibility to an excellently executed “Queen Sugar” and its spectacular cast. It’s clear that Kofi Siriboe has the talent, drive, and spirit to fly in this industry. With mentors like Ms. Winfrey and Ms. DuVernay, he will soar for many years to come.
“Queen Sugar” returns for its second season with a two-night event on OWN Tuesday, June 20 and Wednesday, June 21 at 10 PM ET. The series will regularly air Wednesday nights at 10 PM ET.
“Girls Trip” will premiere on July 21st.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami