By Donna Hill
For The Fort Bend Star
It’s not your everyday Hollywood story.
Oge Egbuonu of Sugar Land worked on a film as an associate producer, and will be at the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night.
She’s not just any producer, and the film is not just any film.
Oscar buzz started early for “Loving.” It’s a film about Mildred and Richard Loving, based on the true story of their courage and commitment as an interracial couple who married and spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went on to the Supreme Court, where in 1967 it was ruled unconstitutional to restrict marriage rights based on race. The film stars Ruth Negga as Mildred and Joel Edgerton as Richard. Negga is a nominee for Best Actress at the 2017 Academy Awards, airing Feb. 26 on ABC.
Egbuonu works at Raindog Films with the independent production company’s co-founders Ged Doherty and Academy Award winning actor Colin Firth. Egbuonu is primarily responsible for the marketing, communications and creative relationships with writers, directors and actors.
So how did Hollywood find Egbuonu?
Not film school.
The first stop was in Sugar Land.
“We moved to Sugar Land when I was 13,” she said. “My mom, a nursing assistant, and my dad are Nigerian. My brother and I were born in Texas.”
As a child she enjoyed writing, and at first “wanted to be a pastor, and write sermons about the virtues of life, truth, courage – no joke.” She didn’t really watch television and films, but did listen to a lot of music and performed hours of service work.
“I had amazing teachers at a young age. My mom was a single parent, so lucky for me I had teachers who knew if I didn’t stay busy, I would get in trouble.”
She had plans for a career in medicine. In Houston, she attended Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professionals, and while doing clinicals, she realized that medicine wasn’t for her. She became too attached to patients.
“I knew that if I continued in an area like ICU or pediatrics, I couldn’t be there as their doctor and cry with the patient at the same time. So I knew I had to take on a different path for a career,” she said.
Still a far cry away from the film world, but knowing medicine was not quite what she wanted, she started classes at the University of Houston.
“I was always excited about communication and storytelling, so I majored in communication studies. (She holds a bachelor of arts in communication from the University of Houston). Yet Egbuonu maintains at that point in time “I did not even think I would remotely work in film.”
After graduation, she worked for Abercrombie and Fitch for nearly five years. She was the general manager for a few of their stores in Texas and assisted with recruiting.
Abercrombie got her from Houston to California via a job promotion. Six months into it she quit the job, because she didn’t agree with some of their hiring policies.
“After I quit I went through a mild form of depression for several months because I had no clue what I was going to do. I was 24 and living by myself in a state where I knew no one,” she said.
Still not into film or working anywhere near the entertainment industry, she found yoga.
“I was introduced to yoga by a friend, then I became obsessed with it, and started following yoga religiously,” she said. “I was later introduced to LuluLemon, which is a yoga athletic wear company. And that actually spearheaded everything for me. They do a lot of self-development work as part of their leadership program and you do many hours of reflecting and meditation; it helped me through. From there I began a yoga teacher-training program with an amazing studio called Rising Lotus Yoga. They took me under their wing and taught me everything. It basically changed my life with a new way of living and a new way of seeing the world. I taught yoga in Los Angeles to young girls who were taken in off the streets; some had been in prostitution or lost within the system. I would go into the yoga center and teach these young girls yoga and helped them to reconnect with themselves.”
She also taught at various gyms throughout southern California. One friend was working at a gym called Elevation Fitness. It was there where she was introduced to the owners, and her friend encouraged the owners to hire her.
“I came in and did a mock yoga session for the owners – a restorative yoga session – which is what I specialize in, and they were impressed and wanted me to teach there,” she said. “They told me they had a VIP client who loves this type of yoga and would I come in and teach him? I said yes.”
As luck would have it, the yoga client is now one of her current bosses, Ged Doherty, who co-founded Raindog films. Her other boss is Firth, who co-founded Raindog films with Doherty.
“After three months of training with the new VIP clients I was asked if I had ever thought about working in films,” she said. “I had no clue about the business; I wasn’t sure. By the time I realized these guys were serious, I called my mom and said, what should I do? She said to pray about it and if it feels right, take it. If it doesn’t – give it three months, and if you don’t like it, quit. I’ve been there four years.”
“Loving” is another new venture of film producing at Raindog Films. (The first was “Eye in the Sky”).
“Doherty was CEO of Sony music UK, and worked in the music industry for 30 years. Firth (Love Actually, Bridget Jones, The King’s Speech), a noted champion of social causes such as refugee rights, is the principal producer of the film. Arkansas-born Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) was contacted as the director, and wrote the script. In describing the company which produced “Loving,” Egbuonu pointed out, “We don’t tell the big commercial films – which I think is great and there’s a place for those – we tell the stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told.”
“The fact that this was a true story, filming it where it actually happened was inspiring,” Egbuonu said. “You’re putting yourself in the footsteps of what actually happened. Being in the courthouse and the jail cell that Mildred was actually in. I remember days we were shooting where we were either very quite or almost close to tears. You have a sense of their spirit being there. Moments that I will never take for granted and I will never forget.”
Family members will no doubt be watching in Fort Bend County. Will there be any family members in the audience? Is mom going?
With a smile in her voice, she adds “Not this year. I did promise her that the next film – when we win the Academy Award – if I can’t get tickets, she can take my place at the next award ceremony!”
What does Egbuonu miss about Sugar Land?
“I do miss First Colony Mall and Highway 6. I used to go there all the time with my friends when we didn’t have any money. We’d window shop. We would go to Carrabba’s Restaurant, and we would save up our money on that one meal. I miss it,” she said.
Whatever the outcome of the Academy Awards on Sunday, one thing is for sure. Egbuonu will always call Sugar Land home.
For more on the film, visit www.focusfeatures.com/loving.