“I have big dreams of doing many movies, both local and international productions. I want to be in meaningful films telling impactful human stories that people can relate to. I also want to grow as an entrepreneur. I want to be remembered for the great works that I will have done and the legacy that I will build.”
The first time I saw Florence Njeri was in a movie trailer for the Kenyan film Sungura. A friend had sent me the one-minute clip and thought I would be interested in watching the film because it was exploring themes of disability awareness and empowerment. Florence, or Flo as I like to call her, is the main character of the film. She plays a wheelchair user who is on a journey of sexual discovery and freedom. Though she doesn’t use a wheelchair in real life, Flo uses a prosthetic leg. In the movie, she is exposed to prejudicial treatment from her peers, it is an apt representation of how ableist society can be and how easily this has all been accepted as normal.
Flo and I later met as panellists for the Spread Festival, a forward-thinking, barrier-breaking platform where issues surrounding sex and relationships are discussed with candour. Flo and I discussed sex and disability and shared our unique experiences whilst giving commentary on how our community relates to intimacy.
Flo is a beautiful, talented actor who’s so much more than her disability. I sat with her to get a sense of who she is when the cameras are not rolling and what inspires her to keep up the pace and be relentless in the pursuit of her dreams.
“I’m a very jovial person, kind-hearted, patient and outgoing. I enjoy learning new things, travelling, cooking, watching movies and spending time with family and friends.”
Even though she is an actress Florence has a 9-5 job as a quality assurance agent at a company called Adept Technologies. Born with one short leg, Florence has a condition known as congenital short femur. It is a rare type of congenital malformation that occurs during prenatal development and affects the growth of the femur bone in the upper leg.
“In layman’s language, I use a prosthesis and a crutch for mobility. This condition affects my everyday life as I go to work since I use public means. Not all matatus are built in a way to accommodate a person living with a physical disability.”
Curious to know how having a prosthetic leg might have affected her when she was a child, I asked Flo how those early years were, to which she explained how supportive her family has always been. When you have a disability, being surrounded by a strong supportive circle is what truly makes a difference in the kind of life you are going to have. A good support system impacts how you view yourself and your attitude towards a society that isn’t always kind to disabled people. Flo recounts how easy it was for her to make friends because her extended family had already set a precedent for how society should treat her.
“Now that I am a mother, I appreciate all the love I got and still get from my family. I hope to give the same support to my children. As a mother living with a physical disability, the challenge I faced was carrying the pregnancy. It was so exhausting and I could not labour normally. The doctors had to perform a cesarian section. I’m enjoying motherhood every day since it is the most beautiful journey.”
Sungura is actually Flo’s acting debut and the opportunity to be in the film came to her in the most unexpected of ways after an audition call was posted in a WhatsApp group where she is a member. The group is a community of persons with disabilities where they get to share opportunities and have discussions surrounding their unique experiences. The advertisement was for the leading role and they specified that they needed a young lady with a disability. Flo auditioned and got the role. She says that she wasn’t sure whether she would be embraced by the film industry but was pleasantly surprised by how accepting and accommodating the crew from Sungura was.
“I really enjoyed being on set because it was so lively and being in the actual film was so much fun. I experienced how people in wheelchairs live their day-to-day lives. Because of the relatively explicit nature of the film, I was initially afraid of how what the public would think about my performance but later on, I was okay with it because I realized that I was portraying the actual experiences that disabled people such as myself go through every day.”
Acting has always been Flo’s passion since she was young. She intends to audition for more roles and spread her wings to roles that aren’t necessarily disability centred. As much as she desires to be the voice of the community, she also wants to make her mark as a good actor. She says that her dream role is playing a policewoman or any other role involving a powerful woman who always does what’s right and supports her community.
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