Ilfenesh Hadera is among the new, up & coming stars. She’s part of a new crop of African immigrants or the children of African immigrants who are grabbing Hollywood‘s attention!
Her most recent showcase is as Opal Gilstrap – the “keepin’ it real” lesbian lover of the film’s main character – in the Netflix/Spike Lee remake of the African-American director’s iconic film, She’s Gotta Have It.
The New York-native is the daughter of an Ethiopian refugee and an American acupuncturist.
“I identify as half Ethiopian, half white. I’m equal parts,” she tells Time.com. “I hear so many biracial people say, ‘I didn’t know where I fit in.’ But I grew up in Harlem and went to school on the Upper West Side, where half the students looked like me. I consider myself lucky to have lived in this bubble.”
Hadera also identifies strongly with her Ethiopian heritage and the idea of ‘giving back’, via her dad.
After her father, Asfaha Hadera, arrived in the U.S. in the late 1970s, he started the African Services Committee, an organization that helps displaced refugees with legal services and community building.
“I had my first summer job there doing paperwork,” said Hadera. “You meet the clients and you hear the stories. So, I know how vital the work has been to the lives of thousands of people over the years. We’ve got to look out for one another.”
BEFORE HER “BIG BREAK”
Hadera says that she has wanted to be in acting since she was a teenager, “I think that is part of why there was no plan B. I spent those years, 13 to 17, devoted to acting for 4 periods a day. I didn’t even stop to think about anything else I [might] rather do.”
But, before her big break, like many aspiring actors, Hadera toiled as a waitress for 10 years.
“It is definitely not glamorous work. I was the low man on the totem pole at The Standard for a year, so I was closing every night that I worked. The things people would say to me if turned away…I can’t even repeat. You take a real bashing,” she says in an interview with Coveteur.
A “LEGGY” BEAUTY
On his January 20, 2016 Instagram post, action film superstar, The Rock describes hiring Hadera, “Casting my #BAYWATCH love interest wasn’t easy (extremely tough job but hey I’m one of the producers;) but we finally found her. For our coveted role of “STEF”, she had to be a lot of things: Strong, intelligent, formidable, beautiful and funny. Want to welcome the talented @ilfenator Ilfenesh Hadera to our #BAYWATCH family. She’s a 5’11 walkin’ smokestack with legs for days. Smart and tougher than new rope.. just the way we like ’em.”
If you haven’t seen Hadera star alongside The Rock in the film Baywatch (you should!), she’s also been in another Spike Lee joint – the controversial Chi-Raq, as well as in the TV series Master of None (Netflix) and Billions (HBO).