Susan Wokoma: Why I’m channelling Queen Diane Abbott in 2019

The actor and screenwriter on having a “pig shit’ 2018 and what happened when she actually met her queen.

I have had a pig shit of a year. I dunno about you, but I am absolutely knackered. Don’t get me wrong, many things have been terrific. I’ve had my first feature film commissioned, I fell in love, got a tattoo in Berlin, fulfilled a lifelong ambition of getting a dog. See? Lots of blessings. But this year has felt like wading through lead, at times, and as a result I am absolutely shattered. Yeah. 2018 is definitely the year I aged. So, how did 2018 send me to my proverbial cup of cocoa and slippers? Well, I’ll tell you, babe. I’m trying to do it all. I am writing, producing and acting, all while trying to maintain a new relationship and exercise and drink water and walk the dog and have a wee regularly and be kind. And politics. Oft, politics. No one was born woke, beloveds, but the awareness of all the world’s injustices, and the long walk we have to go on in order to right it all, makes you just want to burn it all down and start again. How have we depleted the planet this much? How have we found ourselves repeating historical patterns of world war? And if I hear the term “hard or soft Brexit” one more time, I am going to literally pick up the entire United Kingdom myself and eat it whole. Sovereign acre by fucking sovereign acre.

It was my birthday on New Year’s Eve, so it’s completely natural for me to start thinking of the new year as a new start. I don’t think I’ve never not set myself resolutions and this year will be no different. So, this year, I am channelling Diane Abbott. I actually met Diane Abbott this year, at a screening of a film. The moment I saw her, I had an insatiable urge to go up to her and hug her. Like many other black women, I have seen the online racism and sexism she has had to endure. But let me make this clear – that is not what I wish to channel. Diane Abbott should never have to endure what she does. It shouldn’t be happening, full stop. But, yes, after all that unimaginable abuse she is still here. And she still believes in something enough to stand up in the House of Commons and speak up about it. I’m whining about being too tired to film two self-taped auditions – get a grip, Suz.

I’m trying to do it all. I am writing, producing and acting, all while trying to maintain a new relationship and exercise and drink water and walk the dog and have a wee regularly and be kind

I’m even channelling some of the controversial aspects of Queen Abbott (again, no one is born woke), like when she charged Birmingham University £1,750 for a 50-minute speech. Case in point: I got caught in my very first Twitter storm this year, when I tweeted why I find it hard to watch reality-TV shows due to my experience on one as a child. Cue lots of cries to explain myself, with a large helping of abuse. I got sick and tired of all the emotional labour I was doing in order to explain my existence. I then pinned a tweet, asking users to donate to Help Refugees, screenshot their donation and then I would answer any questions on misogynoir. I have black girlfriends on Twitter who have a PayPal link ready to go when someone asks the same stupid rubbish. Yes, a speech for university students is not the same thing, but I am here for being paid for my time.

So, when I was sat opposite Queen Di, before we are just about to go into the screening room, I looked at her with the gooey eyes of an adoring fan – but also, I want to protect her. I whispered to my boyfriend, “Shall I go over to her?” He urges me to: “I bet it’ll mean so much to her.” So, I do. I don’t say much other than it means the world that she is still here, fighting to make the world better than how she found it. I look into her little eyes behind that famous prescription. I have a flashback to that FIRE photo of her in the single braids as a young woman in 1987, powdering her top lip in parliament, which resurfaced on the internet. She looks up at me, takes my hand. “Thank you. That means the world to me.” She just gets it. I want to protect myself and my boundaries the way I want to protect Queen Abbott.

Yeah, I’ll have some of that please, 2019.

Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn in parliament in 1987 (Photo: Press Association)

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