Actress Caroline Chikezie on the importance of representation

Courtesy of Fox Caroline Chikezie plays a boss on The Passage

Caroline Chikezie’s character Dr. Major Nichole Sykes on Fox’s show The Passage is not just a scientist. She is the head of a government lab tasked with dealing with a rapidly spreading epidemic that threatens to wipe out humanity.

The potential cure requires answers to some tough ethical questions about the use of incarcerated individuals, the working class, and the under-aged in medical trials. Instead of resolving things, Dr. Sykes’ ultimate choice just ratchets up the conflict.

The Passage will likely bring up some mixed feelings for those who are aware of the tainted history of Black American men and women such as Henrietta Lacks and the men in the Tuskegee Institute experiment, being used for medical research.

Chikezie admits that though she understands the decisions her character makes, in real life couldn’t stomach them. “I just couldn’t do it,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, although, I must say, Nichole was able to make that decision because she did all the research and was satisfied at the end that it would all be okay.”

Her character’s decision has a monumental impact on the character of Amy Belafonte (Saniyya Sidney), who is in her early teens. Chikezie has obvious admiration for her young co-star. “Saniyya is amazing. She is an effortlessly brilliant actress who could put any adult to shame! This girl is the truth!”

The British-born Chikezie light-heartedly compares her career to her dating life. “I read every [script] I get and see which way I gravitate. The Passage was the one for me. It’s like when you meet a guy and he feels like the right guy. It was just the one,” she laughs.

Still, she was “dumbfounded” when her agent told her the role was hers. “I was convinced I wasn’t gonna get it,” she recalls, “but I thought, ‘It’s nice that they’re testing me. I had my speech ready for when I got the call saying I didn’t get it.”

Courtesy of Fox Saniyya Sidney (left) and Caroline Chikezie in The Passage

There are some aspects of her character on The Passage that Chikezie takes delight in sharing. “I love that she knows her own mind. That’s something that me and my character have in common. I don’t care what anyone says, If I think X, I’m gonna do X. If there are consequences that arise, she’s willing to face them.”

She is also keenly aware of her character’s career in terms of representation. “Dr. Sykes is also the head of the team of scientists,” she says. “I love that she is the boss. She commands the guys, she is ex-Army and has a little swagger. I also love that as a Black woman I’m playing a doctor.”

 As a little girl in London, shows like Fame starring Debbie Allen, sparked Chikezie’s ambition to act. “I gravitated to shows with people of color and thank everybody who went before me. Like Viola Davis said, ‘Representation matters.’ Growing up, FameFresh Prince of Bel Air and Cosby Show blew my head off!”

Many parents struggle with their child’s desire to act but Chikezie’s parents took extreme steps — about 4,000 miles worth of them. “I was sent to Nigeria for boarding school for three years,” she recalls. “I was shocked to be taken to boarding school in a country I wasn’t familiar with and to be deposited there. It was very confusing for me at the time but now I’m glad they did.”

Prior to this experience, Chikezie had only visited Nigeria a handful of times for very brief periods. It was always a foreign place to her. “At the time I was against it but now I’m so grateful. I speak my language, I know Igbo, I know my land and I know the food. It was the best thing for me.”

Chikezie has lived in Los Angeles for the past 10 years. However, after filming The Passage in Atlanta over the past year, she is ready to relocate. “I love Atlanta! I love how green it is and how it’s not charged. It’s calming, not overcrowded, I just love it there!”

Season one of The Passage concluded with a two-hour finale on March 11. Go to fox.com/the-passage to watch the full season online. If renewed for a second season, the anticipated start date would be the end of 2019.

About Nadine Matthews

Nadine Matthews is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at nmatthews@spokesman-recorder.com or on Twitter at @deeniemedia.

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