MOXIE Chats to … Michel’le

MOXIE founder Michel’le Donnelly has lived a damn life. We first met back in 2005 when we attended the same high school. My memory is trash so I have no idea how we ended up being friends but I do remember being part of a handful of brown girls in our grade 8 class – you know how that Brown Girl Magnetism works.
When she first told me about her idea for MOXIE, I could feel light coming off her when she spoke of what she had planned. You’ll find out more about her in this interview but to know all she had experienced had led her onto a path that wants the frighteningly similar things to mine, was all I needed to jump on.
My first question had to be about food, of course.

Tshegofatso Senne: What’s your favourite meal to make? 

Michel’le Donnelly: Okay firstly, I don’t cook. But when I do cook, my favourite meal to make is enchiladas. There isn’t much to do – I buy the chicken, fry it and drench it in sauce. I stuff the chicken in some store-bought tortillas, put in an oven dish and cover everything with cheese.

[Lots of bonding over cheese]

TS: What’s your patronus?

MD: Okay, let’s Google that. What does patronus mean?

TS : Harry Potter, bitch. Do you not like Harry Potter? Instead of saying ‘spirit animal’ because that’s appropriative, we say patronus.

MD: Firstly, my mother stopped me from watching Harry Potter, she said that’s white nonsense so I wasn’t allowed to watch it. I read up to The Prisoner of Azkaban. That was the last one I saw as well. I quite enjoyed it and The Philosopher’s Stone. I really liked it. And Hermione, she’s really cool. 

TS: And she punched Nazis before it was cool.

MD: This is just one fandom I don’t get. Harry Potter. Like, everyone is obsessed. Imagine. I was living in England and everyone was like, “how could you not be obsessed??”

TS:  So you lived out of SA for a couple of years. Tell me about that.

MD: There is a lot to answer. So, when I first left about 10 years ago I went to Australia, Sydney and finished high school there. And then after high school, I was either going to go to university 3 hours away and live on campus or I could go to England. So I was like, bye Australia – I’m sick of you. And I went to the UK and I studied journalism there. Then I went back to Sydney, realised that placed is fuuuuucked. I lived in Cambodia for 2 months, I wanted to study my Masters in human rights.

TS:  You did an Eat Pray Love type thing.

MD: Yeah, that was honestly what I was trying to do. I mean, except for the fact that things then went awfully wrong. I got to the UK and there was a mess with my visa, made worse by the fact that I had already paid for my flat. Luckily my dad was there with me but I had a breakdown, wondering what I would do. So I deferred and went to Australia to apply for another visa. I got a two year working visa and came to SA for like a month. It was just a really weird time. I worked in media and it took me two years, only now am I feeling back to Michel’le, if you know what I mean. It really shook my confidence. I didn’t even end up doing my MA because the following year after I deferred, I didn’t even want to do it anymore.

TS:  What’s your favourite memory of high school?

MD: Honestly, the fights. You know when the whole school would be like, “fight fight!” and we’d all gather around? I, personally, am not a fighter but they were hilarious, the way they would happen. You’d see a few people starting to move and then the masses would go running. We would stand there and encourage them, the mob mentality was actually ridiculous. We also laughed through high school. We laughed a lot, I remember and enjoy that. 

TS:  If you opened a business, what sort would it be? 

MD: I’d open a production company. I would produce creative content for women. Especially for women of colour. I like observational humour, so like stuff that people can watch and talk about. Something that gets a conversation going, even if it’s entertaining, I want them to be able to think critically about what was said.

TS: What would your first show be about?

MD: A 25 year old trying to live her life. I thought by now I’d be a boss. That I would have a car and a house, I wouldn’t be sharing a bed with my sister, I would be wearing, like, pants suits. I would have a briefcase! But that’s just not how my life has gone.

TS:  What’s a time that you messed up really badly in your life?

MD: Well, with the visa issue, what I’ve been avoiding to acknowledge is that it was pretty much my fault. [LAUGHS] I’m also blaming my white friends who told me to go to this huge music festival in Britain. I had bought the tickets the year before and thought it would all work out well in terms of applying for the visa. I swear, this one woman at the Australian embassy told me I could apply for the student visa in the UK – maybe I heard what I wanted to hear. My parents were so worried because I was leaving very early but I had it all planned out. I should have read the small print and been sure. I’m also almost sure I nearly failed varsity. I didn’t take my last year serious enough, but it’s okay because I didn’t!

TS: Who’s the smartest person you know?

MD: In the world? Maya Angelou.

TS: Ah yes, the hoe of all hoes.

MD: Yes! She’s #HoeGoals. Everything she did was amazing. And then in my personal life, I don’t know. I think everyone has their strengths and varying forms of intelligence.

TS: Omg, stop being a politician. 

MD: Okay okay okay, myself. I make sense to myself. I can listen to someone saying something and I’m like, omg yeah yeah. But then I can take that and translate it into Michel’le Speak and it’ll make a whole lot more sense. 

TS: What’s a movie that you can recite word for word?

MD: Mean Girls. [Quickest answer ever.]

TS: I knew you were going to say that. 

[An incredibly critical conversation on Coming to America, Shrek and Shark Tale ensues.]

TS: What’s a quote that you keep close to you? Do you have a favourite quote?

MD: One I’ve always kept with me is from the film Dead Poet’s Society. I’m not going to pretend like I read. Not “Carpe Diem” [LAUGHS] but rather, “two roads diverged in a wood and, I chose the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”. It’s originally from a Robert Frost poem, but I got it from the film. Every time I have to make a decision I think of it. And it really has made all of the difference. When everyone seems to be going one way I’m, like nope, I’ll go this way and let’s see what happens! There’s also another quote, by Zadie Smith, “I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me”.

TS: What’s your favourite thing about yourself?

MD: Ohhhhh, oh my god. That’s so tough to answer. I’m pretty easy-going, I always try to see the funny side of things. For some reason, I don’t take things too seriously. That’s my favourite thing. It doesn’t always work in my favor, sometimes I spiral downwards and I keep saying it’s fine.

TS: You’re like that meme of the dog sitting in the burning room saying, “this is okay.”

MD: Yes! I can laugh about it so it’s fine. Even with shit stuff, bad things that happen, I can always see the funny side. I’m the easiest on myself. I try to be.

TS: Congrats on your personality. Truly.

MD: Yeah! I’m likable. I think I’m likable.

TS: Why do you feel MOXIE is necessary?

MD: There can never be enough content written and created by talented young WOC in South Africa. It’s not that they aren’t around, there just aren’t enough platforms where they can share their work.  I’m tired of reading things I don’t relate to and I’m not the only one. I read a lot of American newsletters that I’ve signed up to, the majority of them are written by white women and I just can’t relate. I’m so tired of reading other people’s stories. Or rather, I’m tired of hearing my story being told by other people, many of whom don’t capture the essence. We have an abundance of talented writers, we need to get more of our work out there.

TS:  What do you hope people will get out of MOXIE?

MD: I hope people get a sense of collaboration – that’s the whole idea. I want one woman to read work from another woman and be like, “oh my word, this is amazing and I have an idea of what we can work on next together!” That we can all generate a sense of building a community of working together and get our faces and words out there. That we can all just slay. 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Tshegofatso Senne is a Black, queer feminist baby witch. She spends her time wading through the waters of doing a masters in South African Sign Language, writing, consulting and trying to take over the world.


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