Meet Actor and Ambassador for Adopt Change
Zufi Emerson


Spell Spell Spell

Tell us about your childhood..
I grew up knowing every person had a different story so  never felt like I was less capable or limited by mine, I just loved being a kid! I was adopted from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia at 5 months old and grew up with Mum, Dad and 2 younger brothers in Canberra. The Capital  gets a bad wrap but I didn’t realise just how special a lot of what I was exposed to really was; daily life was so always convenient, also close to nature and beach trips weren’t too far or the snow but mostly incomparable communities. A lot of kids don’t get to grow up with life being so safe and simple. Getting a happy childhood is pretty special!

How was it growing up in Australia as an Ethiopian girl, and woman
I was taught from an early age to love my skin, my hair and how special it was to be connected to Ethiopia and its people even from most simple things like the origin of my name.  Of course, we had a lot of conversations many other kids didn’t have to but it just meant early on we had to learn how to interact with people who had a different perspective. People often wonder where the details of  Ethiopian culture comes in but it’s not in a performative sense, it’s just a part of who I am. I was glad to grow up an Aussie kid and knowing that every kid has a different story – this just happened to be mine!   

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Tell us about Adopt Change
I first became involved with Adopt Change as a young teenager, back then it was national Adoption Awareness Month. Founder, Deborra-Lee Furness questioned our system being  covered in red-tape at a press conference and put out the call to work toward change. Finally! Someone publicly spoke of adoption in a way that it wasn’t as a heroic act but knew from lived experience adoption is vulnerable child’s last resort and we needed better systems to support each circumstance so they’ve  a chance to thrive. Over the years, Co- published research on wellbeing and detrimental affects of children not getting consistent care, created  legislative change with bi-partisan Parliamentary Friends of Adoption group and are host to initiatives such as MyPack – backpacks for kids in care who go from  home to home with belongings in plastic bags.  Though with 45,000 kids needing care in Australia alone, there’s  a long way to go but before loosing hope  I remember our first launch. Right before we went on stage, Deb reminded me that we’re speaking for vulnerable kids who are waiting in limbo and counting on adults to make change , that stuck. and I’ve not been nervous to speak since! I proudly back CEO Renne Carter and the team changing the  trajectory for these kids because a  child having a home should be the one thing adults agree on!

And you’re also an ambassador for Future Women and work with Business Chicks! How does female empowerment tie into diversity?
Ha! Yes, managed to be surrounded by ambitious women. When discussions around feminism only empower one demographic, it isn’t feminism. 

At it’s core, feminism is access to equal opportunity and it becomes a narrow lens when we forget this includes access to; an education, which provides autonomy over someone’s future, to health care,  for autonomy over our bodies, employment opportunities – the list goes on! People often think of it being a fight of “girls vs boys” but feminism is challenging disparities and biases in having equal access to basic human rights. You don’t have to be a woman to agree with those!

These are the conversations that go beyond our big cities, even our Aussie shores so when we are lifting each other up it’s  crucial we look at who is centred and who the change benefits.

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When we first spoke on the phone, it was amongst some deep conversations around Black Lives Matter. What do you think has changed since events unfolded in June and this conversation became front and centre?
It’s November already! Ah!  We spoke about  privilege and privileges we had as well as racism from a young age. It was never isolating and always came from an angle that our hair skin all of it just what made us who we are. Take having an Afro for example, one year when Paul Frank was all the rage, Mum got us one with an Afro it said “Don’t touch my Fro” or something similar and my brother lived in it whereas I used having a fro to get out of the “No Hat, No Play” rule.. That’s a lighter conversation but I kind of forgot people don’t have to chat about privilege or differences until everyone else started too.  

We’ve come a really long way in Australia in a short amount of time, but not far enough so it’s a great change seeing people notice differences and  similarities between race world over. I can’t wait to read about this time and have it seem so foreign to our lived reality!

You also mentioned the lack of diversity when it comes to the
entertainment industry in Australia. As an Actor, how has that been for you?

We all saw #Metoo and OscarsSoWhite and it seemed foreign  to Australia, but I learned from those before me, if I wanted a career I’d have to work twice as hard to get half as far and I’d only had to turn TV on  to see that was true. The one person I saw who looked like me across Australian TV, Film was Saddle Clubs ‘Carole’ so I thought working abroad wouldn’t be a choice, it’d be the only way to have a career. In addition to comments other artist are familiar with, “Are you sure the chances aren’t high” / “What’s your back up plan” I heard “Wouldn’t be aired“, “Never mainstream TV” ,  “Brown people just don’t show up” etc. I almost believed it, but after training, my first job in the industry was a theatre show set in Uganda of 6 cast members. An all Black cast which had not been done here before not only was there no space in the Audition room, it was a sold out season – these statements were a total myth! There are plenty a like detracting  from the fact that not only is our industry made up of people who are striving for our screens to be more representative of our streets it’s full of people whose identity is inevitably apart of them and are simply doing their job like everyone else. There’s a real sense of being grateful at the moment for all the expertise we have in our backyard,  as well as locations  (sorry Bryon Bay Locals!) no other country has we’ve a range of perspectives and experiences in the stories we can tell. 

We hear diversity and think it means strictly stories from abroad but we’re forgetting these are still Australian stories just from a range of perspectives that are different from what we typically hear. We’re already seeing the value and how rich that makes our industry in more ways than one! We’re catching up to the rest of the world so as the stories we invest in and those who tell them begin to broaden, we may just take over!  

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Tell us about your favourite piece from the Spell shoot:
Do I really have to pick one?! My favourite thing about SPELL is that everything has that magic feeling where you don’t want to take it off! That doesn’t often come with beautiful fashion. Second thought,  did LOVE spinning in the staple SPELL Skirt a little too much! 

Tell us about the process behind creating that amazing hair look we had on the shoot:
3 people,  a fine nit comb through an afro. 6hrs none of us will get back… Thank goodness there’s music and laughter that fills the African hairdressers constantly.

In all seriousness, I’m glad I have so many options of what I can do with my hair. My Mum was dedicated to caring for it even when I was crying and hated it she learned everything about keeping it healthy and pushed for me to enjoy it rather than straighten every day like I often wanted to. Its now huge and  healthy enough to style however I need very helpful on sets!  

Is there anything more you want to say?
Thank you for such a beautiful day in the magic that is the Spell Universe – What a wonderful thing you’ve created! 


With love to Zufi
Captured by The Fourth Creative
in conversation with Mel Carrero

Ada Tunic
Zufi wears the Anne Jumpsuit (styled strapless!)
Surf & Sun Singlet paired with our Mystic Tasselled Robe
Mystic Tie Top and Maxi Skirt