A shining star: an interview with Midori Francis

Emmy-nominated actress is daughter of Ken Iwama, IU Northwest’s seventh Chancellor

It’s audition week for a community theatrical production of "Annie." A little girl, just six years old, takes the stage and sings "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" for the casting director. Excited about the little girl’s talent, the director adds an extra role to make sure she gets a part. After that, the girl never wants to stop acting.

The little girl was Midori Iwama, and the supportive parents in the background were Joanne and Ken Iwama, the seventh chancellor of Indiana University Northwest. (Midori Iwama now goes by Midori Francis professionally.)

Francis’s current work includes a role in "The Sex Lives of College Girls," an upcoming American teen comedy-drama created by Mindy Kaling, that is set to premiere on HBO Max in late 2021, and in Netflix’s "Afterlife of the Party" and "Dash & Lily."

But despite the big roles she’s landed, she said it was her parents’ character and drive from an early age that has impacted her the most.

"[My parents] have always been extremely supportive of whatever I wanted to do," she said. Although they encouraged her to put her education before pursuing a professional acting career, they always instilled within her a love of theater and art.

"My dad always told me to do what I love, and the money will come," Francis said. "The sentiment behind that was for me not to pursue something because others find value in it, or because I thought it would make him proud."

She said that her father always preached and demonstrated a strong work ethic. After all, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

As Francis gears up to do a dramatic reading at Iwama’s installation ceremony (set for October 1, 2021), she’s had a chance to reflect on the example her father set for her. 

"My dad is extremely passionate about work. He loves the students he works for," she said. "It makes me proud and happy to see him in this position, because I know he deserves it."

Hallmark to Iwama’s leadership style is optimism, an ideology Francis said was prevalent in her household while growing up on the Jersey coast.

"He encouraged me to have a balanced perspective on rejection and failure, and to take what life throws at you in stride. He never allowed me to wallow in anything for longer than a minute," she said, laughing.

Iwama also instilled in his daughter that humility is key. "There’s always somebody working harder than you getting a lot less appreciation," Francis said. "Take pride [in doing a good job], but never boast about it." 

Since Iwama began his tenure at IU Northwest in August 2020, Francis has had the chance to visit the campus. She remarked about how beautiful the area is, especially scenic Lake Michigan. The actress also mentioned how friendly the community is—people stop and say hello rather than brush past.

And Francis has some words of advice for the campus community, specifically for the school’s performing art students. "Be present, go bold, and make a lot of mistakes," she said. "You’re going to have time to worry about your career when you graduate."

So many students get wrapped up in preparing for the future that they forget to live in the present. Francis reminds us to stop, even for a little while, and enjoy where we are.

She also encourages students to do what they love, whether it’s their job or not. For her part, Francis once took on unpaid work that soon morphed into her passion project. "Any time you can work, even if it’s just being with [your peers] and putting a production on together—that’s really important," she said. "You need to feel artistically active."

From singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to becoming a star in her own right, Francis has certainly given her father something to be proud of. Now, both Francis and Iwama have made a career of sharing their passion, work ethic, and talent with others.

As she prepares to participate in her father’s ceremony, Francis can’t help but recognize how the tables have turned. This time, while her father will be front and center at his upcoming Installation, she’ll have the opportunity to sit back, watch, and beam with pride, just as he has been doing since day one.


Midori Francis is a Drama Desk and Obie Award recipient of Pulitzer Prize-nominated play "The Wolves." She received another Drama Desk nomination for her critically acclaimed performance in "Usual Girls." After breaking out in the blockbuster film "Good Boys," she soared on the small screen as Lily in Netflix’s "Dash & Lily" garnering her an Emmy nomination.