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AFRICANS MAKE A DIFFERENCE ON THE GLOBAL FILM CIRCUIT

Entertainment News

In the fast-paced, super-competitive creative bubble we know as Hollywood, there are many black celebrities on the rise. Most film fans assume that these stars are black Americans but in fact there are ever-increasing numbers of top names in the US film industry who are African-born or African by descent. And a good number of these screen whizzes are blazing the Hollywood trail, many of them bagging awards while they’re at it.

In the fast-paced, super-competitive creative bubble we know as Hollywood, there are many black celebrities on the rise. Most film fans assume that these stars are black Americans but in fact there are ever-increasing numbers of top names in the US film industry who are African-born or African by descent. And a good number of these screen whizzes are blazing the Hollywood trail, many of them bagging awards while they’re at it.

It’s worth noting that some of the people lighting the fire in Los Angeles are either first-generation African or born of parents of mixed heritage. Many go to Hollywood to pursue a dream that could not be realised in their home country and some of them have naturalised quickly or eventually adopted US citizenship.

Nevertheless, it’s a lot easier (and much more common) these days to spot the African actors, directors and screenwriters taking on memorable roles and shaping the world of television and cinema. They include the likes of Nigeria’s Dayo Okeniyi (The Hunger Games) and Yvonne Orji (Insecure), South Africa’s Pearl Thusi (Quantico), the Nigerian-British Chiwetel Ejiofor (Amistad, 12 Years a Slave) and the Ugandan-German Florence Kasumba (of Emerald City, Wonder Woman and Black Panther fame).

Here are some of the top names who trace their origins back to the great continent.

Kenya

Edi Gathegi is one of the biggest Kenyan exports to the American acting scene. Born in Nairobi Kenya in 1979, he moved to California with his parents whilst still young. He pursued a graduate acting programme at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University and graduated in 2005. He plays Dr Jeffrey Cole in the popular TV series House.

He has had other TV roles in Lincoln Heights, Nikita, The Family Tools, CSI Miami, Beauty and the Beast and Red Widow. Among the many movies he has acted in are Gone Baby Gone, The Fifth Patient, Death Sentence, Twilight Series, X-Men: First Class, My Bloody Valentine, Atlas Shrugged and Shiva and May.

Benjamin A Onyango is known or playing Reverend Jude in God’s Not Dead, but he got his first big Hollywood gig playing the role of the president’s son’s bodyguard Colonel Emanuel Okeze in Tears of the Sun (2003).

Our favourite on this list is Lupita Nyong’o. With her fearless portrayal of Nakia in Black Panther, and her imminent roles as Trevor Noah’s mother in the film adaptation of Born a Crime and as Viola Davis’s daughter in The Woman King, Lupita’s Hollywood star just keeps shining brighter.

But before she ever won her first Academy Award or became a red-carpet favourite and style icon, she was the headstrong femme fatale Ayira in the first season of MTV’s Shuga.

Ghana

Boris Kodjoe’s father is an Nzema from the far western reaches of Ghana and his mother is German Jewish. The actor holds German citizenship but was born in Austria. He has had some of his most popular turns in Surrogates, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Evil Goes Global, The Gospel, Resident Evil: Retribution and Brown Sugar.

Then there’s Peter Mensah. Mensah, a giant of a man, was born in Accra in 1959. He has featured in many roles in popular action movies across the world, including Tears of the Sun, 300, Avatar, The Incredible Hulk, Hidalgo and several TV series. The most popular of his TV acts remains his role in the Starz productions Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its sequels. He grew up in England after his engineer father and writer mother moved there when he was 11, and now lives in Canada.

Idris Elba, whose mother is Ghanaian (his dad is Sierra Leonean), always plays a badass. A super-short selection of his stellar work: Stringer Bell in The Wire, the complex Luther in the detective series of the same name, the mighty Heimdall in Thor and Janek the Crosby, Stills and Nash fan in Prometheus, in which he manages to seduce Charlize Theron with a horrible-sounding accordion. Elba also starred in the title role of the legendary South African freedom fighter in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Amma Asante is a British-Ghanaian director/producer, screenwriter and former actress. She was born in south London in 1969 and raised locally, in Streatham. Her love for the performing arts emerged as a child when she won her first role in the award-winning BBC TV kids’ series Grange Hill. In her late teens, Asante left acting and worked in screenwriting under a development deal with Chrysalis.

She founded a production company, Tantrum Films, where she wrote and produced two series of the BBC2 drama Brothers and Sisters (1998), set in a black community in Bristol. She is known for her feature films A Way of Life (2004, her debut) and Belle (2013). A Way of Life, which she both wrote and directed, won her many awards, both in the UK and abroad.

Last year, she directed the wartime romance Where Hands Touch, starring the African-American actress Amandla Stenberg and the award-winning British heartthrob Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, 28 Days Later).

Nigeria

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is a British citizen but a son of Yoruba parents. He attended the University of London, where he studied for a Master’s degree in law. His popular films include The Bourne Identity (in which he played Wombosi), The Mummy Returns, Lost, Oz, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Samurai, Thor: The Dark World, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Pompeii.

Chiwetel Ejiofor has distinguished himself as an actor on screen and stage and is now a director. Born of Igbo parents who acquired UK citizenship, the movie maestro has acted in a list films as long as your arm since his 1996 debut in Deadly Voyage.

He has had notable roles in Amistad, G:MT Greenwich Mean Time, Dirty Pretty Things, Twelfth Night, Love Actually, She Hates Me, Red Dust, Melinda and Melinda, Four Brothers, Serenity, Slow Burn, Kinky Burns, Inside Man, Children of Men, Tsunami: The Aftermath, Talk to Me, American Gangster, Salt, Steve McQueens Oscar-winning Twelve Years a Slave and Half of a Yellow Sun, based on the award-winning novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Rick Famuyiwa has been signed to work on the upcoming Star Wars, out this year. The Nigerian-American director also produces and has been a screenwriter on productions as varied as The Wood, Brown Sugar, Talk to Me and Dope.

South Africa

South Africa is the leading nation when it comes to actors and actresses of African origin working in Hollywood. There are so many South Africans in Hollywood and the US television industry that the country has international recognition and almost no longer merits special mention.

Number one on our South African actors’ list is none other than the beautiful Charlize Theron, born in Johannesburg in 1975. Charlize’s first language is Afrikaans: her father is French and her mother is of German descent. Her big breakthrough came when she won a Best Actress Oscar for playing the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003).

She has also featured in movies such as Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), The Devil’s Advocate (1997), A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016), The Fate of the Furious (2017) and Tully (2018).

Gavin Hood is a South African film-maker, screenwriter and actor, best known for writing and directing Tsotsi (2005), which won that year’s Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. He also directed the films X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game and Eye in the Sky.

The actress, model, TV host and radio personality Sithembile Xola Pearl Thusi gained fame for her portrayal of Patricia Kopong in the BBC/HBO comedy-drama series The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Dayana Mampasi in the ABC thriller Quantico and Samkelo in the romantic drama film Catching Feelings. She plays the lead role in the upcoming Netflix crime drama series Queen Sono.