A different class
Award-winning actor, writer and playwright Donald Molosi (35) is leveraging his talents to transform education in his native Botswana
Tell us about your upbringing and the impact it had on your career.
I grew up in Mahalapye, a small town in central Botswana, in a closely-knit, singlemother-headed household alongside my elder brother. It wasn’t a typical Tswana home – our mom was a linguist and we always had a great appreciation for the issues of the day and healthy debate. I knew I wanted to be an actor at the age of four and while at high school in Gaborone, I got the opportunity to perform at the UN headquarters in New York City and be mentored by Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel. That experience has remained with me.
You studied drama and theatre in the USA and the UK. How did you adjust to those environments?
I was escaping an artistic vacuum – Botswana didn’t even have a TV channel back then. Spencer Clark from Gladiator wand Christine Baranski’s (Chicago, The Big Bang Theory) daughter were my classmates at high school in Connecticut. Later, I was mentored by the likes of David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art and learnt about the industry beyond acting technique. David and I spoke the same “language” when we appeared together in A United Kingdom.
The West acknowledges the arts as a way of preserving memories and holding a mirror to society. Without reflection, we can’t move forward. In Botswana and other parts of Africa, however, creatives are still treated as pariahs. We need to confront that boldly, as I’ve been doing through my TedX talks and essays. Too often, corporates bring in performers as human jukeboxes – merely sideshows for entertainment.
Tell us more about Dear Upright African, your movement for educational change in Botswana.
What started out as a TedX talk and essay has now become a fully-fledged movement to lobby for curriculum change in Botswana to reflect African history more accurately. I’ve obtained the support of Botswana leadership and the likes of Graça Machel and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu are also backing it. Any movement needs a manifesto, so when I lobby in Parliament, I have a list of concerns on hand. This is why I’ve written a book, which is set for release in North America shortly. I’m not a full-time activist, but I’m not going to give up until change has been effected. Liberate the classroom and maybe they’ll even start teaching drama and music, which will seed my vocation. Botswana is the only African country without a national theatre. There’s a lack of political will and a fear that artists might speak truth to power. Maybe that will change too. I love Botswana, but it’s a heartbreaking place. It’s the leading diamond producer in the world, but there’s crushing poverty everywhere. I want to hold a mirror to this rigid, corrupt society.
How have you managed to balance your various interests?
My mom died when I was 16. I knew I had to pursue my dream, while feeding myself when I wasn’t performing. That turned me into a meticulous planner. I have three career tracks – film, theatre and writing. Nothing in my career has been coincidental, as I work towards targets consistently. Planning my life up to 10 years in advance has been incredibly beneficial.
You’ve appeared on Broadway and in Hollywood blockbusters. Do you prefer film or theatre?
They strengthen each other. I like doing theatre because of the difficulty of performing live and often alone, along with the thrill of instant feedback from the audience. With film, I enjoy having to think about how the camera captures me beforehand and its global reach and potential to build my brand.