Sunday Tribune

Thuso Mbedu steps into her Hollywood shoes

- BUHLE MBONAMBI INSIDER EDITOR bduebhales.hminbeo.nthaamnbgi­

WHEN Thuso Mbedu walked on to the red carpet at the 2017 Internatio­nal Emmy Awards, practicall­y floating in her teal Gert-johan Coetzee gown, you could see a glint of pride in her eyes.

As the photograph­ers called her name and she turned, one could say she was having her fairytale moment.

Even though she didn’t win the Emmy for her portrayal of feisty schoolgirl Winnie in Mzansi Magic’s Is’thunzi, the world was watching with interest.

When the news broke in 2019 that she was the leading star of Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins’s next high-profile project, The Undergroun­d Railroad, the industry perked up. For Jenkins to give this role to a newcomer in Hollywood, meant that he was on to something. And they are right.

The 10-episode drama series, which starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, sees Thuso star as Cora Randall, a slave who escapes a plantation in Georgia. She boards a train, embarking on a trip where she seeks freedom. All this while she is hunted by a notorious slave catcher, Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton).

The early reviews for The Undergroun­d Railroad, which is adapted from the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colton Whitehead, have been glowing, with critics praising her performanc­e and some predicting a Primetime Emmy nomination for the work on the show.

Thuso has drawn parallels between her life and that of her character. Thuso did not grow up with her mother, who died due to a brain tumour. She and her younger sister, were raised by their grandmothe­r.

Cora’s mother, Mabel, fled the plantation, leaving 11-year-old Cora to suffer and deal with enslavemen­t without her protection.

In a Twitter thread, the award-winning actor listed reasons why the character appealed to her.

“There’s a part of me that wants to say I saw parts of me in her, but I don’t know if I’m brave enough to say that yet because Cora is so much stronger than me.

“But playing her did help heal parts of me I did not know were wounded – maybe that’s what drew me to her. Cora’s freedom is tied to running, and we see this as we go from episode to

episode. Whitehead created a human being that people can point to on the street. She’s a brave but fragile young woman because of everything she’s been through.

“Cora is simple, but complicate­d. We are only as strong as our hardest challenge, and through Cora we see that. She gives hope for a future to the everyday man and woman who, with each new day, find themselves fighting for something. What I like about Cora is that she holds the mic for everyone to be heard. As she goes from state to state, not only are we following her but

by following her, we meet many others whom she allows to share a piece of themselves.”

The first time I saw Thuso on screen was in Saints & Sinners in 2014, in which she played Boni Khumalo. It was an all-star drama that featured some of South Africa’s top actors, including Ntathi Moshesh, Tumisho Masha and S’dumo Mtshali. And Thuso stole the show. Her performanc­e was so explosive and her understand­ing of Boni gave the character so much nuance, that you couldn’t tear your eyes from the screen.

And then there’s Is’thunzi, which earned her the Emmy nomination­s and her first South African Film and Television Award, and likely got her the attention from Jenkins.

It’s rare watching someone’s star really shoot up and start shining so bright. Especially a South African actor. While many do try their chances at a Hollywood career, most only get bit roles and cameos on procedural­s. Seldom do you get a South African actor leading a new TV series.

Thuso is living the Hollywood dream. She shares a style team (Wayman and Micah) with one of her favourite actors, Regina King. And they are kitting her out in high end designer garb; she’s on the radar of Hollywood’s key decision-makers and she just scored her next leading role, alongside her idol, Viola Davis.

It was announced last week that Thuso would be starring in The Woman King, a historical epic inspired by true events in the kingdom of Dahomey, a pre-colonial kingdom in what is now Benin. Thuso was handpicked by Davis and her producer husband Julius Tennon.

 ??  ?? THUSO has drawn parallels between her life and that of her character.
THUSO has drawn parallels between her life and that of her character.

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