SIBONGILE Mlambo, a United States-based Zimbabwean actress, seems to have hit a purple patch. Born and bred in Zimbabwe, Mlambo first appeared in the local film, Kini and Adams, while she was only 10.
BY FREEMAN MAKOPA
She had already started dreaming about Hollywood, which seemed like such a far-off place. Having bagged television credits including God Friended Me (CBS), Lost In Space (Netflix), Siren (Freeform), Dark/Web (Amazon), Macgyver (CBS), Teen Wolf (MTV) and Black Sails (Starz) while living in Los Angeles, she is now living her dream as she tells NewsDay Life & Style…
I think one of my biggest breaks was when I worked on Black Sails in South Africa. I was based in Cape Town at the time and it was my first international series where I had more than a couple of lines. I actually had a meaty part. I prepared so much for my audition, I researched about the transatlantic slave trade and I remember going to the audition barefoot and sitting on the floor to really help me get into her state of mind. I loved playing my character, Eme, and her story. I ended up being on the show for four seasons. It really opened my eyes to what it’s like working on an American TV show and what possibilities were out there.
While I do have more success in TV, some films I have starred in include Message from the King with Boseman (Black Panther), Under the Silver Lake with Andrew Garfield and Riley Keough, The Last Face directed by Sean Penn with Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem and as the fiery dancer, Ishani in Universal’s Honey 3. The latter was such a dream come true for me, especially since I have a background in dance. It was a lot of hard work learning all the choreography. Sometimes we would still be learning routines just before we had to shoot them. It was my first lead role in a feature film and I got to shoot it in South Africa surrounded by friends and family. It will always have a special place in my heart.
Africans in film
I do feel like the acting industry has grown. For example, when I first came to Los Angeles, I would hardly see African actresses at auditions specifically looking for Africans. Now, I can be at an audition in a room full of African actresses from around the world. There are so many more shows and movies with black leads and the number of opportunities has increased. Of course, there are still problems, it is not a perfect growth, but things have expanded nonetheless.
Despite reaching certain milestones or levels of success, many creatives can attest to experiencing moments of self doubt and imposter syndrome that can erode one’s self esteem. This is something I have experienced and continue to overcome day by day. As much as I can, I try to take care of my mental, emotional and physical health and focus on my own goals and what’s important.
I think one of the best ways to stand out in Hollywood is by being yourself and embracing what makes you unique. The first film I booked in Los Angeles was as a girl from Cape Town, Bianca, who gets murdered in LA. Her brother, played by Boseman, comes from South Africa to find out what happened to her. When I auditioned for the film, I was visiting Los Angeles for a week and would be flying back to Cape Town the next day. I made the script my own by adding some words in Xhosa that I knew Americans probably didn’t know. I think that brought more authenticity to the role and in the end, after weeks of agonising, I booked it.
My first memory of acting was for fun as a little girl at my grandfather’s house. My cousins, siblings and I would put on performances during the holidays. I then watched my sister play Tamari in Everyone’s Child at Avondale Movie Theatre. I was captivated by her performance and that drove me to my first role in the film Kini and Adams, starring Vusi Kunene, Nthathi Moshesh and John Kani.
I am currently starring in a guest role on Lovecraft Country which just premiered on HBO here in the US. It’s written by Misha Green and produced by JJ Abrams & Jordan Peele. I really admire women like Issa Rae and Michaela Coel who took their careers into their own hands and created their own work. I’d love to do the same and have a full slate of original work someday.
I’m in talks with one of the programme coordinators of the European Film Festival in Zimbabwe that will be held later this year. I will be teaching a masterclass and serving as part of the jury to judge short films by local filmmakers in competition at the festival.