Picture: Dominic Barnardt

Johannesburg - The queen of bling Khanyi Mbau, award-winning actor and choreographer Khabonina Qubeka, rising Idols star Gugu Zulu, and up-coming rapper Mandisa Nduna are among the South Africans named to star in ‘She is King’, the new film by Gersh Kgamedi.

“The film is filled with remarkable female characters across different generations because we wanted to show a diversity of female experiences,” said producer Nicola Rauch. 

The film is based against the glossy backdrop of the City of Gold as the Broadway of Africa, and tells the story of Khanyisile (Zulu), a talented singer, dancer and actoress who wants to be a star.

She travels from her home in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, to audition for a new musical to be staged at the Joburg Theatre, in Johannesburg, based on the life of powerful Zulu Queen, Mkabayi ka Jama.

The musical celebrates the powerful woman that she was and how she helped shape her nation, said Rauch.

“We wanted to drive home the message that young women can make choices that don’t require them to compromise who they are. The film also shows that success in the entertainment industry does not come easy. People think that it’s all about red carpets and glamorous parties, but the truth is that it takes hard work.”

Mbau, one of South Africa’s most outspoken and glamorous celebrities, plays the role of Vivian. Mbau described her as a new age Whoopi Goldberg who nurtures and mentors kids who want to be stars. 

“Playing Vivian came with its own challenges,” Mbau said. 

“I was stripped bare. Being made to change my hair and wear minimal make-up, I was completely out of my comfort zone. But Vivian is a great character. I’m often cast as the villain, but in this film, I play the role of an angel. Vivian is an advisor; she is someone that young girls can talk to and trust. She provides guidance for the dancers who are looking to become stars.”

In the role of Gugu is media personality, business woman, choreographer and fitness guru Khabonina Qubeka. 

“One of the things I loved most about this film is the new female talent that it features. There are some amazing roles being fulfilled by exciting, talented young women. The cast is a great mix of passionate newcomers and well-known, established actors," Qubeka said.

“I play a woman who is fighting to be recognised. I dance, sing, act and choreograph in the film, which makes me feel like all my talents have been put to use, and that has been extremely rewarding. The film made me feel like there is nothing I cannot do.”

She added that the music in the film was exceptional. 

“It’s a celebration of South African music as a whole, of our most popular singers and musicians, and especially of Maskande. It’s a total sensory experience.”

Zulu, 25, grew up listening to jazz and gospel and is a huge fan of Lira. 

“Khanyisile has a hard time,’ Zulu said. 

“She has to keep up with her more seasoned fellow performers, deal with the jealousy of the aging leading lady, and survive the punishing rehearsal schedule to make it to opening night. She is a character who has gone through many of the same things that I did. She’s a young woman burning with talent and ambition, who is prepared to fight hard for her place in the sun.”

Zulu is a star the making, according to director Gersh. 

“In addition to her incredible singing skills and dancing expertise, she gives a nuanced and engaging performance.”

The soundtrack to ‘She Is King’ will be available from 1 December from Gallo internationally.

The film was made with the support of the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), MNET and the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC), and will be distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution.