Nomzamo Mbatha is another success story of a South African actress making waves in Hollywood. We should be most proud of this growing trend.
Although Charlize Theron has set a benchmark few can match, Tinseltown’s warm embrace of Thuso Mbedu (“The Underground Railroad”), Lesley-Ann Brandt (“Lucifer”) and Sasha Pieterse (“Pretty Little Liars”) is a win.
And award-winning actress, Terry Pheto, will attest to the cutthroat nature of the industry following her short-lived stint on the long-running soapie, “The Bold and the Beautiful”, several years back.
When Mbatha took that leap of faith at the end of 2019, many felt she was chasing a pipe dream.
She felt otherwise and proved it by landing a major role in “Coming 2 America”, the sequel to Eddie Murphy’s 1988 hit movie, “Coming to America”.
I recently enjoyed a virtual chat with Mbatha, who is looking every inch the star that she is.
She explained: “In 2019, I left South Africa and my comfort zone. Everyone that knew I was moving to America said, ‘you are at the peak of your career, why would you do that?’
“I felt, for me, it was the power of proximity and being closer to the pulse of the stories that I wanted to tell and just taking that leap of faith of just being in Hollywood and seeing what it had to offer me.
“And it’s so strange that six months later, I’m then cast in a film that is called ‘Coming 2 America’ and this is the breakout role for me.
“I feel like this is also my personal ‘Coming 2 America’ story in a way. This is the power of dreams and pursuing your dream and putting in the hours.”
She added: “It’s not easy, of course, to move to Hollywood. It is such a big town.
“But for me, it was important as well to put in the work and invest in myself as an actress.
“South Africa has always rallied around the work that I do, no matter what it is that I do, and always supported me.
“For me, it is like where do we take the dream next. How do we shift the needle and how to we move the goal post and that’s what it was.”
To get noticed in Hollywood, where beautiful and talented actresses are a dime a dozen, you have to stand out.
By bagging the role of Mirembe, a royal barber who ends up falling in love with a Prince, Mbatha proved her je ne sais quoi.
On how she reacted when she found out, she laughed: “I cried, duh. I also found out on my late grandmother’s birthday and anybody who knows me knows that she was the greatest love of my life. That was such a beautiful moment for me. “
This world may be new to the 30-year-old actress and humans rights activist, but she rules it with grace, confidence and authenticity.
I almost feel like Beyoncé “Run the World (Girls)” should be commemorating this moment for Mbatha, who went on to describe, with unmistakable excitement, how amazing it was to be at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
Of course, getting to meet and work alongside the legendary Murphy is not something many get bragging rights to.
“It was like my second day on set, he greeted everyone. He’s just like this consummate professional, so grounded and such a gentleman as well. And he didn’t butcher my name. I was like, ‘Eddie Murphy knows how to say my name’.
She added: “He’s incredible and amazing and I’m so glad I got to work with him.”
Mbatha also got to share plenty of screentime with rising star Jermaine Fowler, who is King Akeem Joffer’s (Murphy) son, Lovelle.
She is cast as Lovelle’s love interest.
“We just clicked from the moment we met,” Mbatha shared. “We would go for coffee in the mornings so we can be able to get to know each other and bring that authentic feeling on set so that when we are shooting, that chemistry is there.”
Behind the scenes, both of them geeked out over having so many legends - Arsenio Hall, Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes, Morgan Freeman and Rick Ross to James Earl Jones - around them.
What made Mbatha terribly proud, too, was wearing an outfit by local designer Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa Africa.
She added: “My uniform was fully MaXhosa. I would tell everyone on set, ‘You do know that this if African luxury, right?’ So awesome.”
In describing her character, she said: “What I love about Mirende... she is rooted in one of the big central themes in this film, which is female empowerment and the power of the female voice.
“For her, she’s a traditional Zamundian woman. But she goes against the grain. She’s a barber instead of being a bather.
“She also has sass, wit and charm as well.”
When she was done, I couldn’t help but marvel over the parallels between her character and her it how feels like Mbatha’s come full circle with this movie.
So kudos to Mbatha for proving that dreams can - and do - come true. You go Queen!
“Coming 2 America” releases at cinemas nationwide from March 5 and will be streaming on Amazon Prime Video.