Award-winning film and TV actress Hlubi Mboya-Arnold says she had to go the extra mile to get herself ready for her gritty lead role in Netflix’s new child sex trafficking film I Am All Girls.
The actress plays the lead role of Ntombizonke in the thrilling new local film, which is set to be released next month.
“I have a teachable spirit and the ability to be agile and adaptive.
“I am a gut actor, and instinct is a valuable asset of any actor.
“However working on a movie like this, I couldn’t rely on just that,” Mboya-Arnold told the Saturday Star.
“I am a scholar by trait, so research is a big part of who I am and what I do, in all my different points of contact, and in anything I do.
“I chose to align my character to the real-life-based experiences of human trafficking survivor, best selling author, and women's activist, Grizelda Grootboom.”
She said she spent quality time with her, read her book "Exit", and spoke to her throughout the making of the film.
“She has become a wonderful, personal friend of mine. As my character research for Ntombizonke, I hope my work and my art is loved and respected in particular, by her.”
The mystery-thriller, which is produced by Nthibah Pictures, is a powerful story of a global child sex trafficking syndicate, operating in South Africa, with its long coastline and porous borders.
The 43 year old takes on the challenging and dynamic lead role of Ntombizonke, a troubled but powerful detective with a dark, ugly secret.
She stars across Erica Wessels who plays her unlikely confidant and emotionally troubled colleague, ‘Jodie Synman’.
The story, which has been four years in the making, follows the two detectives as they embark on an all-consuming journey to find justice and bring down the global human trafficking ring that once consumed one of their lives.
Directed by Donovan Marsh, the story is set in the dying days of apartheid where girls are sold to Iranian sheiks, in exchange for oil, to bypass sanctions.
Once these girls are considered “used up”, they are returned to be sold into low-end brothels.
“I’m All Girls is about child exploitation and sex slavery,” said Mboya-Arnold.
“It's about the people who are involved, the people who we are trying to protect, and what society deems as an oversight.
“South Africa is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking.”
It is estimated that around 155 000 people live in modern-day slavery in South Africa, and every 26 seconds globally, a child is trafficked, with less than one percent of these victims ever recovered.
“The film is thrilling and empowering, and it reminds us that human trafficking is the second biggest profit-making crime in the world, next to drug trafficking, which makes about $150 billion a year.”
Mboya-Arnold has described her character in the film as “dark”.
“Ntombizonke is not a very accessible character.
“She has a secret and she finds herself in service of the protection of people as a forensic officer.
“She has a vengeance when it comes to bringing down kingpins of human trafficking syndicates.
“The journey is between her and her partner, who is a friend and confidante.
“These two are women trying to bring justice to human trafficking victims and survivors.”
She added that her role as Ntombizonke had challenged her as an actress.
“I’m all about pushing myself beyond my personal emotional limits when it comes to character portrayal.
“I’m all about portraying lives that are not my own, but I want people who live those situations to be able to relate and to know that I did it with honour, grace, truth, insight, intuition, and high reflection.”
She also expressed her delight at working on a film that focuses on such an important issue globally.
“When the intent and the nucleus of the movie is of such importance and relevance, awareness and urgency sets a tone when you are on set.
“It sets a tone when you come back home as an actor about the work you have done, it sets a tone on what you want the audiences to take out of it and it also sets a tone whether it will create change not only in South Africa but the rest of the world.
“The global Covid-19 pandemic has meant the increased risk has brought with it fears that might put vulnerable individuals and families at greater risk of being trafficked."
“It is is a privilege that our executives have global networks and a reach in the global and film TV market.
“There may not be a solution, but there are several ways to combat and prevent human trafficking.
“We hope that whoever picks it up and whoever wants to show it on varied platforms, has the consciousness to want to create awareness through brilliant storytelling and film.”
Asked what attracted her to the film, Mboya-Arnold said: “ My DNA and my purpose as a creative artist and advocate, is to use media, not to be used by it.
“Since the beginning of my professional career as Nandipha on Isidingo, I know the power that storytelling can have, and that it can create social change and changed behaviour.
“In a nutshell, edutainment is my vibe!”
She also spoke of her delight at once again teaming up with director Donovan Marsh, having previously worked with him on local film iNumber Number.
“Donavan Marsh is an exception to the rule when it comes to directing,” said Mboya-Arnold.
“I think his past work speaks for itself.
“I had the cool experience of working with him on iNumber Number, and I find that as a director he just lets his actors do what they do best.
“He’s very particular and focused.
“Deliberate and intentional about the story he wants to tell. He outlines the foundation.
“He's the frame, and we are the picture.
“We are the storytellers.”
"I hope our paths will creatively cross again in the future.
“It’s captivating, it's all things grit, which is synonymous with Hlubi Mboya-Arnold.
“The cast, the producers, the executives, and the wonderful crew are all proud to share I Am All Girls with the world.”
I Am All Girls will release on Netflix on May 14.