Singer, songwriter and activist Simphiwe Dana is diving deep into herself to tell a story through acting, a departure from sharing narratives through song.
Simphiwe is starring in the film directed by Mmabatho Montsho, "Joko Ya Hao", modelled on the life of late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Joko Ya Hao is the first film from the 34-year-old Montsho, who has been featured in a wide array of productions, including "Happiness is a Four-Letter Word" and "Lockdown".
Simphiwe portrays Nozizwe, a woman who leaves her village to go to Joburg in the 1950s to seek help for her people who are oppressed. “She is a widow, who has now been living in Joburg for about five years and a deeply religious woman, but her spirituality doesn’t stop her notions of freedom and activism.
“Her character is heavily borrowed from Mama Winnie’s life and, even though she strongly believes in all those ideals, she doesn’t really want to be involved in politics, but she is thrown into it,” says Simphiwe.
Nozizwe’s story, according to her, brings to the fore “the humanity and realness of the women who were in the struggle” because their stories have been erased.
“The film is an effort to humanise women and their struggles and not to see them as appendages of men, to basically see them as singular entities whose contributions and lives mattered.”
Dana is no stranger to acting, having been in the movie, "A Boy Called Themba", in 2010, but she says the journey on this particular movie was tough.
“I find that acting generally is really, really hard because it requires you to dig deep into not only your emotions but your memories - and sometimes those are memories that you would rather forget.
“It can be very traumatic, but at the same time that is also the beauty of it,” she says about the experience of the shoot, which put her in bed for a week when it ended. However, the 38-year-old singer says there were lessons to be learnt and the process itself brought about a lot of healing.
“Stories like these are important because they put all these mirrors to our faces and force us to rethink our attitudes towards women. To remember who women really are instead of our oppressive view of who they are supposed to be.”
Simphiwe still doesn’t consider herself an actress, although she was head-hunted for both roles. But given the opportunity to act again, she says she’ll jump at it.
“The difference between a man writing a woman’s story and a woman doing it is that women see women as human beings with emotions and spirituality. They write from that standpoint and that is the beauty of it They see you, not just boobs and ass.”