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Image by Molly Albright.

Nomzamo Mbatha as Mirembe, the royal groomer, in 'Coming 2 America.'

In Conversation with Nomzamo Mbatha on the Role of Her Life in 'Coming 2 America'

South African actress Nomzamo Mbatha speaks on her role as Mirembe in 'Coming 2 America', the power of comedy and experiencing pure joy with the entire cast being dressed in South African luxury brand, Maxhosa.

Coming 2 Americapremiered last Friday on Amazon Prime, and several cinemas on the continent including South Africa and Nigeria, and there was much excitement around the highly-anticipated sequel. Starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Jennifer Sears—members of the original cast—the film also had a cameo appearance from Davido and saw the only South African actress on set, Nomzamo Mbatha, in her breakout international role.

While it had all the excitement and fanfare of Black Panther, there have admittedly been some mixed reviews from South Africans on social media since the premiere. Chief among the skepticism were the dated "African accents" used by the characters in the film and more especially with regards to Mbatha, in her portrayal of Mirembe, the royal groomer. Times have certainly changed in the three decades since the first film premiered and social media didn't exist either. However, to be fair, these accents have not actually changed from the first film—just the awareness around them.

Nonetheless, this is Mbatha's first international role alongside a multitude of acting veterans. The South African actress has previously starred in local films including Tell Me Sweet Something (2015), All About Love (2017) and The Jakes are Missing (2015) and is an active humanitarian with her work with the Nomzamo Lighthouse Foundation in addition to being a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR as from 2019.

Ahead of the premiere of Coming 2 America, we caught up with her from Los Angeles to speak about her breakout international role, what this opportunity means for her professionally, having famed costume designer Ruth Carter dress the entire cast in South African luxury brand Maxhosa, and the power of comedy in society.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Sequels get a bit of a bad rep sometimes because they're not as great as the first. How would you describe Coming 2 America versus the first film which aired over 30 years ago?

The first film actually came out like 32 years ago and I wasn't even born yet. I think remakes get a bad rep. I don't think sequels get as much of a bad rep as remakes just because a remake is trying to recreate something that was already there and it's like, "I can't see it". Whereas with a sequel, you're picking up from your favourite world that you were introduced to back then. We're picking up from where the world is now, in that world. So I think that's the most beautiful thing about sequels because it's like, "Oh my God, I remember how the original film made me feel, I can't wait to see where they are now. Do they have children, what are they doing? Are they still in love? Are they still together? Who's new?"

So there's that excitement that comes with the sequel. What Craig [Brewer] wanted to really bring forth, and also just to have the important central themes come through with this particular one, is the search for purpose and the connection to your identity. And also to leave behind the old and embrace the new and the biggest central theme, which is my favorite one, female empowerment. There is so much female power, woman power, in this one it's sickening. You'll watch it with your girlfriends and have moments where it's like, "Yeah, sis! Yes!"

You're the only South African actor on the set of Coming 2 America. How did snagging this particular opportunity feel for you personally and professionally?

Oh my gosh. I mean, I truly wanted this role because I felt like I would be able to give her the subtle African woman nuances. I obviously was beyond excited when I got the news. I bawled my eyes out like. My first breakout role is on Coming 2 America and this is serendipitous. So for me, it was also very daunting just because you understand that there's a lot of pressure from your people to be represented because you know there is African pride.

There are so many people, women and girls, that are going to feel seen and heard and represented. And I think, [the film] just read the room in that regard. It had its finger on the pulse. So I'm excited about this particular sequel just because it's been a long-awaited sequel. Everybody has been wanting to see us again in that light, before your Black Panther, before your Wakandas were there, there was Coming to America which represented people in their most royal and beautiful selves just living large and doing Black, rich shit.

Nomzamo Mbatha - OkayAfricaNomzamo Mbatha as Mirembe, the royal groomer, in 'Coming 2 America.'Image supplied.

Describe Mirembe, the royal groomer, and some of the ways that you perhaps feel you relate to her as a character.

Mirembe, she is smart. She's charming, she's witty and she's quick with her tongue. She knows all about Zamunda as she is a Zamundan woman through and through. There is so much pride in who she is and where she comes from and equally, that's kind of how I am. Everywhere that I go, everybody knows I represent my people through and through. Everything that I do, it's African AF. I have so much pride in who I am and I borrowed certain things about myself to her in that regard.

As traditional as she is, she's also the most unconventional Zamundan woman because every Zamundan woman is expected to be a royal waver. And she's not, she is a groomer, a barber. She's running her own barbershop. It's that dynamic that she brings in and of course, because of the wealth of knowledge that she has of Zamundan culture, when the long-lost son arrives in Zamunda and is having a difficult time, he is able to gain from her understanding and guidance and his world kind of changes a bit.

"Everything that I do, it's African AF."

I want to talk about the poster that's been shared of Mirembe that features you dressed in Maxhosa. Was that costume design decision made by you or by the team?

It was made by the universe. I was like, "Yo, this is African luxury". Everyone in the palace, older people who were all dressed in Maxhosa, I'd be like, "Y'all know, you're dressed in African luxury, right?" That shit is impressive.

He's world renowned. And here he is from South Africa and this happens to also be my uniform. It was such a full circle moment. There's just so many things that just happened where you're thinking, yeah there is such a higher power that's working through this. And so, Ruth [Carter] is like having a laugh, like "Oh my God, you know Maxhosa!" and I'm like, "It's Maxhosa!"

After the trailer dropped for Coming 2 America, there were some misgivings around how the comedy was filled with all the trappings of stereotypical perceptions of Africa. What would you say in response to that?

I would say rather than looking at it from that point of view, it's actually a lot towards how Black America sees Africa. It's not even an insult to Africa. It's an insult to how Black America's ignorance can have such a great play in terms of how backward Africa can be viewed. But I think that's why it's also important for us to continue to have films like Coming 2 America, to open that up and say, "Hey, that's not the play."

I think that is the point of view and also, what we do know a lot about comedy is that it's so provocative. I mean, anyone who listens to Dave Chappelle, I mean! That's the thing about comedy, it's always very provocative. It's a mirror of how we view the world and how we view each other. And it's either we change that or we continue to be in that backward way of thinking.

In terms of the process and having been on set with such a star-studded cast, what would you say was one of the highlights and perhaps challenges of production?

Oh my gosh. No challenges at all. I would be lying. It was one of the best experiences just to be surrounded by Hollywood royalty and to experience the challenge that is Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, who are reprising roles that they played 32 or 33 years ago, still able to get into character and shift between those different characters. Then you add in Tracy Morgan who has his boombox every day on set playing music and people just celebrating on the set. It was like, "Oh man, this feels like you're in somebody else's imagination."

What would you say your biggest hope for the sequel is, not just from a South African context, but I suppose the world over?

That we continue to cross-pollinate. Cross-pollinate stories, cross-pollinate cultures, cross-pollinate experiences as people and put that in a medium as films. So just continue to do that. And my hope truly is to see more co-productions where big studios produce alongside other film production companies, whether it's the diaspora or on the continent itself, and just making sure that we continue to tell our stories and reflect the times.

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Photo Credit: From Taamaden

10 Upcoming African Films to Look Forward to in 2022

From Nigerian thrillers to South African documentaries, here are 10 African films we are looking forward to in 2022.

The glitzy and glamorous Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) recently returned for its 43rd edition. The eight day festival, which took place in Durban (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), featured an embarrassment of riches on the program, from around the world. The festival is a good indicator of what we can expect from African cinema for the rest of 2022.

The 10 films on this list were all screened at the festival. These films managed to stand out for reasons that have been explained below. (One of those films, Robin Odongo's Bangarang from Kenya, won the Best African Feature Film award at DIFF.)

Do not miss these movies when they come to a theater or streaming platform near you.

1960 (South Africa)

This pleasant, King Shaft directed period musical centers a heroine who may have been inspired by the life of the late South African icon Miriam Makeba. 1960 opened the Durban festival this year and set the tone for what would come after. Lindi (played by both Zandile Madliwa and Ivy Nkutha) is a singer who in her twilight days digs back into her past to shed light on the murder of an apartheid-era police officer when his remains turn up in Sharpeville some six decades after the infamous massacre of 1960.

African Moot (South Africa​)

There are plenty reasons to be hopeful for the future of the continent. According to Shameela Seedat’s African Moot, the educated youth are leading the way. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a group of bright law students who are participating in the annual African Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Seedat, a human rights law specialist turned filmmaker, heads to the University of Botswana with her subjects. Her film details the interesting ways the students approach the fictional case of a people crossing fictional African borders to escape oppression.

​Bangarang (Kenya)

Inspired by true events, Robin Odongo’s chaotic feature expounds on an earlier short film. Bangarang’s protagonist, Otile (David Weda) is a graduate of engineering who has failed to secure decent employment a decade after university. He makes a meagre living as a bike rider instead. When election violence erupts after the disputed Kenyan presidential elections of 2007, an embittered Otile leads rioters on the streets of Kisumu. Before long, he is on the run from the law, accused of murder.

Collision Course (Nigeria)

A frustrated young man collides with the brutal power of the police force. Can a tormented official stop the descent into carnage? The third feature length title from Nigerian director Bolanle Austen-Peters (The Bling Lagosians, The Man of God) is a propulsive thriller set over the course of 24-hours. Starring Daniel Etim Effiong and Kelechi Udegbe, Collision Course digs into the underbelly of urban crime, law enforcement gone rogue, and the desperate victims that suffer the consequences.

The Crossing (La Traversee) (Burkina Faso)

After years in Italy, Djibi returns to his native Burkina Faso and begins to mentor a group of young people whose sole purpose is to leave for Europe. Djibi prepares them for this crossing through a tasking physical and intellectual program that helps bring them personal achievement and may end up neutering their resolve to migrate. Can he make this difference? Irène Tassembédo’s social drama embraces the complicated nature of the immigration experience.

Lesotho, the Weeping Motherland (South Africa)

Told interchangeably between South Africa and Lesotho, this Lwazi Duma-directed documentary engages with the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector, a key income earner in the region. Duma follows Khethisa Mabata as he attempts to revive his father’s farm. The film uses Mabata’s personal story as an entry point into the larger national crisis that has taken Lesotho from a thriving food basket to one suffering extreme drought.

Skeletons (South Africa)

Conceived as an experiment in theatre-making during the COVID-19 lockdowns, this magical realist expression was re-written for film and now sits somewhere as a hybrid between theatre and film. Set in the heart of the Maluti mountains, Skeletons grapples with the issue of land and ownership as told through the lives of four characters. In an environment of scarcity, these four people wrestle to break free from the vicious cycle of oppression. Skeletons confronts notions of home, belonging, and identity.

Streams (Tunisia)

Amel, a married Tunis factory worker is imprisoned on charges of adultery and prostitution following an assault. Upon release, she attempts to put back the pieces of her life and reconnect with her teenage son whose life was derailed by the scandal. Director Mehdi Hmili comments on the decay, contradictions, and hypocrisies of contemporary Tunisian society with this engaging drama about the breakdown of a working-class family and the state’s unwillingness to protect the vulnerable.

Taamaden (Cameroon)

In Taamaden, Mali-born filmmaker Seydou Cissé paints a uniquely intimate portrait of immigration and zeroes in on spirituality. Taamaden, which is the Bambara word for traveler or adventurer, presents two different points of view. The first is that of Bakary, a young Malian preparing for yet another attempt at crossing over to Europe. The other is a motley crew of West African immigrants struggling to survive in Spain. They are united by their ties to their spiritual clairvoyant.

You’re My Favorite Place (South Africa)

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka (Of Good Report, Knuckle City) is one of the most exciting and original cinematic voices on the continent. His latest, which closed the Durban film festival, is a change of pace attempt that also carries some of Qubeka’s slick imprint. On the last day of high school, the young heroine of You’re My Favorite Place and her three friends embark on an unforgettable road trip. They steal a car and head to the remote Hole in the Wall, a landmark that according to Xhosa legend, enables communication with the dead.

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Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

An Inside Look Into the Underground Queer Party Scene in Nigeria

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and has been forced to go underground.

A few minutes before midnight on a June evening, there was a line of people attempting to gain access to an unmarked apartment block in Lekki Phase 1 — a suburban neighborhood in Lagos State. To the uninitiated, it was a regular house party in the heart of Lagos Island, which is populated with young people in their 20s. For the attendees who had a flier on their phones and a passcode on their lips, this was an event they had looked forward to for weeks. When they arrived at the doors, they were all asked for a passcode which transported them into a vibrant pulsing party which had drag queens walking across the room and men in shorts that barely went past their crutches gyrating on other men while afrobeats blared. Welcome to queer nightlife in Nigeria where, on weekends, apartments turn into gay clubs, barred with passcode-guarding doors to protect against homophobes.

Party people hugging each other

Secret house parties, discrete raves, and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular amongst young queer Nigerians.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Across the country, especially in the big cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, lounges, clubs, and bars dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community have started sprouting despite legislation that makes it illegal for them to exist. In 2014, the Nigerian government passed the highly controversial and homophobic Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Despite the name, the law would go on to criminalize many other aspects of queer existence and not just marriage between people of the same sex. The far-reaching law criminalized queer social spaces, groups that advocate for queer rights, and even individuals advocating and supporting queer rights. The law also went on to prescribe a prison term that could go up to 14 years for those who were found guilty of these crimes in southern Nigeria. However, in Northern and mostly Muslim Nigeria, where Shariah law takes pre-eminence, these crimes could lead to death by stoning. While there isn’t an extensive record of people being found guilty for these crimes in Nigeria, these laws emboldened many homophobic mobs who took the laws into their hands and would beat individuals who they identified as queer and destroy spaces and parties that they suspected were hosted by or for queer people. One of the most infamous instances was a 2018 case where 57 men were arrested at a party in Lagos under the suspicion of being initiated into a gay club. While this particular case garnered significant press coverage as the men were made to go to trial, it is far from being the only case of its kind. It is fairly common for the police to raid suspected queer parties to arrest everyone in sight — often with little to no proof of the suspects being gay.

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria has been forced to go underground. Bars and clubs are left behind for parties in apartments. Recent years have seen a resurgence in the public profile of queer nightlife in Nigeria — partly thanks to a rise of resistance against oppressive systems within Nigeria that have been supported and have originated on social media, more queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria. Secret house parties, discrete raves and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst young queer Nigerians. Creative collectives like hFactor and Pride in Lagos have pushed the narrative even further by organizing pride-specific events and raves in Lagos over the last few years.

Man making out with man

"‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties."

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

‘‘My first time at a queer party in Nigeria was in 2021. A friend invited me to a hFactor event and It was such an experience,’ Peju, a 23-year-old bisexual man tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties. Guys were grinding on guys, girls were flirting with girls. There wasn’t a need to pretend to be something I’m not.’’

However, attending these events comes with specific risks. Guests often took precautions — attending the parties with friends, letting their friends who weren’t there know where they were at and confirming there were accessible exits at all times. For many of these attendees, they may have never had to use those themselves but they know of people or at least have heard of people who have had to. Tamuno, a 31-year-old gay man, tells me of a near-capture experience when he had gone to a party in Port Harcourt in 2020.

‘‘There was this party that happened weekly. It became kind of popular and more queer people started coming. What we didn’t account for was that neighbors had realized it was full of queer people,’ Tamuno said. ‘‘One day, we were all at the party and they surrounded the house. Some of us managed to escape, others weren’t as lucky. I wasn't lucky.’’ Tamuno recounts that after being taunted and shamed and then stripped to their boxers for a relatively long time, the police then came. ‘‘The police coming to carry us was what saved us because then my brother, who I called, was able to bribe them to let us go. Whenever I think about what would happen if the police hadn’t come, I experience a full body shudder.’’

a group of people taking photos

Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to these parties.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

To help combat this, organizers of these events prioritize security and the safety of their guests. It is important that attendees feel safe from homophobic attacks from civilians and the armed forces. To achieve this, organizers have learned to deploy multiple guards.

‘‘Everyone’s safety is a priority to me and this means that multiple channels of security are constantly put in place to help safeguard our guests.’’ Kayode Timileyin, one of the organizers of Pride In Lagos tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘The first of which is the fact that all our events are only by a registration and verification process. Also, external security guards are made available. Lastly, we go all out to look for a real safe space.’’

It doesn’t end at just verifying the identities of the guests. Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to the location. This might mean generating a password only verified guests are given or keeping the exact location — and sometimes even date — a secret and only given to the verified guests. For these organizers, these security measures are put in place, not against potential miscreants or robbers but instead to keep off the police force and homophobes.

woman wearing black smiling

Despite dangers, the queer nightlife scene is bustling and thriving.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

The underground nightlife scene in Lagos is bustling and thriving — despite the laws that criminalize it and the constant danger. This illustrates the spirit of resilience amongst queer Nigerians who choose to reach for any semblance of freedom they can find even if it is on the dance floor for just a night.

‘‘My experience getting arrested traumatized me. It scared me. I was getting beaten, and paraded and I was so scared that they would kill me. But they didn’t so of course, I’ll party again," Tamuno said. ‘‘I still go to these parties and I’ll still keep going. It’s not that I’m scared. It’s just that when I’m on the dance floor surrounded by other queer men, I feel like my true self. I feel happy. I feel content. And that’s what I want out of life. If I die because I am seeking that, that’s fine.’’

a group of friends taking a photo

More queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Interview
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Kelvyn Boy On Becoming One of Afrobeats’ Leading Stars

The Ghanaian singer narrates how his latest single "Down Flat" has accelerated the trajectory of his career.

Kelvyn Boy is one of the leading afrobeats hitmakers from Ghana. Since his official debut in 2017 under singer Stonebwoy’s record label imprint Burniton Music Group, the talented singer, songwriter, and performer has consistently dished out hit after hit. From the sentimental midtempo ballad “Na You” to the gritty afropop cut “Mea” to his Mugeez and Darkovibes-assisted smash hit “Momo”, with every new release Kelvyn Boy has established his profile as one of the West African nation’s top afrobeats acts.

Fast forward to January 2022, Kelvyn Boy drops his most recent single “Down Flat," an infectious afrobeats single produced by Nigerian producer KullBoiBeatz, and the song has been immensely successful. “Down Flat” has held the number one spot on Apple Music’s “Top 100: Ghana” playlist, hit number 10 on Billboard’s “Worldwide Digital Song Sales” chart, just a couple of out several other accolades the song has landed in the few short months since its release.

The effect of the song’s success has already kicked in, with the singer in London, United Kingdom as I speak to him, which is one of the early stops of his current world tour. “Down Flat” is currently the biggest song of his career so far, and even Kelvyn Boy himself didn’t see it coming. “Some of the great things that happen are unpredictable and unplanned. I didn’t really see it coming” he explained. “Everyone believes in himself or herself. I have that belief and that feeling already when I’m making every song. If it’s not right, I won't sing it. But I didn’t see it coming as quick as it did, and I didn’t know it would get to this level. I knew it was gonna be big, but honestly it got out of hand.”

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Interview

Interview: Director K Is Making Historic Music Videos For Afrobeats & Beyond

The 28-year-old director behind the "Essence" music video (and many more) tells us about his come-up, inspirations and working with the biggest stars in the game like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, and more.

African music is sprouting into dominance with the upswing of genres such as Amapiano and Afrobeats across dance floors, day parties, festivals, and gatherings across the globe. Among the ranks of directors curating the visual interpretation of African music; Director K, born Qudus Olaiwola, is an oft-tranquil figure that has charted a lane separate from his contemporaries.

Starting off in the perpetually bristling clusters of Surelere, Lagos, Nigeria as a phone repairer at his uncle’s workshop, Director K’s curiosity shoveled him into believing he could shoot videos on his iPhone. “I used to go super crazy on iPhones, I used to make iPhones do stuff that you couldn’t normally do,” he tells OkayAfrica nostalgically.

Raised in the hovels of Shitta, Surulere, and Lagos — home to Afrobeats trailblazer Wizkid—Director K found a neighborhood artist called C.O. Decoast, and tested his hands at music video directing off the lens of his iPhone. “It wasn’t anything big. It was just something in the hood that I shot with a few people."

Now, in the parking lot of a lush apartment in Lekki, Lagos, Director K regales me with stories of his journey while walking me towards a modest swimming pool. The Creative Arts dropout has had his work nominated for Video Of The Year at the Soul Train Awards, and he has won an NACCP Image Award and Best Music Video at Nigeria’s most-prestigious awards show, The Headies.

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