Africa Day: The new African kings and queens of Hollywood

Proudly African stars are taking the film and television world by storm, with a new generation of talent gaining prominence in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters and Oscar winners.

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Black Panther is the forthcoming action film based on the Afrocentric Marvel Comics superhero character of the same name. The film features a groundbreaking cast of some of Hollywood’s biggest African-American and African-born actors, including Ugandan-born Florence Kasumba and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. (Image: Marvel Entertainment YouTube)

CD Anderson 

From critically acclaimed films Selma and The Get Out to action superhero movies such as the forthcoming Black Panther, as well as popular television series such as The Walking Dead and Orange is the New Black, actors from the African diaspora are making their voices heard and changing the global pop culture landscape.

Here are some of those African kings and queens of Hollywood on whom we need to keep an eye.

David Oyelowo — Nigeria

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Wikipedia)

Born in the United Kingdom but raised in Nigeria, David Oyelowo began his acting career as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, before stepping into a variety of television roles, including a recurring role in the British spy drama, Spooks, and guest roles in The Good Wife and The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, filmed in Botswana. He began his film career starring for Steven Spielberg in Lincoln and alongside Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher.

However, it was his star turn as Rev Martin Luther King Jr in the historical drama Selma that brought Oyelowo wider acclaim, including Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. In his next film role, Oyelowo returned to Botswana to play the country’s first democratic president, Seretse Khama, in the romance drama A United Kingdom. His next big role is the lead in the forthcoming Gringo, alongside South African-born actors Charlize Theron and Sharlto Copley.

Uzo Aduba — Nigeria

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Wikipedia)

Born to Nigerian immigrants in the US, Uzo Aduba is best known for her role as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in the hit Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, or OITNB.

She is one of only two actors (male and female) to win Emmy Awards in both comedy and drama categories for the same role. Her riveting portrayal of the beloved Suzanne character has earned her numerous other awards, including two Screen Actors Guild awards, as well as cultural recognition by the US’s NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and various LGBT organisations.

Her largest film role so far was a supporting role alongside Ewan McGregor in the 2016 film American Pastoral. When not filming for OITNB, she performs in theatre productions in Los Angeles and New York.

Barkhad Abdi — Somalia

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Twitter)

Born in Mogadishu before fleeing Somalia’s civil war with his family to the US, Barkhad Abdi was working as a phone salesperson and limousine driver when he successfully auditioned on a whim for a role in the Tom Hanks drama, Captain Phillips, a film about Somalian piracy. As the cruel yet conflicted pirate leader Abduwali, Abdi garnered much critical acclaim, including Oscar, Golden Globe, Bafta and Screen Actors Guild nominations for best supporting actor.

He went on to guest star in various television series, including Hawaii Five-O, and starred in the film Eye in the Sky (filmed in South Africa) opposite Helen Mirren. At the beginning of 2017, it was announced that Abdi had joined the cast of the forthcoming Blade Runner 2049, one of the most highly anticipated films of 2017, starring opposite Hollywood heavyweights Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling.

Abdi is also an ambassador for the Somalian humanitarian and environmental charity, Adeso.

Lupita Nyong’o — Kenya

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Flickr)

While Lupita Nyong’o may have been born in Mexico, her upbringing and roots lie very much in Kenya. She began acting in school plays and amateur theatre in Nairobi before studying film and theatre in the US. Nyong’o worked as a production assistant on a number of films shot in Africa, including The Constant Gardner starring Ralph Fiennes, who urged her to step in front of the camera for the first time.

She made a number of short student films, before returning to Kenya to star in a popular television series, Shuga. Nyong’o also wrote and directed a number of documentaries focused on Africa that won critical acclaim at independent film festivals around the world.

However, her emotional performance in her first big Hollywood production, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, gained Nyong’o a wider global audience and much critical acclaim. She won the 2013 Oscar for best supporting actress for the film, the first African to win the award.

Nyong’o has gone on to star in some of Hollywood’s biggest films, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Jungle Book and the forthcoming Black Panther Marvel Universe movie.

In between Hollywood projects, she also acted in the Tony-award winning Broadway drama Eclipsed, about the Liberian Civil War, and written and directed by Danai Gurira (see below).

Nyong’o returns in the next Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, at the end of 2017.

Daniel Kaluuya — Uganda

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Twitter)

Born to Ugandan immigrants in London, Daniel Kaluuya has been a familiar face over the last 10 years in a number of UK television series, including the popular youth drama Skins (for which he also wrote and directed) and Doctor Who.

His breakout role was in an episode of the anthology sci-fi series, Black Mirror, titled Fifteen Million Merits, which was voted by fans of the groundbreaking show as its all-time best episode.

Between acting in theatre and television in the UK, and small roles in films in the US, Kaluuya also writes and produces short films and produces music. His first major Hollywood role was in the horror film, The Get Out, one of the highest grossing independent films of 2017.

Kaluuya’s acclaimed performance in the film secured him roles in the forthcoming Black Panther Marvel Universe film and a remake of Watership Down for Netflix/BBC.

Danai Gurira — Zimbabwe

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Wikipedia)

While Danai Gurira may be best known as the no-nonsense, sword-wielding Michonne in hit zombie series The Walking Dead, she is much more than the sum of that single role.

Gurira is a Tony Award-winning playwright (for the drama, Eclipsed, see the profile of Lupita Nyong’o above) and a prominent political activist.

Her first major film role was in the 2007 immigration drama, The Visitor, and she has had roles in big US television series, including Law & Order and Treme.

But the theatre remains her first love, both in the US and in Zimbabwe, where she founded Almasi Arts organisation in 2011. It is dedicated to sustaining arts and culture education in the country. Gurira plays an active, grassroots role with Almasi as a writing and acting teacher in Zimbabwe and across the rest of the region, including in South Africa.

She also works closely with the United Nations and Irish singer Bono’s ONE Campaign to highlight the issues and challenges that specifically affect women and children in Africa.

Gurira’s next major role is also in the Black Panther Marvel Universe film, set for release in early 2018.

Atandwa Kani — South Africa

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: YouTube)

As the son of one of South Africa’s most prominent actors, John Kani, Atandwa Kani has acting in his blood. Maturing as an actor in theatre, film and television, both at home and abroad, he is now set to take Hollywood by storm.

Kani already has a formidable theatre career, with critically acclaimed turns in Shakespeare productions in South Africa and the UK. His television career includes local series 90 Plein Street, Soul Buddyz and Kowethu, as well as recurring roles in international productions such as Life is Wild and The Book of Negroes with Cuba Gooding Jr.

He played a young Nelson Mandela in the film version of A Long Walk to Freedom, before garnering critical acclaim for the 2016 short film The Suit, based on the story by South African writer Can Themba.

Kani, too, is part of the cast for the forthcoming Marvel Universe film Black Panther, following in his father’s superhero footsteps: Kani senior starred in Captain America: Civil War in 2016.

Florence Kasumba — Uganda

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Official Florence Kasumba website)

Florence Kasumba also had a role in Captain America: Civil War, which she reprises in Black Panther in 2018. The Kampala-born actress/model has had a rich career in television and film in her adopted country, Germany, and recently moved to Hollywood to star in the 2017 US fantasy series Emerald City, before taking on a supporting role in the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie. She also stars in the 2017 romantic drama, Mute, directed by Duncan Jones.

Dayo Okeniyi — Nigeria

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Twitter)

The young Lagos-born Dayo Okeniyi has been a talent to watch since his breakthrough role in the Hunger Games film series. Since then, he has had roles opposite Ben Affleck (Runner, Runner), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator Genisys) and is currently getting attention for his role in the US crime series, Shades of Blue, co-starring Jennifer Lopez.

Terry Pheto — South Africa

africa month, africa day, film, television, arts and culture, David Oyelowo, Dayo Okeniyi, Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Kaluuya, Atandwa Kani, Uzo Aduba, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Terry Pheto, Black Panther, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Image: Instagram)

South African favourite Terry Pheto was part of the Oscar award-winning Tsotsi ensemble in 2005, and since then has built a formidable acting career at home and in Hollywood.

After supporting roles in South African-based international productions such as Goodbye Bafana and Catch a Fire, she moved to Los Angeles where she quickly secured a regular role on the soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful, in 2011.

Pheto returned to South Africa to star in the action drama, How 2 Steal 2 Million, for which she won an African Movie Academy Award. She later starred in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (as Madiba’s first wife, Evelyn Mase) and A United Kingdom opposite David Oyelowo (see above).

Pheto’s next project is the BET channel mini-series, Madiba, in which she plays Winnie Mandela opposite Laurence Fishburne’s Nelson Mandela. The series is currently filming in South Africa.

Source: Wikipedia, various news sources

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