The Sunday News
HOTSHOT Hollywood actress Danai Gurira has said she struggled to nail down her true identity in the earliest stages of her life, as she grappled with life in what was then a recently liberated Zimbabwe in the 1980s.
Gurira has over the last few years become one of Hollywood’s brightest lights, with roles as a zombie slayer on The Walking Dead and blockbuster movie Black Panther enhancing her reputation in the home of film and television.
However, while she is now celebrated as one of the Africa’s greatest exports to Hollywood, her earlier life as a budding actress in Zimbabwe is still largely a mystery.
In an interview with the LA Times, Gurira shed light about her life in post-colonial Zimbabwe, saying she had struggled to discover her true roots as the country battled to also leave it’s colonial past behind.
Those early struggles provided the actress cum playwright with some of the material that she had used for plays such as the The Convert, a production set in colonial Zimbabwe in 1896 and reflecting on the period solely from the African perspective, with no white characters on the stage.
“I left Zimbabwe and came to the United States for university, and in liberal arts colleges, you’re allowed to start thinking about, “Who are my people? Who am I? What’s our history?” And start to really explore that in a way that’s necessary for your own journey. And I think it’s even necessary for the Brits, quite honestly. Their history doesn’t seem to involve those who were colonised, in how it’s assessed. So it is exciting for me to see this play performed in front of a British audience,” she said.
Gurira also said before penning The Convert, she had felt that the Zimbabwean story had never been told sufficiently.
“Where is the history of my people told from our perspective on the screen or on the stage? Where is our experience of the colonial impact and assault? And who would I have been if I’d been born 150 years ago and what journey would I have trekked?
“A lot of those questions were at the fore. I grew up in a British colony, in Zimbabwe, when it was a young ex-colony. It was very much a British schooling system, and I was taught very little about the land I was living on,” she said.
Despite the success of Black Panther, a movie centred on African culture, Gurira said she felt that the continent had been largely mistreated by Hollywood.
“That’s what drove me to start writing. Like, “This cannot be the way my people are portrayed in a cinematic form.” For me, it was theatre at the time — that’s my medium. It was really that dearth. Every time I saw a film — and not all — there were many interpretations of the continent I found really disturbing and limited and from a perspective that wasn’t ours,” she said.