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Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Soho House

06 July 2020
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Friends Gugu Mbatha-Raw MBE and Amma Asante MBE first worked together on the acclaimed and multi-award-winning, 2013 period drama film Belle, which Asante directed and Mbatha-Raw starred in as Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dubbed Britain’s ‘first Black aristocrat’, Belle was the mixed race, illegitimate daughter of a naval officer, Sir John Lindsay, and an enslaved African woman named Maria Bell. In 1772, Belle’s great-uncle, Lord Mansfield, in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice, ruled that slavery had no precedent in common law in England. The film’s themes feel particularly pertinent in this politically charged climate, which saw a statue of 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, toppled in Bristol at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK. 

Since then, Mbatha-Raw has forged a critically lauded career built on championing strong, Black female narratives. She starred in the first-ever $100m film to be helmed by an African-American woman, Ava DuVernay’s Wrinkle In Time in 2018. She also portrayed the first Black Miss World – Jennifer Hosten, ‘Miss Grenada’ – in Misbehaviour, and received much awards attention for the Apple TV+ hit, The Morning Show. Now, Mbatha-Raw is set to release World War II movie Summerland by Olivier Award-winning playwright, Jessica Swale, as well as the Marvel series Loki, alongside Tom Hiddleston.

Although other upcoming projects may have taken a hiatus due to COVID-19, Mbatha-Raw has been spending her enforced period of inactivity avidly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Via the Instagram-based venture, Still We Rise, she has been auctioning her own artworks of two African Americans who tragically lost their lives to police violence, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Proceeds go to charities that support social justice, including Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, Movement for Black Lives and the Bail Project.

Ahead of the release of Summerland, the Black British powerhouses – Mbatha-Raw in LA and Asante in Denmark – caught up during the last few days of lockdown. Their frank and personal conversation encompasses protests, Britain’s past and, at this very necessary junction, their prescient hopes for the future.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: ‘When I saw the statue of Edward Colston being pulled down, I was thinking, “My gosh, if Belle was to come out now, would it be received in a different way?”’

Amma Asante: ‘I sincerely think it would be received in a way that it should have in the first place. The film was about love in so many ways, but it was actually also asking some very powerful questions about today. When I saw that statue being pulled down, I unfortunately couldn’t hide my excitement on social media. My delight was evident.’

GMR: ‘I don’t agree with the statues being glorified, obviously. But I also think that we can’t erase the past. I think you have to be able to know the scars of history to learn from it. If there hadn’t been a painting of Belle, then we wouldn’t have known about her.’

AA: ‘That was the evidence of who she was.’

GMR: ‘And we still need the evidence – we can’t erase all the negative, and then it just disappears and we forget what happened.’

AA: ‘I think we should put them where they belong, which is in museums. Once these relics are put in museums, then more nuanced conversations can occur. If you are Black, walking through your town centre and your four-year-old daughter says, “Who’s he? Why is he up there?”, how do you explain it?’

GMR: ‘There’s no context. I think that’s the thing about at least putting it in a museum.’

AA: ‘It’s so important to how we understand who we are. To own who we have been is the only way to truly be able to celebrate the things that are worth celebrating and change the things that weren’t. I hope that is where the conversations will land us.’ [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw meets refugees in Rwanda with UNHCR

16 August 2018
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British Hollywood actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw met with refugees this week in Rwanda’s Mahama and Gihembe refugee camps, on her first trip with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Rwanda has been hosting thousands of refugees for decades, and today supports over 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers who have fled mainly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Government of Rwanda has generously maintained open borders and refugees in Rwanda are granted the right to work as well as being progressively included into host communities, national health and education systems.

After spending time meeting and talking to Burundian and Congolese refugees and seeing some of UNHCR’s work to support and protect them, Mbatha-Raw commented, “It’s one thing to hear about UNHCR’s work, and another to witness it first-hand. It has been eye-opening to meet the refugees who have fled unimaginable violence and suffering, and to hear their stories. I met a woman, Rehema, who had just arrived from Burundi – she was 9 months pregnant and with her two year old daughter Josephine. Her husband had been killed and she fled desperate for help with a baby about to be born. Seeing how quickly the UNHCR team and partners worked to get her settled and give her special assistance was incredibly impressive.”

”I have been able to see some amazing, positive UNHCR supported projects here in Rwanda, like MADE51 an inspiring initiative in which Burundian refugee women create beautiful products like bowls, baskets and bags for international sales.”Mbatha-Raw continued. “It’s uplifting to see these talented women getting the opportunity to earn their own money, while learning creative and business skills. But MADE 51 also creates a vital healing environment, a feeling of dignity, hope and a sense of working together to create a new community.

The group of artisan women Mbatha-Raw met are supported by ‘Indego Africa’ in Mahama camp as part of UNHCR’s MADE51 initiative, which helps to connect refugee-made artisanal products with international markets.

UNHCR has led a programme of resettlement to the United States for Congolese refugees who have fled to Rwanda. The US also provides significant financial assistance for refugee programs in Rwanda and is the largest individual donor to UNHCR. Since 2002, more than 57,000 Congolese refugees have been resettled in the United States. Commenting on this Mbatha-Raw said “Refugee resettlement is so vital for many of the vulnerable refugees I have met, who have already shown incredible resilience and strength, resettlement has the capacity to be completely life-changing. I met a young woman, Jeanette, about to be resettled in Atlanta and when I asked her what she would do there. She told me ‘I am young, I can do anything!’ But even though needs are greater than ever, less than 1% of refugees worldwide are ever resettled.”

UNHCR’s Representative to Rwanda, Ahmed Baba Fall, said, ‘The Burundian and Congolese refugee crises remain two of the most chronically underfunded in the world. High profile visits like Gugu’s help to shine a light on these forgotten crises by amplifying the voices of those who have been forced to flee to ensure they are not forgotten.