From South Africa to Hollywood, 30-year-old Nomzamo Mbatha is living her dream with her recent feature in the ‘Coming 2 America’ sequel. In this chat with Vanessa Obioha, she talks about how the film reflects the strength and beauty of the continent
The first time South African actress and media personality Nomzamo Mbatha stepped into the sprawling Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, the United States, she barely caught her breath.
The sight was overwhelming and a testament to the power of a tangible dream. Perry is the first African American to own a major film production studio.
“I remember standing there, just looking at it, and thinking to myself, this is a tangible dream. A lifetime dream that seems so far-fetched that it seemed so intangible and Tyler Perry made his dream tangible,” she said recently.
The mesmeric sight wasn’t the only thing that took her breath away. Mbatha, a young actress and TV personality who gained prominence after participating in the MTV Africa VJ Search in 2012 where she emerged second was perhaps living one of her dreams at the moment. Sitting in her trailer in the studio, she couldn’t help but pinch herself often to be sure that she was indeed surrounded by Hollywood royalty like Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes. It felt so surreal for the 30-year-old United Nations Global Goodwill Ambassador.
“To be surrounded by black Hollywood royalty, standing on the ground of a Hollywood dream realised by a black man was inspiring to say the least,” she gushed.
Mbatha was one of the few Africans to nab a role in the highly anticipated sequel of Murphy’s ‘Coming 2 America’. The film stretches the story of King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his friend and guide Semmi (Arsenio Hall) as they take the reins of the great African kingdom Zamunda and return to the borough of New York City to find a rightful heir to the throne. Mbatha plays one of the royal groomers in the lavish palace of Zamunda.
When the film was first released in 1988, Mbatha was not existing. By the time she watched it in her teens, she appreciated the storyline for how it portrayed Africa.
“It gave a different perspective of African people because, for a long time, people from the continent were portrayed as savages, ugly and poor. But ‘Coming 2 America’ cast Africa in a different light. It showed that we were regal and rich.”
Explaining further, she said: “There is hardly an African who doesn’t like the royal regalia. The jewellery, the big life. There’s this hyper imagination of our kingdoms and it was reflected in the film. But at the end of the day, it addresses the essence about us, which is identity, purpose, pride in who we are and our culture.”
Working with great black actors in the film gave Mbatha, who moved to the USA in 2019, an opportunity to share the African culture with them. She met their curiosity about African culture with enthusiasm. However, to fully portray her character, Mbatha had to bring out the true essence of the African women.
“The true essence of an African woman is the common thread that we have irrespective of our diversity. It is the strength, charm, wit, wealth of knowledge. There’s also the pride, deep-rooted in who we are. It was important for me to bring that into the character. You can’t pinpoint where she is from. You just know that she is an African woman in the nuances that she’s able to bring to the character. It’s a comedy film but there are moments we have to bring our essence and showcase our history.”
The film will be available on Amazon Prime Video on March 5.