NOKUTHULA NOKS LEDWABA has recently appeared in Umlio and ROOTS. The show recently began airing in the UK, offering a historical insight into the horror of American slavery.
The four-part series aired on American programme History in 2016 and was soon picked up by BBC4. Nokuthula says Roots is an important story, “It’s about thousands, if not millions of African families torn apart by the slave trade. It’s a story where mothers gave birth to children; they were then taken away and never seen again. Bloodlines were cut short.
Roots was originally a mini-series created in 1977, based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel. “I must have been about nine when my brother brought the VHS version from the UK, I remember the tape had music concert on it, so the South African airport wouldn't be suspicious. This is because Roots used to be banned in my country. She would've been detained and faced serious consequences. I watched the film and wanted to be a part of it, I was angry about how Black Africans' were treated and stories told by my Mum and friends fueled my fire."
What's different about the 2016 recording? "The amount of research that went into telling this new version is impeccable. I think everyone wanted it told right, the direction, cinematography, art direction, the sound effects, the costumes, the music and everything else really pushed the show to great heights.”
Why should you watch Roots? “You learn about the city of Juffure, their trade and way of life. We find out what the Kambi Bolongo (Gambia River) means to the Mandinka people, the rich culture of them and the importance of our names as African people. Roots reminds us how far we have come as human beings.”
Nokuthula is the actress behind Binta Kinte, a seventeen year old. “We first meet Binta giving birth to her son, Kunta in a hut with the village midwife Nyo Boto. Nyo is acted by Mary Twala, a South African actress I looked up to as a child.” She continued, “Binta is very strict and protective of her children. She is the mediator between her husband, Omoro and their children. She believes Kunta should marry whom he loves and is very fond of Jinna (Kunta’s love interest). She is a lover and a partner whilst taking her role in the Kunta family and village very seriously.”
Does the actress see any similarities between her own personality and her character’s? “I’m a mother myself and the love I have for my daughter knows no bounds. When she was born, I was reborn, I think it was the same for Binta. She understands Kunta has to find his own place in the world, but is afraid of losing her son to Timbuktu where he wants to study and compete with the best.”
In another interview, Nokuthula described herself as broken by the series. We asked why, “I had just buried my Mother (Grace), two weeks before shooting commenced in Port Edward. I was very emotional and detached from the world. I tried being an actor but nothing worked, the months of preparation and planning were just gone. I then realized that I would have to surrender and not try to fight the turmoil happening in my heart and mind.”
“In that moment everything came crashing down. I couldn’t breath and it made sense to me that Binta was broken by the loss of her child. She never saw him again, there was no letters saying he was okay. The pain was so intense. That’s the beauty of storytelling; you never know where it is going to take you. Phillip Noyce (the director of the episodes the actress appeared in) was a joy to work with, he and his team made those days where I felt the lump in my throat less big.”
Away from Roots, Nokuthula appeared in the 2013 movie Mandella: Long Walk to Freedom. “I had never done any film work, so when I got the call from my agent (Moonyeen Lee), I was more than happy to audition. I got to work with director Justin Chadwick and actor Idris Elba. I had loads of fun! I only worked with that crew for two days and had to rush off to KwaZulu Natal to the set of Mary and Martha working with director Phillip Noyce (my first project with him). Working alongside Academy Award winner Hillary Swank and Brenda Blethyn was another dream. They really make acting on-screen look easy.”
Meanwhile the actress expects a busy upcoming period, “I’ve had such an amazing career in South Africa, I have been very fortunate. I am currently preparing for a local film and one international film. I am enjoying walking my three-year-old daughter to school, cooking her dinner and just listening to her stories. I still have a lot to offer and I want to do my bit to make the world a better place.”