Manzini: Dreams for many came to a screeching halt in just a matter of weeks, when the novel coronavirus pandemic first hogged headlines back in January as much as it still does even today.
The consequential lockdowns affected numerous industries, and the film industry was no exception.
For many young people, whose careers were just taking off, the coronavirus pandemic’s immediate effects left them weighing their job options. While some considered temporary alternative career moves, everyone faced the unanswerable question of what would be the next move or whether everything would ever be the same soon after this pandemic blows over.Fearful about the future, many have no wonder clamored for Plan B while others have had to make the hard decision to put their dreams on hold.
Among many who have grappled with these hard questions is Gina Khumalo. Primed to land a spot in the higher echelons of acting talent in the kingdom, the 28-year-old actress who is also a budding writer and director exemplifies the next generation in Eswatini. She is embracing change while driving it.
The actress who takes on one of the leading roles in Eswatini Television’s new drama series ‘Ekhaya’ produced by Bumba Media, admits that the year 2020 hasn’t taken off the way she had anticipated.
In fact, she believes that the year has stifled her progress in career advancement. “It has been a bit slow for my liking because I have a lot of things I wanted to pursue,” she says. She states that the coronavirus and the changes thereof have delayed her in executing plans she had made for the year.
Nonetheless, she is still hanging onto her hopes that the situation will blow over. She, however, reveals that given the circumstances, this year hasn’t been for naught and that she has still managed to accomplish a few of the goals she had set for herself in the year 2020. Although, Khumalo’s Plan B might be in Sales and Marketing, having attained her qualification from Citec College and worked for various companies, she isn’t letting go of her acting aspirations. Her dreams aren’t over, far from it. What she has done is put her hopes of stardom on hold, as she makes a strategic retreat in the face of insurmountable odds.
She is not letting this downtime go to waste.
Instead, she is using it as creative fuel. “COVID 19 has somewhat altered the initial plans I had. However, it has given me time to sharpen my skills. I am taking online master-classes and developing stories I had put aside because of my hectic schedule,” she states. She further points out that a healthy mind and healthy body is a must in the film industry so she has also taken to detoxing, doing self-tape auditions and learning online to prepare her for auditions. Khumalo has racked up an impressive collection of complex, unique, and interesting characters during her acting career. She landed her recent work after getting cast for a role in the 8-part drama series Ekhaya.
She brings the character of Nomathemba, the wife of Mandla Manyatsi to life on Ekhaya in spectacular form. Nomathemba is a young wife married to a lawyer who later accepts a position of chieftaincy after his father passes away. She explains that the role has certainly taken her out of her comfort. “I have never been married nor fought for a marriage so it’s exciting for me to bring this character to life and walk in her shoes. It’s both exhilarating and exciting,” she notes. She also points out that little of the character resonates with her. “Unfortunately I don’t relate to Nomathemba that much. Part of me does but a major part of me doesn’t. I relate to her as a woman and as a mother and lover. The things she went through some I’ve never experienced but I had to dig deep, research, take from people’s experiences to portray this character,” she goes on to say.
She has had to ‘walk the mile in plenty shoes’ throughout acting career. She has played the role of a naive young prostitute from a broken family, a young girl Ntombikayise in a 13 part drama series who is from a poor family headed by a single parent and in search of a birth father as well as a young doctor in the Swati movie ‘Legal Wife’.
She also featured in a Mzansi Bioskop movie ‘Umjingi Udliwa Yinhlitiyo’ and acted in the role of Shlephi in the book-to-film adaptation. Fuelling her dream to act even more, she enrolled in the Filmmaking Lab and thereafter, she directed as film titled, ‘Tipopolo Tasezulwini’ funded by European Union. She teleports back to her childhood where the love for acting all began.
It was when she attended school and had to perform during church plays that the desire to act was ignited.
She would later become the head-writer and director of the drama group in High School. However, she singles out 2010 as the year, she completely fell in love with film and the arts and went onto join Lethokusha Film Production and turned her passion into a profession.
She lauds the work done by the Swaziland Independent Film and Television Producers Association (SIFTPA) and says it was during their annual film labs that she leanrt more about directing and cinematography and acting. “I was chosen amongst other participants to direct a short film under the leadership of Samkeliso Nxumalo. After those lessons I decided to open my own film production company and started writing, directing and acted in my movies. So the film lab was the defining moment for me,” she explains. Her vision as a Film Director is to tell authentic Swati stories on a global stage.
In her opinion, the industry was growing pre- COVID 19 at an impressive rate and still believes that the film industry has a learning to do to compete with other countries.
According to her, more funding and the development of art schools would aid in the continual growth of the local film industry. She is not sitting and waiting for her big break to come knocking.
She reveals that she has gone ahead and secured a South African agent who she says has managed to secure her a role in a big production. However, she states that it is early days and cannot divulge much information. Going into the year as the world waits out COVID 19, she plans to audition for challenging roles, do a lot of commercials and voiceover work. Her definition of success is flourishing whilst living out your true passion.
“I also believe success is when you are influencing other people and when you are amongst the people who are well known in the industry and helping other people who want to reach your level of success,” she adds. She suggests that the government should support and encourage upcoming producers, existing producers and actors by allocating funds for the industry and encouraging me as well as the youth to pursue film-making as a career.
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