CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, January 22nd, 2020/www.gbafrica.net/ I’m uncomfortable when actors are called “brave”, but in John Kani’s case it is apt. The first three decades of the 76-year-old South African performer, director and writer’s career were a direct challenge to the racist apartheid regime of his homeland’s governing white minority. The state struck back, hard and often.
Kani and his co-writer and performer Winston Ntshona were jailed for 15 days in 1976 after performing their play Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, for which they’d just won a joint Tony award, in front of a mixed-race audience back home. He saw friends and family members killed. He himself survived a murder attempt after becoming the first black actor to kiss a white actress on a South African stage, in Miss Julie at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre in 1985. The attack left him with 11 stab wounds and a prosthetic right eye.
Since apartheid ended in 1994, the early promise of the Mandela-led “rainbow nation” has been tarnished by corruption, continued economic inequality and further violence, which Kani believes has led later generations to forget his generation’s struggle. Hence his play, Kunene And The King, in which he plays an oncology nurse for a wealthy white actor — played by fellow South African Antony Sher — who plans to play King Lear but is dying of liver cancer.
Kani was Caliban to Sher’s Prospero in a colonial-accented production of The Tempest directed by Janice Honeyman for the RSC in 2009. “Tony and I had always wanted to act together,” he says, “and I had an idea to write something that would give us a little more meat to chew on than The Tempest.”
Kani is a zesty, ebullient interviewee and I think he’s joking. He was the first black actor to play Othello in South Africa and calls Shakespeare “my good friend”, adding that his words sound better in the African language Xhosa than in English, and that he was exploring themes already mined by African storytellers centuries before.
Anyway, circumstances delayed the play, not least the chance for Kani to play T’Chaka in Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, to star with Adam Sandler in Netflix’s Murder Mystery, and to voice Rafiki in the reboot of The Lion King. But last year he sat down and drafted “an evaluation of our 25 years of democracy in South Africa” in which “the white man teaches the black man about Shakespeare and the black man teaches the white man about humanity, and they find a middle point by realising that they need each other”.
He sent it to Sher, who showed it to his husband, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director Gregory Doran, who slotted it into that year’s programme. Honeyman’s production premiered in Stratford then played Cape Town. The London transfer comes freighted with extra meaning, though, because in the last days of December Kani’s closest sibling, the Reverend Welile Kani, died of liver cancer. “He told me he had it in September and my tears just ran down uncontrollably,” says Kani. “There was relief that I didn’t write the play knowing [he had it].
“At the time I was doing a play I wrote in 2009 called The Lion And The Lamb… at the Market Theatre [in Johannesburg] and I got a call from his wife saying he was very, very sick, and the chemo and radiation didn’t work.” He visited him in their hometown, Port Elizabeth, and saw the performance that Sher had constructed of a dying man painfully echoed in his brother’s face and physique. Welile died two days later.
“I always said I’ve got three friends in my life: Winston Ntshona, Athol Fugard and my brother,” Kani says wistfully. Ntshona died in 2018. Fugard, the white South African writer who co-wrote and directed Sizwe Banzi, its companion The Island, and other anti-apartheid classics, is 87. During the first days of rehearsals in London Kani felt guilty, as if he was exploiting his brother’s death, but now “it’s therapy, it’s cathartic. The process of doing the play is helping me to grieve”.
London has a special significance to him. After its first South African run, he and Ntshona performed Sizwe Banzi at the Royal Court in 1973 and then at the Ambassadors, where Kunene And The King will play. When they were arrested and put in solitary confinement after that fateful second South African performance, Kani didn’t sleep for 15 nights.
Then someone slid a cutting from the Evening Standard under his door showing Glenda Jackson, Janet Suzman, Albert Finney and even Robert Morley and Kenneth Williams, outside South Africa House in London, demanding his and Ntshona’s release. There were similar demonstrations in New York and Paris: even the insular South African regime had to take note. “Now I know they can’t kill me,” he says simply.
Kani has lived through an extraordinary arc of history. His father was a policeman, “but he was fired in 1952 because he arrested two white boys … it was illegal for him to arrest white boys”. His mother was a maid who raised 11 children, one of whom was shot while reciting a poem at the funeral of a young girl killed during riots. His uncle was imprisoned on Robben Island: his father spent all his savings on his defence, scotching Kani’s hopes of reading law. So he worked on a Ford assembly line before joining Fugard’s company The Serpent Players in 1965.
To have parlayed this into an international career, that played a part in the collapse of apartheid, is quite something. “We promised our people that in 10 years we would have created a truly non-racial, democratic South Africa,” he says, before offering a wise and extensive explanation for why this has not happened (which would make another article in itself). And although the world now seems to be backtracking into nativism and hatred, small victories — like the success of Black Panther, and the use of African voices to tell the African story of The Lion King — matter. And there is a bigger victory.
“Now, in 2020, you ask me if the journey I have taken was worth it,” he says rhetorically. “The pain was worth it, losing my eye was worth it, surviving death was worth it, even losing my brother and my uncle to that struggle was worth it because I am standing here today as a member of the free societies of the world. I may be poor, and poorer than before, but I have been given something that cannot be taken away from me. My dignity.”
ALPHONSE MENYO/ The Young Ghanaian Actor With A Different Vibe
GREATER ACCRA, GHANA, January 18th, 2020/www.gbafrica.net/ – Alphonse Menyo is an award-winning actor and producer who began his acting career in 2009 with stage drama. His professional acting career began in 2015 when he played a major role in the “Freetown” movie which was produced by American filmmakers Garrett Batty and Adam Abel.
The movie was nominated for the Ghana Movie Awards and won the best screenplay award over the also nominated films “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, “Beasts of No Nation”, “The Cursed Ones” and “Silver Rain.”
Having gained international recognition from this movie which was screened across several cinemas in the United States of America, Alphonse Menyo in 2016 produced his own movie “Utopia” which also received four nominations at the Ghana Movie Awards in 2016 and further projected his credentials as a top actor/producer in the country. “Utopia” was the only Ghanaian movie which was selected and screened at the prestigious Helsinki African Film Festival (HAFF) in 2017.
His exploits in 2017 saw him feature in the romantic thriller short film “Black Rose” which was produced by Pascal Aka. In 2018, he starred in the short movie “Corruption” also produced by Pascal Aka which won the Yaa Asantewaa award at the Black Star International Film Festival and also won him the Best Male Actor at the Fickin International Film Festival in Kinshasa, Congo.
Having established his reputation as a top actor in the country, Alphonse Menyo was selected to represent Ghana at the 2019 World Youth Theatre in Egypt. His amazing stagecraft thrilled patrons from across the globe which significantly enhanced his reputation as a versatile actor. His third feature movie “Gold Coast Lounge” was the icing on the cake which crowned him as the BEST LEAD ACTOR at the 2019 Ghana Movie Awards.
The future is indeed very bright for the rising star as Alphonse Menyo is currently working with several top producers and directors from across the globe. For bookings, kindly contact him on email@example.com.
QWASI BLAY JNR/ Ghana’s Most Wanted Actor
GREATER ACCRA, GHANA, January 13th, 2020/www.gbafrica.net/ – In 1923, the then British Colony of Gold Coast (now Ghana), saw the introduction of film making. Afterwards, there has been an increase in the number of stars since the 1950s, a process that has cemented the fate of the Ghanaian movie industry, popularly known as Ghallywood, across the globe. The legendary “Bob Santo”, Ama K. Abebrese, Majid Michel, Kalsume Sinare, Kofi Adjorlolo, to mention a few are the faces that have contributed enormously to the growth of this giant movie industry.
You can’t mention today’s crop of talented actors/actresses in the movie scene without mentioning this new sensation by name “Qwasi Blay Jnr”, popularly known as the “Most Wanted”. His sudden eruption has been a shock to many and an undeniable support from all perhaps demands that you should know some facts about the prolific actor.
Family: Born into a nuclear family of seven. Qwasi Blay Jnr, is the third born amongst five siblings; four males and a female.
Education: He obtained his early childhood education at Great Lamptey Mills (JHS), continued to the high school at Aburi Secondary Technical and finally to Koforidua Technical University (tertiary) in 2016, where he pursued a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Purchasing & Supply. During his high school days, he was the entertainment prefect for his school. In the University too he was a member of the organising team for his department and hostel.
Acting career: Qwasi Blay Jnr, had it coming during his early childhood days. Quite a number of instances and platforms exposed his love and passion for his today’s dream. Professionally, he’s been in the scene for 4 years and has been featured in about fifteen (15) movies: GREY DUST, GRILLED, 2DAYS AFTER FRIDAY, amongst others and also featured in four (4) TV series, FEEVA, DEJA VU amongst others.
Achievements: He won the best male entertainer during his tertiary education and best male entertainment act at the maiden edition of the social media entertainment awards. Also, the 9th edition of the Ghana Movie Awards recognised his tireless efforts with a two very important nominations that gave him a major image facelift in the industry.
Other hidden talents: “Most Wanted” is a born footballer. Surprised? Well, he used to play active “coast football” as a wing-forward, until acting found him. He was also a very good dancer as well, which he has described in recent times as his hobby. This has landed him a dance tutorial job with Ghana’s Most Beautiful (GMB) where he teaches contestants dance moves as part of their performances. Lastly, he’s a model and a model coach.
We believe that these facts have well-informed you about this acting sensation. Going forward, some other facts will be revealed as we achieve greater heights with your usual supports.
(By: Leo Lyrix)
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