Lights, Camera, ACTION! – Malaika Mushandu – The Gamechanger On A Mission To Shake Up The World, One Film At A Time…

Beautiful, inspiring and a force to be reckoned with, Filmmaker and Supermodel Malaika Mushandu is showing the world that she is not just about the talk, but is also about the ACTION, not only taking the Zimbabwean film industry to the next level but bringing about change whilst at it. Playing her part through her passion and talent for filmmaking, Malaika seeks not only to entertain but to enlighten and edify. And in her directorial debut for the movie Mirage, Malaika is doing exactly that, addressing issues affecting African women, the heroines of the African society, and also delving into matters affecting society at large. And this is only the beginning for this multi-talented star with a clear vision for her films to be a catalyst in changing policies, something she is determined to do, one film at a time. This is not just the story of a phenomenal star; this is the story of a gamechanger on a mission, and she tells it all herself…

 

Growing up, what influenced you to become a model? Did you have any role models in that space?

Quite interestingly, when I was growing up modelling was never on my radar as a possible career! Most of my role models back then were more of what my parents subscribed to, and these were people in what would probably be regarded as traditional or conservative careers.

And yet you went on to do so well at it… You were one of the youngest winners at the Miss Zimbabwe Pageant in 2011 and you were the second person to represent Zimbabwe at the Miss World the same year, among other accomplishments. If you were to give a class to upcoming models, what lessons would you share with them that you learnt from your experience as a model?

My advice to anyone across the board is to be authentic. Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Be bold enough to be yourself and from there different ideas and energy will spring forth.

From your perspective, how has the modelling industry grown from the time you became a model in 2011?

When I was a model the idea of embracing different body shapes, ethnicity, beliefs and other aspects of identity had not been fully integrated into the industry. Now we have a plus size model who is black and a Transgender Queer modelling for a major fashion house (Jari Jones for Calvin Klein).

Most models appear onscreen, as actresses. What made you go behind the scenes and pursue filmmaking as a Director?

My first love was screen acting but when you become an actor (though actors are the most glorified people in any film) you quickly learn that being on set and acting is just a small fraction of what making a film is about.  Growing up I remember watching Dakota Fanning and thinking “I could do that too”. Once in the industry I was quick to realise that a model is one of the many “tools” used by a director to express their vision so I discovered I also wanted to be in the driver’s seat.

Who inspires you in the film industry?

I am inspired by many people but not one person as a whole. For example I could be inspired by James Cameron’s imagination (Avatar), Jamie Fox’s multifaceted talent (Ray, Django), Charlize Theron and Viola Davis’ willingness to be vulnerable and have those Oscar winning ugly cries (Laughs)(Monster and Fences), Morgan Freeman and Regina King’s iconic voices (Shawshank Redemption and the Boondocks) or it could be the pioneering spirit of Steven Spielberg, Ava Duvernay and Tyler Perry( Jurassic Park 1993, When They See Us and Tyler Perry Studios)

In the movie Mirage, what did you have in mind when you were bringing out the theme of womanhood? What messages did you want to put across?

Women are unsung heroes especially in the African society. So many sacrifices are demanded of them and very little thanks or acknowledgement is given. I was privileged to be raised by liberal parents who never confined me to a box but because of the world that surrounded the world that my parents tried to raise me in I was not spared from the odd stray bullet of patriarchy. I wanted to highlight the hardships of women and hopefully have men understand us better and women know that they are not alone. To say “I see you and one step at a time we will bring about change to some of the horrendous acts that we are subjected to”

In the film Mirage, it is the plight of women within the prison system of Zimbabwe. The lack of provision that is rendered to mothers that have children that are past suckling age. I wanted to remove the stigma that is cast over criminals. Some crimes are petty crimes committed out of desperation but the inability to find adequate representation or to post 500 RTGS (+/- $5 usd ) bail will find you being kept behind bars. Gender Based Violence,

GBV Rape specifically is also a major theme: As of 2018, 21.2 rapes occurred per day in Zimbabwe and 116 in South Africa (we need to keep in mind that many other cases of molestation and rape go unreported)

As a female director, were there any onset problems you faced while filming Mirage and how did you deal with them?

I was privileged to work with a good team. If we had problems it was more of a group of new people coming together for the first time so it was more of reading each other and acclimatising to new environments. In general, I think people within Africa are not yet accustomed to having females taking charge and giving direction and commands. Oddly enough, most of the time it is actually other women who find it hard to take directions from other women (men on set … not so much … maybe they are used to being bossed around by their wives / spouses) (Laughs)

What were some of the most challenging aspects in bringing the script to life?

Overcoming self-doubt. New territory is always challenging and there is a whole lot of self-doubt, but once you find people who believe in you (sometimes more than you believe in yourself ), you retain them in your circle to overcome the hurdles.

Finances were also a challenge. The Zimbabwe film industry is still quite virgin and people haven’t grasped the concept of how to monetise the film industry yet, let alone why to invest in it. When it came to Mirage financing it was a Borrow , Beg and Collaborate affair. The things we couldn’t afford we had to improvise (which is a daily job as a film maker… there is never a straight path even when you have ample funds), for example, we initially wanted to build a prison cell and shoot there but we resorted to contacting Zimbabwe Prisons and came to an agreement that we would use their female prison and some of the prisoners (those willing) as our extras and pay them in their prison funds or their families outside.

This worked out perfectly in the end because it gave an authentic feel to what prison is really like within a developing country as opposed to the western electric door and bunk bed scenario.

How would you describe your overall experience working with the crew and cast?

The crew was brilliant, everyone knew their job well and it was a relief for me. Because of the internet it is hard to locate local film professionals within Zimbabwe as most of them are listed but live abroad. So meeting a competent crew was eye opening and also made me realize that we need a platform that lists this local talent

With the main cast, Prudence was a dream come true, God sanctified. Very humble and a delight to be around. Chipo and Charmaine … that is talent right there. They did their due diligence and required little to no direction. They managed to interpret the characters the way I had envisioned them. I am grateful for their talents. Joylin and Eunice.. (Laughs) Those two cracked me up. They are the complete opposite of what they portrayed on set… which again speaks to the talent that is within Zimbabwe. I am a reserved person by nature but I look forward to meeting people when it is in a controlled environment (blame it on my modelling past) (Laughs), so the travelling around Zimbabwe looking for caves to shoot in and the uncomfortable conditions was a delight with the God ordained cast and crew.

Were there any fundamental discoveries you made during the whole process of making the movie?

Zimbabwe has talent and it’s not only those that are in front of the camera, but those behind the scenes as well, from the script writing to the sound engineer. We also have passionate people within the film industry. All we have to do is come together and make magic.

Mirage was nominated for three Awards at the African Movie Awards Academy(AMAAs), among those nominations you were nominated for Best First Feature Film by a Director (Congratulations!!!). How does it feel having been nominated for such an award?

Thank you! It was more of affirmation that I am in the right field. As I mentioned earlier, acting was my first love(stage acting) but due to the restricting nature of screen acting I was drawn to directing. The nomination was confirmation that I should continue on this path.

Your Top three favourite movies of all time and why you loved them?

Film has a way of enlightening people and I fell in love with it because of that. With story telling you can bring to life a world that was unimaginable before, film can be a psychoeducational tool, film can debunk stereotypes, inspire and  give hope to people…

-Pay it forward by Director Mimi Leder (I try and live by the principle in life to always do good and pay whatever good that has been done to me forward )… Generally I want to make movies that have a message to them and stimulate a self-reflective notion within viewers;

-Planet of the Apes and Avatar – Matte Reeves and James Cameroon respectively (the visual effects are awe inspiring )

-Ray by Taylor Hackford (All I am going say is Eric Marlon Bishop aka Jamie fox Jamie Fox Jamie Fox … unmatched talent)

Do you have specific issues you would like to address through film? Which genre/s do you want to focus on?

I think I’m strongly suited for emotionally driven films hence I will say Drama. When one leaves the theatre after watching one of my films or switches off the TV, if alone, I would like them to have a self-observational moment of whether they have fed into the issues being addressed; how they would have reacted in such situations and whether or not they hold any biases? I will be bold enough to say I want my films to be a catalyst in changing policies.

Now that you are in the industry, what do you want to contribute to the Zimbabwean Film?

Collaborations are key. For Mirage I teamed up with Virginia Jekanyika, MMX Productions and Joe Njagu Films and we created the masterpiece. I would like to collaborate with more people; at the moment I am looking for writers, I would like to create a writers pool that will create authentic African stories told from an African perspective.

Malaika Mushandu’s vision for the future?

As a director – To have a strong presence within the African film industry, starting off regionally and expanding to the rest of the continent.

As an Actress – To play with some of the international actors both on stage and on screen.

 

 

By: Chido Kakora

  • Mich

    Great interview. So inspiring

    Reply

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