“I’m Not Afraid To Have Those Tough Conversations” Gugu Mbatha-Raw Gets Real About Why ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ Doesn’t Define Her Career
I first became familiar with Gugu Mbatha-Raw when she starred as “Noni Jean” the pretty, petite Aaliyah-esque leading lady of Beyond the Lights. The film tells the story of a superstar who survives mommy-issues and the up’s and down’s of fame while falling in love with her bodyguard played by Nate Parker. The film wasn’t exactly Oscar-nominated, but it was enough to send the message to fans that Mbatha-Raw was a force to be reckoned with and since then she’s come a long way.
Refinery29 recently snagged some time in Mbatha-Raw’s busy schedule to talk her latest role in the highly-anticipated film, A Wrinkle In Time, co-starring Oprah Winfrey and directed by Queen Sugar’s own Ava Duvernay. When it comes to the buzz building feverishly around the movie which premieres next month, you might be surprised to hear that while the 34-year-old is proud to play the role of “Dr. Kate Murray” in the film, she’s clear on why it isn’t necessarily the role she feels defines her career:
“I guess you could call this my ‘moment,’ but that doesn’t seem fair, because I’ve worked really hard my entire career!” “
“As an actor, you have power over your performance, but no power over the distribution or timetable. So it just so happens this is all coming out at the same time. But I guess I should embrace the ride!”
2018 has barely gotten started and in addition to past roles on the show Black Mirror and Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, Mbatha-Raw will hit the big screen at least four times since the start of the new year alone including starring in a surprise release of Cloverfield Paradox, the third installation in the J.J. Abram’s series whose Netflix arrival was announced Super Bowl weekend. She also stars in the romantic drama Irreplaceable You now streaming on Netflix and plays a woman hiding her superpowers in Fast Colors, a thriller scheduled to premiere at Austin’s SXSW festival.
Mbatha-Raw says it’s no accident that many of the movies she’s played in have been directed by women, whom she credits with giving her the incredible opportunities she’s had so far:
“I make it a point to play strong women, and women have given me the most dynamic and interesting roles of my career thus far.”
“The fact that we have to consciously find opportunities for women and support the ones who are already out there is nothing new. What is new is that the awareness has changed. Now, we are all aware of where we actually are as an industry, versus where we thought we were.”
Mbatha-Raw who grew up in Oxford, England, the daughter of an English mother and a South African father (her name is short for “Gugulethu,” a version of the Xhosa word for “our pride”) spoke a bit about her role in A Wrinkle In Time, playing a woman of color who is married to white man played by Chris Pine. With major roles filled by Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, the film commits itself to being culturally inclusive. Mbatha-Raw shares that when it comes to race, there are major differences between the states and her homeland “across the pond”:
“There is certainly a complexity in being both Black and white.”
“But I’m also from the U.K., where it’s not quite as big of a topic. So you might look at me and say ‘she’s Black,’ or ‘she’s biracial,’ but people don’t realize there is a very different cultural legacy in the United States than the U.K. Here, there’s a specific sense of identity and community that comes with being African-American — that’s a culture all its own. So coming from the U.K., I had to explore my own identity in order to feel centered within all of the conversations around history and race politics that are very unique to America.”
She also shares that why she hopes to normalize woman of color playing all types of roles, specifically films where race isn’t the focus or where a few sistas are sprinkled in to meet a quota, she recognizes the importance of her presence on screen for young women who desire to see themselves reflected in mainstream media:
“It’s empowering to play a woman and not have race be the focus.”
“But I will always bring who I am to the story and make sure my ethnicity is celebrated on screen. I’m not afraid to have those tough conversations with directors about how I represent myself. Hair, for instance, sounds like a superficial conversation. But images remain in our subconscious. So when it comes to representing on screen, I can use my hair to send the important message to girls everywhere that they can be who they are.”
With an already phenomenal year under her belt before spring even arrives, Mbatha-Raw recently enjoyed a few months off with her family in Oxfordshire, although for work she’s based out of Los Angeles. During that time she casually picked up an honor from Queen Elizabeth II in which she was the recipient of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Mbatha-Raw’s distinction was for her service to the dramatic arts. And while she agrees that pretty special and all, she’s more excited about a certain royal wedding that will be taking place in her neck of the woods pretty soon when actress Meghan Markle weds Prince Harry:
“I can’t speak for all of the U.K., but I’m very excited for them both! Who doesn’t love a royal wedding?”
You can read more about lessons Mbatha-Raw took from Ava Duvernay on set as well as check out her rocking some pretty sexy Louboutin pumps here.