The film industry is incredibly competitive, and exceptionally talented performers often struggle to make headroom when it comes to getting noticed among the constantly churning selection of new titles. Despite these challenges, one young woman is successfully making a name for herself in Hollywood. You might recognize the name Thuso Mbedu, a rising star actress who’s taking the film industry by storm. Originally from South Africa, she has spent the last couple of years starring in international releases and gaining the acknowledgment she deserves.
Let’s explore Thuso Mbedu’s exceptional and inspiring journey onto the silver screen.
Thuso’s Early Life
Thuso Mbedu was born Thuso Nokwanda Mbedu on July 8th, 1991, to a Zulu mother and Xhosa father. Her family lived in Pietermaritzburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa, and she spent much of her young life in the Pelham neighborhood. Because her mother passed away when Thuso was four years old, she was raised by her maternal grandmother. In reflection on her upbringing and the earlier parts of her life, Thuso has said, “My life wasn’t as hard as others, but it wasn’t easy.”
Her early schooling took place at Pelham Primary School, and she attended high school at Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School. At first, Thuso wanted to pursue a career in science so that she could become a dermatologist, as she’d dealt with skin allergies for most of her life. However, she discovered drama class while she was in high school and her love for acting took flight from there.
She went on to study Physical Theatre and Performing Arts Management at the Wits University in Johannesburg. She completed her program with honors in 2013. Thuso later studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York.
Thuso Mbedu’s Early Career
Thuso Mbedu’s acting career took off in South Africa when she landed a role in a teen drama TV series called “Is’Thunzi,” which aired first in late 2016. She played the show’s main character, Winnie, and appeared in 25 episodes throughout the title’s two seasons. Before that, she appeared in two more South African shows. She played Nosisa in “Isibaya” in 2014 and played Kitso in the 2015 series “Scandal!”
After “Is’Thunzi,” Thuso appeared in two additional TV mini-series and one film, all of which took place in 2018. She played Rosie in the show “Liberty,” Fifi in the film “Johnny Just Come,” and Phiwe in “Side Dish.”
In addition to acting, Thuso Mbedu also showcased her talents as a writer and director when she worked on the “iDrive” TV series in 2018.
One of her most prominent roles was that of Ipeleng in the TV series “Shuga.” Throughout her character’s journey, Ipeleng struggles to support herself, pursue her dreams, and find herself in the world after she loses her mother. Thuso’s portrayal of this character gripped audiences due to Ipeleng’s relatability and strength in the face of adversity.
Thuso’s International Roles
Though she was relatively well-known in South Africa, she began acting internationally in 2021, when she landed her role as Cora in the Black TV show from Amazon Prime, “The Underground Railroad.” Her character is a young woman who faces unsurmountable challenges on her way toward escaping slavery in the Deep South.
In 2022, Thuso starred in the film, “The Woman King,” alongside Viola Davis and John Boyega. This historical epic loosely follows the events that occurred in Dahomey, one of the most powerful African states in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the film, Mbedu plays the role of Nawi, a soldier serving in the all-female warrior group known as the Agojie. Under General Nanisca (Davis), Nawi and her fellow soldiers fight to defend their kingdom against the threat of colonization and slavery.
Upon playing both of these roles, Thuso Mbedu noted that there were parallels connecting her characters, Cora and Nawi. She stated, “These are both works that show that physical enslavement has changed, but there are still systems actively at play that are trying to keep certain groups of people down because they’re women or they’re Black.”
It’s easy to see that if the outcome of “The Woman King” differed from the film’s ending and Nawi lost her battle against oppression, she could have found herself trapped in the same circumstances that Cora suffered through until she risked everything for her freedom in “The Underground Railroad.”
Mbedu Current Projects
Thuso Mbedu’s current projects include her involvement in two series. In 2023, she explored voice acting in the animated TV show, “Castlevania: Nocturne.” She voices the character Annette and has appeared in eight episodes of the series.
Thuso is also currently working on an untitled HBO drama series by Brad Ingelsby. The show is in pre-production, and her character will be named Aleah when the series is released.
Thuso Mbedu Awards Won
Throughout her career, Thuso Mbedu has won six awards and received 18 nominations for her outstanding work.
For her role in the series “Is’Thunzi,” Thuso was the only African actress working on the show to receive a nomination for an International Emmy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in 2017. She was nominated for the same award in 2018, and in that same year, she won the SAFTA Golden Horn for Best Actress. She was nominated again for the SAFTA Golden Horn in 2019.
Her incredible performance in “The Underground Railroad” earned her several award nominations, including the 2022 Critics Choice Award, the 2021 TCA Award, and the 2021 OFTA Television Award. She won the 2021 TV Breakout Star Award, the 2022 Independent Spirit Award, and the 2021 Gotham Independent Film Award.
Finally, for her role as Nawi in “The Woman King,” Thuso was nominated for various awards, including the 2022 NTFCA Award, the 2023 EDA Female Focus Award, and the 2022 SFC Award. She won the 2023 Girls on Film Award for Ensemble Acting and the 2023 Black Reel Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Actress.
Given the body of work she has already provided the world, it’s fair to say that we can expect great things from Thuso Mbedu in the future. To follow her career and keep up-to-date with her latest projects, consider signing up for BlackOakTV. Browse through our entertainment selections to watch Thuso Mbedu continue to shine.