Black is King may feature an Oscar-winning actress in Lupita Nyong’o but it also assembles a bevy of African film and TV talent beyond the singers and musicians who contributed to the album Beyoncé released last year, in the wake of The Lion King remake. For many, these might be new faces, but to South Africans and Africans across the continent, they’re familiar ones—seen on screens big and small, in various roles. Here’s a short guide to where else you can see their work.
Warren Masemola, who plays the villain everyone loves to hate, Scar, in Beyoncé’s loose adaptation of The Lion King in Black is King, is a memorable and well-known face on TV screens in South Africa, having been in a number of local shows, for which he’s earned 4 Golden Horn awards at the South African Film and TV Awards. He’s likely best known for portraying art director Lentswe Mokethi in the popular etv soapie, Scandal. Outside of television work, Masemola has a growing list of movies to his credit. Sure, he’s popped up in US productions shot on location in South Africa, like 2017’s The Dark Tower and 2015’s Eye in the Sky (as Agent Atieno) but if you really want to be impressed by him, seek out Five Fingers for Marseilles and Vaya. Masemola has said he’s always looking to be involved in projects that push the envelope and break boundaries, as these films, which both debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival (in 2017 and 2016, respectively), do. In the neo-Western Five Fingers, he plays the evil henchman Thuto, while in Akin Omotoso’s layered journey-to-Johannesburg film, Vaya, Masemola plays Xolani.
Five Fingers for Marseilles is streaming on Prime Video. Vaya is now on Netflix.
Nyaniso Ntsikelelo Dzedze, the grown-up Simba, is known for taking bold steps in his career, which was initiated by a high-school teacher who encouraged him to do a production of Grease. He received praise for his role as Tsietsi Namane in Ashes to Ashes, considered to be South Africa’s first telenovella, which was also his television debut. His film debut was as Muzi in Hear Me Move, the country’s first dance movie, which scored him a nomination for Most Promising Actor at the 12th Africa Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria. The film is a South African take on the Step Up franchise where Dzedze’s character is the son of a pantsula dancer who is killed after a performance, so his mother bars him from getting involved in dance. But he follows his passion and ends up finding his own way through his grief. It’s unique for featuring the dance form sbujwa, which originated from pantsula. Dzedze is also an accomplished dancer and choreographer himself, having toured several countries with performance pieces.
Hear Me Move is currently available on Prime Video.
When Connie Chiume appeared on movie-theatre screens across the world in 2018’s Black Panther, it was a chance for the rest of the world to learn what South African fans have known for years—that Chiume is a formidable presence on screen. In Black is King, Chiume portrays Simba’s mother, Sarabi. A veteran of the entertainment industry, she’s appeared on many a stage, from Ipi Ntombi to Porgy and Bess and Little Shop of Horrors. Chiume, who started her career as a young teacher at the height of the student uprising of 1976, became an actress when she auditioned on a whim for an internationally-touring show. On the small screen, viewers have come to know her as Mamokete Khuse in the soapie Rhythm City. She’s currently starring alongside Pearl Thusi in Queen Sono as Nana Rakau, and is also in this year’s Palm Springs ShortFest-selected What Did You Dream? short film.
Queen Sono is currently streaming on Netflix, while Black Panther is on Disney Plus.
The striking pink-haired bride, Nala, in Black is King, has made her name known on a variety of television shows over the past few years. From landing her first TV job at 15 as host of the pre-teen entertainment show, Bling, to co-hosting the BET magazine show BET A-List, Madida is as warm as she is stylish. She’s also flexed her acting muscle, playing Zokuthula Dhlomo in Mzansi Magic’s The Road. The actress and model is also a singer, having released her first single in 2011, “Tonight,” with DJ Franky, and signing to Universal Music Group with her debut album the following year. Her collab with K.O, “Skhanda Love,” was nominated for several music awards, and this week, her follow-up single with him, “Say U Will,” won the South African Music Award for Best Collaboration.
Madida’s next single, “Organic,” celebrating women and their organic bodies, is due out on all platforms at the end of the month.
Folajomi “FJ” Akinmurele
7-year old Folajomi Akinmurele wears the crown in Black is King, as young Simba, an embodiment of the dedication Beyoncé makes at the end of the film—to her 3 year-old son, Sir Carter. With two credits to his burgeoning career, the first being in the music video for Spirit, the young actor certainly has a solid start.
23-year-old Nigerian Stephen Ojo, aka Papi Ojo, plays the blue man seen dancing throughout Black is King, and notably, the “Already” music video. Like Akinmurele, he has worked with Beyonce before, having danced in the “Spirit” music video last year. Ojo grew up in a musical family and began dancing with a crew called A.V.O BOYZ that included his late brother. Over a short time, he’s become a sought-after dancer, working with fellow Nigerians like Wizkid and Davido, as well as the likes of Rihanna (he was part of her unforgettable 2018 Grammy awards performance) and Janet Jackson, on the Made for Now video. Ojo has also been making his own Afrobeat tunes too — at the beginning of last year he dropped the single, Awelewa, and his latest single, Beremole is due out this week. During the pandemic, the timely short film, Privilege, released on YouTube, signaling his foray into acting too.
Beremole releases this week, and you can see Privilege above.
The entertainment industry lost a baobab when Mary Twala passed away last month. Playing Black is King‘s Rafiki, directed in the segment by Ghana’s Blitz Bazawule, was the last role the 80-year-old actress took on. An integral part of South Africa’s film and theatre industry for 6 decades, she was lauded with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver by President Cyril Ramaphosa during the 2019 National Orders Awards. From Sarafina! (which she starred in with her son, Somizi) to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Twala had, of late, been particularly cast in stand-out lead roles. Earlier this year, Twala drew great acclaim and applause for the film This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, made by Lesotho-born director, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The film won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance and went on to pick up the Jury prize at the Portland International Film Festival. Twala gives a captivating performance in it, which tells the story of a woman who won’t be moved by developers who want to take over the land on which she and her ancestors have long lived. She’ll also still be seen in the upcoming film by Mickey Madoda Dube, Comatose, in which she plays an ailing mother in a coma.
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection was touring film festivals around the world before the pandemic, so keep an eye out for its release date.