As a person of African descent, I like to think that African history is something I’m up on. When I happened upon this one, I just couldn’t believe I didn’t know of this story and I couldn’t quite understand why. Because its scale, its scope — the ramifications — the legacy of Botswana and the love between these two people from two completely different cultures and countries. There was so much about it that caught my attention and, as a result, made me feel strongly that I just had do it.
What did you have to study to look at what that struggle looked like for Black people in the UK versus what we dealt with in the U.S.?
In many of the films I’ve done here in the States, whether it’s The Butler, Red Tails, The Help, Lincoln or even Selma, I had to really research that. Because it’s not my history and it’s not what I necessarily grew up knowing by way of college. When it comes to British history and how Black people have been cheated and mistreated, it’s something I’m far more up on because being born there — I live most of my life there — I live here now in the States. Great Britain’s history, I was far more conscious of — in many ways, I’ve done it the wrong way around because of the American films.
Being born in the UK, but being of Nigerian descent, I lived in Nigeria for seven years and Nigeria was a colony of Great Britain, and I could see the legacy of Nigeria being a colony by living there. What you see in the UK is very much what happened up and down Africa, through to a lot of those countries gaining their independence, which is mistreatment. One of the saving graces for Botswana was at the time where this story was unfolding, Botswana was the second-poorest country in the world.
They hadn’t discovered diamonds yet when they were so awfully treated.
I would argue that if it was a country rich in resources, they would’ve been treated worse. Botswana wouldn’t be just a protector of the UK, it would be a colony and it would’ve been raped of its resources; therefore, the collateral damage that British reps represented, they would’ve been treated far worse. What you see in the film is a very real depiction of what happened up and down that continent.
I was not aware of this story until this film, and I’m sure there are similar stories in terms of the rich history of Africa and the key people who played a major role.
What are some of the things that you felt that needed to be brought out in this role — delivering this great story? What’s the message that you tried to emulate?
You have an opportunity in a way that hopefully doesn’t feel corny to illustrate the power of love and how that love between two people — who just happened to be from different countries, different cultures — are a potent force that enables them to stay together as a couple but went on to win. When it came to the opposition that they were being saved from government countries, continents, what they overcame through their determination to be together is extraordinary. They could’ve decided, “This is too hard, let’s get a divorce.”
Everyone would be seemingly happy. He could go be king of his country and her parents won’t disown her and folks won’t be calling her a ”whore” in the streets — let’s get on with their lives. But they chose to stay together, and Botswana is a better country for the fact that these two people fought for their love. Botswana considers itself a “post-racial” nation till this day because of the marriage and the legacy. For a country that shares the border of South Africa to not recognize race is extraordinary, and that was love borne out of two people.