Tuesday, September 29, 2020

No Motswana actresses can play a Motswana woman

An Internet filmmaking magazine, Filmmaker South Africa, last Friday reported that the South African-based casting agency, Moonyeenn Lee Associates, rejected 18 hopeful Batswana actresses selected by a local production house, Camel Thorn.

The actresses had paid P100 each to be auditioned for the coveted role of Mma Ramotswe in a movie adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith?s No.1 Ladies? Detective Agency. The casting agency reportedly declared to Camel Thorn by email that the ladies were not right for the role.

The Sunday Standard spoke to Camel Thorn?s Chief Executive Officer, Ernst Engels, and he told us that ?though they were ?traditionally built? many of the actresses, had no portfolios, or an established track record in the industry.

?At Camel Thorn,? he continued, ?we intend to assist actresses with compiling portfolios in the future.?

In spite of the state of the local movie industry, Alexander McCall Smith had requested that the role of Precious Ramotswe be given to a Motswana actress. Smith reportedly has been rooting for Health Minister, Prof. Sheila Tlou, who has acted as Mma Ramotswe in two stage Gilbert & Sullivan productions, directed by Maitisong?s previous director, David Slater.

Regardless of this appeal, a casting call was made both in South Africa and Hollywood.

American entertainment personalities, namely Queen Latifah, Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, have made contact with award winning director, Anthony Minghella, expressing their interest in playing the plus sized sleuth. Minghella is pegged to direct the movie and currently adapting No.1 Ladies? Detective Agency series into a screenplay.

However, when the Scottish paper, the Sunday Herald, asked which of the three he would prefer in the film?s starring role, McCall Smith gave an off-centre response, saying: ?I have always rather liked Meryl Streep.?

?The lead character in a Hollywood production carries immense responsibilities in helping to find finance for the production,? Engels reasoned, ?and also in carrying viewers to the box office.?

So we will have to wait to hear the Hollywood actress? attempt at Tswana accented English. Batswana actors need not give up on the Hollywood production, says Engels.

Mrs Gordon, the head of Film Africa, a big South African film production organisation that has signed a co-production deal with Anthony Minghella?s London based company, is reported to have backed up the statement that Botswana was, indeed, the selected location for filming Mma Ramotswe?s story. She also affirmed that the company was looking for local actors to fill in as extras and in minor roles.

?All you need to do,? said Engels, ?is keep watch of our website, www.camelthornmedia.org.bw. We will be using it as a tool for talent scouting.?

According to Engels, all is not lost; he views it as an opportunity of a lifetime.

?Well I prefer to see the glass as half full rather than half empty,? he chirped, ?Our young film industry will experience an influx of Hollywood, South African and British cast and crew. Batswana will be used and will be learning their work on the spot and benefiting for future productions.?

However, a warning is issued, by Mrs Gordon, ?Please don?t expect us to pay Hollywood salaries,? she cautioned. ?It would destroy your young industry and raise unrealistic expectation.? The production will, instead, use Botswana?s going rate.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.