GUGU MBATHA-RAW is the cover star of the April 2018 issue of British Vogue.
Photographed by Mikael Jansson and styled by senior contributing fashion editor Kate Phelan, with hair by Eugene Souleiman and make-up by Hannah Murray, the portrait of Mbatha-Raw wearing Valentino, marks the actress’s Vogue debut.
The daughter of an English mother and a South African father, Gugu, which is short for Gugulethu, a contraction of igugu lethu, which means “our pride” in Zulu, trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. From her early acting roles on stage – she was Juliet to Andrew Garfield’s Romeo in a 2005 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre – to TV appearances in Dr Who and Black Mirror, and her current silver-screen moment in A Wrinkle in Time, she has been escaping archetypes and quietly shaping a diverse CV for years.
Her latest role as Dr Kate Murry in Ava DuVernay’s blockbuster Disney adaptation marks the first time a black woman has helmed a $100 million film, and seems a fitting summary of Mbatha-Raw’s own boundary breaking career trajectory so far.
“The chance to work with Ava again, and what it means for a woman of colour to be directing something of that scale and budget for Disney – I wanted to be in that line,” Mbatha-Raw told Bim Adewunmi of being cast in the science fantasy adventure film.
Of bonding with Oprah, who plays Mrs Which, she recalled, “We were both on the set on the same day and she came and hung out in my trailer for a little bit and we had a chat, in her full character regalia, which is just goddess-like. I hope we actually get to do something where we work together in a scene because that’d be incredible. I feel so thankful to have her in my life and to have had her guidance. She’s a very special human.”
Looking back at her career trajectory, she touched on her dynamic role choices and personal mission not to be type cast. “I didn’t really see how I could be in a period drama without playing a slave, necessarily, or a character in a very subservient or brutalised role,” she noted of landing the lead role as Dido Elizabeth Belle in 2013’s Belle. “As a biracial woman born in the 1980s, if you let popular culture dictate it, you’d think mixed-race people were like a new thing. And that’s absolutely not the case. People of colour have existed throughout history – it’s just who has been able to tell the stories. And that to me became really important: to illuminate that. To show that Dido Elizabeth Belle is as valid a story as Elizabeth Bennet… And, you know, Elizabeth Bennet’s fictional.”
Read the full interview with Mbatha-Raw in the April issue, which is out on newsstands on March 9.
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