Film industry: Rafiki, Sheila Munyiva stepping into theatre, playing the main character

By , K24 Digital
On Tue, 23 Jul, 2019 00:00 | 3 mins read
Sheila Munyiva.
Cynthia Mukanzi @cynthia_mukanzi

What have you been up to since your exploits in Rafiki?

There has been a lot of travelling mainly because of Rafiki and it has been wonderful. The film was beautifully received in Kenya and it’s good to see the rest of the world respond to it the same way.

We have been going around showcasing it and talking to people about Kenyan filmmaking. But I’m back now, settling to get a lot of work done.

Were you worried by the response your role in the film would create? 

During the making of Rafiki in early 2018, I was concerned about whether I would be able to get any other work in Kenya.

I remember when we got nominated for the Cannes Festival, people were so excited since it was the first Kenyan film to ever make it to the prestigious festival. But a couple of days later, the Kenya Film Classification Board banned it and spoke of it like it was pornographic content.

We got a lot of negativity, but amid all that, we had to leave the country for Cannes and be goddesses on the red carpet. Then we had to come back home to uncertain reality, but the court lifted the ban and the response was overwhelming.

It was beautiful and now to be able to travel has been fantastic. It has been a roller coaster and something that I’m so glad I got to experience this young in life.

Besides acting, you also write and direct right?

That’s right. A lot of people know me as an actor in Rafiki because that’s the only thing that they can put my face on. But I have done so much work behind the scenes on other projects.

I’ve trained and worked as a director, producer, scriptwriter and casting director. My journey into this career is interesting. I was studying mass communication in college (because I wanted to be a news anchor) when a friend invited me to act as an extra.

That was a light bulb moment for me. I watched everything that was going on in the set and realised it was where I wanted to be. I learned so much as an intern and that proved to me I was in the right profession. I started directing children’s shows, scriptwriting, working on adverts and more.

In 2017, I decided to audition for acting roles and the first chance that came was on Rafiki. I got the role and here we are. I’m in the process of creating my first feature-length film as a director and writer.

Do you always have a specific discussion you want to elicit when creating a story? 

Absolutely. When writing scripts or directing a scene, I don’t portray what people think is a reflection of Africa. I steer off the negative things that people associate Africa with.

We are so much more than that. I want to do stories that you can watch and immediately identify with. Tell stories that are true and authentic to us and not in the way that people would want us to tell our stories, but in the way, we know our African stories.

And when I write, I mainly highlight women’s stories, because I believe women have had a lot of struggles and have been silent through them for a long time.

Are you going to follow this line of storytelling in your feature film?

It is something that will stand out in the film. The film will remind you of your ‘Kenyanness’, ‘Africanness’ and not necessarily everything that has been introduced to us. It will delve into so much of identity and show that we are more than we have been made to believe.

How has been the transition from a film set into playing the main character in theatre musical, Sarafina?

Sarafina is one of those films that I watched when I was a child and it stuck with me. I fell in love with it. To be able to see black characters on screen, a black female lead; it was formed empowerment.

So, when I got the call to audition for it, I said yes. It’s a movie that changed how I viewed the film, how I viewed African people. Being the lead character in Sarafina comes with a lot of responsibilities, which I’m so happy to execute.

I think I’m on the right path and I’m really moved by the appreciation and belief people have in me. I’m glad to play a part in making history and doing something with my youth that I will fondly look back on.

Do you want to explore theatre more alongside film?

I think anything I want to explore has to be something I love and believe in. I’m doing theatre at the moment because I love the narrative of Sarafina, in her character and the gripping story she tells. So, if more comes along the way and the story resonates with me, then I will be happy to be part of.

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