‘Make way for us in film’

The soap, which runs from Monday to Friday on Zimbabwean television, and which highlights relationships and the problems associated with Hiv and Aids, has a huge following. Mai Muvengwa acts the part of a faithful woman who has an unfaithful husband who contracts the Aids virus. She is a strong woman who refuses to sleep with her husband until he undergoes an HIV/Aids test. Her television screen character is not too far divorced from her real life character as she is also a family woman who espouses the values of honesty and faithfulness, and is a devout Christian. Born 40 years ago in Mhondoro, Pretty has been married to Joseph Chakombera for 17 years. The couple has two daughters, Hope (16) and Runyararo (9), who are both taking after their mother by acting in school plays and radio dramas, and appearing on radio and television adverts. Pretty honed her acting skills in plays as a member of the Uprising Theatre Club in Mbare, Harare in the early 1990s. She is also a member of Screen Talent drama club and the Zimbabwe Film and Television Actors Union. Among local television productions she has featured in are an Aids awareness television drama titled “Xola” and “Coliwe,” a television drama tackling the problem of barrenness in which she acted the part of a woman who could not conceive who decided to steal a baby and was eventually arrested, tried and found guilty. This particular drama won her many accolades as she displayed excellent acting skills. She has also acted in one of Zimbabwe’s highly acclaimed films titled “Everyone’s Child.” The film deals with the problem of Aids orphans and their struggle for survival. In addition to acting in local productions, Pretty has also acted in a German film titled “The Gap.” The versatile Pretty sometimes works as a make-up artist and hair stylist for film and television productions. It was in this capacity that she worked in an international film with the title “Fountain for Susanna” as an assistant to one of the big names in Zimbabwean television and film productions, Eveline Gambe. Between May and September last year, she was in Namibia for the shooting of the film on the country’s most celebrated freedom fighter and former president Sam Nujoma, titled “where Others Wavered.” In this film she worked as a make-up artist and hair stylist as part of the crew. She says she enjoyed the experience very much. “I liked the experience. It was my first time to work in such a big film and for such a long period.” Pretty has also attended a leadership training programme in Nigeria under the Zimbabwe Film and Television Actors Union. In addition to her acting, Mai Muvengwa is gifted with knowledge of the country’s three main languages, English, Ndebele and Shona, and occasionally does translations and radio and television adverts in the three languages. Although she enjoys acting , she says in Zimbabwe it is difficult for one to earn a decent living from acting alone. She also says the industry is fraught with difficulties, particularly for women actors. “The girl child needs too be very strong to survive in this industry cause there are so many temptations. For instance, the casting agent might want a bribe from you or request sexual favours from an actress inorder to give her a part in a tv drama or film.” Mai Muvengwa as she is popularly known to many of her “Studio 263 followers, also decries the gender imbalance that exists in acting. She says more women should take up responsible positions in productions and not only be actors. “More women should be involved in whole productions as crew members, and not just as actors.” She also says women directors should try and reverse gender imbalance when recruiting actors and crew members. Pretty also says men should be more understanding and tolerant of their women who are actors. “Men should accept art and support their women and stop contributing to the stereotype that women actors are of loose morals.” She says she is lucky to have married an understanding husband who ‘now respects my profession’. “When I’m away acting, he cooks and assists the children wash their uniforms.” Pretty says she has enjoyed her acting life especially working with Neversay Chinyanga who plays Muvengwa her husband on “Studio 263”, Eve, her rival, and many others. She says the soap gave her a lot of experience and a ‘chance to be a public speaker, addressing youths and women about Hiv and Aids issues.’ The dreadlocked and ever-smiling Pretty says “Studio 263” and the television drama “Coliwe” gave her celebrity status. “Many people recognize me on the streets. Some have given me gifts, free lifts and even invited me for lunch.” What she likes most about her role in “Studio 263” however, is that “it educates young women to endure and to respect the marriage institution.” Others have even called her on the phone to say how much her role is helping save marriages. “I am now an Hiv/Aids activist because of my roles in plays and dramas,” she says. A devout member of the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God in Africa (ZAOGA) church, Mai Muvengwa believes talent comes from God. She says many in her church in the high density suburb of Kambuzuma 1, where she lives, are happy to have a celebrity within their ranks. What about her plans for the future? She would like to get more involved in film as a crew member and her dream is to one day direct a film. When Pretty is not busy rehearsing for a role on television, she relaxes by watching television. When she finally stops acting, she could resume her other passion, which is cutting and designing children’s clothes, or do secretarial work which she trained for after completing her secondary education at Sandringham High School in Norton. As for her children taking up acting as a career, Pretty says she would not want them to be full time actors as they would find it difficult to survive on acting alone. At least she is not ruling out this career option for her daughters. As a loving mother, she is just being realistic.

April 2006
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