Safta (South African Film &Television Award) winning actress Zola Nombona is known for her portrayal of strong black women; in the short film, ‘Trapped’, she dives into the role of a closeted queer woman.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
Zola Nombona rose to prominence with an enthralling performance as Monde on the local hit show, Lockdown. She has been nominated for four Saftas and in 2015 won for Best Achievement by a Lead Actress in a Made-for-TV Novie, for Mzansi Magic‘s Ingoma, where she played Conny D.
The versatile actress from Mthatha, Eastern Cape, is a chameleon. In her latest film Trapped, an LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer) film, she tackles the role of Ayanda, a lesbian living a double life. Zola stars alongside Thishiwe Ziqubu, who plays her devoted lover.
“Trapped is the inability to be who you are,” Zola tells Blacklight. “It’s being trapped by sexuality and unable to live your life to the fullest – the way you wish to.”
The actress says the film is crucial due to the lack of visibility of black queer stories in film and television. She believes the film is about educating people about queer lives and promoting tolerance and diversity.
“We are in a state of urgency when it comes to giving voice and educating people about the LGBTQ+ community,” she explains. “We need more stories about the community that they can own and relate to on a deeper level. Many stories that we see are usually typical and overlook the pressing issues about queer people. I feel like the stories are always just the tip of the iceberg.
She continues: “A story like Trapped, reflects this exciting time for the queer community and storytellers. This is for the people who are ballsy enough to share their stories with our society, which gives us an opportunity to learn more about one another and the issues surrounding the queer community. People get killed. When we start putting a face to these issues, then we can begin to understand one another.”
Zola believes an actor does not necessarily have had a lived experience of the character to deliver a believable portrayal. She prides herself on being able to tap into any character and displaying diversity in society.
“As an actor, you need to be more empathetic and be willing to dive into the character wholeheartedly,” she explains. “Everyone has had a moment in their lives when they felt trapped in some way. I believe Trapped goes way beyond sexuality. The movie is relatable because everyone knows what it’s like to be trapped in life one way or another.
For the film, Zola teamed up with up-and-coming director Athi Petela from the Eastern Cape. The pair are childhood friends and had promised each other that they would work together on a project. Trapped is their first project together.
“It was one of those situations where we promised each other that when we get to Joburg we were going to support one another in our careers, especially since we are in the same industry. We are black creatives from the Eastern Cape, and we are doing it for ourselves, so it makes sense to support one another. My initial attraction to the project was that I get to help a young director, who is also a friend, to bring his dream into realisation.”
Despite the commendable growth in the South African film and television arena, there is still a lack of day-to-day life content that “truthfully” reflects our lives. While there has been a rise in local productions helmed by black storytellers, the focus has been more on melodrama than on the nuances of everyday people. Zola believes this is because we are still a very conservative country.
“There is always some sort of red tape on what we can say or portray in film and on television. It could be political, socio-political, or about gender or sexuality. I believe that we are trying to break away from the conservative attitude, especially with the new productions and storylines,” she explains.
“We are slowly moving towards unapologetic and socially conscious productions. However, there is still a lot of room for progress, and that’s everyone’s responsibility, not just the writers, directors and actors. I think young South Africans are a microwave generation, and they always want everything to happen quickly. It is our job as creatives to bridge that gap. Once we get more support from the higher powers, I believe we can do more and better.”
The actress is also a new mommy and has to juggle being an entertainer and mother to her son, Cebelihle. She shares that motherhood has transformed her, but it will not limit her to playing ‘safe’ roles.
“I do believe that motherhood has given me a new energy and a different perspective on life,” she says.
“My job as an actor is to curate myself in such a way that I can portray all different shades of people, from all walks of life. I can’t judge characters because that defeats the whole idea of being an actor – to portray different characters. Being a new mother, I have to work with this newly-found energy of being a nurturer, a carer, a lover, and put into all the characters that I get to portray.”
With her career showing an impressive trajectory, Zola is on her way to becoming one of the most celebrated actors of her generation. With her zeal and passion for telling authentic black stories, she is the embodiment of a leader, not a follower.
“People need to see that I am not just able to delve into different characters, but I am also able to embody different lives, “ she says about her intentions as an artist. “I hope that I tell people’s stories authentically and with realness to spark conversations and erect a platform where we can see our reflections.
“I would also like for people to see growth in my skills as a storyteller. I want them to see me at different points in my life and see that reflected in my work. It’s about holding hands with the art and growing with it.”