Tanzania: Angela Ruhinda – Fresh From Hollywood With Ideas


Angela Ruhinda will be turning 30 in December and is ready to conquer Tanzania’s film industry.

I met her in her office-cum-studio on a warm sunny afternoon in Dar es Salaam’s Masaki surburb.

Actually not just her, but also her younger sister Alinda Ruhinda and the cast of her upcoming play, The Big 3. The cast was rehearsing and Alinda was helping the stage manager in directing the rehearsal.

Ruhinda is a co-founder with Alinda of Black Unicorn Studios, which opened its doors in August this year. But Ruhinda is no stranger to either plays or films.

Born in Canada to Tanzanian parents, Ruhinda spent a couple of her years in primary school in Tanzania but has lived most of her life outside the country in China, Kenya, the United Kingdom and finally the US, courtesy of her parents’ professional life.

Now settled in Tanzania and with the investment she and her sister have made in Black Unicorn, it looks like she’s here to stay.

“I’ve wanted to write and work in the entertainment industry in general all my life. I studied Philosophy and Film Studies at the University of Hertfordshire for my undergraduate studies and after that I was bold enough to tell my parents, ‘I want to go to Los Angeles to study screenwriting’ and they were like, ‘People do that?'” Ruhinda says.

Thankfully, her parents came through and in 2011 she undertook her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles.

After getting her MFA she worked as a freelance screenwriter in Los Angeles, and her big break came in 2014 when she sold her thesis, a comedy script titled Iman & Andy, to ABC studios in Hollywood.

She was encouraged by a faculty member to push the script onto the screen and then found a production company, Electus, that liked the script and promised to work with her to pitch it to networks.

It was here that Whoopi Goldberg got to hear of the script and gave it to ABC. It was the same year that several scripts were sold for consideration at ABC studios where shows like Selfie and Blackish were produced.

In 2017, Ruhinda’s name would appear for the first time on credits in the production of the film Moonlight in Vermont on the Hallmark Channel.

Missing link

Ruhinda is forthright about the shortcomings of the film industry in Tanzania.

“The missing link in our mainstream Bongo movies is the internationally accepted guidelines of production. Like having audition calls, following a written script from the first rehearsal, ensuring there’s at least a month to rehearse from table readings to stage rehearsals with props and costumes,” she says.

These are guidelines that Black Unicorn Studios plans to implement despite being a self-financed start-up.

“I believe you either go full throttle or you don’t do it at all. So if I half-heartedly committed myself it means I could always just quit next week and be like ‘Oh maybe I’ll just get a regular job,’ which I know I’ll never be happy doing. So, this is me giving us the extra fire that we need to keep pushing.”

She doesn’t mince words and speaks as a bold entrepreneur who was brought up with feminist values. The latter come through in the script of The Big 3, whose rehearsals I watched to get a glimpse of the mind behind Black Unicorn.

“I have always been aware that I am female, but it was when I went to the US that for the first time I was made aware that I am also black. I’d walk into a room with movie executives and other staff and they’d be like, ‘Oh she’s African blablah,’ which even my own representatives would push me to use, by saying things like,

“You have a unique point of view, make sure you tell them your stories about back home and all that stuff.’

“Even after I would explain that it felt a little weird, like I am literally selling myself, they still gravitated towards the fact that I was coming from a different perspective in being African and not African American,” says Ruhinda of her experiences in Los Angeles.

Then we got round to discussing The Big 3, which she wrote while in Tanzania.

“It’s one of those occupations that everyone thinks that they can do, and I cannot even blame them because it looks like you just sit down and think ‘Ah this happens and then this happens’ but it’s really the course I studied that made it possible for me to write this script. It was meticulous and thorough.

Character development

We learnt everything from basic storytelling and even had one class where we focused on character and our tutor had a doctorate in psychology.

She was a screenwriter but also knew the psychology of people. We had classes or assignments to discuss and develop characters and most of us would just present a character who lives in this and that place and of this age and that is all.

The tutor would break it down for us by asking why the character is here. How did she grow up? How does she feel about her mother? This kind of backgrounding helps in informing and developing the storyline.”

Ruhinda, although finally settled in Tanzania, is at a crossroads. “There is that feeling like you’re foreign almost everywhere you go, suffering the segregation of the travelled African.,” she says as she pokes her chest for emphasis, in an answer to my question about the divide between non-resident Africans on their return to their home countries and those who never left.

It’s this theme that I foresee Ruhinda and Black Unicorn having to unpack even as they work toward making returns on their investments.

With Alinda’s background in advertising, Black Unicorn can surely find financing from the corporate world. But it’s also true that to fulfil Ruhinda’s ambition in the film industry, particularly for the Tanzanian public and even across the continent, Unicorn’s productions will have to be pragmatically aware of their “diaspora” perspective.

Research

The use of Swahili scripts or subtitles alone will not endear the public, it will also take research into the cultural ethos of the African audience.

Unicorn’s first production, the play The Big 3, invites audiences to note that a young woman too has choices in the dating pool.

This is also the theme of the film She’s gotta have it by Spike Lee. I am really intrigued to see how the audience in Dar es Salaam’s will react to this.

In the play, the main character Shubi marks her 30th birthday with a big announcement. She has decided to host a dinner party for all the three men she’s dating and to introduce them to one another.

Already at the set, the cast of David Msia, Yann Sow, Iman Lipumba, Jesse Mihayo and Jonas Mugabe as well Sharlyn Mthethwa — who also doubles up as the stage manager — are deep in discussion of the translation of open relationships in Tanzania’s cultural ethos, which is highly patriarchal, to say the least.

So if you happen to be in Dar es Salaam this November 10 or 11 pop in at the Little Theatre at 4pm or 7pm and enjoy the play. Entrance fee is Tsh20,000 ($9).

Black Unicorn is looking for Swahili or English scripts for a short or feature film. Deadline for submission is January 18.

For more information go to http://www.blackunicornstudios.co.tz/2018/10/16/made-in-africa-screenwriting-competition/

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Publish date : 2018-10-29 15:14:33

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