Nomzamo Mbatha Is "Coming 2 America" in More Ways Than One
If the name Nomzamo Mbatha isn't one you've heard, we suggest you get acquainted. The South African actor, who has starred in the TV series Isibaya and Umlilo, boasts a cool 3.1 million Instagram followers and serves as a spokesperson for several major brands like Neutrogena Africa, Puma South Africa, L'Oréal Paris Hair, and more. She's also an ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency, helping the organization shed light on the stories of African refugees.
On March 5, you'll be able to catch the 30-year-old actor in Coming 2 America, the highly-anticipated sequel to the beloved ‘80s comedy film starring Eddie Murphy hitting Amazon Prime Video. The movie is poised to be a breakout moment for Mbatha, one that will introduce her not only to an American audience but a global one.
In the film, Mbatha plays Mirembe, the Royal Groomer of Zamunda (the fictional country from which Eddie Murphy's character hails). When Mbatha took the role, she knew she was stepping into a huge arena but was prepared for the best. Her character has big dreams about owning her own salon, but women in Zamunda are considered second-class citizens and aren't allowed to own their own businesses — a plot thread in the movie that runs throughout the film. If we could tell you more about it, we would (we're not trying to give anything away), but just know, you're not getting the same movie just adapted for the modern age.
Ahead of the film's release, Allure spoke to Mbatha about her involvement in Coming 2 America, overcoming impostor syndrome, and how the hairstyles she wears when she's out of character impact her self-image.
"I think it's such an interesting time for me right now, just because I have no idea what to expect from this new chapter," Mbatha explains when asked about how she's feeling, stepping into such a cultural touchstone. "I'm staying open to it, I'm doing the work. For the very longest time, I've never been one to celebrate anything in my life. Even on my birthday, I'd be like, 'don't call me, don't make a big deal out of it.' But I think, now that the time is coming and the date is nearer by the second, the excitement of waiting for people to see the film just grows on you."
"I'm excited for this new chapter, I'm excited for what I have to offer. It's been such a long time of working and building my career outside of not just America, but globally in Europe, in Africa. And now I get to introduce myself on such a big stage. The film means so much to so many people."
And she's right — Coming to America is an important Black film for a lot of people. It established careers, defined Eddie Murphy's position as a superstar, and gave us cultural references for a lifetime. The film is so beloved, Real Housewives of Atlanta's Kandi Burruss had a Coming to America-themed wedding.
"You're surrounded by Hollywood royalty, people who shifted cultures across the world and gave us such a classic that to this day still resonates and means something," Mbatha reflected. Being on set with her A-list co-stars was at times a masterclass in acting: "There were moments where you're fangirling inside. I remember the first few days I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm dying. What's going on?' And then I'd be like, 'yo, okay, relax. These are your colleagues.'"
Of course, a gig like this one draws up all kinds of feelings. The actor shares that she had to find a way to balance her excitement, humility, and worrying about imposter syndrome. "You're thinking to yourself, 'there must be other girls who are more deserving, who are prettier, who are more talented, so why me? How dare something so grand and so beautiful happen to me?' There was a lot of learning and unlearning that I went through as I was shooting."
It took a conversation with the Queen of Zamunda herself, Shari Headley, for Mbatha to make sense of it all. "She said, 'this is your moment. I've been where you are, and I wanted to shy away. I want you to know that I don't want that for you, don't you dare. Show up for this moment.' And I was like, gotcha. When Shari Headley tells me to do something, you do it."
"What I loved about my character was that she's calming, she's witty, she's quick with her words, she's got the smarts," Mbatha shares. "She's there to make people look good and feel proud about their look." For Mbatha, it was deeply important that this character be wholly African and have the "essence of an African woman," approaching it with little nuances. "We were very specific about her simplicity as well, we didn't want to put too much on her because the beauty of her was truly skin-deep — that draws you into who this woman is. I had to borrow a lot from myself [thinking about] what it is that gives a woman that kind of alluring feeling." For her, it was about portraying a character who is both beautiful and puts a lot of energy into making others feel beautiful.
"I think this film has so much female empowerment and so much girl power [because director Craig Brewer] gave us agency. He didn't tell us what a woman's experience is — he said, 'you tell me, you show it to the audience, tell it to the audience and, and watch women see themselves represented.'"
One peek at Mbatha's Instagram shows that she loves to experiment with her hair. "With every hairstyle, I look like a different woman. I change my hair all the time — every single day is a different hairstyle." When Chaka Khan said "I'm every woman," she was talking about Mbatha. "I love to play with different textures, I love to play with different styles and how [my hair] sits around my face. I'm very particular about that."
Mbatha knows that hair, particularly Black hair, can be political in that any choice a Black person makes on how to style it may be perceived differently depending on the person. "Hair forms such a huge part of our identity, and anyone who says that it doesn't is lying, because even shaving your head is a statement about yourself."
Just like her character, Maribe, Mbatha is quite particular about her hair, but where they differ is that Mbatha feels that her personal style has a bit more flexibility. "[Maribe] is very expressive about her head and particular about her hair, [I prefer more] versatility in my style." Mbatha employs a go-with-the-flow approach when she's deciding how to style her hair. She thinks about where she's going, what her mood is, and the statement she is looking to make.
Mbatha is enjoying the freedom she has these days to express herself with her hair. She mentions that as a child, it was a bit difficult for her to make the kind of style choices she wanted to, so as not to upset the people in her family. "[Sometimes it feels like] our hair never belonged to us. [It] belonged to our mothers, It was a huge debate. If my mommy wanted to press it down, she was going to press it down whether I wanted it or not. So there's always been some kind of political agenda around our hair. And then we grow up, and we're surrounded by other kids and different demographics, and that's when it becomes even more political in the social settings."
But Mbatha sees things changing now that we're seeing Black women embrace their hair — whether they wear it in a 'fro, decide to cornrow it and slip a wig on, or they choose to buzz it all off. "We're at a point where there's so much freedom around our hair and so much acceptance with ourselves outside of anybody else. We, as Black women, have given each other permission. Every time you see a Black woman rock her [natural] ‘fro or curls, it gives you that permission, that unconscious permission to say, 'you better do the same, sis.'"
For Mbatha, self-care manifests itself both internally and externally — and the results are magic. "Burning my sage, cleansing my chakras, making sure my energy is clean, drinking my tea — [I take] care of my inner peace because I need a healthy mind to be able to show up in the world, myself, and the people around me in a healthy way," she says. So if you were wondering why her skin looks so radiant, there's your answer: "That's where the glow comes from. The glow comes deep, deep, deep inside."
But, of course, the external work has to be done, too. She leans hard into exfoliation and luxuriates in her post-shower experience, using layers of oils and moisturizers to make sure every bit of her skin looks good enough to eat. She also calls herself a "Neutrogena girl" (which, as a brand ambassador, she definitely is), and uses it quite often in her skin-care routine: "I'm obsessed with the Hydra Boost range, which makes my skin dewy, hydrated, and so beautiful." Any product with the word "glow" in it lands in her shopping cart, and she notes that she loves using products with AHAs, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C — just as any hardcore skin-care lover does.
Mbatha is about to be a superstar, no doubt — Coming 2 America is just the beginning for her. She's starting production on her next film this year in Canada, and in March, she will become the first African person to partner with Puma on a collection. "My name is going to be on clothing. It's huge for Puma to make that leap of faith."
All in all, Mbatha is thankful for her continued success and excited for what's to come in her career. "I think my life is a dream realized. It's a tangible dream realized and I always just want to be that."
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