People of Impact: FEAT. #liberated dad - Mpho Osei-Tutu
Mpho firstly, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us! It has been amazing to chat to someone who has such a rich geographical history and such a broad understanding of the entertainment sphere! From award-winning TV acting, filmmaking and stage performing to writing and screenwriting - all the way to lending your voice for the airwaves and motivating the youth. Above those accolades, you are a 21st century Father and Husband. So we would love to hear about how you balance the work / home / global pandemics eco-scale of life!
1. Currently you, your wife and three kids are in the USA and have been locked down in a Virginia with family since April (please correct if I’m wrong) - after moving from a New York apartment in which you were self-isolating. The pandemic was no-doubt something that took you by surprise but what have been some of the other unsuspecting surprises along the way and were some of those positives?
Indeed the pandemic was a surprise. I think it really blinded and even hardened us to any other surprises that come with travelling to a new place.
The other surprise - which is already bearing positives, though too slowly - has been the world’s reaction to the killing of George Floyd. I strongly believe that this event and many others in recent times are highlighting the systemic racism that exists not just in America but all over the world and in South Africa too.
You have enjoyed some incredible successes in your entertainment career – one of them being a Golden Horn Award for Best Achievement in Scriptwriting in a TV Comedy. Personally, was that one of your most notable achievements and why?
Winning the Golden Horn for Scriptwriting on “Thuli no Thulani” was a great achievement. We had an awesome team and the creators of the show - The Ramaphakela (Burnt Onion Productions) have been such an integral part of my success as a writer that it made it sweeter. Sadly, we couldn’t attend the actual award ceremony to receive our award because of budgetary cuts from the SAFTAs *eye roll* but it was a great validation of my abilities to write comedy and work in a team with people most of whom I had never worked with before.
How did the wife and kids react to that success and how do you treat any individual successes - as the family?
Tumi congratulated me. I don’t think the kids even remember to be honest...lol. In truth, the whole SAFTA not inviting us to the big night was a bit of a downer. I mean there would literally be no show without the writers and you’d think the organisers of the event would acknowledge that. Thankfully our producers cared enough to arrange a photoshoot with our team and the Golden Horn so we have the pictures.
Where would you say you first developed your sense of humour and how did you learn to cultivate that for the entertainment industry – specifically in South Africa?
As a child, my sister and I loved TV and film. We would memorize showtunes and do impersonations of characters in movies. But it was the comedies that stood out most for us. I think it was here that my funny bone was developed - watching the great American comedians like Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Then in the early 90s, we moved from Lesotho to a pre-democratic South Africa and I became a bit of a class clown - probably to deal with all the issues of the time, notwithstanding being one of the first black kids in a model C school on the East Rand. I would be the guy in class always cracking jokes, so when I discovered the Drama Department in High School, it was a match made in heaven.
On leaving High School, I needed more of the comedy fix so I studied Drama and was fortunate enough to land a role in the primetime sketch show Phat Joe Live. This was my first foray into TV acting and I got to work with some of the cream of SA comedy. The combination of doing classic texts, one act plays and watching South African sitcoms of the 90s and then later writing on sketch shows and sitcoms has added immensely to my education.
Born in France, raised in Lesotho, lived in the UK, Ghanaian roots, currently reside in South Africa and are self-isolating in the United States. You’ve lived, travelled and have been influenced by a multitude of cultures and countries. Would you say that all of those places have contributed to who you are in some way and what are some of the lessons of your global heritage, that you like to share with your children?
Ubuntu… I am because we are... no matter of class, race or creed.
Sankofa… The principle that "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; we must understand why and how we came to be who we are today."
Be yourself and love yourself.
It truly ignites a whirlwind of emotions when we bring this topic to the surface but that is the very reason we see it’s necessity. With the current and on-going global Black Lives Matter protests taking place, how have you tackled this subject with your children and more importantly – as a family?
It’s been a really tough moment for us. We knew from the stories of police brutality and racism that coming to the US would always present challenges. The 3 murders of Aumaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breona Taylor happened in 2 and a half months of us being here. Our kids are still very young and the last thing we wanted was to depress them with all of this, but we couldn’t help but switch on the TV on the day of George Floyd’s memorial. That was the moment we decided that they have to know. Of course we answered all their questions but I’m sure there will be more.
Do you believe that the current and ongoing global #BLM protests will have a long-term effect on the roles that African Males play in American television - in the future?
I believe so. A statement like Black Lives Matter in the moment we’re in is causing the whole planet to look within. Black males are too often portrayed in a negative light. It is a systemic racism that we are too quick to tolerate.
As Beyonce’ humbly said in her inspiring speech to the 2020 Graduates - “You are achieving things your parents and grandparents never could imagine for themselves,” she said. “You are the answer to a generation of prayers.” Parents instinctively clear a path for their children however, your family seems to be clearing a path for future generations too! We thank you for your diligent and wonderful contribution to the entertainment industry and wish you a whirlwind of even greater successes to come!
Thank you, Mpho for sharing your journey as a dad and as a creative with us!
Written by: Samantha Chrysanthou of @thread.media
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