Zimbabwean actress thrives in Hollywood
SHE is barely known in her home country Zimbabwe, but Benu Mabhena's acting career has exploded in Hollywood. Benu Mabhena makes her big screen debut as Djimon Hounsou's wife in the action drama Blood Diamond, Mabhena stars in a new movie, Blood Diamond, alongside Hollywood royalty, Leonardo DiCaprio who plays a calculatig, unaffiliated Zimbabweborn soldier of fortune named Danny.
The movie began showing in U.S cinemas on Friday.
Powerfully acted and vividly shot, director Edward Zwick takes an unflinching look at the brutality of the African diamond trade.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly star as three disparate figures in 1990s Sierra Leone who start out using each other and end up wanting to help each other. But Zimbabweans who have never heard of Benu would be wondering just under which rock she came from.
Indeed, there is nothing to go on -- except the fact that this is her big screen debut. On one website, Benu appears to suggest that she fled Zimbabwe "for her life" with her father four years ago -- possibly for political reasons. In the public domain, that's all there seems to be on her private life -- at least for now.
In Blood Diamond, Mabhena plays Jassie, Hounsou's wife whose children are in a refugee camp except one (Causo Kaypers) who has been kidnapped and brainwashed by rebels.
She said in an interview: "I wanted to do my character justice, and portray exactly what happened and how women felt back then about their situation also."
Talking about the moment she met DiCaprio, a chuckling Benu revealed: "He came and introduced himself to me and he is like 'I am Leo' and I was like 'I know'. And then he said we hadn't been properly introduced, and I was like 'I am Benu'."
DiCaprio, as Zimbabwean smuggler and ex-mercenary Daniel Archer, is constantly on the hunt for the biggest stone out there. (Speaking impressively in several regional dialects and accents, DiCaprio is a formidable force of nature. It feels like the first time he's played a real man, a dangerous man who's lived a life and done destructive things, and for once his boyish good looks don't get in the way.)
Hounsou, as fisherman Solomon Vandy, has been ripped from his home by militaristic rebels and forced to work in the diamond fields. He happens to have found an exceptional gem -- a pink diamond the size of a large ice cube -- and buried it in the ground. (He always has tremendous presence just standing there silently, but here Hounsou gets the showiest role of the three as a husband and father who has no idea what happened to his family, and his fear and frustration are overwhelming.)
And Connelly, as American journalist Maddy Bowen, is investigating the widespread violence and corruption that pervade the diamond industry. (Connelly can be sly and sexy, fierce and feisty, but the concocted romance between her character and DiCaprio's feels forced.)
Each of these people needs something from the others at various times: Daniel needs Solomon's diamond; Solomon needs Daniel to help him sell the diamond to get his family out of a camp in Guinea; and Maddy needs them both for a story she's writing, one she hopes will stand out from the rest and open people's eyes back home to the atrocities she sees every day.
One such phenomenon is especially chilling: the methodology of taking young boys from their homes, putting automatic rifles in their tiny hands and turning them into remorseless killers. This is the fate that has befallen Solomon's oldest child, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers), who's kidnapped and brainwashed to become the same kind of young, zealous fighter that tore into his own village and destroyed his family.
The story of what happens to boys like Dia would have provided the material for a seriously compelling film all its own. Difficult as it is to watch, you'd like to see the subject explored further. Instead, trying to rescue him is just one component of the trio's long and arduous journey.
Daniel and Solomon struggle to survive a tremendously violent siege on the red-dirt roads of Freetown, where skinny kids blow up already dilapidated building using shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. And as they get closer to the hidden stone they seek, they also work together to endure thunderous air strikes on the diamond fields where Solomon once worked.
Whether or not these characters become better people because of their sacrifices is irrelevant -- the ultimate point of "Blood Diamond" is to make you think twice about where you buy that engagement ring or anniversary present.