Last year Ratidzo Mambo figured she wasn’t being offered the type of roles she wanted and so she made a pivotal decision.
The Zimbabwean-born actor and former sales agent and distribution consultant resolved to take her fate into her own hands by becoming a creative producer, developing her own TV and film projects.
“I’ve had to learn how to multi-task because acting jobs are scarce and the types of roles I want to do are seldom offered to me,” Rati tells IF via Skype from Bali, where she is finishing the bibles and treatments for a bunch of projects.
“Rather than blame people or live in a space of negativity, I have to take accountability. I have a lot to say and I am a storyteller as well.”
With the help of her US manager, Fictional Entity’s Krista Carpenter (a former head of development at Screenwest), and her Oz rep Sophie Jermyn Management she is putting together a portfolio of scripts.
Screen Australia is boosting her career, choosing her as one of 11 creatives in the Developing the Developer workshop held last month and funding the story development of 50 Shades of Black (Girl), a TV series created by Gemma Bird Matheson.
Mambo and Lizzie Cater are producing, one of 10 short-form projects selected by Screen Australia and SBS for the Digital Originals initiative aimed at giving opportunities for writers from under-represented backgrounds.
Based on real-life experiences of Matheson and Mambo, the plot follows Hanna, who gets mistaken for another, more successful black girl at a gig one night. This inspires Hanna and her best friend Bonnie to conduct an experiment: What else can they get for free by pretending to be other people of colour?
Connor Van Vuuren is the script editor. Rati and Gemma would love to play the characters but would happily step aside if the commissioning network prefers to hire better known actors.
Among the projects she is developing is a TV comedy series, loosely based on her experiences, about an African exchange student who goes to live in a town of 2,500 people – all white – in north Queensland.
Another is a feature film or miniseries inspired by actual court cases which focuses on Sudanese kids in Melbourne who are scapegoats of drug cartels.
She’s keen to continue acting and will next be seen in The Gloaming, the eight-part drama created by Sweet Potato Films’ Vicki Madden, which premieres on Stan on New Year’s Day.
Emma Booth and Ewen Leslie play detectives and former lovers who investigate the brutal murder of an unidentified woman. Rati auditioned for the role of a detective, which went to Zenia Starr, but was happy to take the part of a legal aid assistant.
It was a thrill for her to appear in the same scenes with the Indian-born Starr and with Nicole Chamoun, whose parents hail from Lebanon.
Her latest movie is British director Francis Annan’s Escape From Pretoria, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber as South African political prisoners and freedom fighters Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee.
Imprisoned in 1978 for their involvement in covert anti-apartheid operations for the African National Congress, they decide to send the regime a clear message and escape.
She played Daphne, one of the leaders of the ANC’s Black Panthers arm who falls in love with Jenkin.
“I would love to be an Asher Keddie or a Deborah Mailman,” she says. “One of the reasons why I kept acting was after seeing Deb in The Secret Life of Us.”
Her first major break came as a teenager when she starred in Zimbabwe’s box office hit Yellow Card, a dramedy about a young soccer star who learns some tough lessons about the consequences of unprotected sex.
Thanks to a Rotary youth exchange program she moved to Australia when she was 16 and attended high school at Home Hill, north Queensland.
Her first role here was in Jonathan M Shiff’s children’s series Wicked Science for Network 10 (later the ABC) and Disney Channel.
After appearing in Neighbours and Dee McLachlan’s feature comedy 10 Terrorists she decided to try her luck in the US in 2012.
In her first US TV gig she played a teacher opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the Fox high school series Glee.
In 2017 she was among the finalists for the Heath Ledger Scholarship, which that year was awarded to Mojean Aria. The fellow finalists included Hunter Page-Lochard, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Daniel Monks, Mitzi Ruhlmann and Shalom Brune-Franklin.
After appearing in indie films, short films and a play, she returned 18 months ago, explaining: “I felt I had a voice and was more confident to insert myself in a creative way. I could see diversity changing in Australia and I wanted to be part of that change.”
Ideally she’s like to launch her own production company or partner with a production house. She’s met with Bunya Productions’ David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin and Sophia Zachariou, whom she regards as mentors, Matchbox Pictures’ Debbie Lee and Tony Ayres.