BY Ben Ebuka, 7:25am February 14, 2023,

From a 4-year-old orphan to an international award-winning actress: the inspiring story of Thuso Nokwanda Mbedu

Thuso Mbedu. Photo -IOL

Growing up in the early 1990s, Thuso Mbedu never dreamt of being an entertainment figure. At a very young age, she wanted to be a dermatologist, but after taking a dramatic arts class in the 10th grade, she became interested in acting.

Her acting career has earned her fame and fortune locally and internationally, rising to become one of the most sought after actresses from South Africa. At 27, she was named in the 2018 Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 List, and one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New African Magazine

Born on July 8, 1991, at the Midlands Medical Center in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, to a Zulu mother and Xhosa and Sotho father, she never enjoyed the care of her parents who died when she was barely four years old. She was raised by her grandmother, a very strict school principal in school and at home. Her name reflected the multicultural tribes of her parents – Thuso is a Sotho name, Nokwanda is a Zulu name, and Mbedu is Xhosa.

Mbedu went to Pelham Primary School and Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School and graduated from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa in 2013, where she studied Physical Theatre and Performing Arts Management. Earlier in 2012, she took a summer course at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City.


Her acting career began in 2014 when she played a minor role of ‘Nosisa’ in the popular South African Soap Opera ‘Isibaya’ from Mzansi Magic. In 2015, she played a guest role as ‘Kheti’ in the Second Season of the SABC 2 youth drama series ‘Snake Park.’

She got her first starring role in the teen drama television series ‘IS’THUNZI’ from Mzansi Magic where she played ‘Winnie.’ Her international debut was in ‘The Underground Railroad’ an American fantasy historical drama series based on the novel ‘The Underground Railroad’ written by Colson Whitehead.

In 2022, she starred in her first film ‘The Woman King’ an epic historical drama about Agosie, where an entire female warrior unit protected the West African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 17 – 19th century. She played ‘Nawi’, a zealous recruit in the military unit.

In 2017, Mbedu was nominated for the ‘DSTV Viewers Choice Awards’ and the ‘International Emmy Awards for the ‘Best Performance by an Actress’ for her role ‘Winnie Bhengu’ in the 2016 -2017 television drama series ‘IS’THUNZI.’

In 2018, she won the ‘South African Film and Television Awards’ for ‘ Best Actress – TV Drama’ for her role ‘Winnie Bhengu’ in the 2016 -2017 television drama series ‘IS’THUNZI.’ She was also nominated for the ‘International Emmy Awards for ‘Best Performance by an Actress’ for her role ‘Winnie Bhengu’ in the television drama series ‘IS’THUNZI.’

In 2021, she was nominated for the ‘Television Critics Association Award’ (Individual Achievement in Drama), the ‘Black Reel Awards’ (Outstanding Actress – TV Movie / Limited Series), the ‘Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards’ (Best Actress in a Limited Series, Anthropology Series or Television Movie), the ‘Gotham Awards’ (Outstanding Performance in New Series), the ‘Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards’ (TV Breakout Star), and the ‘Critics Choice Television Awards’ (Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie), all for her role ‘Cora Randall’ in the 2021 TV series ‘The Underground Railroad.’

She won the ‘TV Breakout Star’ award from the Hollywood Critics Association TV and won the ‘Outstanding Performance in New Series’ award from the Gotham Awards.

In 2022, Mbedu was nominated for the ‘Independent Spirit Awards (Best Female Performance in a New Scripted Series), for her role ‘Cora Randall’ in the 2021 television series ‘The Underground Railroad.’ She won the ‘Critics Choice Television Awards’ for ‘Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie’ for her role ‘Cora Randall’ in ‘The Underground Railroad.’

In her keynote speech at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit, Thuso Mbedu tearfully spoke of how she overcame the loss of her dear parents, grandmother, and aunt. But her role in Amanda Lane’s ‘IS’THUNZI’ gradually renewed her hope in life.

“…my world was that blur, until Amanda Lane happened in 2016. The role that Amanda Lane gave me was the difference between life and death for me. Receiving that audition brief, I told myself that I would audition like it was my last audition. I gave it the last of everything that I had, that at the time I got the callback, I had nothing left. I secretly made the decision not to do the callback because I had nothing left to give. But fortunately, I received the callback. So I didn’t do the callback because the role was mine. I had given up. I was in a very dark place at the time, and the character, the role, the opportunity, was a much needed light. And I told myself that I will act as if it was the last character that I will play. And through a great script and an amazing director, I earned two International Emmy Awards for that role…

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 15, 2023


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