Encouraged to audition for the film “Life, Above All,” Khomotso Manyaka ended up landing the picture’s pivotal lead role of Chanda. Khomotso Manyaka was born in 1996 in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, which is where she caught the eye of talent scouts while performing with a church choir. Encouraged to audition for the film “Life, Above All,” she ended up landing the picture’s pivotal lead role of Chanda.
Khomotso proved to be a natural in front of the camera, and went on to earn the Best Actress Award at the Durban International Film Festival. “Life, Above All” won the Francois Chalais Prize for life affirmation and journalism at Cannes.
The compelling, character-driven drama revolves around a 12-year-old girl who summons the courage to fight the fear and shame poisoning relationships among members of her tight-knit community in the wake of an AIDS outbreak. Directed by South African filmmaker Oliver Schmitz, the movie is based on the award-winning novel “Chanda’s Secrets” by Allan Stratton.
Khomotso Manyaka in the movie “Life, Above All.”
Kam Williams: Hi Khomotso, thanks for the time.
Khomotso Manyaka: Thank you, Kam.
KW: What interested you in “Life, Above All?”
KM: That the movie has a strong and powerful message to all people, and the bonding and love between the mother and daughter.
KW: Tell me a little about the movie.
KM: It’s about a young girl called Chanda who wants to bring people together, through the struggle against HIV/AIDS.
KW: How would you describe your character, Chanda?
KM: She’s a strong, intelligent, well-behaved girl.
KW: What message do you hope people will take away from the film?
KM: It is that they must not keep secrets and that they must learn to be open with their families.
KW: Legist/editor Patricia Turnier asks: What was the most challenging aspect of playing Chanda?
KM: It wasn’t challenging, but I learned a lot from it.
KW: Patricia has a follow-up: What does it mean to you to receive so much recognition and praise for your work at such a young age?
KM: It is fun and I enjoy that they really admire me.
KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: “When such a prestigious award goes to a 13 year old, how does it change what would be your teen years, socially and professionally?”
KM: Well, I don’t think I would change, but I know that I would be seen as an example in South Africa.
KW: Harriet also asks: “How much of the story in ‘Life, Above All’ was outside of your real-life experiences growing up and how much was already familiar to you and part of your awareness?
KM: The familiar part is that I also have three siblings, but it’s only boys. I am also a first born at home.
KW: Finally, Harriet says: “Knowing that child stars very often get caught up in being a celebrity too early, what ‘stabilizers’ exist for you to keep you from having that too intense time in the spotlight?”
KM: I think I need to be more careful in what I do in the public, so as to prevent people from talking or writing negative things about me.
KW: (From) attorney Bernadette Beekman: “Had you ever acted professionally before you won the casting call for ‘Life Above All?’
KM: No, I have never acted before this. This was the first time acting, and the first time I was ever in a movie.
KW: (From) attorney Bernadette Beekman: “First: I see that you will be continuing your acting studies. Is there any one actress whose career you would like to emulate?”
KM: I would like to be like Harriet Manamela. She acted the part of the neighbor in the movie, or like Lerato Mvelase, who played my mother.
KW: Next, she asks: “Before working on this film, were you already aware of the fallout of AIDS in terms of the social ostracism of the victims and their family members?”
KM: I knew about AIDS for a long time because my mom is an HIV/AIDS counselor. We talk about it a lot.
KW: Lastly, Bernadette would like to know if you would you consider being an actor/activist to promote education about AIDS, based on the problems outlined in the film and the book?
KM: Yes! Because it would help people who don’t know about HIV/AIDS…
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
KM: I see a child of God, successful, talented, beautiful, well-behaved, trust worthy…
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
KM: To work hard for what you want and trust that God is the way and the key to success.
KW: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
KM: My mom.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
KM: As an honest, loving, funny and well-behaved girl, and as a good role model.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, Khomotso, and best of luck with the movie.
KM: Thank you for the opportunity, Kam.
(To see a trailer for Life, Above All, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8cMjWE9BK4.)