Viva Riva is set to be the movie out of Africa this summer. Having won an MTV Movie Award for Best African Movie this week, people will be flocking to the theaters to catch this gritty movie which opens Friday June 10th in New York.
In the movie, gorgeous rising star actress Manie Malone plays Nora, the feisty hot-tempered girlfriend of a big shot Congolese drug dealer. Malone is the perfect mix of down to earth, with a superstar aura. I caught up with her for an interview.
LA: Hi Manie! Great to meet you! Tell me more about you....
MM: I'm an actress. Well I think so anyway! [chuckles]. This is my first movie as an actress.
I'm French -- I come from Paris. What was exciting for me about this movie was that it was about African women. And there are some strong African women in this movie. There's the commandante and Nora my character -- they [are women who] have all been hurt psychologically and physically. That was an angle that I was very interested in when I read the script.
LA: This is really your first acting role? I was very impressed with the strength of your performance.
MM: Actually it's my second role, but the first one was for a movie that wasn't distributed unfortunately. It was the same kind of character -- I was a girl trying to find something but there was no way, there was no hope for her.
LA: It seems you like playing these strong , feisty female characters, Manie!
MM: Actually I'm interested in all kinds of characters because I think an actor has to play everything. But I don't know why people tend to think about me for this kind of woman. It's exciting.
LA: Talking of women. You are a very attractive woman and there's a stereotype that could go along with your look. Do you have a desire to show that women can be everything, not just one thing?
MM: What I like about these kind of women is that they are fighting to change. Not fighting to change the world, but fighting to change the way in which they are living.
I like the character. She has different ways of expressing herself. It's just like in real life -- you're not just nasty or nice but you have a complexity of feelings.
LA: So for this movie you had to learn another language?
MM: Yes! I spent 4 months in the Congo, in Kinshasa. It was very much an immersion experience. The director didn't want me to go back home to France. Perhaps he was afraid I wouldn't come back! The conditions weren't great -- it was violent sometimes. I was in immersion for three months to learn the language and feel like an African. I'm half African but [it was important] to learn the language and feel like I was an African, raised in Africa.
I'm was trained at the Actor's Studio and I'm thankful to Soukat Production -- the production company behind Viva Riva -- who allowed me to work this way.
LA: What was your experience of living in the Congo and being fully immersed in African life for that time?
MM: The word that comes to me is generosity. Generous. Africa is full of [generosity]. I'm very fed up of the images that the western media gives of Africa ... of deserts, violent, empty, like it's nothing and hopeless.
Africa isn't hopeless, Africa is hopeful and there's a lot of good talent and good artists over there. For us there was huge generosity from young African people. They don't have a lot of things but they give everything and they are just totally into what they are doing. [Here, Manie starts to tear up]. I was totally moved by that kind of generosity. I really am fed up with the image that Western media gives of Africa because Africa is not only depressing stuff. There is a lot of amazing stuff, with lots of talented people.
LA: What do you think about the future of African movies and African film industry?
MM: I feel like there are a lot of young directors who want to express themselves in other ways apart from the Western way. They need money to make their movies. But let's not just invest in money but let them express what they want to express and not give the image that Westerners want to have about Africa but empower them that they are African and they have to be allowed to give their OWN image, on their own terms.
I think Africa is the past and it is the future to me. There are movements like African Empower in New York by Suzanne Engo which is fighting to put young black girls from Africa on screen to be able to create their ideas in a strong way and to expect something else than just expressing nudity. We are not just baddies or dancing in a strange way -- we can do everything we want to do. Suzanne Africa Engo's Africa Empower gives an idea of that.
LA: Are you proud to be an African woman?
MM: It's strange for me because unfortunately for me, I was not raised by my mother. My mother is from the Ivory Coast and my father is French. I grew up with my father and unfortunately, I don't have the African culture. I have only the European one.
It is strange to me because I got into cinema to get characters inside me and to let them speak through and inspire me, like a musical instrument. I see myself as an instrument like a ballet dancer and the more I work, the more I am able to receive the energy. The thing is that I got into the cinema industry for that reason, but finally this industry has brought me back to my origins, to Africa.
I'm very ready to make another movie there.
Africa gave me some spiritual food. It was more than just a movie for me, making Viva Riva. It finally brought me to Africa to my roots and it has given me a responsibility to talk about Africa.