Thandiwe Newton

Thandiwe Newton: The Power of a Name

Thandiwe Newton, previously known as Thandie Newton, is a British and Zimbabwean actor. Her full name is Melanie Thandiwe Newton Parker. Born in London to a Zimbabwean mother and an English father, she spent her early life moving between Zambia and the United Kingdom, before settling in London. She attended school in Cornwall and studied at Downing College, Cambridge. Now a household name, Newton’s successful acting career has spanned over three decades. Her acting credits include Beloved (1998) Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) and Westworld (2016 – present). She has received multiple awards, including a Primetime Emmy Award and a British Academy Film Award (BAFTA).


Newton’s debut (first) role was in the feature-length film Flirting in 1991. Although the director decided to name her character Thandiwe, the ‘w’ was removed from the actor’s name in the credits without her consent, to distinguish between her and her character. After this, Newton became known to all by this anglicised (English) version of her name. Newton recently stated that she wanted to reclaim the original spelling of her birth name, and will professionally be known as Thandiwe Newton. She told British Vogue, “That’s my name. It’s always been my name. I am taking back what is mine.” All of her future projects will reflect this change.


Newton’s decision to reclaim her birth name calls attention to an issue that actors of African descent face in the entertainment world. Competing for survival in a predominantly white industry, the unconventional spelling and pronunciation of non-white names is often viewed as an inconvenience. To succeed in an industry where the practice of adopting stage names is as old as Hollywood itself, many actors either willingly or unwillingly adapt their names to conform to western stereotypes.


Newton’s words have resonated with people of African and non-white heritage, who face similar problems living in a western society. The actor’s decision to reclaim her birth name is inspiring others to do the same. One example of this is the actor Tanyaradzwa Fear, formerly known as Tanya Fear. She tweeted, “My full name is Tanyaradzwa – which means ‘we have been comforted’, I was named this because I was born the year my grandfather died.” Her statement emphasises the significance of her name, and the impact that her cultural heritage has had on her personal identity.


Thandiwe Newton’s actions set a powerful example for those who feel that a part of their cultural identity has been lost as their names have become anglicised. She has opened up an important discussion regarding cultural heritage in the entertainment industry.


Right for Education


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