Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine is one of Hollywood's biggest American stage and film actors. Beyond that, he is a playwright, photographer, documentarian and activist. Alongside his friend Fanny Martinez of Back To The Source Tours, the 52 year old is organizing an end-of-year campaign to promote Ugandas tourism, culture, and opportunities. Titled Hollywood Goes Back to the Source, the initiative is aimed at inviting American celebrity friends and Influencer's from the USA. Solomon Oleny, Yours Truly had a healthy exchange of ideas with him to this effect. The following Q & A below answers all the questions you have in mind about the project and his love for acting. Pictures by Fanny Martinez.
Around early 1990s, you started an acting career in Hollywood, a world that movie enthusiasts see as the ultimate place to be with the glamour, the lights, and the fame. Thirty years down the road, you are one of Hollywood's biggest movie icons. This follows your feature as a major character in lots of multi-award winning movies, inclusive of Blood Diamond. Where does your inspiration come from?
Right here, my motherland-Uganda. This explains why I keep coming back here whenever I need to regroup or think clearly. There is something about being in Uganda that makes me feel alive. You leave very changed. Besides, Uganda is a gem that offers exclusivity. There are so many things we have here that are not anywhere else, an example being Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a destination that was recently among CNN's 25 of the most beautiful places around the world. That's what inspired me to interest my friends to come visit my roots, come see my motherland, my inspiration.
Who are some of the renowned personalities you are extending your invitation to?
The three most known here in Uganda include Brandy (an A-list singer, songwriter, record producer) and Common(Powerhouse rapper, actor, writer, and philanthropist) and Yvonne Orji, a Nigerian-American actress known for her role in Insecure, a drama television series based partially on Issa Rae's acclaimed web series Awkward Black Girl. I'll mention the rest once we have given them the invitation, I don't want to be premature.
Beyond nature, the trip is purposed to also promote other distinctive tourism products like Kampala's night life. This is huge and I am hoping that Yvonne's presence here will have a huge impact on putting Uganda on the map of comedy special countries. Why? She is a very authoritative comedian, a reason why she opens the stand up comedy for Chris Rock.
In your opinion, what is limiting Uganda's ability to attract traffic? For instance, while Tanzania's Mountain Kilimanjaro attracts over 55,000 tourists while Rwenzori attracts less than 1,000 tourists.
I don't have an exact answer to that question. What I do know though is that there is a bright side to it considering that most tourists now prefer to visit less known countries than the usual that experience mass tourism. I have been to most of these parks where you feel like you are on a highway because its overcrowded with cars. You don't feel like you are in a national park. In contrast, Uganda's national parks leave you feeling like it’s just you and the nature out there. An example is Lake Mburo N/P where I took my family during Christmas holidays a year back. I went on a game drive and walking tour through the park and literally felt like I was one with nature. The walking tour was one of the most amazing experiences Ive ever had it was just me and my national park guide walking amongst the majestic animals that call Uganda home. The only problem here is that small tourism numbers don't impact the finances positively.
The Ministry of Tourism has made you tourism ambassador. What does that make you feel like?
I feel very proud because there is a lot that Uganda has to offer! . This opportunity gives me a platform to show the world what a gem Uganda is.
If you had the opportunity of changing anything about Uganda, what would it be?
As Uganda, we sometimes don't appreciate what we have. We have been conditioned to think that things have to happen another way for it to be of value. For instance, most of our hotels and restaurants prefer to listen to music from the western world as opposed to our local songs.
Is Uganda's identity seen out there?
Yeah sure, there are several Ugandans flying the country's flag high out there. Such include Anne Kansime who is now known worldwide because of the videos she made on YouTube. Jose chameleon, Eddie Kenzo and lots of musicians are known far beyond. Daniel Kaluuya achieved international recognition and acclaim for his leading role in Jodan Peeles Oscar winning film Get Out (2017). Further to that, he was also nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award among others. Against this background, there is a lot to celebrate about Uganda's art industry.
What's your advice for someone aspiring to make break through in the acting world life you have done?
Perseverance, Perseverance, perseverance. Without it, one is bound to lose track of things after encountering some obstacles. Secondly, Ugandans should speak from their unique voice as opposed to creating things that attempt to be palatable for export. They need to make the most of their originality. I don't think we have told have the stories that we have here, people need to make the most of what they have and yes, you don't need to be stinking rich to be able to pull things off. Now a days you just cell phone to make a video and share it with the world. You just need to think outside the box and make the most of you have.
What do you think limits most of Ugandan movies from making it to global scene?
First things first, we need to appreciate what fellow Ugandans are producing. Yes it may not be to desired standards but we have to bear in mind that Uganda's film industry is still in infant stages compared to Hollywood. In this regard, its very important for Ugandans to support their artists, this is encourages them to aspire for more. If this happens, I can bet five years time the film industry is going to blow the world away.
The Ankole cows are disappearing yet they are our pride, a reason as to why it features prominently on the 20,000 UGX. I could never in a million years have guessed that this species may be extinct in the next 50 years to the extent that the only place where you can see them is a farm/zoo setting. I breaks my heart to drive through ankole without a sight of the cows. Emburara farm lodge has a special place in my heart because its conserving the cows and their habitat and further showing people that what we have is unique and worth celebrating.
Despite the fact that you are one of Hollywood's biggest actors, you are very humble and easy to confuse for just another middle-class guy trying to get along in an uncertain world. Why this lifestyle?
I try to keep it real. There is more to life than hype.
So many Hollywood initiated movies have been shot in Uganda over the years. However, the major roles aren't done by Ugandans, but rather by U.S actors. For instance, Forest Whitaker was the lead in Last King of Scotland.
It all depends on who is financing. All those movies are financed by US or UK firms. if we want a piece of the cake, we need to start telling our stories. Its business. Everyone feels a sense of ownership of where they are from and need to tell their own stories.
What is your family background for someone who doesn't know you?
According to my family tree dating back to 600 years ago, I come from a long history. All my ancestors are buried here in Ankole. My fathers father was Saza chief of Mbarara. My late father Frank Mwine was the first Ugandan to graduate from Harvard Law School. My mother was a lecturer of psychology at the University of Nairobi). My grandfather was the first black Archbishop of Uganda (Reverend Erica Sabiti).
Sights and sounds of Emburara Farm Lodge, the Ugandan countryside setting where Ntare' next movie is being shot