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Thuso Mbedu wins Hollywood TV Breakout Star award

31 August 2021

Thuso Mbedu is living her best life! Though you do get the sense that we’re only witnessing the beginning of a long and successful career that this talented South African actress is destined to enjoy. The 30-year-old was crowned the TV Breakout Star at this past weekend’s inaugural Hollywood Critics Association (HCA) Awards for her outstanding performance in the Amazon Prime original production, The Underground Railroad.

Thuso is featured on the cover of the latest issue of W magazine and had her first US cover with Emmy magazine in April 2021. She made Oprah cry during a Zoom interview in May 2021 when she described one of her most intense filming scenes and how the series had helped her heal some of her own childhood trauma. This beautiful and gracious star has amassed over 1.4m loyal followers on Instagram who have watched her blossom over the past seven years.

Thuso is proof that success comes from a strong dedication to your craft and unwavering belief in oneself.

Thuso Mbedu is South Africa's next Hollywood A-lister

Thuso was born on 8 July 1991 in Pietermaritzburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal province. She was raised by her grandmother after her mother died when she was just 4 years-old. After initially wanting to become a dermatologist to find a solution for the skin allergies she suffered as a young child, Thuso discovered a new passion for drama in the seventh grade. She graduated from Wits (University of Witwatersrand) where she studied Physical Theatre and Performing Arts Management and attended a five-week summer acting exchange programme at New York’s Stella Adler Studio of Acting as part of her undergraduate degree.

After university, she had a bumpy two years during which she had small roles on two soaps and a six-month stint without work before landing her breakout role in the Mzansi Magic teen drama Is’Thunzi in 2016. Thuso received an International Emmy Award nomination in 2017 for her performance as Winnie, an ambitious teen with dreams of marrying a rich and famous rugby player which were dashed when she had to go into exile. The International Emmy Awards recognise excellence in television produced outside the US and she was the only African to receive a nomination in 2017.

Thuso may not have won the award but she was certainly on Hollywood’s radar. Barry Jenkins, the Director of The Underground Railroad cast Thuso after watching her audition for the role of Cora. It was her ability to give “complete voice, body and soul to her character” that saw her make history as the first South African to play a lead role in a US TV.

Thuso is well on her way to emulate her fellow proudly South African actress, Charlize Theron, who also made history as the first African Woman to win an Academy Award (Oscar) in a lead role.

Thuso Mbedu's Hollywood breakthrough in The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad is a Barry Jenkins adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead which was published in 2016 and tells the story of two slaves who use a network of secret routes and safe houses to flee a Georgia cotton plantation. Thuso has been universally praised for her performance:

"Mbedu is a standout star as Cora, shouldering an impossible amount of the show's emotions..."

Paul Bradshaw for 14 May 2021

"Mbedu - already a star in her native South Africa - is extraordinary, and embedded in an extraordinary adaptation..."

Lucy Manga for The Guardian. 14 May 2021

What's next for Thuso Mbedu

Thuso will next star with Viola Davis in The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince Bythewood, which tells the story of the female warriors of Dahomey, which was one of the most powerful kingdoms in West Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Expect more starring roles and lucrative endorsements to follow!

Many congratulations, Thuso!