Actors discuss interracial love story that shook nations

BY TIRDAD DERAKHSHANI
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/TNS

Nelson Mandela said he was inspired by their love story, calling the nation they led “a shining beacon of light and inspiration to the rest of us in southern Africa.”

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo star in “A United Kingdom, the true story about Seretse Khama and his wife, Ruth.
(BBC FILMS)

Mandela was speaking of Seretse Khama and his wife, Ruth Williams Khama, who helped Botswana make a smooth, peaceful transition in the mid-1960s from a tiny British protectorate into a thriving democratic state — and who went on to serve as the country’s first president and first lady.

But the interracial couple’s courtship and marriage was far from smooth.

The son of a powerful tribal chief in what was then called the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Seretse scandalized both his people and the British government when he married Ruth, a White, middle-class office girl he met at a dance in London, where he was studying law.

Their 1948 wedding sparked an international diplomatic crisis.

Oyelowo a producer
Their story is told in “A United Kingdom,” an adaptation of Susan Williams’ biography “Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation,” starring David Oyelowo (“Selma,” “Queen of Katwe”) as Seretse and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) as Ruth.

Oyelowo and Pike talked about the film in separate phone interviews.

Oyelowo, 40, who was also a producer on the film, said he considers Seretse and Ruth’s romance one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century. Yet, like most Brits, he’d never heard about it.

“I just couldn’t believe I didn’t know their story,” he said.

“And as a person of African descent, who has himself lived there – I lived in Nigeria for seven years – I said to myself this is exactly the kind of narrative I wanted to see cinematically.”

Real wife’s role
Oyelowo said Seretse and Ruth’s happy marriage has a deeper, more personal resonance he couldn’t ignore: His wife of 19 years, actor Jessica Oyelowo (“Alice in Wonderland”), is White.

She’s featured in “A United Kingdom” as the rabidly racist wife of a British functionary played by Jack Davenport.

“I think she has a little too much fun with that role,” David Oyelowo said, laughing. “We met as theater students when we were 17, and while we had a few run-ins (with racist thugs) on the street, we’ve never had entire nations go up against our marriage.”

Why Pike chosen
Oyelowo said casting Ruth’s role was a no-brainer. He immediately reached out to Pike, with whom he shared the screen in the Tom Cruise vehicle “Jack Reacher.”

“Our one interaction was when (my character) used a Taser on her in an elevator,” he said. “But I’ve been a fan of Rosamund for a long time and I felt she really has … that enigmatic quality that I think Ruth needs.”

Pike, 38, said Seretse and Ruth’s romance affected her on a visceral level.

“I opened a book of photographs (Oyelowo) sent me and I just looked at the faces of this man and this woman and I felt an immediate emotional connection to them,” she said. “I’d never had a reaction like that before. I thought, well, there’s something very profound being transmitted to me from these photos and I knew I had to play this.”

Added Pike, “I mean, I had started crying by this point.”

Exiled from homeland
“A United Kingdom” charts the ugly political repercussions of the couple’s marriage. Members of Seretse’s tribe and the British government conspired to break it up.

When Seretse refused to divorce Ruth, he was exiled from his African homeland for five years.

In England, politicians made hay of the sanctions and Conservative Party leader Winston Churchill ran against the Labor Party with a promise he’d return Seretse home.

Yet once his party was in power, Churchill made the exile permanent, banishing Seretse for the rest of his life. (The couple did finally return to Bechuanaland in 1956.)

Lobbied for director
Ruth, then pregnant with their first child, decided to stay in the sparsely populated African territory. She wanted the child, a girl, born in her rightful home. (Ruth and Seretse would have three more children.)

Oyelowo said he lobbied for director Amma Asante (“Belle,” “A Way of Life”) to helm the picture because she immediately grasped how best to balance the story’s political and romantic aspects.

“Amma told me straight off anything political that happened in the film had to be something that drives the love story forward and not the other way around,” said Oyelowo.

Shot in Botswana
He said he’s proud the film was shot entirely on location in Botswana.

“The house we used was the actual house where they lived,” he said.

“And Ruth’s labor scene was shot in the hospital where Seretse was actually born. … The authenticity lends the film an atmosphere that’s undeniable.”

While Oyelowo is anxious to find out how American audiences will react to the film, he said he was gratified that Seretse and Ruth’s son, Ian Khama, who happens to be Botswana’s current president, loved the film.

“He made an unannounced visit to the set by helicopter,” said Oyelowo. “He sat down behind me and we watched Rosamund on-set playing his mum.”

“He turned to me and said, ‘I never thought I would see my parents again.’ ’’

1 COMMENT

  1. Typical propaganda to promote interracial lust,and the illusion that there is unity between Blacks and Whites. Why is it always a White female Black male? The same as with porno? Interracial lust promotion. Diluting the Black race,to Whiten up the genes;sort of like what happens in Latin nation. if enough Blacks mutt mix,then their will be no Blacks,just mutts. All along the Whites by majority will stick their own race,while the pure Blacks will be breed out o existence;this is the Goal of those who promote interracial marriages.
    Black men will usually go after a White woman,they see them as more beautiful,ore ladylike,more than often they are,but it is illusion and lust for flesh. You see her for her outer appearance,but how does she look inside her heart and mind? Desiring what is of the flesh is a sin also. A huge proportion of wealthy Black men marry outside of their race. Compared to White wealth males,Black males are at least 5 times more likely to marry completely outside of their race.
    A White male who decides to marry outside of his race,usually would choose an Asian,or Latin woman,not a completely opposite,which is a Black woman. A Black male on the other hand tends to do the extreme and marry a Caucasian woman;completely different race,no similarity at all. Black males are likened to self hate,and devaluing their own woman,in favor of White and other non African ancestry women.
    To you pro interracial supporters,and you so called non racist,I have a Racism and White Supremacy test for you. To the Black person,would you mind having hair lie a Caucasian? Most Black would not mind,especially the females. This proves proves Blacks are the least racist,but lack self Pride,and racial preservation. To the White ,Asian,and other non Black people. Do you mind having hair like a Black African? I do not believe there is any White person in this world that would like having African Black hair type. The interracial lovers don’t mind if their kids have the hair,but them personally? They would scream and cry bloody murder if they woke up with hair like a black person. While most Black people,specially the females,would wake up in joy,to a head full of Caucasian hair.
    That is how deep the level of White Supremacy is,it makes even non Whites favor certain aspects of White Supremacy. Not me,i’m 100% pro Black. I desire my fruit to look like it came from my tree. I love myself as I am,and seek to enhance my genetic features,not dilute it.

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