Thandie Newton has said she will reclaim the original Shona spelling of her name for use in her professional career, declaring: “I’m taking back what’s mine.”
For more than 30 years, the actor, born Melanie Thandiwe Newton Parker, has been known by an anglicised version of her name since the “w” was dropped “carelessly” from her first acting credit.
Thandiwe means “beloved” in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, where Newton’s mother is from. She said she was setting the record straight and that in all future projects she would be credited with her name spelled correctly.
In an interview with British Vogue, Newton, 48, declared: “That’s my name. It’s always been my name. I’m taking back what’s mine.”
The Westworld actor, who will appear on the cover of the May issue hailing the “rebirth of an icon”, spoke to the writer Diana Evans for the magazine about her three decades-long career and what had and had not changed in the industry.
“The thing I’m most grateful for in our business right now is being in the company of others who truly see me. And to not be complicit in the objectification of Black people as ‘others’, which is what happens when you’re the only one,” she said.
Evans says Newton’s awareness that she was a role model for little brown girls who aspired to be dancers or actors or activists was one reason she considered it essential that her clothes in the Vogue photoshoot reflected her dual heritage.
As she had become older, she had been inspired to use her personal experiences to be more outspoken, Newton said. “I’ve changed a whole lot. Many lives have been lived since then.”
Last week, the actor expressed outrage over the government’s report on race disparity and suggested it had to be an April fool’s joke. “There’s no way it can be real – it would be unethical insanity,” she tweeted of the report, which claimed institutional racism did not exist in the UK.
The Emmy award-winning actor was born in London to a white British father, Nick, and a Zimbabwean mother, Nyasha, a princess of the Shona tribe, and the family settled in Penzance, Cornwall, when she was three. “We may as well have been the first Black people anyone had ever seen. We didn’t have conditioner. We didn’t have anything,” she told Vogue.
She and her younger brother attended a Catholic primary school run by nuns, where she was once excluded from a class picture for wearing her hair in cornrows, and was repeatedly overlooked for dance trophies.
Newton said she calls herself a Londoner as opposed to British, reflecting on her Bafta win in 2006 when a UK newspaper pointed out that she was not really British because one of her parents was Black.
“I remember thinking, ‘But it’s a British win! Why don’t you wanna take that? Why would you not wanna dig that and embrace it and feel really good?’”
The actor also discussed why she recently spoke publicly about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of a director when she was 16 and the moment she realised she needed to seek help for an eating disorder. “There’s a moment where the ghost of me changed, you know, and it was then, it was 16. He derailed me from myself utterly. I was traumatised. It was a kind of PTSD for sure.
“I was so distraught and appalled that a director had abused a young actress, and that it was happening elsewhere, minors getting abused and how f**ked up it was. I was basically waiting for someone to come along and say, ‘Well, what shall we do about this?”
She told Vogue she refused to be silenced: “I have a seventh sense for abuse and abusers, which I believe is one of the reasons why I was rejected a lot in Hollywood. I’ll talk about it until the cows come home, because I know I’ll be helping someone.”