Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere
Fed up with being stereotyped by casting directors, Letoya Makhene-Pulumo, who has recently been acclaimed for her role as the evil, conniving character Kenzie in Home Wrecker produced by Sorele Media, first began to skilfully carve a niche for herself as a bad girl character on the popular prime-time South African TV series, Generations.
“For years, I was boxed into a certain type of role as a female actor. Casting directors always said I looked too young to be a mother, so I didn’t even get roles as a mother, even though I have four kids. They would always cast me in a stereotypical role of a good girl, and I wasn’t being challenged as an actor.”
When Makhene-Pulumo was cast as a pathetic, weak woman married to a violent gangster in Generations, she looked for “different colors” within the character. “I started experimenting and playing the character slightly differently to how it was written. I would still say the same lines that they had given me, but my approach was a bit different from what they had envisioned for the character. For a while they would say things like: ‘That was a brilliant performance, but could you please play it down a little because you are coming across as too strong against your husband, who is supposed to be the scary one’.
“Eventually they started eating into how I was trying to play the character,” Makhene-Pulumo explains, and this is how the character of Tshidi Phakade in Generations became a force to be reckoned with. “She became a strong, powerful woman, even though she was a bit of a bad girl. When she needed to use her sexuality to get what she wanted, she would. When she needed to lie to get what she wanted, she would. She was such a go-getter, and she was so set on getting what she wanted.”
Tshidi Phakade became a character who was driven because, as Makhene-Pulumo explains, “she needed to prove to people that she was not just a trophy wife; not just an airhead living a glamorous life because she was married to a gangster. She wanted to make her own voice heard and she wanted to make a name for herself, so she started really pulling stunts to do what she wanted to get what she wanted.”
Getting in touch with the conniving, bad-girl side of the character was fun and “the beginning of Letoya playing the bad girl,” says Makhene-Pulumo.
The role of Kenzie in Home Wrecker “pushed the character I was playing on Generations into seventh gear,” Makhene-Pulumo says.
Playing a character that audiences love to hate is cause for celebration, Makhene-Pulumo asserts. “Why would I as an actress worry about people hating me because of the character I am playing?” It’s an indication of a job really well done, says Makhene-Pulumo. “If people think the character is evil, then it means I have managed to convey the character well, she continues. Even my biggest fans who know me, who know my heart, who know how I am, have said, ‘Oh my God, the way you have played this character has made us have so many questions about you’. But it just means that I have done a great job.”
Makhene-Pulumo was careful to ensure that her portrayal of the character of Kenzie in Home Wrecker would not be seen as a continuation of the role she played in Generations.
“I had to find ways to play Kenzie that would not remind people of the character that they had watched me play for seven years on a soapie on prime-time TV, because that would tell me that I had lost my craft as an actor.” Makhene-Pulumo explains how she spent hours contemplating how to play the role of Kenzie. “I wanted audiences to see that I had really done the background work on the character,” she says.
As an actress who has played bad girls, Makhene-Pulumo says she has never been attacked on social media or in the street about the bad girl characters she has played and believes that the film and TV industry is evolving.
Working with director Stephina Zwane and Sorele Media producer, Salamina Mosese was a recipe for success, Makhene-Pulumo says enthusiastically. “For the longest time this industry has been ruled by men and to be able to have women in power; to be able to create something like this and for me to work alongside these women who are just so brilliant at what they do was absolutely amazing.” Makhene-Pulumo says.
Actresses like Makhene-Pulumo are overturning the stereotypical representation of women in films and on TV but in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent, they still have a long way to go. In Nollywood films, in particular, women are often portrayed in roles that present them either as sex objects, weak, trophy wives, and caregivers, dependent on men.
She thinks Home Wrecker will go down well with Nigerian audiences because “in a lot of Nollywood movies someone is trying to ruin someone else’s life. There are also a lot of women involved in witchcraft in Nollywood movies,” Makhene-Pulumo adds.
Asked how she detaches from her bad-girl roles, Makhene-Pulumo says: “I think my home life is everything that I need to remove myself. Outside of the four children I have given birth to, my wife has also come in with three children. So, we are two women with seven children and that for me is enough to detach.” Makhene-Pulumo who has twice been married to the fathers of her children, married her female partner, Lebo, who paid lobola for her, in a traditional wedding ceremony in 2021.
“I can’t come into the house and be Kenzie as a mother to a five-year-old. Also, my work as a spiritual healer will not allow me to carry Kenzie’s dark energy with me,” she elaborates. Makhene-Pulumo was initiated as a traditional healer 22 years ago at the age of 18.
“I must be centered, aligned and be in a peaceful frame of mind,” Makhene-Pulumo says, explaining that she relies on spiritual guidance for her healing work.
The daughter of legendary musician and healer, Blondie Makhene, Makhene-Pulumo has been in the limelight since childhood as an actress, presenter, musician, singer, and influencer.
With no ‘bad girl roles’ on the horizon, she is busy preparing for an African spirituality concert to be held on Oct. 7 at the State Theatre in Pretoria. “People are hungry for knowledge about who they are and where the come from,” Makhene-Pulumo says, explaining that the concert is a celebration of heritage and includes prayer, prophecy and healing in the form of song and dance.