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Danai Gurira speaks on American election experience

By Bruce Ndlovu
A close and controversial presidential race between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and incumbent Republican President Donald Trump has forced Zimbabwean Hollywood star Danai Gurira to reflect on the value of voting, in particular because her own parents were denied that same right before Zimbabwe attained majority rule in 1980.

Danai Gurira is a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright. She is best known for her starring roles as Michonne on the AMC horror drama series The Walking Dead and as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero films Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.
Danai Gurira is a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright. She is best known for her starring roles as Michonne on the AMC horror drama series The Walking Dead and as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero films Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.

This year’s American elections have been a tense affair, with Trump alleging voter fraud while Biden pinned his hopes on late arriving mail-in ballots that his rival campaigned against. Gurira, like other figures in Hollywood, spent a large part of the campaign encouraging young people to vote.

“It was really interesting, in the sense that I think a lot of us are feeling like in 2020 it’s quite a year and a lot’s going on and you can feel a lot of frustration, a lot of helplessness: How do I help? How do I contribute at this moment? And as playwrights, we see the institutions, theatres are of course very much hard-hit by Covid-19 and unable to function at all,” she told OZY Media.

Despite a feeling of haplessness, Gurira said she had been encouraged to rope in other creatives in efforts to create voter awareness.

“And so, there was just a desire that hit me one day to connect with other playwrights and try to give voice to the Americans we often don’t hear from. Our job as playwrights is really that, to reflect society back to itself, and so we really thought like maybe . . . I called Tarell (Alvin) McCraney. I called Jocelyn Bioh. I called Lynn Nottage.

“And I was like, “What do you guys think about just trying to give a voice in a way that we can just encourage folks to contribute that, really saying, ‘Let’s vote, guys, let’s make sure we vote this time.’” I mean, it’s a lot of loss of voice when we see how little people have voted in the past. And apparently, there were at least 100 million eligible voters who did not vote in 2016. So, it’s just really giving voice to voices and just encouraging people to get out and vote and to give some material also to the theatres that we love and that have supported us and that need support right now in this time,” she said.

Gurira spoke of the pain that her parents felt when they were unable to vote in Smith’s Rhodesia.

“In 2016, I traveled through a lot of states and really was trying to get out the vote effort during that time, and met a lot of young people who were choosing not to vote. And that was . . . it was a hard thing to hear that and to hear people make that decision, knowing exactly what you said. I come from a country . . . I was born two years before all Zimbabweans were able to vote after colonial rule (was) toppled in 1980. And so literally, my parents were only able to vote really in their 40s in the country of my origin, where I then grew up,” she said.

The experiences of her parents had convinced her to convince other people not to take the right to vote for granted.

“And so, it is something that is close to me in that regard, that I know how hard it is. My parents grew up in a nation they could not vote in, and their parents could not vote in. And of course, here in the United States, we are 100 years this year from the 19th Amendment where women gained the right to vote and then even more of a fight further along the civil rights movement for black women to be able to vote . . .”

“So, it’s not something that we can take lightly. We just had the passing of John Lewis. And that to me was very hard. We’ve lost a lot of our heroes, but what their service to a better tomorrow in this nation has definitely taught me, and I know it’s taught many of us, is that we must use our full effort and the gifts we’ve been given to contribute to our nation.” The Sunday News

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