By: Onawanda Mpanza
I Got to chat with Dineo Lusenga, one of our gems in the Media space. On our screens she is an Actor, she has been on Intersexions and Hard Copy and many others and a Presenter on TV and Radio.
Behind the scenes she is a Director, Content Producer and Writer for TV shows such as Trending S.A, The MetroFM Awards 2017, All Access Mzansi and many other productions including an award winning short film:Nomfundo which has been screened in International Film festivals. Currently she is acting on a theatre piece named Mirage.
Lusenga is doing the things that need to be done, to live a purposeful life and follow her calling and is proof that, South Africa is alive with possibility.
You graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with an honours degree in Dramatic Arts, having majored in Television and Film Production, Performance and Media Studies. What made you choose the course? My love for storytelling. I’ve known since I was about 10 years old that this is what I would be doing as a profession, so when I was in matric, choosing a Degree was a no brainer, it was just a matter of finding the right institution to equip me with the knowledge and the tools for the craft.
Often than not, our childhood shapes the type of field/s we want to go into. Was it so for you? Yes and No. Yes because I grew up under the heavy influence of the Shell Road To Fame era, I must have been around 5 years old, and EVERYONE I knew wanted to be on that show. At the time, my uncle ran a youth drama and music group in my grandmother’s dining room; after school, they would rehearse everyday to audition for the show. I used to watch the rehearsals and I think that is when the bug bit. I stole my uncle’s entire plot from their drama, and shared it with my teacher at crèche; she probably thought I was a genius. My uncle found out and he wasn’t too happy with me.
No, because no one ever encourages kids to become artists. We grow being told that one should be a Doctor, Lawyer, Chartered Accountant and Actuarial scientist. So making the decision that not only are you going to be an artist, but you are going to study art is defying those ideologies that are drilled in your head from a young age.
How was the support from your family in relation with your dreams? I have been very lucky; I come from a supportive family. My mom would have been thrilled if I had gone to Med School and my dad once mentioned in passing that I should consider Law, but those career options were never imposed on me. My mother used to accompany me to YO.TV auditions when I was young, and helped me find a casting agency to represent me. So they always knew that this space was my calling.
Young, South African, female and have achieved a lot. Why do you decide so? I think that’s what happens when you are aligned with your calling; you do not keep a scorecard of how much you have ‘achieved’, you just work. And because you wake up every single day to do what you love, it does not feel like work. There was never a time when I decided that I was going to do any of the things that I have done, in the time that I have done them. Of course I had plans, but most of those plans didn’t materialize, but there have been some equally pleasant surprises on this journey, which directed me in a different path now and again. Nayyirah Waheed says, “You will be lost and unlost, over and over again, relax love. You were meant to be this glorious. Epic. Story.”. And that’s just it, our lives and careers are an ongoing discovery.
Between being an Actor, Producer and Radio Presenter which role do you love most and why? This is such an unfair question…LOL. All disciplines are my babies, I love them all equally, and I give them my all every single time.
You have done quite a lot in the media space. What would you say has helped you stay focused in doing everything excellently? Staying grounded in the fact that it’s a job. What we do is a job; we wake up we create, we write, we perform, we are working. Just like everyone else who goes to work, runs a business to feed his or her family; the media space is no different. Our work just happens to be in the public space.
As a female would you say being acknowledged has been harder or it has been about proving yourself like any other person? It is definitely harder to be a female anywhere, in any industry. We have many, many challenges beyond just being acknowledged or recognize based on merit. When you eventually do get the recognition, you still have to fight for equal pay. The gender pay gap is a serious issue, I have watched male directors walk in and demand money they feel they deserve but as a female, you are constantly negotiated down and made to feel like you are not worthy of what you are asking for, your experience is not even considered. We have to fight and disrupt the status quo.
In 2014 you went to the New York film academy to further your studies. How was it adjusting and learning to adapt to a different location and people? It was incredible! Literally the best decision I have ever made. It was not easy in the beginning. I cried every morning for the first two weeks of my stay; I did not know anyone, I had to learn the bus and train schedule. But once I got the hang of things and started making friends, it was total bliss. The South African accent also helped, [laughs]… people love us out there.
What motivated the move to Los Angeles? Everything in me was screaming for change and new experiences, so I heeded the call. There is such a big world out there, but we are so caught up in our small world and social media hype that we fail to realize the world and life that exists outside our small spaces. I wanted to learn new things and meet new people. I wanted to see new colours, and I did.
Would you say it advanced your career and broadened your horizons more? Absolutely, I am now fearless in chasing my dreams and doing the things that I want to do, because of that experience. If I hadn’t gone, I would have never co-produced Nomfundo, a short film that I also star in, and it has seen huge success around the globe. If I hadn’t gone, I would not have co-created Mirage with Khutjo, another project I also perform in. That experience opened up my heart and my mind to the fact that the world is truly our playground.
11. You are young but have been in radio for 10 years and producing for 7 years, how has the journey been?
It has been interesting, with some challenges along the way. But you realize you have to grow up very quickly and make grown up decisions. And sometimes you are lucky enough to be blessed with friends, family and industry peers who hold your hand along the way.
Your advice to people looking up to you? Stay true to you and your journey. Stay in your purpose and you will find that it will lead you to your magic.
Your current project Mirage, what inspired it? Society inspired Mirage. Personal experiences and observations inspired Mirage. I had always known what my stance was when it came to the institution of marriage. But I started coming across a lot of posts on social media basically putting pressure on unmarried individuals. One specific post though, that ticked me off read “What’s a successful woman without a husband?” And someone replied “Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg…” We live in society that shames a woman who is not married; we live in a society that shames a woman who does not have children, and a society that labels a woman who leaves her marriage, a failure. Mirage challenges those notions, which have become a norm. Mirage says, Dear Woman, you have options, you have a choice.
Your childhood as you shared on Real Talk with Anele influenced your decision. If you could re write your life would your choice be different? Probably not, my choice may have been faintly influenced by my mother’s lived experiences but it has a lot more to do with the kind of woman I choose to be and the choices which complement or benefit my preferred ways of living.
Do you think your choice to be unmarried will change one day? I hope not. Maybe one day, if I meet the guy who will sweep me off my feet. I don’t know. We will see.
What can we await from you this year going forth? We are working on taking Mirage to more theatre spaces around the country, and I will be back with another season of my agricultural show, Living Land on SABC 2.