Ama Qamata: Mzansi's new 'it girl'

Young actress Ama Qamata is proof that hard work truly pays off.
Young actress Ama Qamata is proof that hard work truly pays off.
Image: Tatenda Chidora/S Mag

They say it takes years to become an overnight success, and in the case of rising star Ama Qamata, nothing could be closer to the truth.

To many of us, the 22-year-old actress appears to have become an overnight sensation, thanks to the success of Netflix’s Blood & Water, in which she stars.

However, Ama has actually been honing her skills since the tender age of 10, when she was cast in her primary school play as Snow White.

At 16 years old, she started acting professionally, landing her first major television gig on SABC1’s My Perfect Family. In 2013 she also featured in a BBC drama series, but it was her turn as Puleng on Netflix’s runaway hit that made the world really sit up and take notice. 

Hailing from the small town of Cala in the Eastern Cape, Ama’s journey seems to have been written in the stars, beginning with how she was named. While she was pregnant, Ama’s mother received an instruction in a dream to name her daughter Amamkele, a name meaning “to be accepted/welcomed” — and the world has certainly embraced the young actress.

But a year ago, the self-proclaimed hard worker was just another student gearing up for exams as part of her studies towards a degree in theatre and performance. She had enrolled in the programme after turning down a scholarship to study film at the New York Film Academy. 

Instead, she chose to take a gap year, taking up an acting course, appearing in a play she co-wrote, and becoming an intern to one of the country’s leading film directors and producers, Kutlwano Ditsele. It was Ditsele’s role as casting director for Blood & Water that gave Ama the opportunity to audition for the role.

“When I got the offer to film Blood & Water, it was a dream come true but I had to make the decision to put my studies on hold to pursue my acting career full time,” she says. The show has gone on to enjoy critical acclaim, reaching number one across the streaming service’s different territories, including the US. Subsequently, it was renewed for a second season, which is currently being shot in Cape Town.

On the day we had originally planned to have our interview, Ama asked to be excused as she was preparing to shoot some of the scenes. She takes the process of preparing for her characters very seriously. “It’s a very long and sometimes intense process,” she says when we finally meet.

“Generally, I do a lot of research and create a character bible, which consists of the character’s emotional journey. Sometimes I prefer to isolate myself from the world to connect with the character. I think if you saw me in ‘getting into character mode’, you would think I’m crazy!”

Shooting the second season is just the topping in a year that has also seen her take on the role of Buhle in Gomora, one of the country’s most popular telenovelas. “It’s been great!  I’ve witnessed a lot of my dreams and prayers come true [this year].

I have a new amazing management team as I signed with Africa Creative Agency, which is bringing new opportunities, and I’ve been reviewing and auditioning for global roles and strategising for my 2021 and beyond.” The newly opened doors have also seen her become a brand favourite, working with renowned brands like Adidas and MRP.

But the year has not come without its challenges. In July, after losing her sense of taste and smell, she realised that she might have contracted the coronavirus. “I knew that it was curtains for me. I did the test and it confirmed that I had Covid.

It was scary at first, because no one really knew anything about it but I knew that I would get through it.” In a post to her now hundreds of thousands of social-media followers, Ama made the brave choice (despite the stigma that was pervasive with a Covid-19 diagnosis) to share her status. “It was actually an impulsive decision, I didn’t really think about it too much,” she says.

“I was quarantined in my room and decided to take a video sharing the news. I’m glad I did though, I think it brought more awareness to the fact that it was spreading really quickly and nobody is immune to it.” Despite her selfless act, some met the news with some scepticism. “I remember getting messages from people, like: ‘Is the government paying you to say you have Covid?’ and I said, ‘NO, it’s a real thing!’”

In a year that has forced many of us to introspect and dig deep, what is the biggest lesson she has learnt? “Nothing beats hard work and prayer. My relationship with God grew so much this year and I’m so glad that I decided to lean on Him during one of the craziest and busiest years of my life so far. I’ve learned to put Him before anything else because He is the master of time and ahead of everything. I know I’m preaching but God has just been so faithful to me and I think He deserves a shoutout,” she says.  

Ama added another accolade to her growing list. She won the Next Big Thing award at the 2020 South African Style Awards. Going forward, she hopes to achieve even more. “The sky is honestly the limit but, ultimately, wherever God decides to put me, I’ll be there. I want longevity and I want to be consistent in my career.”

With all the influence that she now enjoys, does she feel like a role model? “I am a bit wary of being labelled a role model as it comes with a great deal of pressure. However, I do recognise that I have been blessed with tremendous opportunities as a young person and if these opportunities inspire my peers to go for their dreams, then I’m happy with that.”