Thandiwe Newton is reclaiming her original name

For three decades, Newton went by a misspelling – not anymore.
Published April 5, 2021 2:06 p.m. EST
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As it turns out, we have been spelling Thandie Newton's name incorrectly all this time.

In a new cover story for British Vogue, Newton revealed that the name we know her by is actually a misspelling. Born as Melanie Thandiwe Newton, when the actress did her first film, 1991's Flirting, she was incorrectly credited as “Thandie Newton." Which is ironic, considering her character was named "Thandiwe" after her.

For the next 30 years, Newton decided to stick with it. Until now, that is.

Newton told Vogue that she will be going by her real name, pronounced "tan-dee-way," from now on. It means "beloved" in Shona, a Bantu language spoken in Zimbabwe, where her mother grew up and is a princess as the granddaughter of a Shona chief.

“That’s my name," Newton said. "It’s always been my name. I’m taking back what’s mine.”

In the story, she recalls growing up in Cornwall, being one of very few Black people in her neighbourhood, and feeling singled out at the Catholic primary school she attended with her younger brother.

There, "she was once excluded from a class photograph for sporting cornrows and made to feel like an in-house missionary project, and where the W of her name drifted inward, out of sight and earshot, in a futile hope to make her feel less different," writes Vogue's Diana Evans.

Newton goes on to detail some of her more difficult experiences in Hollywood, including when she dropped out of 2000's Charlie's Angels because former Sony Pictures exec Amy Pascal made derogatory comments about how a Black female character "should be sexy, not university educated." Newton was replaced by Lucy Liu, while Pascal has said she does not recall any comments she might have made.

She also noted the time she auditioned for Flirting for director John Duigan, and he requested she be "a bit darker." He went on to sexually abuse her when she was only 16 and began a six-year relationship with the director, who was 39 at the time, which she told InStyle in a 2011 interview she later came to see as grooming.

“There’s a moment where the ghost of me changed, you know,” she said to Vogue. “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?’’’  

In came the #MeToo movement, and countless women in Hollywood and other industries coming forward about their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of those more powerful than them. It also led to a discussion on equal pay – and Newton and her Westworld co-star Evan Rachel Wood earning the same as their male co-stars.

It's Westworld, too, that finally gave Newton some overdue recognition, with a 2018 Emmy Award for her performance as Maeve Millay.

“The thing I’m most grateful for in our business right now is being in the company of others who truly see me," she said to Vogue. "And to not be complicit in the objectification of Black people as ‘others’, which is what happens when you’re the only one.” 


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