People know me for acting rather than being Miss Uganda – Ellah

Ellah says women today have changed a lot, and more writers should be representing them in their current element. PHOTOS/COURTESY/SAUTI PLUS

What you need to know:

Back in action: It has been years since we last saw Stella Nantumbwe, aka Ellah, in action and just when we thought she had chosen a different path in life, she is back. The actress says she agreed to the script and later role in Sabotage because it was unique and made an effort to address real issues without being preachy. Andrew Kaggwa writes.

When was the first time you heard about Stella Nantumbwe?

For many people, it was when she became Miss Uganda that her grace, poise, confidence, and outspokenness were hard to ignore; she was a queen without a crown.

And she eventually got it – one of the few who did not get Ugandans criticising the way she looked.

Later, there was more about Stella Nantumbwe, the first Miss Uganda, who did not get to hand over her crown, not because she had been demoted but because she was out there representing Uganda as a Big Brother Africa contestant.

The final edition of Big Brother Africa, alias Big Brother Hotshots.

Stella, who on the show was referred to as Ellah, was just the second Ugandan housemate, the other was Esther Namuddu. That girl was something else that she even got on the nerves of singer Bebe Cool, who went on Facebook and asked Ugandans not to vote for her so that she could get eliminated.

The controversy almost started a world war among fans, from those accusing Bebe Cool of not being patriotic to those who agreed with his assessment. Anyway, neither Ellah nor Esther won, but it is only one of them we have been invested in since then.

That person is none other than Ellah, who has continued to make a name for herself in the entertainment industry. Despite not winning the show, she has managed to build a successful career for herself.

In character

From Second Chance to Sanyu, Stella Nantumbwe, also known as Ellah, has continued to cement her position in the film industry and does not seem to stop.

Well, besides, a few months ago, after her character was killed off by Sanyu, Ellah portrayed Thereza, Patrick Kirunda’s second wife, who is also an etiquette buff. Thereza walks into a relationship with a man whose ex is coming for blood; through the story, she has to navigate the murky waters of the Kirundas, her husband’s family, and the drama surrounding them.

The character was later killed off, sending social media platforms into a frenzy. Many thought it was just a cliffhanger and she could probably survive or was just another plot twist.

Before she got many Ugandans emotional, however, Ellah started out on stage, featuring in a Ugandan reimagination of Tim Story’s Think Like a Man. The show featured Mathew Nabwiso, rapper Benezeri, and a then little known Moses Kiboneka.

“Nana Kagga kind of nudged me into acting; it is like she talked me into the whole thing,” she says.

Her first credit was Second Chance, a Ugandan remake of the Spanish-language telenovela El Cuepo Del Deseo. Ellah portrayed Isabella, the calculating young wife of Donoso, the ageing city tycoon.

The drama, of course, landed on mixed reviews, many people could not go past the fact that Ugandans had decided to redo a Spanish drama instead of writing something completely new.

Of course, there was also a backlash with the casting, there were many actors whom people hated seeing in some beloved roles. For instance, Salvador had been so popular when the show aired that many could not come to terms with Roger Mugisha embodying him or Anita Fabiola as Angela.

But the show was still very popular.

“I believe I became more popular for being on Second Chance than when I was Miss Uganda,” she says, adding that the show got a lot of love.

She later worked with Matt Bish on Bella, starring alongside Cindy Sanyu and Mathew Nabwiso.

Choosing the roles

At the beginning, Ellah says she used to take on roles she liked, although currently, as a Christian, there is more she is always looking for in a role.

“When I started thinking about Christianity promptly, there are roles I have second-guessed. I work with flexible directors because, at the moment, there are not many roles that respect Christian values,” she says.

Today, she is more careful while picking her roles; she says her approach is something she picked from Malaika Nnyanzi, who usually looks at the journey of the character and how they are trying to be better.

“I try to avoid being typecast. I try so much to see that their role brings that dimension,” she says.

“I want someone to strip me off my make-up – a role that breaks out of the mould, not well put like my past romantic characters,” she says.

Last week, Sabotage, a film Ellah stars in, premiered at Century Cinema on Acacia Mall. In the situational film, an introduction ceremony dodges one problem after another until it finally bursts into flames.

Ellah’s Vivian is not the villain in the story, though she contributes to much of the misery the protagonist Lucia faces.

Ellah claims that she agreed to the script because it was unique and made an effort to address real issues without being preachy. Mathew Nabwiso directed and Louis Muhereza and Eleanor Nabwiso wrote it.

“With Sabotage, I appreciated the writing style and the way they went about issues without being tacky,” she says, adding, “I like being devious, and this allowed me to go on a journey.”

Vivian, Ellah’s character in Sabotage, has lost so much that she is willing to do anything to get it back. As the film rolls, she seems to be winning, but in the process, she is losing herself to it all.

Writing female characters

For a long time, art has been called out for stereotyping female characters. From film to theatre, writers have been accused of putting together female protagonists that are too thin and barely represent women and their progress today.

It is not very different with the Ugandan industry. For instance, a lot of regional movies feature female protagonists who experience violent abuse from their husbands and bullying from the husband’s second wife.

In many of these films, the wife dies at the end.

“Some writers just write without the layers of what women have become. Women today are more aware,” she says.

Ellah says women today have changed a lot, and more writers should be representing them in their current element. She, however, notices that some issues have not been addressed.

“People are feeding the market what they think works. They tell the same story but continuously dress it up differently and present it as new. We need to break the mould a bit,” he says.

What works for Sabotage?

The story of Sabotage is a simple story taking place in a place during an event. Most of the time, though, the writers find a way of making it all work; they place all our characters in this place and set the ball rolling.

At the event, we are introduced to Lucia, an ambitious girl who is having an introduction while at the same time expecting her first child, but that is not the issue. The issue is that Lucia and Kinot, her fiance, have been abstaining, so whose child is she carrying?

It is a situational film that carries the message as it was intended for the audience without complicating or becoming abstract.

It works, but at times it is dangerous as well; it gives the audience a bit less to chew on when the credits roll.

The cast generally did an amazing job but was also a weakness of the film at times. For instance, Ellah had a laudable character she nailed; however, she simply existed in the film, and her presence did not either prevent or sponsor any outcome of the story.

Thus, she was that likeable character who did not influence anything, regardless of being amazing. And it was not just Ellah; some of the male co-actors simply existed, and by the end, it was hard to remember why they were there. But besides all that, it is still an enjoyable film that teaches while educating.

The film is back to cinemas this weekend with screenings at all the three branches of Century Cinemax.

About sabotage

The local film industry has been making strides over the past few years.

There was a time when most of the problems with the industry were technical; from bad lighting, sound, and camera work, it was hard to accommodate what the industry was churning out.

Yet at the moment, it is clear there is a lot that has improved; besides the shots not being inspired or the soundtracks being ridiculously repetitive, the whole package of the film has greatly improved.

Thus, it is no longer as bad as going out to see a local film; February 15 was one of such days. Sabotage, another Mathew Nabwiso-directed film, premiered at Century Cinemax at Acacia Mall.

The film, which features a stellar cast that includes Sharifa Ali, Jjemba Dean Austin, Denis Kinan, and Stella Nantumbwe, alias Ellah, follows Lucia’s big day, the introduction ceremony.

Of course, as many may know, these are days that bring out both the best and worst of families, and from the time the film opens, it is clear the women on the silver screen have come for everything: laughter, scheming and cheating.

The film addresses a number of issues such as the other film projects that Sauti Plus and Reach a Hand have been part of, though, unlike Kyaddala and When You Become Me, this takes itself way more seriously and tries to strike a balance between teaching and preaching.