Akosua Busia


Akosua Busia is a Ghanaian born actress, writer, director and Princess. Her film credits include The Color PurpleRosewood and Tears of the Sun. Her writing credits range from novels, The Seasons of Beento Blackbird, to screenplays, Beloved, to even music. Although she has lived all around the world, she currently resides in the United States and does much of her professional work there.

Early Life and Family

Akosua Cyamama Busia was born December 30, 1966 into the Royal House of Wenchi of Ghana. She is the daughter of former Ghanian Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia and Mrs. Naa Morkor Busia. Her father was a member of the Wenchi, a subgroup of the Ashanti, which was Ghana’s largest ethnic tribe. Born in 1913, Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia was educated in both Africa, by Christian missionaries, and England. He obtained his Doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford in England. Between 1951 and 1959, Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia served in Ghana’s national assembly as the opposition leader to President Nkrumah. As the result of his opposing views, Dr. Busia was forced to flee Ghana while Nkrumah served as Ghana’s leader. Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia returned to Ghana in1966 when Nkrumah’s party was finally overthrown. Between 1969 and 1972, he served as Prime Minister of Ghana when his Progress Party dominated the Ghanaian elections. However, Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia was soon overthrown, in 1972, after being accused of dictatorship. He spent the remainder of his life, exiled from his homeland, in England teaching at the University of Oxford. Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia later died in August of 1978. Akosua’s mother, Naa Morkor Busia, was born in 1924 and was educated in Government Girls School and Achimota Secondary School. After completing her education, she became a nurse. Soon in 1950, she met and married her husband Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia. Between 1969 and 1972 Naa Morkor Busia was the first lady of Ghana when her husband served as Prime Minister. In 1998, years after the death of her late husband, Mrs. Naa Morkor Busia established the Busia Foundation International, a lecture series in honor of him. She sat as the Foundation Director of Busia Foundation International. Mrs. Busia recently died in 2010. Akosua Busia’s only sister, Abena Busia, is a scholar, writer and poet who is currently working as a professor of English at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Abena Busia is also co-director of the Women Writing Africa Project, a multi-volume anthology, which was created in order to recognize African cultural legacy.

Akosua Busia grew up in the West African nation of Ghana. After her father, Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia, was overthrown from his position as Prime Minister of Ghana in 1972, her and her family were forced to live in political exile. As a result, Busia has lived in a total of 32 different countries across four different continents all around the world. Having lived in so many different cultures gave Busia a world sense unmatched by many. This has given her inspiration for much of her professional work. Akosua Busia was educated in the Central School of Drama and Speech in London, England. She also attended University of Oxford in England, following her father’s footsteps. Busia then went on to perform in various acting projects throughout Europe. Soon, however, she set her sites on Hollywood and America.

Acting Career

After arriving in the United States, Busia slowly began getting small roles in film and television. In 1979, she made her acting debut in the American film Ashanti. She then went on to land small television roles in Warp Speed (1981), Knight Rider (1983) Louisiana (1984), A.D. (1985), and Badge of the Assassin (1985).

In 1985, Akosua Busia landed her most notable role as Nettie Harris in Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of The Color Purple. This film was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name by Alice Walker. The Color Purple also starred an all star cast made up of Whoopi GoldbergOprah WinfreyDanny Glover, and Margaret Avery. The storyline follows the life of Celie Johnson, played by Whoopi Goldberg, as she struggles through life as a young black girl in the South in early twentieth century America. Akosua brilliantly portrays, Nettie, Celie’s educated and much prettier younger sister. In the film, Nettie comes to stay with Celie and Mister, Celie’s abusive husband. However, she is soon kicked out and decides to move to Africa to live with missionaries. While in Africa, Nettie writes her sister Celie often. Even though Nettie seems to have disappeared, her presence is felt throughout the movie through her various letters. At the end of the film, Nettie and Celie are reunited in America in arguably the film’s most touching scene. Their reunion marks the film’s emotional climax. The separations of Celie and her sister Nettie is meant to represent the African Diaspora. Busia’s role as Nettie in The Color Purple was her most prominent acting role and the highlight of her acting career.

The Color Purple dealt with various controversial themes including rape and abuse. Despite the various controversial themes portrayed, The Color Purple became a box office success after its release and even went on to earn eleven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. However, not everyone agreed with some of the themes depicted in this highly successful film. Some controversy soon arouse over the portrayal of black males in this film. Two male representatives of the NAACP even called the film’s portrayal of black men as “dangerous.”[1] Furthermore, some even criticized the filmmakers for using a white director, Steven Spielberg. These critics argued that a white director could not accurately capture the plight of African American woman during this time in history. Busia and other actors in the film played down these controversies claiming it was only a small disgruntled population making these claims. Regardless of the controversies, The Color Purple was highly successful and is considered a classic by many today. Throughout the 1980’s, Akosua Busia went on to star in more films including Low Blow (1986), Native Son (1986), and The Seventh Sign (1988). In the 1990’s, Busia did some small television roles in Brother Future (1991), Key West (1993), and Dead Man’s Walk (1996). She also acted in some films including Mad City (1997) and Ill Gotten Gains (1997). In the movie Ill Gotten Gains, Busia played the role of Fey along side Dijon Hounsou, Fyah. This film portrayed a bloody revolt, led by a man named Fyah, on a slave shape against cruel slave merchants. In 1997, Akosua Busia played Jewel in her husband, John Singleton‘s, Rosewood. This racially explosive, historical film also starred Don Cheadle and John Voight. Rosewood portrays a horrific true story about an almost unknown lynch mob attack in 1920’s Florida. The lynch mob specifically targeted the middle class African American community of Rosewood, Florida in response to false claims of by a white woman named Fanny Taylor, played by Catherine Kellner. Fanny Taylor made the false claim that a black man had assaulted her when in fact, her white lover was responsible for her beating. John Singleton’s movie Rosewood finally brought back the story of this violent American atrocity lost in time.

Akosua Busia’s more recent film and television appearances include a stint on ER (1999) and a small part in Antoine Fuqua’s Tears of the Sun (2003). In Tears of the Sun, Busia played the role of Patience. The film also co-starred her daughter Hadar. Tears of the Sun was about America’s possible military role in Africa. It focused on a Special-Ops commander, played by Bruce Willis, who leads his team into Nigeria to rescue a doctor, played by Monica Belluci, who refuses to go unless other refugees are rescued as well.

Writing and Directing Credits

In addition to being a distinguished actor in the United States, Akosua Busia is also a highly successful writer. In December of 1997, Busia published her first book called The Seasons of Beento Blackbird. Much of the inspiration for the book came from the cultural inspirations in her own life. Regarding her first novel, Busia has said that “In Ghana, a beento is an affluent person who travels around-has been there, done that. But Solomon’s [the protagonist] quest, like mine, is really to find himself and a place he can call home.” [2] The characters she presents in her first novel examine racial and cultural identity, something she has obviously experienced herself. The novel opens first with a special dedication to her parents. The storyline of The Seasons of Beento Blackbird revolves around a man named Solomon Wilberforce who is a gifted and loveable children’s book author. Solomon writes under the pseudonym Beento Blackbird. In his books, he reaches out to black children all around the world in order to enlighten them about their rich African cultural roots. Solomon has three vastly different women in three different countries around the world who lay claim to him and love him. He loves these women but cannot choose between them. He spends each season in a different location and in a different culture with one of these women. In the winter, Solomon spends time in the Caribbean with his first wife Miriam (an older woman); in the summer, he spends time in Ghana with his young second wife Ashia; finally, he spends the rest of his time in New York with his literary agent Sam, a woman who has been in love with him for many years. Solomon seems to be living a perfectly compartmentalized life until the tragic death of his father creates chaos in his orderly plans. The novel proceeds with Solomon’s search for identity. Bridget A. Lacy from the Washington Post Book World called Busia’s first novel “ [A] beautifully crafted love story filled with fantasy and lyricism.” [3] Rita Coburn from the Chicago Tribune even said “Akosua Busia can be as lyrical as Toni Morrison and as relevant as Terry McMillan.” [3] Busia’s first novel was one of the most talked about and critically acclaimed novels by a new author at the time.

In addition to her writing credits as an author of a novel, Busia also co-wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film version of Beloved. Beloved was originally a novel written in 1987 by Toni Morrison. This story addresses a variety of African American issues like the historical moment at which newly freed slaves found themselves between slavery and freedom. It reflected upon the violence and horrors associated with slavery. This story particularly addressed female audiences and was even categorized as a maternal melodrama by some. In 1998, director Jonathan Demme and producer Oprah Winfrey, through her production company Harpo Films, adapted a film version of this classic novel. With the help of co-writers Richard LaGravenese and Adam Brooks, Busia helped bring this powerful novel to life on the big screen. Beloved starred Danny Glover (Paul D), Oprah Winfrey (Sethe), Denver (Kimberly Elise), and Thandie Newton (Beloved). The film is set in post- Civil War America in Ohio and revolves around a former slave named Sethe. Sethe lives alone with her daughter Denver when she runs into Paul D, an old friend from the plantation Sethe had escaped from many years earlier. She invites him to stay with her and before long, Paul D. moves in with Sethe and Denver. Later, a young mysterious woman, Beloved, stumbles into Sethe’s yard and eventually moves in with them. With Beloved’s entrance into the film begins a series of dark and mysterious events and revelations. Through the use of flashbacks, the director captured and revealed Sethe’s dark, hidden past. One such secret revealed was that Sethe had killed her own children many years ago to prevent them from entering the horrors of slavery. Soon, Sethe’s dark past begins to catch up with her and haunt her. Despite the fact that Beloved had an all star cast and a large budget, it was a commercial failure with millions of dollars lost. Furthermore, it only won one Academy Award for best costume design. Critics had mixed reviews of the film. Some complained that it was not adapted well from the book losing much of the powerful emotions. Film historian Natalie Zemon criticized the film saying “In movement of miraculous prose of Toni Morrison to the screen, the story of Beloved has lost some breadth, complexity and imaginative range.” [4] However others argue that the film was able to bring to life the dark and powerful emotions depicted in book. New York Times Critic Janet Maslin said “Demme succeeds uncannily well in bringing the novel’s pulse to the screen.” [5]

In addition to her novel and screenplay writing credits, Akosua Busia has even dabbled in song writing. She even co-wrote a song with Stevie Wonder, Moon Blue, for his album A Time 2 Love.

In 2007, Akosua Busia made her directorial debut with the film Ascension Day. The movie starred Anthony Mackie as Turner, John Amos as Henry, Michael Bear as Crixus, and Busia herself as Cherry. The film focused on Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia. Nat Tuner was an African American slave that believed God had called him to free his people from slavery. Thus in 1831, Turner led the largest slave uprising in US history. He was ultimately captured and hanged. Although this historical drama was a small film, it marked Akosua Busia’s directorial debut. It also proved that Busia was a multitalented woman who understood both African and American history and culture.

Awards and Recognitions

Akosua Busia has received several awards nominations and wins recognizing her brilliant work as a noted actress and writer. In 1987, Busia and her castmates Renée Estevez, Lori Loughlin, Claudia Wells, and Jill Whelan won the Michael Landon Young Artists Award for the CBS School Break Special. These CBS specials were designed for young junior high and high school students, dramatizing teen issues in America. Busia portrayed a teenager named Brenda in the episode entitled Babies Having Babies (Aired in 1986). This episode was directed by Martin Sheen and was about five pregnant teenaged girls meeting up at group counseling discussing their situations and feelings. Also in 1999 Busia, along with co-writers Richard LaGravenese and Adam Brooks, were nominated for a Golden Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay for the film Beloved. In addition, she was also nominated for a Black Film Award in the Acapulco Black Film Festival for Best Screenplay for Beloved.

Personal Life

In 1996, Akosua Busia married American film director, producer and writer John Singleton. John Singleton (born January 6, 1968) is well recognized for many of his films including Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning and Four Brothers. John Singleton was the first African American nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for his popular 1991 film Boyz n the Hood. In 1997 he made the racially charged movie Rosewood and casted his wife Akosua as Jewel. Akosua and John had one daughter together, Hadar, who is following her mother’s footsteps into acting. Hadar even had a role in Tears of the Sun with her mother Akosua. In 1997, John Singleton and Akosua Busia divorced after just one year of marriage.

Filmography

Movies:

  • Ashanti (1979) – The Senoufo girl
  • Warp Speed (1981,TV)
  • The Final Terror (1983) – Vanessa
  • Louisiana (1984, TV) – Ivy
  • Badge of the Assassin (1985, TV) – Ruth
  • The Color Purple (1985) – Nettie
  • The George McKenna Story (1986, TV) – Cynthia
  • Crossroads (1986)
  • Low Blow (1986) – Karma
  • Native Son (1986) – Bessie
  • Saxo (1987) – Puppet
  • A Special Friendship (1987, TV) – Mary
  • The Seventh Sign (1988) – Penny
  • Brother Future (1991, TV) – Caroline
  • New Jack City (1991)
  • Rosewood (1997) – Jewel
  • Mad City (1997) – Diane
  • Ill Gotten Gains (1997) – Fey
  • Tears of the Sun (2003) – Patience
  • Ascension Day (2007) – Cherry

TV:

  • Knight Rider (1983, Blind Spot) – Nurse
  • Simon & Simon (1985, Slither)
  • Late Starter (1985) – Nicki
  • A.D. ( 1985, TV mini-series) – Acte
  • CBS Schoolbreak Special (1986, Babies Having Babies) – Brenda
  • St. Elsewhere (1986, Black Magic) – Debra
  • The Twilight Zone (1986, Lost and Found) – Jennifer
  • Highway to Heaven (1987, A Song of Songs) – Vanessa
  • A Different World (1989, The Hat Makes the Man)
  • Key West (1993, Compadres) – Herself
  • Dead man’s Walk (1996, TV mini-series) – Emerald
  • ER (1999) – Kobe