Home Biographies Biography of Thandiwe Newton, Early life and Career

Biography of Thandiwe Newton, Early life and Career


Biography of Thandiwe Newton

Early life

Melanie Thandiwe Newton was born in the Westminster area of London on 6 November 1972, the daughter of Zimbabwean mother Nyasha Jombe and English father Nick Newton.  Her mother was a member of a Shona chieftaincy family, while her father worked as a laboratory technician and artist. Her parents lived in Zambia, and she was born while they were back in England to visit relatives; they then returned to Zambia, where her younger brother was born.  This has led her birthplace to be incorrectly reported as Zambia in some sources, but she has confirmed in interviews that she was born in Westminster.  Thandiwe” is a name of Nguni origin and means “beloved”

When Newton was three years old, she returned with her family to England, where they settled in Penzance so her father could help run his family’s antique business. She attended St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School. She later said of her upbringing, “From about the age of five, I was aware that I didn’t fit. I was the black atheist kid in the all-white Catholic school run by nuns. I was an anomaly.”  She began dropping the letter “w” from her first name, making it “Thandie” (pronounced /ˈtændi/ TAN-dee). She studied dance at the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, then studied at Downing College, Cambridge, where she obtained a degree in social anthropology in 1995


Newton made her film debut in the coming of age comedy-drama Flirting (1991), filmed in 1989 but shelved for two years. She was credited as “Thandie Newton” and subsequently continued to use this name professionally. She then portrayed the slave “Yvette” in the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise film Interview with the Vampire (1994). Newton appeared in the Merchant Ivory production of Jefferson in Paris as Sally Hemings. Next, she played in Jonathan Demme’s drama Beloved (1998), based on Toni Morrison’s novel, in which she played the title character, the ghost of a young slave girl whose mother kills her to save her from slavery. The film also starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Newton starred as Nyah Nordoff-Hall, again opposite Cruise, in Mission: Impossible 2. Her next role was in the low-budget film It Was an Accident, written by her husband, screenwriter Ol Parker etc..

Charity work

In 2006, Newton contributed a foreword to We Wish: Hopes and Dreams of Cornwall’s Children, a book of children’s writing published in aid of the NSPCC. In it, she wrote about her childhood memories of growing up in Cornwall, and the way in which its cultural heritage made it easy for her to “enrich every situation with layers of magic and meaning”

In 2008, Newton visited the poverty-stricken village of Nampasso in Mali, describing it as a “humbling experience”

In 2013, Newton led the One Billion Rising flash mob in London for justice, gender equality, and an end to violence..



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