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Thandie Newton (1972- ) is a British film actress. She starred opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible 2″ (2000) and was Will Smith’s hateful wife in “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006).

Born in London to a white father (English) and a black African mother (Shona), she grew up in England and later came to Hollywood. She was shocked at how much her skin colour mattered there – more than in Africa or England. Tom Cruise had to fight for her to star opposite him.

She says that both whites and blacks in Hollywood thought she could only play a black woman and, not say, just a woman. It would be like limiting Lauren Bacall to parts for Jewish women.

But it gets worse.

For some parts she is seen as not being “black enough”. And yet in at least one case a white actress got a part that she would have been great for: in 2006 in “A Mighty Heart” the half-black wife of Daniel Pearl was played by Angelina Jolie (white) and not by herself (half-black).  (On the other hand, Newton did get to play Sally Hemings, who was only one-fourth black).

Her beauty and sex appeal:

  • In 2008 she was one of the most beautiful black women according to white people. In the lists that white English-speaking people make of the most beautiful women and put up on the Web, only Beyonce, Mariah, Halle and Tyra make more lists than she does.
  • In 2002 Stuff magazine ranked her as the 48th sexiest woman in the world.
  • In 2000 the readers of Black Men magazine picked her as one of “The 10 Sexiest Women of the Year”.

Some say she was born in Africa, but she says she was in fact born in London when her parents were there for two weeks. Her mother comes from Africa, from a country now known as Zimbabwe, but then called Rhodesia.  Newton says her mother was a Shona princess.”Thandie” comes from thandiwe, which means “beloved”.

She grew up in Zambia in Africa and in Cornwall in England. Growing up watching her mother dress as an African taught Newton to be proud to be black.

At 11 she went to London to study dance, but hurt her back and went into acting instead. While pursuing her acting, she got a degree in anthropology at Cambridge University.

When she first came to Hollywood she had a hard time getting parts in film – not only was she black, she had a British accent. But in time she got noticed.

Some of her films:

  • 2008: W (out now – she plays Condi Rice)
  • 2007: Norbit
  • 2006: The Pursuit of Happyness
  • 2004: The Chronicles of Riddick
  • 2002: The Truth about Charlie
  • 2000: Mission Impossible II
  • 1998: Beloved
  • 1995: Jefferson in Paris (plays Sally Hemings)
  • 1991: Flirting

Doing “Mission impossible II” meant giving up a lead in “Charlie’s Angels” (2000) to Lucy Liu.

In 1994 she dated Brad Pitt.

In 1998 she married a British television writer and director, Ol Parker. They have two daughters, Ripley (2000) and Nico (2004). Ripley is named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Alien” and Nico after the German singer who was once part of the Velvet Underground.

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