7 Questions With… Thando Hopa

Published 6 years ago
  1. You grew up facing superstition about albinism and having people treat you differently, how did that form your world view?

I never had a linear world view, because I had to experience the contrast of being home and fully accepted for who I am to leaving the sanctum of the household and family nucleus and walking out into a world that misunderstood my difference.

I would do everything possible to hide my difference. I would not apply sunscreen and wear a hat, because I didn’t want to feel that I was different, so that would mean I would allow my skin to burn, in order to play in the sun like other children. I would hide the fact that I had a bad eyesight, that would result in me performing poorly at school, as I could not see what was on the board. It took a message from my parents that ‘if you don’t embrace your difference’, it could be harmful to me; that embracing diversity and being human isn’t a bad thing.

  1. You have taken a sabbatical from law to focus on modeling – would law not be a more powerful platform to address things wrong in the world?

The interesting thing about law and modeling is they both deal with representation. It is the business of representation so that means carry more than yourself; you carry more people. When I put myself out there I carry far more images than just one. I am a woman, I am a woman with albinism, I am a South African, I am a black person, so that means everything I do it carries thousands of people. The more I mature in this industry, the more I understand the fullness of the images that I carry. I really try to do what I can do to build on all those images and shape narratives that create a positive and empowering perception of all of my images.

  1. You feature in next year’s Pirelli Calendar; as part of an all-black cast retelling the story of Alice in Wonderland

The Pirelli Calendar spoke mostly about the importance of representation in storytelling and Alice in Wonderland was basically a template for that message. To really be brought into significance. When representation comes into play, such as this, you basically say that possibilities belong to everyone.

  1. Do you think projects like this are an indication the world is moving towards celebrating African beauty?

Beauty should not be confined and labeled as African beauty as if it were a niche. I just believe beauty is the celebration of an image and what it means for the world now is becoming more diverse. Initially there was one conventional beauty type bombarded by the media and now there is a lot that is challenging that conventional beauty.

  1. You are the first black South African ever to feature in the Pirelli Calendar… 

There was nothing about my character that was particular to albinism but it so happened that the person who played the character had albinism. I think that is an important message that there can be a message of inclusion, diversity and integration. You can accept difference without side-lining it. The calendar just did that for me. It said difference can be embraced and not side-lined.

  1. Tell us about working with photographer Tim Walker for the project?

He is the type of photographer that lends you his eyes to see his work. He really understands that impact art has on cultural development and in his mind the world was already created… I loved working with him.

  1. What was it like working with global icons like Whoopi Goldberg for the calendar? 

Working with her warmed my heart, because here was this woman who I used to watch in movies like Sarafina, Sister Act. I admired her resilience and authenticity and just before we did our shot, I held those hands and I had to tell her that. So working with her was moving personally because she was a person I really respected.