Small in stature, with a baby face and shy demeanour, Usama Osam Mukwaya can easily pass for a naïve S.1 boy.
But the 22-year-old is a respected actor and screenplay writer in our local film industry, with over 10 films under his credit. He is also a model, who has endorsed Woolworth, Pearl International Film Festival (PIFF) and a string of photography and video production studios in Kampala.
“I always had a dream to be outstanding. I always wanted to be up there and outshine my colleagues,” said Mukwaya whose story is a byword of resilience and adventure.
“I knew that hard work was my road to the top,” he asserted.
Although Mukwaya was reluctant to discuss his background, he said he comes from a somewhat humble family in Mulago. After his mother’s death, eight-year-old Mukwaya’s aunt took him in. Death then again snatched his aunt from him at 15, and Mukwaya went to live with his father and stepmother.
“It affected me so much having to adapt to different parenting and environments. I, however, used that plight to creatively put myself out. My humility and religion had a lot of impact,” recalled Mukwaya.
As a boy at Linnet Primary School, Mukwaya stood out from his classmates with his ideas. He, for example, suggested to fellow pupils in the school choir to wear nylon raffia because they shook better than banana fibre. Mukwaya carried his passion for singing and art to Shuhadae Islamic Secondary School in Mbarara, where he completed O and A-levels.
“In S.5 I knew I wanted to be a script writer. I started working on a series called Replica, which I have recently completed. It was so raw and shallow then but I am now definite audiences will love it,” said Mukwaya, who later pursued a diploma in Information Technology at Makerere University.
Nevertheless, Mukwaya turned to the arts to forge a career in 2009, when he starred in Dan Kiggundu’s Pain of Lies as a detective. When the movie eventually premiered in 2011, Mukwaya was acclaimed for his cameo role.
“I owe my success to Kiggundu. He took me under Maryland Productions [a film company] and mentored me. My association with him opened up doors to where I am today,” Mukwaya acknowledged.
Kiggundu further introduced him to Mariam Ndagire, who also took Mukwaya into her film worshop - Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts Centre (MFPAC). Mukwaya was later appointed general secretary of the Screenwriters’ Guild at the Ndagire-headed Uganda Film Network (UFN).
Under Ndagire’s tutelage, Mukwaya wrote the Hello screenplay - an 11-minute comic drama about a young naïve couple, struggling to cope with the latest technologies. Since the short film’s premiere in 2010, it has won six awards including best: actor, actress and sound at 2010 MFPAC awards. The film was also screened and nominated at the inaugural 2011 PIFF; and went on to win Mukwaya that year’s Young Achievers award in the Film & TV category.
“It is amazing how a film, which I only wrote in one night has garnered this much acclaim,” Mukwaya said.
“It was then that I knew I had to perfect the art of writing because I had set a very high bar for myself.”
Mukwaya then searched on the Internet for established filmmakers and other literature to learn more about filmmaking. The move has since paid off. Today, Mukwaya is arguably the fastest rising filmmaker in Uganda. He boasts of films such as: She Likes Prada, Konvikit, Iron Love and Baker. He also has forthcoming features with renowned video producer Bashir ‘Badi’ Lukyamuzi and Philippine-trained director Boaz Asasira.
“I am having a lot of fun. Film has opened lots of doors for me and it is where I earn my bread. I enjoy writing and acting and audiences pay me for that,” he says.
Besides, filming, Mukwaya is also a force in the modelling industry. With a small frame, Mukwaya defies the stereotype of tall, muscular male model as high-profile companies and studios fight to secure his endorsement because of his good; looks and brains.
“Friends always told me I look good so, one time I decided to go for a professional photo shoot. The photographer was amazed and hooked me to a few companies. I now do modelling as much as filming,” Mukwaya said with a smile at his office at Jesco House, where he is making preparations for an upcoming film.