April 3, 2019
Godwin Jabangwe says life’s put him in the right place at the right time, taking him from his native Zimbabwe to an NMC classroom to another in Grand Rapids to Los Angeles.
Now the former visual communications student-turned-screenwriter will bring that serendipity full circle, taking Netflix audiences back to Zimbabwe after closing a “monster” sale for his first feature film, Tunga, inspired by the mythology of the Shona culture in that African country.
“Even now, it doesn’t feel real. It’s so crazy and unexpected,” said Jabangwe, 35, who attended NMC from 2007-2010 and discovered screenwriting while working in the Beckett Building computer lab.
“That’s actually how I started writing. I would have eight-hour shifts,” he said. “You reached the end of the Internet.”
Jabangwe’s deal is the first to come out of Imagine Impact, a talent incubator founded by Hollywood heavyweights Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (below, right) and headed by Tyler Mitchell (below, left) in 2018.
“They bring in talented writers who are seeking a breakthrough,” Jabangwe said. He’d been working on the Tunga idea but joining the Impact class, which paired writers with mentors, allowed him to focus. The experience ended in February with a pitch day to potential buyers, which Jabangwe called both “very exciting” and “terrifying.” Netflix won Tunga in a four-way bidding war. (Watch video of Jabangwe celebrating his deal.)
Though he’s a long way from NMC, where he followed his older brother, Succeed, Jabangwe’s path from Traverse City is one of steady progress. He lived in the NMC apartments and took his first film class here. The college was small enough that he could adapt to the U.S., but big enough to allow him to dream.
“I’d always wanted to be in film somehow,” he said. “NMC allowed me to settle into life in the United States without getting too much of a culture shock.”
(Spring international student enrollment stands at 48 students. International students help achieve NMC’s strategic direction of ensuring learners are prepared for success in a global society and economy.)
Following NMC, Jabangwe earned a bachelor’s degree in film from Grand Valley State University. He aspired to UCLA’s prestigious screenwriting program, but didn’t think he could get in. Instead, he enrolled in a master’s degree program in computer science. He got his acceptance from UCLA during class one day.
“I just got up and packed my bags and walked out,” he said. “I packed up my little car and drove to LA.”
Jabangwe will now continue development of the Tunga script. There is no announced release date yet.