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5 Famous People You Didn’t Know Are From Sierra Leone


Idris Elba

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The British actor, musician and DJ was born to immigrant working-class parents – his father was from Sierra Leone, and his mother was born in Ghana. He was brought up in east London before finding fame in America. He is best known for playing Nelson Mandela in the biographical film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013), drug trafficker Stringer Bell on the HBO series The Wire, and DCI John Luther on the BBC One series Luther. The TV and film star has been nominated four times for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film, winning one and was nominated five times for a Primetime Emmy Award. Film lovers are rooting for the Hollywood actor to take over from Daniel Craig as James Bond.


Michaela DePrince

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The 24-year-old Sierra Leonean-American ballet dancer is one of very few black classical ballerinas in the world. She lost both of her parents when she was three years old. Her father was murdered in the country’s brutal civil war and her mother died from fever. She was then put in a shelter with 26 other children in her native Sierra Leone, where adults teased her that she was too ugly to ever be adopted, calling her “the devil child” because of her vitiligo (a skin condition that causes loss of pigment).

But DePrince always believed she was destined for more, telling Glamour Magazine, “I guess I was a little sassy. Whenever people called me things, I would say, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to be someone.’”


Ishmael Beah

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The Sierra Leonean author and human rights activist rose to fame with his acclaimed memoir, A Long Way Gone. He was just a teenager when his town became engulfed in Sierra Leone’s civil war in the mid-1990s. In his 2007 A Long Way Gone memoir, Beah touched on the death of his parents and brothers to the conflict, and how he roamed the countryside with a band of boys before being recruited as a child soldier by government forces. After two years, with UNICEF help, he was removed from the army and placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown. Beah’s most recent novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, was published in January 2014.



Franklyn Ajaye

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The 69-year-old stand-up comedian and actor was born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in Los Angeles by a Sierra Leonean father and an American mother. Dropping out of law school to pursue stand-up comedy full time, Ajaye was popular in the 1970s and also wrote for Emmy-nominated shows and played jazz. He has appeared in the films Car Wash, Stir Crazy, and Bridesmaids. He received two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing for his work on In Living Color and Politically Incorrect. In 2011 he appeared in the hit comedy Bridesmaids, playing the father of Maya Rudolph’s character, Lillian.


Nzinga Christine Blake

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The American/Sierra Leonean actress was a host on Current TV and starred on the TV series Fridays on Cartoon Network, Culture Click on Litton’s Weekend Adventure, as well as in national television commercials for Sprite and Kinkos. Her father, Cecil Blake, is the former Minister of Information in Sierra Leone, a former UN official, as well as a world scholar. Blake currently hosts “Culture Click” on the television network called “Bounce” TV. The TV presenter is also involved in many projects that promote youth empowerment in Africa and other developing nations through entertainment, fashion and the arts.

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