By Nadine Matthews, Special to the AFRO
Tamara Tunie, perhaps most known for her roles as Medical Examiner Melinda Warner on crime procedural Law and Order SVU, actress, director, and producer, has worked her entire career to add the title of philanthropist to her resume.
Presently gearing up for her role in an all female version of The Tempest at Pittsburgh’s Public Theater in her hometown, Tunie has for many years used her celebrity to help make the world a better place. But the beloved actress calls has called New York her home most of her life, and it is where her philanthropic efforts are rooted. Her love affair with the city began while she was in college at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in Musical Theater, and continues with her support of causes that support citizens of the Big Apple.
She sits on the boards of nonprofits Harlem Stage, an arts organization; God’s Love We Deliver which delivers nutritious meals to those living with severe illness; and Figure Skating in Harlem which teaches ice skating while helping to nurture young girls’ self-esteem, leadership abilities, and academic achievement.
“I wanted to not just financially support organizations but lend my celebrity to bring attention to it. It felt natural. It is very important to support organizations like this and everybody can bring something to the table. I don’t think you have to be wealthy to be philanthropic,” said Tunie.
Currently, Tunie appears on the new Netflix series Black Earth Rising. Tunie plays Eunice Clayton, United States’ Assistant Secretary of African Affairs. The slick political thriller is a lush, beautifully shot, contemplative drama that brings heart without ever losing its very sharp edge. It stars Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum, Black Mirror) as Legal Investigator Kate Ashby, herself a Tutsi who miraculously survived the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Black Earth Rising travels from Britain to France to Rwanda to the US and back again as Kate, with the help of Eunice and others, tries to avoid danger and achieve justice.
“I loved the script when I first read it,” Tunie recalls. “The story is one that not a lot of people tell. Hugo Blick who wrote and directed it, is a genius which tells the story with incredible empathy and passion. Although it’s a political thriller, there’s so much heart.” She jokes, “It also didn’t hurt that we were shooting in London, Paris, and Ghana. I was like, ‘Sign me up!’”
She was also drawn to the story because it seemed to fill a hole in our collective understanding of history. “I remember something about Rwanda but I was not clear at all on what was going on. When I did the research, I was angry that the world that stood by and let it happen. Our country took no steps to prevent it. It spurred me on to be a part of it because I think it’s a very important part of world history that so many people don’t know about. After the Holocaust in Germany the world said it would never allow it to happen again but the world continues to allow these things to happen.”