There is a saying that most of us have our doppelgangers, those other people whose faces puzzlingly, frighteningly, humourously look just like ours. In the past months, attention has been drawn to non-famous people who resemble such celebrities as Lionel Messi and Kim Kardashian. But even famous people can resemble each other, like Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley.

Today, we’re highlighting two Caine Prize winning and nominated writers who look just like two famous actresses, who together represent four countries: Zambia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda.

Sample 1: Namwali Serpell and Ruth Negga

Oscar-nominated Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga (left) and Caine Prize-winning Zambian writer Namwali Serpell (right) look alike.

We know Namwali Serpell, who is Zambian. We’ve known her for the past eight years, from the first time she appeared on the Caine Prize shortlist in 2010 to her second time when she won in 2015. We know she’s not only one of our most accomplished prose stylists but also an ambitious essayist. And we do know Ruth Negga, who is Ethiopian-Irish. We know her from those cool-headed performances in World War Z and Loving, the last of which got her a Best Actress Oscar nomination this year. But we also know Negga from books. We did a feature on her reading from Zadie Smith’s novel Swing Time.

And now we know they look alike: cherubic eyes, lovely cheekbones, enthralling facial beauty. What are the odds of a brilliant Zambian writer and a brilliant Ethiopian actress resembling each other?

Namwali Serpell (left), Ruth Negga (right).

We get the feeling that without captions most people would struggle to identify each woman.

Ruth Negga (left), Namwali Serpell (right).

Sample 2: Arinze Ifeakandu and Madina Nalwanga

Caine Prize-shortlisted Nigerian writer Arinze Ifeakandu (left) and Ugandan actress Nalwanga Madina, star of Queen of Katwe (right).

This one, the strangest of them all, is a case we’ve known since mid-2016 when the trailer for Queen of Katwe was released.

Nigeria’s Arinze Ifeakandu—2013 Farafina Workshop alumni, 2015 A Public Space Emerging Writer Fellow, 2015 BN Poetry Award finalist, 2017 Caine Prize shortlistee—is, at 22, one of the torchbearers for the New Generation of writers. We know him too well, from his memoir, his nonfiction, and every other time we’ve featured his work.

Uganda’s Madina Nalwanga, star of Queen of Katwe in which she plays the chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi alongside Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, is only 17 and one of the most talented child actors on the continent.

Both look set for big careers.

Arinze Ifeakandu (left), Nalwanga Madina (right).

Were it not that Arinze is male and has hairs on his jaw and Madina is female and wears lipstick and earrings and a darker, shiny skin, we might have a real struggle in telling them apart: same low cut hair, same eyebrow curve, same nose, same childlike innocence—how did this happen?

Arinze Ifeakandu (left), Nalwanga Madina (right).

Research Finding

The Caine Prize has a knack for honouring writers who look like actresses. But the writers must come from countries far away from that of their lookalike.

This means that the 2018 Caine Prize will be won by a Ghanaian or Congolese who looks like Lupita Nyong’o. Or a Sudanese or South African who looks like Idris Elba.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young’s writing has been shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship, the 2017 Gerald Kraak Award, and nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize. His fiction has appeared in Transition (“A Tenderer Blessing,” 2015), The Threepenny Review (“Mulumba,” 2016), and Pride and Prejudice: African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice and Sexuality (“You Sing of a Longing,” 2017), an anthology of The Jacana Literary Foundation and The Other Foundation. His work further appears in Interdisciplinary Academic Essays, Africa in Dialogue, and Brittle Paper, where he is submissions editor. He is the editor of the Art Naija Series: a sequence of concept-based e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness. The first anthology, Enter Naija: The Book of Places (Oct., 2016) focuses on cities. The second, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (June, 2017) focuses on professions. He attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and currently teaches English at another Nigerian university. When bored, he blogs pop culture at naijakulture.blogspot.com or just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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