Rebecca uses only one name, but her skills in mime endow her with dozens of personalities—among them “The Peasant,” “The Lady” (her favorite), “Greed” and “Temptation.” Her work is distinguished from the better known style of her former teacher Marcel Marceau by an infusion of dance rhythms into her characterizations. “I’m like a mixed salad as far as technique,” she says. “But it’s all my own.” Born and bred in Chicago, Rebecca, now 27 and a resident of New York, traveled to Europe to perform with the Cary Rick Dancers upon graduation from Roosevelt University. She was spotted in a solo dance performance in Vienna by Marceau who lured her into mime as his student. She travels constantly throughout Europe and the U.S., playing campuses and an occasional prison and hospital. She has become at last self-sufficient. What else does she want? “To save the world,” she says.
Tamu has gained her widest exposure to date with guest shots as ghetto student Francie Potter on the TV sit-com Maude. But her performance as the unwed and pregnant Charlene in the just premiered Claudine—a surprisingly upbeat movie about a Harlem welfare family starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones—promises to establish her as a serious dramatic actress. Difficult as it is to believe watching her portrayal of the tearful adolescent Charlene, Tamu is a diminutive 23-year-old, with credits in the films Come Back Charleston Blue, Up the Sandbox and the Broadway musical Aint Supposed to Die a Natural Death.
“I owe a lot of people a lot of things,” says Tamu, which is the only name she is known by. After her mother died when she was a child, Tamu was adopted by the family of Charlie Blackwell, a former stage manager for Broadway producer David Merrick, who is currently associated with Melvin Van Peebles, the black author, composer and playwright. Starting in junior high school, Tamu studied for six years with the Al Fann Theatrical Ensemble. Of Claudine, which is among the first black films to avoid the karate-chopping, pistol-packing, drug-stunned clichés of the “blaxploitation” genre, she says: “It’s time that black youth saw winners.”