Bonisile John Kani is a South African actor, director and playwright.
Kani joined the Serpent Players (a group of actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were performed to a resounding reception.
These were followed by the more famous Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, co-written with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, in the early 1970s. He also received an Olivier Award nomination for his role in My Children! My Africa!
Kani's work has been widely performed around the world, including New York, where he and Winston Ntshona won a Tony Award in 1975 for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (which ran 159 performances) and The Island. These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of 52 performances.
In 1987 Kani played Othello in a performance of Shakespeare's play of the same name in South Africa which was still under apartheid. "At least I'll be able to kiss Desdemona without leaving a smudge." he said then.
Nothing but the Truth (2002) was his debut as sole playwright and was first performed in the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. This play takes place in post-apartheid South Africa and does not concern the conflicts between whites and blacks, but the rift between blacks who stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid, and those who left only to return when the hated regime folded. It won the 2003 Fleur du Cap Awards for best actor and best new South African play. In the same year he was also awarded a special Obie award for his extraordinary contribution to theatre in the United States.
Kani is executive trustee of the John Kani Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the John Kani Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA. He starred as T'Chaka in the Marvel studios blockbusters Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther.
In August 2017, Kani had been cast to perform the voice of Rafiki in the 2019 CGI remake of The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau.
Kani's play, Kunene and the King, a co-production for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Fugard Theatre, played in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2019 before transferring back to Cape Town.
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