You might recall my piece on director Kim Nguyen's struggles in getting financing and distribution for his dream-like, now Academy Award nominated (for Best Foreign Language Film) Congolese drama Rebelle (War Witch), because it stars an urecognizable black lead in young Rachel Mwanza, who gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance (she's a non-professional actor, and was practically living in the streets before she got the part) as 12 year old Komona.
And further, with the film enjoying success internationally throughout last year, some wondered whether Mwanza, who returned to the DRC, was seeing any of the rewards that her work in the film had attracted.
In response to that, director Nguyen said he helped set up a four-year program for the now-16-year-old, which includes getting her room and board, education and food in her hometown of Kinshasa; and when she's 18 years old, she'll get a small chunk of money so that she possibly invest in some land, or start a business. Nguyen added that the challenges for Mwanza in the DRC are great, and it's difficult for him to really manage from a distance (he lives in Canada), however, he has said that a friend in Kinshasa was helping to arrange for Mwanza's care there, despite the complicatios of the situation.
Mwanza became homeless after her parents left for Angola and abandoned her when she was even younger, and that's how she ended up living in the streets of Kinshasa.
And now the filmmaker is facing more hurdles, as he tries to bring Mwanza to Hollywood for the Academy Awards, since the film is nominated.
However, as noted in a revelation in the Canadian Press, there are some issues with getting her a USA visa, because American authorities are concerned that she'd remain in the USA illegally, and not return to the DRC.
“She’s very thrilled with just the idea of maybe seeing Beyonce or Rihanna on the red carpet,” producer Pierre Even says from Montreal.
“That’s her main goal in life. Hopefully one of these two singers will be at the Oscars so that she can get an autograph.”
All that depends on whether Mwanza can secure a U.S. visa.
Even says an application was filed late last week at the embassy in Kinshasa but that Mwanza also needs to undergo an interview with U.S. authorities to prove she won’t try to remain in the United States.
He hopes she can visit for about five days, noting that they plan on two days of post-Oscar interviews to promote Rebelle”s staggered release in the United States, which begins March 1.
After that, Even says they hope to bring Mwanza north of the border for more awards ceremonies including the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on March 3 and the Jutras in Montreal on March 17.
“We believe (that) is a good thing to reassure the U.S. authorities that she won’t stay in the U.S. because she’s coming with us to go to the Canadian Screen Awards,” he notes.
“She’s going to be at many award ceremonies in a few weeks.”
Mwanza also needs a visa to enter Canada but producer Marie-Claude Poulin says she doesn’t expect that to be a problem since the teen spent two months here last year when the film made its Canuck premiere.
Mwanza has also travelled to Berlin and Paris for other Rebelle screenings, which should help her American application, the producers add.
Give the girl a damn visa USA! Come on! Don't worry, she won't stay here and mooch off of *hard-working, tax-paying American citizens.* That's partly what the concern is, right? Let her enjoy those 5 days, or however long itll be, to reap some of the rewards of her hard work (she's the star of the movie, and is the engine that really makes it go).
In War Witch, we follow on a 3 year journey, starting with her kidnapping by rebels from an unnamed village in which she and her family live, to becoming a child soldier. She's branded a witch by the rebel leader after she survives an ambush that left the rest of the unit she was dispatched with, dead, and becomes something of a treasure to the leader, who believes she possesses magical powers he can exploit for his own protection. She eventually is able to escape from the camp with an older albino soldier who pledges his love for her, and seeks her hand in marriage, and, for the very first time, albeit for a short period of time, she experiences the simple joys of living a peaceful life; but unfortunately, none of that lasts, and she's soon thrust back into the madness she once fled.
Of course Mwanza still has to return to the DRC. It's not like there's a blossoming film industry there, like there is in the USA, which would give her options she doesn't currently have. Although DRC-based filmmakers with international appeal like Djo Tunda Munga should maybe take note.
But it's obviously a good thing that director Nguyen is involved in ensuring that she's taken care of (and I should add that this isn't exactly some global blockbuster movie that's raked in millions of dollars in box office, so it's not like money is flowing to be sent back to her regularly). But hopefully when it opens Stateside in March, it'll see some good returns.
Mwanza currently lives with fellow Rebelle actress Marie Dilou in Kinshasa, the producers say, and, as noted they've promised to pay for her education, room and board until she turns 18. What happens after that? Who knows.
The filmmakers first spotted her in a documentary on street kids in Kinshasa, and traveled to the city to meet her in person. That's how she got the part in their film.
“She had an intensity that no other girls had and we decided to cast her at the time and she was living mostly on the streets,” Nguyen says of Mwanza.
And for her performance, she went on to win best actress awards at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. We couldn't have two young black girls nominated for the Best Actress Oscar I suppose, so Quvenzhane Wallis got the nod.
But I hope Mwanza gets her USA visa, and makes it to the Oscars next month. Maybe, in addition to getting autographs from Beyonce or Rihanna, she'll get to shake hands with Wallis too.
Read the full Canadian Press piece HERE.