The 16-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo has been granted an American visa to attend this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Mwanza is the star of the film War Witch (Rebelle) which is Canada’s entry into the Foreign Language Film category.
The story is about Komona (Rachel Mwanza), a 12-year-old kidnapped by rebel soldiers and enslaved to a life of guerrilla warfare in the African jungle. Forced to commit unspeakable acts of brutality, she finds hope for survival in protective, ghost-like visions (inspiring a rebel chief to anoint her “War Witch”), and in a tender relationship with a fellow soldier named Magician (Serge Kanyinda). Together, they manage to escape the rebels’ clutches, and a normal life finally seems within reach. But after their freedom proves short-lived, Komona realizes she must find a way to bury the ghosts of her past.
Mwanza cast by Montreal director Kim Nguyen despite no previous acting experience and was later named Best Actress at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals.
The makers of the film are currently trying to arrange a meeting between Mwanza and her idol Beyonce. The producer, Marie-Claude Poulin said that “The only English words she knows are Beyonce and Rihanna songs,” and added “That’s all she talks about”.
The director Nguyen said of the star “Abandoned by her family and living on the streets as a child, her life has been transformed by the making of the film. To have her journey end on the red carpet is beyond anything she could have dreamed of.”