Zimbabwe-born, Canadian-resident Natasha Heschélle, who was once homeless on the streets of Paris, has now produced a new web series that merges many genres.
From being a migrant worker in Paris to sleeping at a shelter run by a Catholic priest, Natasha Heschélle’s career has taken her through some of life’s most uncertain experiences.
Now a film producer and actress in North America, her inaugural series, Zahara – The Return, premiered in April on Amazon Prime Videos, reaching viewers in the United States far from her country of birth, Zimbabwe.
Heschélle says her life story has been that of determination and sacrifice.
Like most of her countrymen, hers too started with separation from her family. Her mother, Marisa Moyo, left the country at the height of President Robert Mugabe’s misrule in 2004, and found a new home in Canada.
“I was seven when my mother left. Her move helped send me to a good school and take care of the rest of the family. I lived a privileged life compared to my peers. I could afford going shopping in South Africa and Botswana; only the privileged few could do this.”
Most Zimbabweans at this stage were living in penury but the worst was to come in 2008. Heschélle often skipped school to attend dance classes, leaving her family unimpressed.
“When my grandmother died, I suffered severe depression and this worsened as my dreams of becoming a dancer were not materializing. I decided to move to Canada to live with my mom. During the application period, I temporarily moved to Paris in 2013 with the plan to work and pay for my dancing classes.”
That plan didn’t work.
“I ended up homeless and on the streets as I ran out of money with no job, until a priest took me into a shelter where I lived for three months. For a week, I slept at Gare du Nord street in central Paris and with no basic French language skills, things could not be any better. I had to wait until my Canadian documents came out in 2014 when my mom paid for my air ticket,” she recollects.
Once in the Land of Maple Syrup, her dreams started taking shape.
“I got a job, went to acting school, the Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, along the way landing my first acting role as a supporting actress in a film produced by a Tanzanian. Unfortunately, that movie was not aired due to the producer refusing to pay casting staff.”
Heschélle drew inspiration from her mother.
“My role model is my mother; she is the strongest person I have ever met. She pushes me not to give up. Through her support, I produced my own television series.” Her television drama, Zahara – The Return, is a three-part romance web series, which showcases rebellion and racial tensions. The 23-year-old even has advice for budding filmmakers.
“Being a producer takes courage, it takes risks. As an actress in Canada, I am a visible minority and I have an accent which has worked against me.
“I have lost so many roles due to this reality, so I have learned to speak with the North American accent, it’s not easy. I don’t want to lose my accent because that is my identity, but if I have to work in North America, I have to make that transition.”
Says the University of Free State’s Film Studies Professor and film critic, Nyasha Mboti, about the series: “It is a merging of genres playing on racial politics and the horror genre. For black people, the horror genre is increasingly holding an emerging fascination due to the fact that their lives blur the line between horror and biopic, tragedy and comedy, and highlight that there is a thin line between horror and everyday life.
“Black directors, in order to have cross-over appeal, are starting more and more to fictionalize and stylise the racialised horror of everyday life, turning it into a genre that audiences can enjoy.”