A ZIMBABWEAN born actress living in Canada, Natasha Heschélle, is making waves with a new TV series, “Zahara: The Return” that is now airing on Amazon Prime Videos, reaching viewers in the United States far from her country of birth, Zimbabwe.
The Canada-based producer, director, model and singer, born Natasha Chipo Mutungwazi, has set her sights on fighting racism in Hollywood through her productions.
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.”
According to Natasha, the Zahara: The Return story explores the history of slavery and racism, and the tensions between a white supernatural world and a supernatural world of colour as an ancient black druid rekindles her forbidden love with the son of her former master.
The show stars Natasha, Hannah Scot, Curtis Morgan and Dennis Nimoh. A druid fights evil and Natasha plays the lead character of Helen Harris.
Natasha said the supernatural dramas and movies had predominantly white lead characters and this is what she wanted to change.
“Well I created this show to fight racism in Hollywood. I’ve always loved supernatural teen dramas like Buffy, TVD etc and I’ve always wanted to act in those shows.
“But then I realised that all of them had white female lead characters and the few black people in the cast are always light skinned, because those kinds of black people are what the world considers beautiful,” said Natasha.
Born and raised in Bulawayo, the former Masiyephambli College pupil said the reason she came up with the show was to give black people an opportunity on the silver screen.
“My series has a majority black cast because I want to give black people the opportunity to show the world that we are just as good and as beautiful as all other races.
“In short, my series celebrates black people all over the world,” said Natasha.
The road to where she is has not been rosy as Natasha has once been homeless as she struggled to make ends meet, after leaving Zimbabwe in 2014 to reunite with her mother who is in Canada.
“When I left Zimbabwe, I was 16 and travelled to France hoping to get into acting school there. However, things didn’t go as planned. I had major setbacks, I had no money and I ended up being homeless and lived in a shelter there. But then, when the Canadian visa was approved I moved there and live with my mother,” said Natasha.
When she arrived in Canada, she enrolled at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology where she studied acting for camera and voice graduating in 2016. Thereafter she set up her company Heschélle Entertainment.
“I got a job at Wendy’s a fast food restaurant thereafter working and the little money that I made as well as my mother’s support it pushed me through college and after two years I graduated with a diploma,” said Natasha.
She then worked on Zahara and through her company distributed it to Amazon and the series got the nod. It premiered in March.
According to the IMDb online database listing; “The story explores the history of slavery and racism, and the tensions between a white supernatural world and a supernatural world of colour as an ancient black Druid rekindles her forbidden love with the son of her former master.”
The cast includes Curtis Morgan, Dennis Nimoh, Hannah Scott, Justine Christensen, Anna Nadtotchii and Christine L. Nguyen and Heschélle who plays the role of Helen Harris.
Natasha says she changed her surname to Heschélle because she was tired of people asking her how her last name (Mutungwazi) is pronounced.
The name Heschélle was actually inspired by her favorite Cricket player Herschelle Gibbs (who plays for the Proteas). She just changed the name to make it sound more feminine.
Natasha who speaks fluent Ndebele says she loves sports, especially Soccer, Rugby and Cricket.
Her favorite teams are Brazil (soccer), Springboks (rugby) and Proteas (Cricket). Neymar Jr is her favorite athlete. If she wasn’t an actress, she would want to be a cricket player.
She performed in numerous talent shows as a child, taking part in dance, modelling, music and acting.
At the age of seven, Natasha danced to Destiny’s Child’s “Lose my Breath” in a talent show, where she won first place, beating sixteen and seventeen year old’s.
Shortly after she was called to perform at the Miss Zimbabwe contest in 2006.
She’s been booking mostly commercials, and has stated that although it pays the bills, it’s not what she wants to do.
To get around this Natasha now writes stuff to create work for herself because the only roles she ever gets sent to audition for are the “black girl ghetto” roles and she always turns them down.
Heschélle draws 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.”
- Additional content by Forbes Africa.