A few years ago, Rachel Mwanza was fending for herself on the streets of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; this week, the 16-year-old actress will be in attendance at Hollywood's biggest night.
Mwanza, star of the film "War Witch," has been granted a visa to travel to the U.S. and Canada to attend various award shows, including the Academy Awards, where the Canadian production is nominated for best foreign-language film. (The film is in French and Lingala.)
"War Witch," directed by Kim Nguyen, tells the story of Komona (played by Mwanza), a girl kidnapped by rebel soldiers and enslaved into a life of guerrilla warfare in the African jungle. The film was shot entirely in the DRC in 2011 and features many first-time young actors, including Mwanza.
"Rachel's story is truly a Cinderella tale — abandoned by her family and living on the streets as a child, her life has been transformed by the making of the film," Nguyen said in a statement released by Tribeca Film. "To have her journey end on the red carpet is beyond anything she could have dreamed of."
Mwanza has garnered best actress awards at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals for her performance, and the filmmakers have continued to provide her with a caregiver and oversee her education.
"She's traveled to Paris, Berlin and Canada for the opening of the film, but I think this coming to Hollywood tops it all for her," producer Marie-Claude Poulin said in a phone call. Poulin also said the filmmakers are trying to arrange for the young actress to meet Beyonce, her "ultimate idol."
"That's all she talks about," Poulin said. "The only English words she knows are Beyonce and Rihanna songs."
"War Witch" opens March 8 in Los Angeles.