IN EARLY MAY, Netflix announced that effective June 10, the award winning Hollywood indie drama ‘Trees of Peace will be accessible on their platform. Trees of Peace, a movie that tells the story of four women that created a strong bond in the hiding place they were trapped in during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. It stars Eliane Umuhire a Rwandan who was born and raised in Rwanda but currently lives in France. Umuhire has won seven movie awards so far. In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ Davis Higiro, the actress describes her journey in acting, the challenges and aspirations. Excerpts: Who is Eliane Umuhire? I am an actress born and raised in Rwanda, I am a performer on stages and in films. I started acting in 2005 when I was in Butare pursuing my university studies, and I started acting in films in 2014 when I was casted in Birds are Singing in Kigali, that was my first main role and main character. How many films have you featured in so far? If I count those which are in post-production, I would say something like seven, six films and one series that will come out this year in September. It’s a French series that we shot in France last year, and it’s now in post-production. What feeling do you get from telling your country’s history to the world? As an actress I feel like I am an ambassador, my work when I started doing theater has been marked by mainly healing and telling the stories of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, telling the healing that we had to go through but also talking about the pain was necessary. Sharing it to the world so that the world would know what happened in Rwanda, and what is happening now which is the healing and building of the country. As a Rwandan that is a way of contributing to the history of my country and my own history. Have they corrected the description error ‘Rwandan Genocide’ in Trees of Peace? I don’t have the answer yet, but I saw it from the moment when the trailer was released. It was an independent film before it went into festivals, when it received the award that’s when Netflix was interested in buying it, but basing on the communications that were made from the moment we started shooting up to the moment when the film went into festivals we were using 1994 genocide against the Tutsi terminology, I insisted with the producers that it is very crucial to us as Rwandans. I don’t know whether it was like a way of denying that genocide was committed against the Tutsi’s, because it is crystal clear that the film talks about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, that it’s the Tutsis that are targeted. I’m not defending Netflix, this is me just reflecting, I think probably they used the Genocide in Rwanda terminology in a way of summarizing, that’s why it’s so crucial for us to keep repeating, I don’t know if we have to do a campaign for the rest of the world to know that this is the right terminology. As a person groomed by Mashirika, what’s the exception of Mashirika in spotting young talents? Well I’m here because I was artistically raised by two women, it’s not only Mashirika, there is Mashirika with Hope Azeda and Ishyo arts with Carole Karemera and these two women took me under their wings. When I first met Hope and Sam at Mashirika they gave me the space, they gave me the floor that we had in Mashirika and they were like “this is your creative space go on and play.” It’s more of giving space to the talents and that’s the particularity of Hope and also of Carole. Tell us five people who passed through Mashirika and have now made it? Hmm! Well there is Arthur Nkusi, Pendo Anitah, Angel Uwamahoro, Simon Rwema, and Jonathan Kubakundimana who is now in the US. But everyone has excelled in one way or another. What do you admire in the Rwandan film and arts industry today? I’m loving the fact that there’s a new generation that does not care about having validity, not caring that we dont have art schools, theater schools and film schools before creating. What is the most challenging thing you’ve faced in your career? Every day, when I have a new character, theres a challenge of getting into that character, but in my artistic journey I had a shift in countries, coming from Rwanda to France, establishing myself in a new country where I don’t have any contacts was a huge challenge, shifting when there was a crisis like Covid-19 when everyone was saying it was the end of film industry and theater industry, I was wondering what I was going to do, whether I was going to change careers but it acted as a push for me to come out of my comfort zone and embrace humility and vulnerability, to be able to make it through and finally establish myself as an actress in France. What’s the beauty of not giving up? It is the best thing that can happen to us because it crushes you to be molded into something new, and it’s a scary journey. I did not know what was going to happen, so I considered quitting. Being a woman is a challenge, we don’t have so much representation in the film and being black in the western country, there were so many reasons why I wouldn’t have made it where I am, though I’m still a work in progress. And I’m so grateful of what I have today and this is because I had to go through all of that, I used to think that vulnerability is a weakness actually vulnerability is a strength and it’s the best thing that can happen to us because through vulnerability and humility we discover how strong we are and the abundance that is around us. How did you cope up with your mental health? Working, I started by building a website, when we were in a lockdown. Doing mediation together with mindfulness every day and working out, trying to stay busy in one way or another. What is it like to be a black woman in the film industry? That was the first thing that my agent told me when I finally booked an agent, they were like “we’re going to be honest with you, it might be difficult because you’re a woman and black,” and I could see that many roles that were coming were stereotyped, cliché roles for black. It’s always like belittling foreigners, it’s an everyday struggle being a woman and being black. It’s a challenge for us to write our own stories, to direct our own stories, to produce our own stories and not wait for a French director to write something about a Rwandan, African girl. What projects are you working on or plan to work on in the future? There are some few things that are coming out this year, and I’m super excited because we have put so much love and so much work in it. We have just finished shooting a feature film in Congo by Baloji, the series I was talking about, it will be coming out, there’s Trees of Peace that is coming on Netflix, Neptune Frost that is now being released in the US. There is also a one woman show that I am working on with a Brazilian director in France, and I’m hoping that we will be able to bring it here because it is a powerful piece about women who decide to immigrate alone, the play talks about what is it like to be a woman in a new country.