Actress in exile still yearns for home

Chloe Traicos has been besotted with acting for as long as she can remember. From when she was very little she used to live in a make believe world – ever since she realised that when watching a movie, the people on screen are pretending to be their characters.

Chloe Traicos.
Chloe Traicos.

“Acting is something I’ve always done…there has never been another option for me,” she told The Zimbabwean. As a kid growing up in Harare she was part of Repteens, a drama group for teenagers at the Reps Theatre. Traicos recalls her childhood in Zimbabwe with fondness, but unfortunately like a lot of people, she had to leave the country when things turned sour. She moved with her family to Australia during her teens, where she continued her pursuit of an acting career by performing in plays, eventually scoring her first film role in Garage Days in 2002.

She is now based in LA, both acting in and producing feature films. Her recent successes include the Australian independent psychological thriller Next Door to the Velinskys, in which she plays the protagonist Ruby, a girl who has lost her memory but is forced to face the traumatic dark secrets of her past.

Living in LA, Traicos is perfectly situated for someone with a career in film, but confesses she would return to Zimbabwe in a heartbeat if the political situation changed for the better. Unfortunately she has been unable to even visit the country since she left, as she feels it would be too risky given how vocal she has been in the past about Robert Mugabe’s regime. As a result she lives, as many Zimbabweans around the world do, in exile.

Asked what it feels like to be a Zimbabwean in exile, Traicos admits that it is very strange. Although she has loved the countries she has lived in since leaving home, the people there don’t understand her in the way those from her native country do. She describes having an incredible bond with people that she meets from Zimbabwe, outlined when she spoke of meeting someone from her home country at the Cannes film festival – “We were both surrounded by our friends from the UK and Australia, and we just started talking…everyone around us just stared because we did not stop…we could talk about things the others could not relate to”.

Addressing the issue of apathy among the Zimbabwean diaspora, Traicos thinks a big part of the problem is that people are losing hope and giving up on the situation back home – “There’s only so much you can do,” she explained.

She knows a lot of people who, having left Zimbabwe, just want to forget about what has gone on there and put it behind them, choosing instead to look to the future. She was shocked to discover the number of Zimbabwe-born nationals living in the UK (estimated to be as many as 500,000), and thinks that “Zimbabweans who are not in Zimbabwe should be making more of a fight to let people know what’s happening there”.

Although Traicos maintains contact with those of her Zimbabwean friends from school that live in the US, she admits “I’m not in touch with any diaspora organisations”. On the surface, this could be labelled as another example of diaspora apathy, however Traicos contributes to raising awareness of the situation in Zimbabwe in her own way – via the medium of film. She did this successfully in 2005, when she made Stranger In My Homeland, an award winning documentary film following three Zimbabwean refugees who spoke out against Mugabe’s regime, subsequently having to leave the country for various traumatic reasons.

The film was part of the ‘Save Zimbabwe Movement’, which consisted of events held in both London and New York in 2004 to increase awareness of the plight of Zimbabweans. Being such a mainstream medium, one could argue that a film may have a much greater impact with regards to raising awareness than diaspora groups making noise through protests and vigils, no matter how well attended. People who may have known nothing about the political climates of certain countries around the world are more likely to be exposed to information about them via film, due to its mainstream nature, which may lead to them taking further action themselves. Indeed, Traicos believes that “the strongest way to speak to people is through film”, referencing the awareness that was raised by films made about atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide.

Although she hasn’t made anything since the release of her documentary, Traicos explains that, using film as a tool to inform people of the political environment in Zimbabwe is something that is always on her mind. She is in fact in the early stages of getting several new projects off the ground, including a feature film – a political thriller which she hopes “will make people more aware of what is actually happening in Zimbabwe”. It seems that as a Zimbabwean in exile, Chloe Traicos is definitely doing what she can to bring attention to her country.

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