Zahra Harkat is an Algerian actress, TV presenter, producer and philanthropist. Living between Algiers and Paris, the inspiring woman is today in conversation with Social Unseen to tell us about her career path, her ethics as a feminist and engagements for sustainable and eco-friendly campaigns, but also her current beauty and lifestyle routines; a beautiful conversation with one of our inspiring muses!
SU: How did you start your career as an actress?
ZH: Honestly it was very random, I have always been involved into art and audio-visual projects, my first experience was back in 2009, it was with Mounes Khammar, an Algerian writer, director and producer, it was for his movie “Le Dernier Passager”. As a first experience, I think it was very interesting and it has brought me a lot of propositions and contracts.
It was also at that time when my career as a TV presenter was at its best as well, so it helped me a lot in getting exposure. Then I did many short series, comedy sketches, advertising etc.
But I remember back then I didn’t want to be someone’s object, I wanted to be independent and be able to produce myself
SU: I feel like in the beginning you were more a TV presenter than actress, was it your dream to end up working in the Algerian movie industry?
ZH: Honestly no, my goal was to work in the audio-visual industry without necessarily thinking of becoming an actress, it really came naturally!
I thought about working more on TV or in the production scene, I actually worked for Canal Algerie as a journalist in the beginning which helped me in starting my own path as a TV presenter for few years, and then I stopped everything related to presenting and did my first project as a producer for Djaafar Gacem’s series called “Maawid Maa El Qadar” , and my role was to be a second assistant, that was the moment I fell in love with the production scene.
SU: Did you start your project as a producer right after your first experience?
ZH: Yes, back then I met my husband and he was also passionate about the industry so we both worked together and created Bella Prod’, so from that time I started to direct my own projects and It was very exciting.
I have produced a Ramadan series that worked really well called “Camera Shorba” realized by Karim Khedim and many short series, music clips, TV programs and lots of advertising spots because this is what also helps in generating money.
SU: Can you explain the role of a producer?
ZH: I am the one who casts and chooses the roles, and by the way, I’m actually the one who casted one of today’s most important Algerian acting figures Souhila Mallem.
I select the one who realize the project, the technical production, I keep an eye on the writing as well and all the actors, comedians etc..and of course, I manage all the commercial part, I mean, I do everything from the main source to the final production.
SU: At the time where you were producing, did you stop your career as a TV Presenter? How did you manage everything?
ZH: It was afterI have realized few projects as a producer, I started concentrating back again on my TV presenter career that I actually produced myself, it was called “Maa Zahra” (With Zahra) that I did in 2010-2011 and it had a huge success back then because for the first time Algeria has allowed the diffusion of private channels in our country, it was on El Djazairia TV.
The good thing about that program is the fact that it resembled a lot to the very famous French TV Canal+, same type of presentation, we were all very excited about the idea to have this young fresh scene that was quite innovative in the industry, with no boundaries and no limits! The project had a huge success for two to three years.
SU: What was the concept of that program?
ZH: The concept was a kind of a meet-up with different Algerian personalities, from politics to art, it was a complete immersion into their life, it was actually everyone who has an impact or a kind of influence on the Algerian society as such, for example I had the chance to interview the notorious author Yasmina Khadra, the filmmaker Ahmed Bedjaoui, and the former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour.
SU: How did this helped you in your career?
ZH: It really helped me in being more confident professionally and affirm myself as a TV presenter but also as a producer since I managed to do both, and the result was quite a success. It also brought me lots of contacts and I got to meet many people in different fields, I travelled a lot I did in about 22 cities including France, Germany, Spain and in Algeria I went to Wahran, Skikda, Sidi Bel Abbess etc.. which was really great!
SU: Have you experienced challenges during that period of your TV show?
ZH: Oh yes many! But there a story that personally marked me , it was the time when I was interviewing this Algerian actress and she revealed all her story about the break-up with her ex-husband and how she got hurt – the Ex went mad and wanted to go far even with me which was crazy!
SU: How do you imagine the future of the movie industry in Algeria?
ZH: I wish I could reply to this question but unfortunately, we live in a country where there’s a lack of visibility and it’s quite uncertain regarding what will happen in the future. However, for someone who has always lived abroad or in between Algeria and Europe, I had to stay four consecutive years in Algiers for my role in the series “El Khawa” that enabled me to see the great potential and talents Algeria has, it’s incredible! I was really astonished by the amount of talented people.
The problem is that we live in an individualistic society, you can meet someone who would tell you about a great project that you won’t hear about the next couple of days, we have the idea, the theory but not the practice. For example, you can meet a guy who would create a movie with zero budget, no actors with his own phone that is great in terms of content but he would never go through his ideas and make it as a real professional project unfortunately, and this is probably due to the fact that in our educational system, they didn’t teach us how to make an idea more concrete and achieve it. Another thing that made me realize how creative our society can be was during the Revolution movement (Hirak) I’ve seen how artistic some people were in delivering a message and that was beautiful! But this is my personal opinion, I really hope the Algerian scene will be more developed because again it’s full of great talented people, let’s wait and see.
The problem is that we live in an individualistic society, you can meet someone who would tell you about a great project that you won’t hear about the next couple of days.
SU: What are the actions you think Algeria can take to improve the movie industry?
ZH: On a personal level, I contribute myself on creating different collectivities within women who also are in the industry because I believe that we have to exchange ideas with each other, to communicate and educate the rest out of this, but the problem is that we do not have the infrastructures and technical means to achieve this which leads to everyone doing his thing and ends up in not achieving what needs to be collectively done.
Another thing, I believe that it needs to be handled by more private than public institutions so you won’t need to have an authorization from the ministry of culture and be more free, have more budget on what needs to be achieved, I think that the private sector really needs to be more involved to create interesting things that would be watched not only in Ramadan but in the everyday life, I really believe that we deserve more than to be an Iftar meal.
SU: What do you think of the very successful movie Papicha?
ZH: It’s really amazing to see an Algerian movie go that far and I’m very proud about it. And the fact that it’s produced by a woman and in Algeria makes it even better. The movie relates a real story and puts forward the situation by involving so many topics including fashion and it’s really amazing!
SU: Do you consider yourself as feminist? I believe yes, why?
ZH: It’s a very good question. You know, recently I participated to an event in Lebanon, I was invited by this association called Female that is affiliated to the United Nations, I got invited as an Algerian Influencer in the Audio-visual industry, so I prepared a kind of report that I made with my colleagues back in Algiers, and you know, I went there asking myself: Why do we have to be unlocked in this circle of women where we actually can be real Men with a big M. that was my real vision at first. But by meeting these women, by understanding their stories I felt like I have always been a feminist since forever and yes to respond to your question, I am a feminist yes.
ZH: And the why I am a feminist is because I think we are not properly heard by the society, we are not valued to everything we accomplish without forgetting the fact that we are wives, mothers which is a huge unrecognized work. Besides that, we also have our influence as entrepreneurs in this world, so yes, a female voice needs to be heard equally to men.
I would love to dedicate my career to fight for these women in Algeria, it’s a personal goal that I would like to achieve, since the crowd has given me this “Influencer” label due to my high number of followers on Instagram, I would love to use it to influence in that sense of respect, opportunities and all the possibilities that would help other women.
I want to use the term “Influencer” that I got due to my followers on Instagram to create a real impact and influence in a sense of respect, love and work for all the possibilities that would help other women.
SU: I have noticed your engagement in sustainability and the protection of the environment in Algeria, you also did a campaign in collaboration with the United Nations (UNDP) to protect the humid zone of your hometown, Skikda, Algeria.
How does it feel to be environmentally engaged?
ZH: To tell you a bit about my eco-ethical side, it started by changing my own lifestyle because I realized that things were getting worse in our planet, to see the sea being that polluted broke my heart, as I a sea lover I feel very sad to see that, especially in Algeria where you can see plastics and food on the beach. I also realized the high consumerism of plastic in supermarkets etc… and this is very bad.
SU: How did the UNDP campaign start?
ZH: We have a family friend who works with the UNDP who once came to have dinner at my place and I naturally spoke about taking my personal initiative in a bigger scale, he called back few weeks later and told that my idea to be contribute was approved, and this is how the adventure started.
SU: It’s very admirable to see someone who really wants to create an impact on the society and educate people on something that important.
ZH: Yes, in fact, I don’t want to be a fashion or lifestyle influencer, it’s not my thing, I want to remind people who beautiful our planet is and life in general, it’s very spontaneous.
SU: What is the aim of that campaign?
ZH: The campaign really aimed at educating people from the region about the importance of protecting that zone that wasn’t meant for a personal use, I gathered my other influencers friends to make it more impactful and viral on social media and make people aware about it. It was a beautiful and unforgettable experience where I also got to meet many beautiful people. What was also very satisfying is to see the importance given by people, students and also tourists to that region after our campaign and I was very proud!
SU: Let’s now switch to other topics; What are your must-haves for an everyday outfit?
ZH: A pair of sunglasses I have a lot because I can’t resist to sun and daylight, a hat, a cap or anything on my head, I don’t know why but I feel like I’m safer this way.
I used to be very sophisticated before and cared about having branded bags as a main accessory but today I really don’t care, I would rather go for something practical, easy to wear where I can put all needed stuff inside without necessarily caring about the brand.
SU: So, you consider yourself more as a casual woman who would wear a simple t-shirt, jeans and sneakers?
ZH: Yes definitely, and I think this was also due to my job cause I had to run left and right many times, so I needed to be comfy and casual and would wear jeans, a white t-shirt and a pair of Converse. But when I worked as a TV presenter, I was very sophisticated, I mean, lipstick and foundation, my hair blow-dried and styled differently and heels etc.
SU: What are the pieces you consider as old fashion? I’m sure you have some! Tell me about platform sandals?
ZH: Haha, yes that is true, I don’t approve platforms and I would never them, but I think everything can suit anyone if you know how to style it.
SU: I wouldn’t see you wearing a neon top for example.
ZH: I actually would wear a neon top, outside of my camera life, with a jacket on top to make it look less flashy.
SU: Definitely agree, a pop of colour can be nice if it’s not too popping.
I don’t put much products and I believe that less is more even on your skin. The less products you use, the better you give it the ability to regenerate by itself.
SU: What is the secret of your beautiful skin?
ZH: My genes haha, honestly, I don’t put much products and I believe that less is more even on your skin. The less products you use, the better you give it the ability to regenerate by itself. But I obviously have some cleaning ways, I remove my makeup with micellar water which I think is great, or I use make-up removers that are paraben and alcohol free, I use only organic products on my skin.
SU: But do you sometimes need to moisturize your skin? If yes, which brands would you use?
ZH: Yes of course I do, I love the moisturizer from Carita, which is very hydrating and revitalizing and I also have their almond milk based make-up remover that I absolutely love.
SU: So you don’t use any masks, any Vitamin C based-product nothing?
ZH: Not really, but what I like to do sometimes, is to go to some really good salons in Paris to have a skincare moment that I actually consider more as a relaxing moment than a skin-related one, for example I love Biologique Recherche Champs Elysees where I would go to have a self-care moment for my own pleasure.
SU: We love your hair: How did you manage to have this beautiful natural looking Californian Blonde hair?
ZH: Ahhh that Californian hair, I’ve been trying to get it for years and I was never really satisfied about the result that used to become orange, until the day I found the best hairdresser, colorist in Paris, Nico Coloriste in Paris 1st arrondissement, and the good thing about him as that he’s a blonde specialist. It’s been five years, I went to see him after I my hair became orange in summer, looking for help, since that day, he became my main colorist and the only one who touched my hair color, and he only does highlights not a full coloration, which keeps my hair looking healthy and natural and plus it lasts for a longtime, this guy is a real genius indeed.
SU: Do you use any specific product that helps you maintain your color?
ZH: Yes, I use the brand Tokyo I don’t know if you ever heard about it, so I use the brand’s shampoo, conditioner and they also have all those stuff you know, hair Botox and everything and I think it’s really great. I always do this haircare after I do my highlights and it really keeps them very shiny and healthy.
I needed authenticity and nature, I wanted something different from where I used to travel to, you know big cities like London, New York and all these metropoles and fashionable cities.
SU: I have realized through your Instagram account that you travelled to Senegal and Sri Lanka, why did you choose these two destinations over others that are considered fancier by the crowd?
ZH: I needed authenticity and nature, I wanted something different from where I used to travel to, you know big cities like London, New York and all these metropoles and fashionable cities.
I really wanted to get connected with our beautiful African continent, I spent ten amazing days and met beautiful people, it was a beautiful meeting with nature, ecologists, artists from everywhere, and African people were just the coolest and most welcoming. Also, for clubbing and parties, I’ve rarely seen that good vibes, it was Miami style but more authentic.
Sometimes you just walk in the street and you see a man sitting outside and playing with his jumbo and I loved this authenticity really!
I also had the chance to do a Safari where I saw lions in complete freedom and yes, those are incredible and unforgettable memories. I even planned to go again in June but unfortunately the situation doesn’t allow me, so I will hopefully reschedule it for another summer.
Regarding Sri Lanka, I also planned it with my same friends, and it was for the same reason, rediscover nature, we did a road trip, I remember doing like four to eight hours per day, I have seen amazing rivers, volcanos, elephants, tea champs, we travelled with an emblematic train from the 19th century as well, it was really magical
SU: How do you manage to be mentally and physically healthy during this tough period?
ZH: I have to admit that it’s not easy, I’m not going to tell you the opposite, but I try to be as positive as I can everyday even in normal life, it’s my personal philosophy, I’m grateful to be alive every day, to have my family next to me, to have caring friends and also to have a job that I love. I mean, I really try to be thankful when I don’t feel good and I remind myself how lucky I am to have all those things, and I think it’s very important.
What I also try to do lately is to think of all my beautiful experiences, speaking of the trips I told you about, I remember in Senegal, sleeping in precarious conditions with no AC, no food that we necessarily love, but we were happy we didn’t need anything elseThen every day, I try to focus on doing simple things. It’s the first time I sit in the same place for that long, I’m very active, I usually travel a lot so in fact it wasn’t easy to accept for me in the beginning to be quarantined in one place and not be able to move. But what I did is that I tried to focus on myself as much as I could.