|© Fatou Kandé Senghor|
From the text: Mon Travail, Ma Passion, translated from French to English by Beti Ellerson
What I enjoy doing…
As a documentarist, I like to observe the changes in society. For us Africans, this transformation occurs in social, cultural, religious and economic contexts that are not very receptive to change but nonetheless, cannot prevent the evolution of humanity. Some of my documentaries have struck me by their sense of continuity, for instance the recent film, Rafet Car. In 2000, accompanied by contemporary poets from around the world, I made a road movie of sorts. We traveled 2500 km from the island of Gorée to the city of Timbuktu, making a stopover at the mythical cities of the ancient empire of Mali. We traveled for three weeks by train, bus, and pirogue on a path once taken by the ancient caravaners in search of traces of poetry, stories and legends recorded in the oral tradition. The film Tara, chemins de la parole transported me into the past, into grand spaces, into the lives of the "others", revealing how people at the crossroads combined the practices of traditional and modern life.
Then there was Diola Tigi
The film Diola Tigi is a look within based on the question: "What is a Diola?" even before entering the landscape. Set in the village of Baïla, where the initiation ceremony Bukut takes place every thirty years, this journey inside the Diola society leads us into the sacred grove, a cultural and religious rampart that allows the Diola to resist the excesses of modernization. A feast which include charms, euphoric beverages, libations, alongside the practices of bullying and competitions of invulnerability using knives and machetes. An opportunity for me to converse with the Diola sages, the gatekeepers of tradition who are concerned about a changing generation that is no longer familiar with the great moments of initiation and is not sufficiently rooted to receive the secrets of the sacred; a real dilemma in Africa today.
Then I encounter the giant of Senegalese painting. Gripped by alcoholism, married to a popular Senegalese actress, he is split between moments of total sobriety and passion for his family and those interludes with Bacchus, turning into an imp, abandoning the trait that made him the great painter Jacob Yacouba, before the eternal. The film, The Return of the Elephant is the portrait of this man of the arts through which a chapter of our art history is revealed. A great era lived in splendor and creativity, and especially encouraged by President-poet Senghor. Great artists came from Europe to Senegal to exhibit at the National Gallery, notably Picasso, Fernand Leger; a sign that African artists have finally entered the world arena. It is within this context that the painter Jacob Yacouba recounts to us a love story, a story of painting, the story of a somewhat spoiled generation; a rather racy, personal and ultimately sad story.
In True School I watch the Senegalese youth as they come and go to Université Cheikh Anta Diop, I feel the pulse of our fledgling intellectuals soon to be called upon to lead our country. Local rap is part of their everyday experience. Then I immerse myself in their lives, their neighborhoods, leading me to the outskirts of Dakar in the underprivileged quarters, where their neighbors, whose music they consume, live and who without a doubt, can directly relate to the subject of their songs. In this same neighborhood, there is a concert that evening. Hip hop concerts are like evening political rallies. And often these “underground” concerts end up with stones thrown at the police by fans who also break out in fights as the rappers try to calm the public in order to continue the entertainment, and the peace—even though the lyrics of their songs denounce the politics that inflame the masses. It is not every day that we have the privilege to share with these same young people who are perceived as objectionable, who have no recourse, and who, nonetheless, in 2000 contributed to the change of power in the government. And yet, they have since been disappointed, even disillusioned, by those they elected. A film that may be used to assess the 10 years of hip hop music in Senegal that has been very critical of the social, political and economic situation.
Doomireew, "sons of the country" is probably my favorite film because it is the story of our mentors, of those who gave us our personality, this same personality that allowed us to tell stories through films. Doomireew is the story of three men: One was called Abdoulaye Douta Seck, the other Ousmane Sembene and the third Aimé Cesaire. They lived the radiance of their passion, one on the stage, in front of the camera, the other, pen in hand, an eye behind the camera, and the latter by his intelligence, creativity and faith in his people. They experienced the glory of their hard work and though leaving the scene with faltering health, had enough years of life to see Africa, Africans and the world from every angle. How lucky! Their teachings were nestled in their work, their personalities—meticulous and intense, their splendid gestures, their genius, their distinction, the resoluteness in their choices and their conviction—never revoking their beliefs—and their eloquence, their sincerity.
Again immersing myself in unique places—probably the main motivation of all documentarists—to observe while at the same time being accepted by others. This is my constant quest. For the film All Roads Lead to Rufisque, I penetrate the world of Senegalese women prisoners. I make my way into the Rufisque prison—in these cramped, barely lit spaces, where I meet women from the countryside, abandoned by their families to live among themselves, struggling to adapt to the changes of modern life. In order to better understand the functioning of a social system, I investigate why these Senegalese women land in prison. The bars, rusty, chained grills, and the faces of young women, like characters in a novel. What could they have done to be here, all of these women? What were their crimes, their dramas, their heartrending experiences? A woman’s obedience to men and elders constitute the core principle of our education, even determining a woman’s fate. How are their crimes possible in a society based on the subjugation of women, irrespective of ethnic group? As early as female puberty, her laughter, her manner of walking and her innocence are captured, confined, shaped, and framed to be married. The education of a girl is so meticulous and rigorous in this micro-power called family, that I wondered how a Senegalese woman could transgress the law and end up in jail. Then suddenly I meet a very particular prisoner. A Lebanese woman with her older sister—imprisoned for 10 years. The eldest sister, an almost ordinary prisoner besides her milky skin, adapted herself to the environment to better pass away the time and survive, I suppose; while the other, very intriguing, constantly writes; nobody dares touch her belongings or come near her. It was through my encounter with the famous Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop that I was able to grasp the reality of women prisoners and to meet them. He taught philosophy at Rufisque for seven years and was the advisor to this intriguing young woman. Through their strolls and chats together we traversed the labyrinth of prison life. I mention her "because it will be a film bigger than me." I follow wherever she leads me; I will call her Marie Madeleine. She will make the connection between all the other main characters under the assumed names of: Khoudia, Awa, Aminta and Sira, all incarcerated respectively, for infanticide, illegal prostitution, drug trafficking, and assault and battery. Their stories are poignant, reflecting the uneasiness of those who fled their villages to live in the capital, torn between tradition and modernity. And this extraordinary encounter with this young woman is almost a miracle as we young Senegalese have attempted to unravel the mysteries of the Lebanese community that blends so well into our own and at the same time who, we know very well, despise us.
So, Rafet Car. Why a film on feminism in Africa?
How could one live in the Dakarois capital everyday without noticing at five o'clock in the morning the faces of its women, walking the streets, engulfed in all sorts of public transportation—public utility cars and sanitary trucks—these women who work hard to provide for their offspring, with loads on their head, baby on their back, while their own domestic and marital duties await their return home. And how could one ignore all the invasive tabloid headlines recounting rapes, kidnappings, sequestrations, violence done to girls, women, mothers? The humorous treatment of cartoonists on the condition of women is of bad taste or rather of a total ignorance of their real condition. How can I ignore the textbooks of my daughters where there are no female role models to which we may refer, and women holding only secondary roles, leaving the responses for the boys and men. So the question is, what is being done about this situation here in my country, Senegal, which is known to have ratified all the laws, all the conventions protecting human rights? What are the demands of these women? Who are the protesters? Where is the fight, if it exists? When probing into our women’s stories, I was not surprised at their lack of knowledge about their rights, due to illiteracy, fundamentalism, and tradition. And thus, inevitably feminism is still very much alive as the demands are even more vivid today despite the impression that laws have resolved many of the problems of Senegalese women and men. I, Fatou Kandé Senghor am a feminist. Admittedly, I am not part of any association, but I live it with each breath that I take, in my everyday existence. It has always been a part of me. Since very young I battled with my parents—to live and do interesting things, to study, to not be like the women in my house, but to take all that life could offer me.
I am familiar with the feminisms of the world. I have observed very well European feminists, American feminists, who have their own specificities. Often they have misunderstood us because our upbringing, our reactions are not quite in agreement with their beliefs and ideas, which proclaim: "neither whores nor doormats". But fortunately on the African continent where we have chosen to return, we can read in the actions of many of the prominent women of our society, our beliefs and values. This film is necessary to initiate a discussion in Senegal, an honest discussion about what feminism is among us, a feminism that has its detractors but also its issues within the movement.