The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.


My photo
Director/Directrice, Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma

29 May 2009

African Women and Film Spectatorship: An Early History | La spectatrice africaine et son regard sur le cinéma : une préhistoire

African Women and Film Spectatorship: An Early History by Beti Ellerson. Published 29 May 2009.

En français ci-dessous

In the 1967 text, “Le dit du cinéma africain” (The Tale of African Cinema), Amadou Hampâté Bâ recounts the extraordinary history of Mali’s early encounter with cinema revealing an equally fascinating story of an early instance of an African woman and cinematic spectatorship.

He recalls the first film screening held in his native village Bandiagara, Mali in 1908--he was eight years old. The village ulemas[1] met in order to prevent a film projection commanded by the local colonial governor. In their view the notion of a "film" as described by the governor, was a “satanic ghost ready to trick the true believer.” Kadidia Pâté, Amadou Hampâté Bâ's mother, though she did not attend the event, accepted the collective belief of the ulemas.

Though still under the 1908 interdiction of the marabouts[2] of Bandiagara, in 1934, to please her son she agreed to go to the cinema house. Her testimony is among the earliest reflections of an African woman regarding experiences of cinema. An astute cultural reader, Kadidia Pâté likens the movie screen, which mediates the projection of images to guide the viewer, to the divine messenger who intercedes between God and his believers. This is not to say that Kadidia Pâté views cinema as a divine intervention, but rather that at the time, in 1934 as an untrained spectator, she used a spiritual metaphor in her attempt to understand what she was experiencing, as she had been taught by the ulemas to condemn cinema, for its "satanic seduction."

Scholarship on early cinema and spectatorship highlights the near-universal reaction of film viewers in the first decades of the invention of cinema. Whether in westernized environments--rural and urban, or in non-western societies, studies focused on how the viewer experienced the spectacularity of this new technology. While western writers tend to categorize non-westerners as backwards or holding a specific “native” worldview vis-à-vis technology and modernity, Stephen Bottomore gives a more balanced view when analyzing the reception of non-western spectators of early cinema: “these awed reactions on first seeing films may partly be due to sheer unfamiliarity, as much as to traditional beliefs in spirits and the like and the same is probably true of the introduction of other new technologies and media.” Similarly, westerners untrained in the new technology of film were equally awe-struck as well as overwhelmed by certain moving images. The mythical response to the Frères Lumière’s L’arrivée d’un train en gare de Ciotat is a classic example. Bottomore’s analysis of these reactions underscores the similarities of viewers in general during their encounter with the unprecedented phenomenon of the moving image. On the other hand, Tom Gunning attempts to debunk the myth of the incredulous spectator by focusing on the evolution of visual technologies created for entertainment which have often had as their intent to trick the eye, to create illusion--and this notion may apply to most cultures. Thus, the cinema, wherever it was viewed for the first time, "was an encounter with modernity."

While Amadou Hampâté Bâ relates similar instances of awe and suspicion among the film viewers of Bandiagara at the 1908 film screening, his story provides a rare testimony by an African, especially about early cinema reception. Moreover, his story elaborates both the power relations between French colonials and Africans even at the level of spectatorship, and the negotiation of culture at the intersection of religion and technology.

The most extraordinary element of the story is the total transformation of Kadidia Paté, from a young woman in 1908, sharing the view of the village elders of the evil of cinema, to a mature woman in 1934, an independent thinker having critically engaged its possibilities. Following is an excerpt from “Le dit du cinéma africain"(The Tale of African Cinema) relating Kadidia Paté’s first cinematic experience as recounted by Amadou Hampâté Bâ:

I shall now come to my mother, Kadidia Pâté. She remained under the curse that was thrown in 1908 by the Ulemas of Bandiagara, on the machine that “spat shadows”.

In 1934, she came with me to Bamako where I was employed as the “native” secretary. I asked my mother to go to the cinema with me. Remaining under the influence of the interdiction of 1908 by the marabouts of Bandiagara, my mother shook her ears (a gesture of exorcization that one does with the hands to ward off the curse of the dreadful words that were heard) and says to me:

“Ah! When these diabolic shadows were silent, I refused to watch them, and now that they speak, you want me to see them! I will not go my son, no, I will not go.”

My wife, children and I conspired against my mother. We would not stop until we succeeded at least once to take her to the cinema. This would not be easy. My mother would not be taken in by our games or tricks.  But an unexpected occasion presented itself two years later.  My younger sister, Aminata, my mother’s favorite daughter, gave birth to a son. I told her about the good news. My mother was so happy that she said:

“Oh my son! My son you have brought me great happiness. Tell me what can I do to return the happiness.”

I took my mother by her word and said:

“Mother, what would make me really happy is if you would go to the cinema with me.”

My mother annoyed, frowned, revealing a quiet irritation. She finally regrouped and said to me, as if to get over this setback:

“Amadou, my son, a worthwhile person is as good as her word. If these words are broken, in other words, if they lose their value in the eyes of others, this person will lose her dignity and will become a good-for-nothing. You’ve got me, so to honor my word, I will go see you wretched “machine that spits images”, whenever you like.”

The most extraordinary characteristic that mother possessed, even more than her great beauty, was a remarkable intelligence, enhanced by a phenomenal memory.

My mother, my wife Baya Diallo and I, finally went to the cinema. My mother followed the film from start to finish. She showed no exterior reaction. She remained impenetrable; it was as if she had seen or heard nothing at all. I was very disappointed, for I had expected, if not some fuss, at least a muted scream from her. But nothing, absolutely nothing at all.

We returned home. My mother went to her room without having ruptured the silence. I was convinced that she had closed her eyes during the entire film in the same way that the distinguished residents of Bandiagara. And thus, she had honored her word by going with me to see the film, but not violating her conscience by refusing to gaze upon those sinful images.

As for me, my venture had failed, my mother had once again shown that she could not be easily taken in.

The next morning, before going to work, as usual, I went to say hello to my mother before leaving.

She gave me her blessings as she does every morning. But she said nothing about my “machine that spits images”; which confirmed what I had surmised: that she had seen nothing while at the cinema.

But after the prayer at sunset, I notice my mother’s favorite servant, Batoma Anta, carrying her prayer mat. She placed it next to mine; my mother came and sat down.

She said to me: “Do you have additional prayers to say at Icha (the last prayer of the day)?

I said: “Mother if you need me, to be at your disposition is the best prayer that I could ever make.”

Before I could say anything else, Mother said: I want you to talk to me about your “thingamajig” from yesterday evening.

I could not begin to say how glad I felt when I realized that my mother had purposely kept silent.

Mother said to me:

“Amadou, my son, yesterday evening I saw a wonderful machine. That man can make such a creation was not what gave me such a pleasant surprise. When someone accomplishes such a miracle, this does not surprise me at all; because for me, this remains in the realm of possibilities. Tierno Bokar, our master, has taught us that Allah has made of man his Representative on earth. This status was not given to man by God without entrusting in him a bit of divine power. For to achieve wonders is a result of God’s power. Therefore, it is not surprising that a being born of this bit of power—in this case, a human—accomplishes these wonders. Rather what would be surprising is if man did not create wonders. I admired this human creation of cinema, but I am not surprised.

I want to thank you for taking me to the cinema. I ask God’s forgiveness. Yesterday I had evidence that the worse error that someone can make on this earth is to condemn before seeing and knowing. I felt how wrong it is to refuse to see, if nothing but to educate oneself.

Tierno Bokar said: Wisdom desires to know all, which is preferable to knowing nothing.  One must know the lie in order to separate it from the truth. One must know the good in order to distinguish it from the bad.
In 1908, our well-intentioned holy men and esteemed notaries had declared that the “tiyatra” is a magical machine of diabolic invention. But for me rather, the cinema is a wonderful instructor, an eloquent master who amuses and instructs.  The film screening yesterday, diabolic or not, permitted me to find an irrefutable proof to bring into being within myself, something that I had only accepted by absolute confidence in Tiero Bokar who taught it. Up until now, I had no faith that was actually born from a conviction inside myself. Yesterday evening your cinema gave me the private confidence that I had needed spiritually to build my faith on firm ideas and not through passive conformity.

“Mother, what is this thing?” I asked.

After a long moment of silence, she said to me:

For a long time, our marabouts have had serious disagreements. They fiercely debate the question whether there must be a “mediator” between an individual and God.  This has brought about serious discussions and has triggered many quarrels. This has propagated disputes in the mosques, right into the homes of close-knit families. In certain regions, there have been bloody clashes.

Modern marabouts who have recently returned from the Orient support the view that people do not need someone else to interact and have contact with the divine or to speak to God. For these marabouts, each person may speak with God directly, without an intermediary.

On the contrary, the old turban-wearing men of the village who are from the old school, uphold the view that a person will always need a mediator between himself and God.

Tierno Bokar is situated between these two tendencies. He has taught that there are cases where we do need a mediator, a person who speaks to God in our behalf, but there are nonetheless cases where we may interact directly with God.

Yesterday, I had perhaps material proof of the possibility of these two cases about which Tierno Bokar has spoken: the direct contact and contact through an intermediary.

When we entered the cinema, before the film, you showed me a large white cloth on which a beam of light was be projected which would then become images that we could look at and recognize. You also showed a small house situated rather high above us. You told me that it was in this room that the machine that spat images was located.

In this little house, there are several openings through which light shines; ending on the large white cloth. As soon as the operator, whom we do not see, begins his work, some noise comes out of the little house. It passes over our head while we are thrust into a deep darkness—a metaphor of our ignorance of the unknown. The light came from the little house in measured portions, in thin lines, rather than all at once.

We were facing the large white cloth. It was only when looking at it that we could clearly see, make out and understand the images that unfolded in front of us.  We could see horses run, men walk, and villages emerge. We saw the thick vegetation in the rural area, the blooming countryside, the plane sharply fall away. All of this as if in a long dream, clear and precise, as if dreaming in a waking state.

After having watched the large white cloth for a long time, I wanted, in its absence, to make out with my eyes alone, the images which came from the little house. What happened to me? As soon as I turned directly towards the opening in the little house, the beam of light that came out blinded me.  Although the images were in the rays, my eyes were not strong enough to detect it. I closed my eyes in order to concentrate, but my ears continued to clearly make out the sound that accompanied the light.

I found myself in the follow situation: First, when I watch the big white cloth, I see the images and hear the sound. I benefit from both the image and sound. But, on the other hand, when I only use my eyes, I only hear the sound. I am not able to stand the powerful light, it blinds me. At the same time that there is some good in it, there are also disadvantages.

This deduction leads me to the conclusion that as long as the cloth is essential to clearly see the images and discern the origin of the sound, a mediator is needed between us and God to understand the divine message.

This is the end of my mother’s story. 

Excerpted from “Le dit du cinéma africain" (The Tale of African Cinema) by Amadou Hampâté Bâ (1900-1991). Introduction to "Films ethnographiques sur l'Afrique noire" (Ethnographic Films on Black Africa), UNESCO Catalogue, 1967 (Translated from the French by Beti Ellerson). READ ENGLISH TRANSLATION IN ITS ENTIRETY.

Original version in French 

[1] Muslim scholars trained in Islamic law
[2] African Muslim holy men
[3] Name of cinema in Mali, an altered version of the word theatre.

Relevant Links:

La spectatrice africaine et son regard sur le cinéma : une préhistoire

Dans son récit, « le dit du cinéma africain » l’inimitable griot-historien Amadou Hampaté Ba, relate l'extraordinaire expérience de sa mère Kadidia Paté et sa rencontre avec le cinéma pour la première fois. Ce rendez-vous fascinant et édifiant avec le cinéma nous fournit une introduction à une préhistoire en 1934, de la spectatrice africaine et son regard sur le cinéma.

J'en viens à ma mère, Kadidia Paté. Elle était restée sous l'influence de l'anathème jeté, en 1908, par les Ulémas de Bandiagara, sur la machine « cracheuse d'ombres ».

En 1934, elle vint me rejoindre à Bamako, où j'exerçais mes fonctions de commis expéditionnaire (secrétaire indigène). Je demandai à ma mère d'aller au cinéma avec moi. 

Restée sous l'empire de l'interdit de 1908, des marabouts de Bandiagara, ma mère secoua ses oreilles (geste d'exorcisation que l'on fait avec les mains pour conjurer le sort d'une mauvaise parole entendue) et me dit : 

« Ah ! quand ces ombres sataniques étaient muettes, j'ai refusé de les regarder, et maintenant qu'elles parlent, tu voudrais que je les voie ! Je n'irai pas, mon fils, non, je n'irai pas. » 

Mais une occasion imprévue se présenta deux ans après… 

Ma mère, ma femme Baya Diallo et moi-même, nous allâmes finalement au cinéma. 
Ma mère suivit la projection du début à la fin. Elle n'eut aucune réaction extérieure. Elle resta impassible, comme si elle n'avait rien vu ni entendu. 

Mais, après la prière de maghreb (« coucher du soleil »), Maman me dit : « Amadou, mon fils, hier soir j'ai vu cette machine merveilleuse. Que des hommes arrivent à une pareille réalisation, ce n'est pas cela qui cause ma surprise joyeuse. Qu'un homme accomplisse un miracle, cela ne me surprendrait nullement, car, pour moi, cela reste dans le domaine des choses possibles. Tierno Bokar, notre maître, nous a enseigné qu'Allah a fait de l'homme son Représentant sur la terre. 

» Ce prestige n'a pas été donné à l'homme par Dieu sans délégation d'une parcelle de la puissance divine. Or l'accomplissement des merveilles est un effet qui a sa cause en la puissance de Dieu. Il n'est donc pas étonnant qu'un être nanti d'une parcelle de cette puissance - en l'occurrence l'homme - accomplisse des merveilles. C'est plutôt le fait pour l'homme de ne rien réaliser de merveilleux qui devrait surprendre. 

 « J'ai admiré la réalisation du cinéma par des hommes, mais je n'en suis nullement surprise. » Je tiens à te remercier de m'avoir amenée au cinéma. Je demande pardon à Dieu. J'ai eu hier la preuve que la plus grosse erreur qu'un homme puisse commettre sur cette terre, c'est de condamner avant de voir et de connaître. J'ai senti combien il est mauvais de refuser de voir, ne serait-ce que pour s'informer. Tierno Bokar a dit : "La sagesse commande de connaître tout, car cela est préférable à tout ignorer. Il faut connaître le mensonge pour le séparer de la vérité. Il faut connaître le bien pour le distinguer du mal." 

«  En 1908, nos bons théologiens et vénérables docteurs de la loi avaient décrété que le "tiyatra"1 est une machine magique d'invention diabolique. Eh bien, pour moi, le cinéma est plutôt un instructeur merveilleux, un maître éloquent qui amuse et instruit. » La projection d'hier, diable ou pas diable, m'a permis de trouver une preuve irréfutable pour fonder en moi une chose que je n'avais acceptée que par pure confiance en Tierno Bokar qui l'a enseignée. Je n'avais, jusqu'ici, aucune certitude née d'une conviction intérieure. » Ton cinéma m'a donné hier soir la conviction intime dont j'avais spirituellement besoin pour fonder ma foi sur une donnée sûre, et non pas sur un docile acquiescement 

— Maman, quelle est cette chose ? » demandai-je. 

Après un moment de silence, elle me dit : « Depuis un certain temps, nos marabouts sont à couteau tiré. Ils discutent âprement de la question de savoir si un "intermédiaire" est ou non nécessaire entre un individu et Dieu. » Cela a fait dire beaucoup de paroles graves et déclenché beaucoup de querelles. Cela a semé la dispute dans les mosquées et jusque dans les familles auparavant les plus unies. Dans certaines régions même, il y a eu des échaufiburées sanglantes. » Des marabouts modernes, récemment revenus de l'Orient, soutiennent que l'homme n'a nullement besoin de quelqu'un d'autre pour ses relations et contacts avec les choses divines, pour ne pas dire avec Dieu lui-même. Pour ces marabouts, chacun peut s'adresser directement à Dieu, sans intermédiaire. » Les vieux turbans de la vieille école soutiennent, au contraire, que l'homme aura toujours nécessairement besoin d'un intermédiaire entre lui et Dieu. » Tierno Bokar se situe au milieu des deux tendances. Il a enseigné qu'il y a des cas où nous avons nécessairement besoin d'un intermédiaire, d'un intercesseur entre Dieu et nous, et qu'il y a néanmoins des cas où nous pouvons nous passer de tout autre que nous-même pour communiquer avec Dieu. » Hier, j'ai eu paraboliquement la preuve matérielle de la possibilité des deux cas dont nous a parlé Tierno Bokar : la relation directe et la relation par intermédiaire. » 

Lorsque nous sommes entrés au cinéma, avant la projection, tu m'as montré une grande toile blanche sur laquelle devaient venir se projeter des faisceaux de lumière qui deviendraient des images que nous pourrions alors regarder et distinguer. Tu m'as également montré une maisonnette située assez haut par rapport à nous. Tu m'as dit que c'était dans cette petite pièce qu'était installée la machine qui crache les images. » Cette maisonnette est percée de quelques ouvertures par lesquelles jaillissent des jets de lumière qui s'arrêtent sur le grand pagne blanc. » Dès que l'opérateur que nous ne voyions pas commença son travail, des rayons lumineux accompagnés de quelque bruit s'échappèrent de la maisonnette. Ils passaient par-dessus notre tête, alors que nous étions plongés dans l'obscurité profonde, allégorie de notre ignorance. La lumière sortait de la maisonnette, non pas dans sa totalité, mais par minces filets, c'est-à-dire par portions mesurées. » Nous faisions face au grand pagne blanc. C'est seulement en le regardant que nous pouvions nettement voir, distinguer et comprendre les images qui se déroulaient. On pouvait voir des chevaux courir, des hommes marcher, des villages se profiler. On voyait la brousse épaisse, la campagne fleurie, la plaine qui dévale. Tout cela comme dans un long rêve, clair et précis, un rêve fait en état de veille. » Après avoir longtemps contemplé le grand pagne, je voulus, sans lui, percevoir directement et rien que par mes yeux les images qui, sûrement, sortaient de la maisonnette. Alors, que m'arriva-t-il ? Dès que je me tournai directement vers les ouvertures de la maisonnette, les faisceaux lumineux qui s'en échappaient m'aveuglèrent. Bien que les images fussent virtuellement dans les rayons, mes yeux n'étaient pas assez puissants et efficaces pour les y déceler. Je fermai alors les yeux, comme pour me concentrer intérieurement ; mes oreilles continuaient à percevoir nettement les sons qui accompagnaient les jets lumineux. 

» Je me suis trouvée dans la situation suivante : » Primo, quand je me sers du grand pagne blanc, je vois les images et j'entends les sons. J'ai un double bénéfice. » Mais, secundo, quand je me sers directement de mes yeux, je n'entends que des sons ; je supporte mal la lumière, elle m'aveugle. D'où à la fois un bénéfice et un inconvénient. » Cette conjoncture m'amène à conclure qu'autant le grand pagne est indispensable pour la vision nette des images et le discernement de l'origine des sons, autant un intermédiaire est nécessaire entre nous et Dieu, pour comprendre le message divin. » 

Ici finit la narration de ma mère. 

1. Nom du cinéma en langue indigène du Mali (corruption du mot « théâtre »).

« Le dit du cinéma africain » par Son Excellence Amadou Hampaté Ba (premier catalogue sélectif international de films ethnographiques su l’Afrique noire, publié en 1967 par l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’éducation, la science et la culture). À lire dans son intégralité.

22 May 2009

African Women at the Cannes Film Festival

African Women at the
Cannes Film Festival
updated May 2019

As the excitement around the Cannes Film Festival reaches its peak, what a great occasion to highlight the history of African women in cinema at the festival. In his report on the African presence at Cannes, French critic Michel Amarger notes the visibility of Africa at the very first Cannes Festival in 1946 with representation from Egypt, for the film Daria by Mohamed Karim. Following African independences in the 1960s an African cinema by Africans emerged--reflected at Cannes with a spurt of films during that decade, including: Lamb (Senegalese Wrestling--National Sport of Senegal) by Paulin Viera of Senegal in the Official Selection in 1964. In 1966, also from Senegal, La Noire de…by Ousmane Sembene was selected in the Semaine de la Critique /International Critics’ Week, a parallel section of the Festival created in 1962: “Historically, International Critics’ Week is the first “parallel” section of the Cannes Film Festival. It has steadfastly remained true to its tradition of discovering new talents. Critics’ Week was conceived by the French Union of Film Critics…to showcase first and second feature films by directors from all over the world.” In 1969, also in La Semaine de la Critique were Cabascabo by Oumarou Ganda of Niger and La Voie by Algerian Mohamed Slim Ryad.

Women followed in the 1970s with the selection of Monangambee in 1971 by Sarah Maldoror for the country Angola in the Quinzaine de Realisateur/Directors’ Fortnight. This parallel section created in 1968, “is distinguished by the independent judgment displayed in the choice of films, the “cinéphile” standards and the accessibility to non-professional audiences at the festival. In fact, the Directors’ Fortnight is the non-competitive program at Cannes that is open to the general public.” In 1976, the film Peasant Letter by Senegalese Safi Faye, was screened; and in 1979, her film Fad’jal was selected in A Certain Regard, a part of the Official Selection introduced in 1978. At the 40th Cannes Film Festival in 1987, the “Panorama du Cinéma Sud-Africain Independant” was a first-time programming of South African independent films, featuring anti-apartheid themes by progressive South Africans. Films by women included in this category were: Last Supper at Hortsley Street by Lindy Wilson and Re tla bona, (We will see) and Sharpevelle Spirit by Elaine Proctor.

Fast forward to 1994, Les Silences du palais by Moufida Tlatli of Tunisia is selected in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. In 1996, Senegalese Safi Faye returns on the Croisette with Mossane in Un Certain Regard, while British filmmaker Ingrid Sinclair, who also has Zimbabwean citizenship, presents Flame in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. The first decade of the 2000s continues to show an African women’s presence at Cannes. In 2002 Rachida by Algerian Yamina Bachir-Chouikh is selected in Un Certain Regard. In 2005, the film Sisters in Law, co-directed by British filmmaker Kim Longinotto and Cameroonian Florence Ayisi, wins the Prix Art & Essai (CICAE) in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. Also in 2005, Rahmatou Keïta of Niger presents her film Al’leessi…an African Actress, selected in the Cannes Classics. A sidebar of the festival, the Cannes Classics “celebrates the heritage of film, aiming to highlight works of the past, presented with brand new or restored prints.” The selection of Al’leesi is appropriate as it highlights the legacy of early filmmaking in Niger, which had been all but forgotten.

At the 61st Cannes Film Festival in 2008, Comorian Hachimiya Ahamada presents La résidence Ylang Ylang in La Semaine de la Critique. Djamila Sahraoui was also present, invited by ACID (Association du Cinema Independant pour sa Diffusion) to present her film, Barakat. ACID "presents nine films at Cannes during the festival. Most of them do not have a distributor. The aim is to give visibility and public release to new talent.” Also during the festival, the Pavillon Les Cinémas du Sud/Cinemas of the South (renamed Cinemas du Monde/Cinemas of the World) gave homage to women in cinema of the South. Les Cinemas du Monde, “welcome[s] all filmmakers, from wherever they may come, and all films, without frontiers, and to give them recognition and support.” As well as providing a space to screen their films, two roundtables were organized to discuss relevant issues. The first roundtable highlighted the cinematic journey of three "emblematic" women: Moufida Tlatli of Tunisia, Ingrid Sinclair of Zimbabwe and Nadine Labaki of Lebanon. The second roundtable brought together filmmakers, producers and actresses from Africa, Brazil, Iran and Iraq to discuss the theme: “Cinema and engagement: a feminist, artistic and/or political engagement?" The invited participants included:

Rakhsan Bani Etemad - filmmaker (Iran), Tan Chui Mui - filmmaker (Malaysia), Fatoumata Coulibaly - actress (Mali), Angèle Diabang Brener - filmmaker (Senegal), Fatoumata Diawara - actress (Mali)
Mati Diop - filmmaker (Senegal), Taghreed Elsanhouri - filmmaker (Sudan), Dyana Gaye - filmmaker (Senegal), Marianne Khoury - producer (Egypt), Nadine Labaki - filmmaker (Lebanon), Osvalde Lewat - filmmaker (Cameroon), Angie Mills - producer (South Africa), Teona S. Mitevska - filmmaker (Macedonia)
Lucia Murat - filmmaker (Brazil), Awatif Na'eem - actress (Iraq), Joséphine Ndagnou - filmmaker (Cameroon), Bridget Pickering - producer (Namibia), Hend Sabry - actress (Tunisia), Naky Sy Savané - actress (Côte d'Ivoire), Ingrid Sinclair - filmmaker (Zimbabwe), Rahel Tewelde - filmmaker (Erythrea)
Moufida Tlatli - filmmaker (Tunisia), Ishtar Yasin - filmmaker (Costa Rica)

At the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in 2009, three women from Africa are invited at the Pavillon des Cinemas du Monde: Tunisian Nadia el Fani, Marie Ka of Senegal and Algerian Djamila Sahraoui—to discuss their films. Nadia el Fani is invited to present Ouled Lenine at the Marché du Film; Didi and Gigi by Marie Ka is showing in the Short Films Corner; and Djamila Sahraoui discusses Ouardia Once Had Sons, a project under development.

As part of the Cannes Classics 2011, Sugar Cane Alley (1983) is screened as a special tribute to Martinican filmmaker Euzhan Palcy. In addition, Chika Anadu from Nigeria is among the twelve young directors selected to participate in this year's Festival Residency. She attended the 21st session from October 2010 to February 2011.

In 2014, several films by women are included in the Short Film Corner: Gabonese Samantha Biffot's 9-minute fantasy drama Return to the Source, Jìn'naariyâ ! by Rahmatou Keïta of Niger and Peau de Colle by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hénia, whose film is supported by the Fonds Francophone. The filmmaker is also in the prestigious ACID selection, with her first feature film Le Challat de Tunis, which also benefits from the support of the Francophone funding. In addition, four women are among the 5 young Ethiopian filmmakers selected to attend Cannes : Adanech Admasu, Hiwot Admasu, Hermon Hailay, Yamrot Nigussie. “From Addis To Cannes” filmmakers were chosen from a significant group of applicants from Ethiopia’s promising film community through a targeted search focusing on emerging and mid-career filmmakers looking to further their careers and create international partnerships. Slso, Senegalese Angèle Diabang is attendance at the Fabrique des cinémas du monde with her film project "So long a letter".

In 2015, Malian singer and musician Rokia Traoré joins co-presidents Joel and Ethan Coen on the 68th Cannes festival jury, along with the other members Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, French actress Sophie Marceau, American-British actress Sienna Miller, Spanish actress Rossy de Palma and Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.

In 2016 Houda Benyamina’s directorial debut is awarded the Caméra d'Or, an award of the Cannes Film Festival for the best first feature film presented in one of the event’s selections. Also in 2016, Tapiwa Chipfupa  of Zimbabwe and Angolan Pocas Pascoal are in attendance as part of La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde.  Tapiwa Chipfupa presented her film project “The Other Half of the African Sky”, while Pocas Pascoal discussed her film project “Girlie”, (2nd feature film). La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde, a professional programme helping talented young directors from emerging countries increase their international exposure. Each year this programme, developed by the Institut français, in partnership with France Médias Monde – RFI, France 24, Monte Carlo Doualiya- with the support of The International Organization of La Francophonie, invites ten directors working on their first or second feature films to attend the Festival de Cannes along with their producers.

In 2017, Tunisian Kaouther Ben Hania's Beauty and the Dogs is selected in Un Certain Regard as well as Zambian Rungano Nyoni with I am not a Witch which she developed at the Cinéfondation du Festival de Cannes in 2013. Moreover, South African Twiggy Matiwana's The Bicycle Man is included in the Festival Corner.

In 2018, Rafiki by Wanuri Kahiu and Sofia by Franco-Moroccan Meryem Benm'Barek are part of the Official selection of Un certain regard. In addition, Safi Faye's Fad,Jal returns to Cannes, restored by the CNC, presented at Cannes Classics.

Report by Beti Ellerson

Articles about African women at Cannes on the African Women in Cinema blog:

Cannes 2019: Mati Diop receives/reçoit le Grand Prix

Cannes 2019: Maïmouna N'Diaye, member of the jury | membre du jury: interview/entretien by/par Falila Gbadamassi (AfriqueFrance Télévisions)

Mati Diop: "It was very important for me to dedicate a film to this ghost generation" | "C'était très important pour moi de dédier un film à cette génération fantôme". Interview/Entretien by/par Falila Gbadamassi (Africine, Cannes 2019)

"Papicha: Mounia Meddour in resistance mode" | "Papicha : Mounia Meddour en mode résistance" analysis/analyse by/par Falila Gbadamassi (Africine)

Djia Mambu, journalist and film critic | journaliste et critique de cinéma (Cannes 2019)

Cannes 2019: Maryam Touzani's "Adam" (Morocco)

Mati Diop’s "Atlantique" – In the foam of the "Atlantic” | Dans l'écume de l' "Atlantique" analysis/analyse by/par Falila Gbadamassi (Africine)

Mati Diop : Atlantique (Cannes 2019)

Cannes 2019 : African Women at Cannes | La présence africaine au féminin

Safi Faye : “Fad,jal” (Cannes Classics 2018)

Sofia by/de Meryem Benm'Barek : Cannes 2018 - Un Certain Regard (Morocco)

Rafiki by/de Wanuri Kahiu : Cannes 2018 - Un Certain Regard (Kenya)

African Women | Les femmes africaines au Festival de Cannes 2017

Cannes 2016: Houda Benyamina - "Divines", la Caméra d'or

Cannes 2016 - Short Film Corner - Ama Anie Noïa Kouadio : C’est pas mon papy, c’est mon papa! | That’s not my grandpa, that’s my dad

Tapiwa Chipfupa (Zimbabwe) : La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde (Festival de Cannes) 2016

Pocas Pascoal (Angola) : La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde (Festival de Cannes) 2016

Rokia Traoré: jury member of the 68th Cannes festival | membre du jury du 68ème festival de Cannes

Cannes 2015 : Rokia Traore, la voix africaine du jury | the African voix of the jury

Directors Kaouther Ben Hania and Samantha Biffot selected at Cannes | Les réalisatrices Kaouther Ben Hania et Samantha Biffot sélectionnées à Cannes

Four women among the 5 young Ethiopian filmmakers selected to attend Cannes Film Festival | Quatre femmes font partie des 5 jeunes cinéastes Ethiopiens selectionnés pour assister au Festival de Cannes - "Addis to Cannes Workshop"

Rahmatou Keïta : Jìn'naariyâ ! – Cannes – Short Film Corner

Dyana Gaye: The Cinéfondation Atelier, Cannes 2012

Angèle Diabang: Une si longue lettre | So long a letter – Cannes - Fabrique des cinémas du monde – Projets | Projects

A Glance at Cannes: The Festival Residency

A Glance at Cannes: Cinema and Diversity

A Glance at Cannes: Short Film Corner

A Glance At Cannes: A Tribute to Euzhan Palcy

A Glance at Cannes: Cinémas du Monde Pavillon/Cinemas of the World Pavilion - Egyptian Ayten Amin

Showcasing Marie Ka at Cannes 2009

15 May 2009

African Women in Cinema Take the Torch

The first generation of African cinema has passed the torch to a second and third generation of filmmakers. A cinema born in the 1950s and 60s, known for its postcolonial themes, directly confronted the oppressive nature and contradictions of colonialism. 

Among this second and third generation are women who have drawn important lessons from their elders.

Some of these women take the torch from their mothers, fathers and uncles, others have relit or are keeping the torch burning to shine light on the accomplishments of those who have come before them.

Anne-Laure Folly Reimann of Togo pays homage to the life and works of the matriarch of African cinema, Sarah Maldoror. Guadeloupian of African descent, she has had a long presence in filmmaking in Africa. Having studied cinema in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, after a short stay in Morocco in 1963, she went to Algeria to work as Gillo Pontecorvo’s assistant for the production of the classic film, The Battle of Algiers. Her debut film Monangambee, was selected at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival under the Quinzaine des réalisateurs/Directors' Fortnight representing Angola. In 1972 she made Sambizanga, considered her masterpiece; a film about a woman's experience during the Angolan liberation struggle. In her documentary, Sarah Maldoror ou la nostalgie de l'utopie, Folly Reimann pays tribute to Maldoror, having followed the path that she forged. Some twenty-five years after the release of the film Sambizanga, she too highlights women's experiences of war in Angola, in the film Les Oubliées (1996).

Gyasiwa Ansah of Ghana follows in the footsteps of her father, veteran filmmaker Kwaw Ansah. She grew up in cinema often present on her father's film shoots. As she grew older she began to take on duties on the set and finally decided to go to film school. She continues to work with her father at his television production company, TV Africa.

French-Congolese Claude Haffner, takes the torch from her late father, Pierre Haffner, an important French voice in African cinema criticism. Her 2001 DEA (Master's) thesis, Le documentaire africain, un remède éventuel aux maux dont souffre le cinéma africain? loosely translates as "The African Documentary as Possible Remedy to the Ills of African Cinema." In addition, she has taken on the role of filmmaker. Her documentary, D'une fleur double et de quatre mille d'autres (2005), a tribute to her father, is situated at the intersection of her double passion--criticism and filmmaking--focusing on many of the issues that he confronted in his work on African cinema. Her autobiographical documentary, Footprints of my Other 2012), is about her place “in between”, Africa and Europe, as she searches for her Congolese roots.

Rahmatou Keïta of Niger rekindles the flame of a once fledgling film industry. The vibrant works of the prolific filmmakers of Niger beginning in the mid-1960s are a mere footnote in African cinema history. Weaving the story of pioneer actress Zalika Souley, Keïta relates a parallel story, the history of the early cinema of Niger. Her purpose for making the film Al’leessi...An African Actress (2004), was to celebrate the elders of Niger cinema and elevate them to their rightful place as cinematic pioneers.

Mati Diop, born within an artistic milieu--her mother is a photographer, her father is musician Wasis Diop, and her late uncle, Djibril Diop Mambety (1945-1998), a giant of African Cinema--works quite naturally within the domain of sound and image. Her evolution into cinema was a result of her interest in the image rather than a direct influence of her uncle, Djibril; though she gradually understood that his legacy is an important force in her work. Her film 1000 Soleils/1000 Suns (one may recall La petite vendeuse de Soleil/The Little Girl who Sold the Sun, Mambety's last film released posthumously in 1999), is dedicated to him--tracing the incredible journey of the cult film, Touki Bouki, his masterpiece. The film made in 1973, nine years before Mati's birth, is a means to better understand her uncle. In her view, the film is fundamentally about him, in a very profound way. When making her first film Last Night, she was not yet aware of the cinematic inheritance of Djibril. She has recently embraced this bond which has increasingly imposed itself as she has become more confident in her work. But for Mati this inheritance only becomes important when she has her own work to show for it.
Ghanaian filmmaker Anita Afonu, passionate about the preservation of Ghana's cinematic history, meticulously researched the evolution of Ghanaian cinema, documenting it in the film Perished Diamonds.

Sara Gubara journeyed into cinema through her father’s footsteps and as a team they directed more than 40 films. The pioneer of Sudanese cinema, Gadalla Gubara created his own company, Gad Studios, after managing the mobile cinema of the Sudanese Ministry of Information. Through his indefatigable efforts, single handedly he forged a Sudanese cinema infrastructure, producing some 300 documentaries. However, in 1998, Gadalla’s sudden blindness thrust Sara into the forefront. At her father’s side, she became his eyes: “On the film, I work as his eyes. Sometimes we argue about some things but still, we cooperate well together.”

Malika Franklin co-directed and co-edited Woman to Woman (2013) with her mother, Véronique N. Doumbé.

Thus, accepting the torch passed on from the generation before, means that one must assume the task of continuing the work forged by the elders.

Updated 17 December 2013:

Related links:

Claude Haffner biography (In French only):

D'une fleur double et de quatre mille d'autres by Claude Haffner (In French only)

Mati Diop interview (In French only)

08 May 2009

Research Sources on African Women in Cinema (2009)

The Internet is an increasingly useful information-sharing mechanism for research on African women in cinema. This is true for African women who want to disseminate information and do relevant research but also for people who are interested in learning more about African women in cinema. Of course, the Internet-based Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema, from which this Blog derives, is a comprehensive site with extensive information on the topic. At a glance, below, are several other sources that are equally available on the Internet:

Notably, Africultures, a French-based website which provides a plethora of articles, biographies, film synopsis and analyses. While most of the sources are in French, there are some articles in English. For those who can read French as well, both language sources are listed.

The Internet is rich in sources of research on African women in cinema from scholars around the world, a selection below:

Sheila Petty. “Images of Women and Oppression in ‘Francophone’ West African Film.” Canadian Journal of Communication, vol. 14, no. 3, 1989.

Françoise Pfaff. " Three Faces of Africa: Women in Xala." Jump Cut, July 1982, pp. 27-31.

Scholarly works from university theses include Zimbabwean Chido Matewa’s 2002, PhD dissertation from University of Manchester entitled, “Case Study of Africa Women Filmmakers Trust in Media and the Empowerment of Communities for Social Change” and Kenyan Wanjiku Beatrice Mukora’s 1999 Master’s thesis entitled “Disrupting Binary Divisions: Representation of Identity in Saikati and Battle of the Sacred Tree” from McGill University in Montreal.

Michael Dembrow, former English professor at Portland Community College was also a member of the committee of the Annual Cascade Festival of African Films, located in Portland, Oregon, and wrote the film notes. Among this very useful resource were films notes for works by and about African women--that have been showcased in the Festival, below is a selection.
  • Kare Kare Zvako by Tsitsi Dangarembga
  • Karmen Gei by Joseph Gaï Ramaka
  • Everyone’s Child by Tsitsi Dangarembga
  • Faraw! by Abdoulaye Ascofaré
  • Madame Brouette by Moussa Sene Absa
  • Moolaade by Ousmane Sembene
  • Nha Fala by Flora Gomes
  • Sisters of the Screen by Beti Ellerson
  • Taafa Fanga by Adama Drabo
  • Tableau Ferraille by Moussa Sene Absa

Ecrans d’Afrique/African Screen was the first pan-African revue of its kind dedicated to cinema, television and audiovisual producers in Africa. Created by FEPACI, the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers, it was in existence from 1991 to 1998. Women were visible both on the covers and in the pages of the revue. Following are citations of and links to articles, profiles and tidbits highlighting African women in all areas of cinema: filmmakers, editors, actors, producers, make-up artists, and other positions.


01 May 2009

African Women in Cinema on the Internet

African Women in Cinema on the Internet
Published 01 May 2009

Rather than retire this post, I would like to keep it as as an example of the fast pace and ever-changing world of the Internet. Several of the websites have changed or are no longer active, in addition to the many broken links, hence the choice of not updating the inactive sources, but keeping the listing to note what was available at that time.

On the other hand, I will direct you to an article I wrote on the phenomenon of the digital turn. See link that follows:

African Women of the Screen at the Digital Turn | Écrans d’Afrique au féminin au tournant numérique by/de Beti Ellerson 

The Internet has become a useful tool for African women in cinema to showcase their biographies and work. Moreover, media streaming, videosharing sites such as Youtube and Vimeo, and other video hosting service websites such as Dailymotion, provide a useful means to screen entire films, trailers and excerpts. 
Websites of African women in cinema:

Dami Akinnusi (Nigeria). Filmmaker based in the United Kingdom.
Mahen Bonetti (Sierra Leone). Founder and Executive Director of the New York African Film Festival.
Isabelle Boni-Claverie (Cote d'Ivoire). Filmmaker and writer.
Assia Djebar (Algeria). Writer and filmmaker, is known most famously for her literary works. She is the first woman of Africa, the Magreb, and Arab writer to become one of the "immortels" of l’Académie Française.
Cheryl Dunye (Liberia). Lives and works in the United States and is identified as an African-American lesbian filmmaker.
Nadia El Fani. French-born of Tunisian descent, lives and works in Paris.
Aminatta Forna. United Kingdom of Sierra Leonean origin is a writer and television journalist.
Lucy Gebre-Egziabher. Born in Egypt and raised in Ethiopia, a filmmaker based in the Washington DC area.
Izza Génini (Morocco). Pioneer filmmaker of the documentary.
Fatou Kandé-Senghor (Senegal). founded the Waru Studio as a dialogue for filmmakers of her generation to explore new technologies as an alternative to the dying film industry and as a voice for Africa. She lives and works in Dakar.
Rahmatou Keita (Niger) Produces her films under Sonrhay Empire Productions, also the name of her website.
Salem Mekuria (Ethiopia). Filmmaker, artist and professor based in the United States.
Soraya Mire (Somalia) Activist, writer, director, and producer based in the United States.
Fanta Nacro (Burkina Faso). Cineaste engagée.
Naky Sy Savane (Cote d’Ivoire) Actor and founder of Afriki Djigui Theatre, an association whose objective is to promote African theatre, cinema art and literature.
Hanny Tchelley-Etibou (Cote d'Ivoire). Actor and founder of (FICA) International Festival of Short Films in Abidjan.
Felicité Wouassi (Cameroon). French-based actor.
Women of the Sun. Based in South Africa, the organization has as its objective, to advance the interest of African women in film and television.

Following are links to select films by or about African women:

Al’leessi...An African Actress (2004) by Rahmatou Keita (Niger).
Anna, l'enchantée - Anna from Benin (2001). Monique Mbeka Phoba (Democratic Republic of Congo) 
Angano, Angano (1989) by Marie Clémence (Madagascar/France) et César Paes.
Apostle Kasali (1990) by Amaka Audrey Igwe (Nigeria).
A Way of Life (2004) by Amma Asante UK-based from Ghana (2004) - Trailer.
Bleach My Skin White (2000) by Dami Akinnusi (Nigeria). (See film gallery).
From a Whisper (2008) by Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya).
Izza Genini (Morocco) - Trailer of films by Izza Genini on her website, Marocorama.
Fatou Kané-Senghor (Senegal) – Excerpts of films by Fatou Kané-Senghor on her website, Warustudio.
The Koran and the Kalashnikov (2000) by Jihan El-Tahri (France/ Egypt).
La Nuit de la verité – The Night of Truth (2004). Fanta Nacro (Burkina Faso). Interview with Fanta Nacro about the film. 
Le Génie d'Abou (1997) by Isabelle Boni-Claverie (Cote d’Ivoire).
Les Enfants du Blanc (2000). Sarah Bouyain (France-Burkina Faso). 
Salem Mekuria (Ethiopia). Excerpts of films by Salem Mekuria on her website,
Mere-bi (2008). Annette Mbaye d’Erneville. Documentary film about veteran journalist, film organizer and communication specialist. She is also a pioneer feminist having founded the Maison de la Femme Henriette Bathily (The Women’s House) on Goree Island. The film is in Wolof and French with French subtitles. The film Mere-bi is by her son, filmmaker Ousmane William Mbaye.
Pour la nuit (2004) by Isabelle Boni-Claverie (Cote d’Ivoire).
Sorcière, la vie (2004) by Monique Mbeka Phoba (Democratic Republic of Congo).