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.


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21 June 2009

The Evolution of Senegalese Women in Cinema, Visual Media and Screen Culture

Updated on March 2019. Report by Beti Ellerson, published 21 June 2009.

Senegal’s illustrious list of Africans in cinema offers a background to a discussion about the rich history of Senegalese women in cinema. To highlight a few on this impressive list: Ousmane Sembene (1923-2007), the father of African cinema, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (1925-1987), the father of African film history and criticism, Djibril Diop Mambety (1945-1998), avant-garde filmmaker, Annette Mbaye d’Erneville, veteran journalist, communications specialist, critic and writer, Safi Faye, pioneer filmmaker and anthropologist, and Thérèse Mbissine Diop, pioneer actress and tapestry-maker, among the many others. Also on the list of the cultural producers of Senegal is acclaimed writer, Mariama Bâ (1929-1981), best known for her masterpiece Une si longue lettre (So Long a Letter). These brilliant pioneers have all been nurtured in a country whose first president was also an artist. Poet-president Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001), host of the First World Festival of Black Arts in 1966, made his own tribute to African women in the classic poem, Femme noire (Black Woman).

Annette Mbaye d’Erneville, the matriarch of Senegalese media culture, carries with aplomb the name that her son, Ousmane William Mbaye attributes to her in Mere-bi, a documentary that he made about her life. The “Mother of All”, born in 1926, studied in Paris in the late 1940s becoming the first Senegalese to earn a degree in journalism. Staunch feminist, fiercely proud of her culture, she is closely associated with the Maison de la Femme Henriette Bathily (The Women’s House) created in 1994 and located on Gorée Island, Senegal. Having initiated RECIDAK, Rencontres cinématographiques de Dakar, an annual film festival in 1990, she was the director for many years. The 1996 edition of RECIDAK paid homage to African women under the name, Femmes et Cinema (Women and Cinema). Her present preoccupation is the regular publication of the film journal Ciné Culture Afrique. Reflecting on the role of women as cultural producers, she declares: "It is simply a matter of giving voice to women, witnesses of their epoch, who, while expressing themselves, and, through their own lives, reflect a specific image of Africa."(1)

Initiated into the world of international culture as an official guide during the First World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar in 1966, filmmaking pioneer Safi Faye connected with people and places that led her onto her career path. She also became aware of the importance of the preservation of African history and culture, a theme that was omnipresent at the festival and became a leitmotif in her work. She describes that event as an expression of national energy and recalls her desire to meet the intellectuals and researchers who had gathered there.(2) Her encounter with French ethnologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch (1917-2004) at the festival was important, since it allowed her to travel to France a year later as an actor in his 1968 film Petit à Petit (Little by Little). She began studying ethnology and then filmmaking in the early 1970s in Paris, thus launching her dual career as anthropologist and filmmaker. (3) She has this to say about her debut into filmmaking: “I did not come to the cinema by chance. I studied ethnology at the Sorbonne. We were able to have cinematography equipment once a week, and to learn how to used it. I realized that in order to be more efficient I should go to film school…I learned like everyone else--I was the only African woman--how to handle a camera and I became familiar with how to use the cinematography equipment. At the end of the first year, I dared to make a little film [La Passante]…That is how I came to learn filmmaking, it was very easy during those years. I made the film in 1972. Right away, everybody began to talk; "there is an African woman who is making films. It was easy for everybody to know about me because I was the first to appear on the scene.”

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Safi Faye was the lone woman filmmaker in Senegal. New faces were visible in the 1990s with the emergence of Khady Sylla, Adrienne Diop, Rokhaya Diop, Mariam Kane Selly, Fatou Kandé Senghor, Aissatou Laba Touré; all producing documentaries about aspects of Senegalese life and culture. Safi Faye’s strikingly beautiful Mossane is among the works produced during this dynamic and energetic decade.

The first and second decades of the second millennium prove to be equally prolific for Senegalese women in cinema. Amina N’Diaye Leclerc made her debut in 2000 with the documentary (directed with Éric Cloué), Valdiodio N'Diaye et l'indépendance du Sénégal focusing on her father during a particularly intense period of Senegalese history. Ndéye Thiam-Daquo’s first film is part of the series Vie de Femmes produced by Ivoirian Hanny Tchelley. It is a portrait of Nicole Claire Ndoko, the president of the Federation of African Lawyers and the first Cameroonian woman with a doctorate in law. In 2003, Katy Lena N’Diaye directs her camera at women muralists of Burkina Faso in Traces, Empreintes de femmes (Traces, Impressions of Women). Amy Collé Diop explores the troubled state of Senegalese cinema in her debut film Silence…on ne tourne plus! (2004). Actor Maïmouna Gueye, went behind the camera to direct the documentary, Des Larmes aux souvenirs (2004), a film about the rape of a young boy by an adult man, and how the boy’s family struggles for justice. Employing the epistolary form, Sokhna Amar’s first film, Pourquoi? also focuses on rape. A young woman receives a letter from her best friend telling her about the rape that she endured ten years before. Angèle Diabang's short documentary, Mon beau sourire (My Beautiful Smile, 2005) recalls the feature film Kodou (1975) by her compatriot Ababacar Samb Makharam (1934-1987) some thirty years before. Both highlight the painful practice of lip tattooing. Like Maïmouna Gueye, Senegalese-Malian Aïssa Maïga, a popular actor on French and African screens, ventured into filmmaking with her short fiction drama, Il faut quitter Bamako (2008). French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop, though based in Paris, has a strong need to return to her African roots; thus, 1000 Soleils (1000 Suns, 2008), a film about her famous uncle, the late Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety.

African filmmakers are often described as cinematic griots, transforming the oral tradition of the African griot into visual storytelling. Angèle Diabang blurs the boundaries of the two in Yandé Codou, the Griotte of Senghor (2008), recounting the life of this mythical figure, “the only one who could interrupt Leopold Sedar Senghor’s speech with a song of praise”. Yandé Codou Sène, born in 1932, is the haunting voice in many Senegalese films. Mossane by Safi Faye is perhaps one of the most stunning. Yandé Codou Sène's incantations introduce the beautiful Mossane as she baths in the mythical Mamangueth, and at the end, at the site of her tragic fate, she sings her praises. Carrying on the tradition of the griot, the voices of Senegalese women continue to be heard and seen.

The second decade of the millennium in 2010, the FIFF made a special tribute to Safi Faye, described as La Grande Référence, a role model. The tribute to Safi Faye at the 32nd Festival International de Films de Femmes (2-11 April 2010) demonstrates once again the important place she holds as pioneer in the history of women in cinema. Invited internationally to share her experiences in cinema, Safi Faye often reflects on the environment during that time, nearly forty years ago, in the early 1970s. She recalls the curiosity of her European colleagues in the midst of the “first African woman to dare to make a film." Another tribute to Safi Faye in 2015 was in the form of the Prix Safi Faye/The Safi Faye Award for the 26th edition of the JCC. Initiated by the CREDIF Centre de Recherches, d'Etudes, de Documentation et d'Information sur la Femme (Centre for the Research, Study, Documentation and Information on Women) and supported by UNESCO (United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture). It aims to reward a woman filmmaker whose film—be it a feature or a long documentary—has been selected in the official competition.

The award bears symbolically, the name of Safi Faye; as the first African woman filmmaker: "This pioneering artist has shown the way to a possible woman-inspired and African cinematographic creation."

Regarding Senegalese cinema scholarship and research, Hadja Maï Niang, specialist of image studies as well as filmmaker, focused her doctoral studies on the works of Ousmane Sembene: "Literature and cinema in the creative works of Ousmane Sembène: the source of the adaptations", as well as her Master’s thesis: "Xala d'Ousmane Sembène: analyse narratologique du "dit" et du "vu". She is founder and director of Daaray Sembène - la Maison de la pédagogie de l’image | the centre for image studies and teaches at University of Thies in Senegal.

Safi Faye, pioneer, left us on 22 February 2023. A link to the tribute:
Safi Faye : La Grande Référence - 1943-2023 - A Tribute, "I dared to make a film!"

Follow links to posts on Senegalese women in cinema on the African Women in Cinema Blog

Sabbar Artistiques : Première édition des Ateliers Reflexives Féminins de Dakar | Women’s Reflexive Workshops of Dakar - 19-24 03 2019

Rama Thiaw's Revolution: The Camera as a Weapon. A survey of Rama Thiaw's evolution as a socially committed filmmaker. See:

Iman Djionne’s La Boxeuse | Boxing Girl in the Official Selection at the Luxor African Film Festival 2017. See:

To be a woman filmmaker in Africa | Être réalisatrice en Afrique, at the Festival International de Films de Fribourg (Switzerland) moderated by Claire Diao, features Angele Diabang and Rama Thiaw among the four  panelists. See:

An African woman on the Seine | Une Africaine sur Seine by Ndèye Marame Guèye – 60 years after l’Afrique sur Seine by Paul Soumanou Vieyra. For her Femis film project Une Africane sur Seine, Ndèye Marame Guèye returns to the iconic 1955 film Afrique sur Seine directed by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (1925-1987) with his African colleagues, all studying cinema in Paris at l'IDHEC, l'Institut des hautes études cinématographiques, presently called FEMIS. See

A look at women in Senegalese hip. Analysis by Fatou Sall. See

Prix Safi Faye de la meilleure réalisatrice - Safi Faye Award for the best woman filmmaker - JCC - Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage. See

Dr Hadja Maï Niang and/et Daaray Sembène - la Maison de la pédagogie de l’image | the centre for image studies. Talking directly to the press, Dr. Hadja Maï Niang, specialist of image studies, presented an uncompromising account of the "programmes that pollute Senegalese radio and television." Addressing the CNRA delegation, the director of the Daaray Sembene outlined the survey results of audio-visual programmes, demonstrating that certain productions "affront the essence of Senegalese society."See :

A review by Fatou Kiné Sene of Sur la Rive (On the Shore) by Mariama Sy and Derrière les rails (Behind the tracks) by Khady Diedhiou. See:

Khady Sylla & Mariama Sylla Faye : Une Simple Parole | A Single Word. Official Selection at the Luxor African Film Festival 2015. See:

Dyana Gaye wins the Ecowas Best Woman Director Award at Fespaco 2015 for Des étoiles | Under the Starry Sky (2013). See:

“Congo, A Doctor to Save Women” by Angèle Diabang: The resilience of women, an analysis of the film by Olivier Barlet. See:

Angèle Diabang adapts "So Long a Letter" to film - Interview by Agnès Chitou -
Filmmaker Angèle Diabang tackles for her first step in fiction So Long a Letter*, a classic of the African literary tradition. Her project is one of ten selected by La Fabrique des cinémas du monde at the French Institute, and presented in May 2014 during the Cannes Film Festival. See:

Marie Kâ : L’Autre Femme | The Other Woman Kâ: I want to challenge the Senegalese view that women are no longer interesting once they've given birth and gone through physical changes due to aging. I have a fascination for anything related to women. Sexuality is one of them. See:

Le décès de la cinéaste Khady Sylla | Cineaste Khady Sylla has passed away. See:

Mille soleils (A Thousand Suns) by Franco-Senegalese Mati Diop, the heritage of Touki Bouki an analysis by Olivier Barlet. See:

Rama Thiaw talks about the "making of" her film "The revolution won’tbe televised". Rama Thiaw talks about the "making of" her film "The revolution won’t be televised". See

This Colour that Disturbs Me | Cette couleur qui me dérange : Khady Pouye sounds the alarm on the practice of xessal (skin bleaching) by Mame Woury Thioubou. See:

Marie-Louise Sarr, a cineaste at the heart of the Master 2 Réalisation Documentaire de Création. Filmmaker Marie-Louise Sarr, who manages the Master 2 Réalisation Documentaire de Création (RDC) at Gaston Berger University (UGB) in Saint Louis, Senegal, talks about how she came to cinema, and the specificities of the programme. See:

Face to Face, Women and Beauty in St. Louis focuses on the work of Mame Woury Thiobou:Beyond the simple matter of aesthetics that traverse the film, I want to investigate the societal practices as it relates to beauty. Why do women have to resort to artifices to feel beautiful? And in so doing, to what need are they submitting?” See:

Rama Thiaw, A Young Filmmaker in the Struggle. The Senegalese filmmaker became known with her documentary Boul Fallé, The Wrestling Way, a politically committed film which uses sport to show how the youth of Pikine—a disadvantaged neighborhood in Dakar—overcome their plight. See:

Dyana Gaye: Un transport en commun/St. Louis Blues, in the Official Selection at Fespaco 2011. See:

Fatou Kandé Senghor: My Work, My Passion | Mon Travail, Ma Passion. An reflection piece written by Fatou and translated by Beti Ellerson from French and published on the African Women in Cinema Blog, she talks about her work and her feminism. See:

Interview with Franco-Senegalese filmmaker Alice Diop by Olivier Barlet about her film La Mort de Danton (Danton's Death)* in Africultures. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson. See:

Showcasing Marie Ka at Cannes 2009. Invited by the Cinémas du Monde Pavillon/Pavilion of World Cinemas, Marie Ka is showcased by TV5 on the Croisette at the 2009 Cannes Festival. In five short episodes, she talks about her film, which is being screened at the Film Market, and her hopes of finding a producer. See:

In Memory of Yandé Codou Sène (1932-2010). African filmmakers are often described as cinematic griots, continuing the oral tradition of the African griot via visual storytelling. Angèle Diabang blurs the boundaries of the two in Yandé Codou, the Griotte of Senghor (2008), recounting the life of this mythical figure, “the only one who could interrupt Leopold Sedar Senghor’s speech with a song of praise”. In her film, Yandé Codou Sène, diva séeréer, Laurence Gavron, naturalized Senegalese, originally from France, returns to the roots of the Serer Diva. See:

Safi Faye: Role Model | La Grande Référence. See:

Thérèse M’Bissine Diop: A Pioneer in African Cinema

In front of the camera: the role of African women actors

Relevant Links:
Mère-bi by Ousmane William Mbaye

1. Annette Mbaye d’Erneville: Une femme de comunication/Annette Mbaye d’Erneville: A Lady with a talent for communication by Rokhaya Oumar Diagne and Souleymane Bachir Diagne. Presence Africaine 153 (1996): 93.
2. Cissé, Alassane, and Madior Fall. 1996. "Un film en Afrique, c'est la galère." Sud Week-end [Dakar, Senegal], 12 October, 6-7.
3. The information on Safi Faye is drawn from my article, “Africa Through a Woman’s Eyes: Safi Faye’s Cinema”. Focus on African Films. Françoise Pfaff, ed. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2004. 

14 June 2009

African Women in Cinema: Leadership, Empowerment, Mentorship

African Women in Cinema: Leadership, Empowerment, Mentorship

The following article, originally published in 2009, has been re-edited, updated and will serve as an ongoing discussion with current links of related articles on the African Women in Cinema Blog

During the spring 2009 academic semester, I taught an undergraduate course entitled "Women and Leadership," using the occasion to explore the leadership practices of African women in cinema and the ways they empower and mentor each other and the future generation. This was the first time that I had focused on African women in cinema in that way and I took the opportunity to use films as a teaching tool. Notably my film, Sisters of the Screen, African Women in the Cinema, which featured the experiences of filmmakers, producers and actors on the journey towards the professionalization of their work.

Following are several strategies that I adapted from women and leadership discourse, many of which have already been incorporated into mission statements, women caucus objectives and general organizational goals in African women in cinema settings:

- Empowerment of women using a variety of approaches
- Organizing around issues that are relevant to African women’s needs
- Networking through continent-wide links and with other relevant partners
- Outreach by developing activities or programs to access more women potentially interested in cinema
- Mentorship as a tool for women’s development
- Role Modeling by using the visibility of successful women in cinema and representations of strong, successful or inspiring women through the moving image
- Sharing information, ideas, tips, via workshopping, volunteering, blogging,
- Informing: spreading information through various outlets
- Information-gathering and dissemination through research, databases, the Internet
- Providing access to informational networks through resource venues,
- Archiving: Storing information for research and consultation
- Showcasing women’s accomplishment and experiences through film festivals, cine-clubs and innovative film screenings followed by discussion
- Consciousness-raising through cinema
- Nurturing: developing, encouraging, cultivating, promoting skills
- Orientation into cinema through purposeful recruitment
- Sponsorship through fundraising and grant-writing
- Career development: fostering the careers of women in cinema through master classes, advance workshops and motivational speakers
- Research: Film studies in film history, criticism and analysis
- Training: Professional training in all aspects of cinema
- Advocacy and activism using cinema as a tool for social change

That African female professionals of the moving image empower each other is important to their overall ability to succeed in cinema. The use of support mechanisms such as professional organizations, meeting caucuses, ongoing contacts and mentoring relationships are essential, as they are the foundation to the acquisition of resources, funding and professional development. There is also a role in film criticism for the cultivation of mentorship, support systems and leadership awareness--for the images that project these characteristics go a long way in building awareness and raising consciousness. For instance, by highlighting films that portray women as leaders, that depict strong characters and women supporting each other, the public is aware that these situations exist. At the same time, forums that confront the portrayal of women in negative and stereotypical ways, such as in film criticism discourse and ciné-club debates, also play a role in raising consciousness. Thus, cultivating a critical eye among the spectatorship is a role that leaders in cinema must play.

Abstract from the article:
African Women, Cinema, and Leadership: Empowerment, Mentorship, and Role-Modeling (Black Camera, African Women in Cinema Dossier) Spring 2020

Leadership entails listening, sharing, mentoring, and understanding that we may learn from each other through diverse exchanges: intergenerational, intercultural, and inter-regional. These features are incorporated in many of the workshops and forums organized by African women, designed for leadership awareness and development. Moreover, African women film professionals have initiated mechanisms to foster effective leadership in the diverse areas of the profession. These initiatives aim to create an African women's cinema culture that encourages and empowers women film professionals as well as those who seek to work in cinema. Leadership encompasses consensus building, collaboration, being a team player, and being prepared to change one's attitude when confronted with other perspectives. These are foundational strategies that African women employ in their leadership practices. And perhaps above all, it is important to remember that leaders were also at one time students, mentees, apprentices, and assistants. Drawing from general women and leadership discourse, this article examines the leadership strategies of African women of the moving image.

10 June 2009

Black Gay Male Spectatorship in the United States The Reception of the films Dakan and Woubi Cheri

Gender and Representation Series
Black Gay Male Spectatorship in the United States. The Reception of the films Dakan and Woubi Cheri by Beti Ellerson. First published in Africultures, 23 October 2008
Screen captures from Dakan and Woubi Cheri

In his critique of Mohamed Camara’s Dakan in Ecrans d’Afrique 20, 1997, Burkinabé film critic Clément Tabsoba highlights the role that African filmmakers have taken on to address pressing issues in their societies. He questions however, the relevance of the subject of homosexuality as an example. In the case of Dakan, Tapsoba also raises longstanding questions in African cinema criticism: For whom do African filmmakers make films? What message are they presenting to their audience? In rather harsh terms he suggested that Camara’s film was more about his interest in western tastes than African audiences. My project evolves from a desire to further address Tapsoba’s concerns in a different way; to explore black gay male spectatorship in the West, specifically the United States, as it relates to the film Dakan, which was well received among gay men. Tapsoba makes a point and then asks a question: "Homosexuality has become a fact of society in the west. What is the situation of this phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa and how can we interpret it through the film Dakan" ? A question I may ask is, did Mohamed Camara make his film Dakan to please a western audience curious about the subject of homosexuality in Africa? During my interview with him he gives a categorical « no ». In fact, he goes on to state that he was quite surprised at the overwhelming interest in the film by gay black men in the United States.

It is true that the film’s trajectory among the U.S. gay public was very different from the majority of African films. While attending a screening of the film hosted by a black gay male group in Washington DC in 1999, I was struck by the audience interaction with the film Dakan and the questions posed to the filmmaker Mohamed Camara afterwards. I later interviewed Mr. Camara and based several of my questions on the discussion session after the screening. In this project I want to explore black gay male responses to identities, masculinities and homosexualities in relationship to the films Dakan and Woubi Cheri, especially in light of recent developments in men and masculinities studies. While Camara was eager to begin a debate of a controversial and « taboo » subject, he was not in the habit of coming face to face with an informed audience of gay black men who were familiar with western debates on homosexualities in Africa and who were prepared to take the discussion further than « opening a dialogue of homosexuality in Africa », Camara’s stated reason for making the film. The audience was prepared to have a much more complex discussion on African masculinities and identities and the diversity of homosexualities and sexualities. Masculinities studies as a theoretical framework provide the opportunity to frame the conversations with black gay men on spectatorship and the visualization of homosexualities to better discern the tensions that took place during the debate after of the screening of Dakan as well as to appreciate the existing dialogue on homosexualities and subjectivities as was evident in the organized screening and discussion of Woubi Cheri for this project. A masculinities studies approach provides a framework for discussing the tension between the « straight » filmmaker of a film about homosexual love and the gay black men who had multiple-layered responses to the film.

When the film Dakan hit the scene in the United States, it was welcomed enthusiastically in black gay communities. African gay men living in the United States expressed excitement at seeing images that reflected their experiences, feeling a sense of affirmation and visibility. The film had « Africanized gayness », by presenting African specificities of homosexuality. Many gay film festivals included Dakan in their film listings. As a critic of African cinema, I began to take notice that gay communities had given the film another life outside of the general African film circuit in which the majority of African films circulate. The film had become a kind of manifesto both for gay Africans who live in the West as well as black gays of African descent. At the same time other non-black gay men showed a strong identification with the film as a universal story of same-gender love.

The film was screened several times in Washington DC during filmmaker Mohamed Camara’s tour in the United States in 1999. A screening was organized by the Black Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Coalition. The majority of the audience was comprised of black gay men. The debate held after the screening revealed both the level of interest that black gay men from the African Diaspora had in getting more specific information about homosexuality in Africa, and it also showed the level of affirmation that African men experienced. In one instance a man came to the open microphone to express his pride in being a homosexual from Senegal and stated that it was the second time that he had seen the film and was deeply touched by it. After receiving applause from the audience, he thanked Camera in the name of the entire gay population. He stated that the film had pulled back the curtains of hypocrisy.

Several of the African Diasporan men recounted specific details that they had heard about homosexuality in Africa and were looking for even more information from Camara. After the event, I discussed the film and debate with some of the men who were in attendance. They expressed their frustration that Camara was not able to give them a deeper understanding or perhaps more detail about homosexual life in Africa. For instance, they wanted to know if in fact the scene at the end of the film was realistic, that a homosexual couple could go away and live their lives together. Could two people in a homosexual relationship really live openly together, at least in Guinea? Another person wanted to know about homosexual experiences beyond the « fete divas » and « party dandies » that Camara described as his knowledge of homosexuality in Africa. According to him, these « effeminate men » were accepted in some circles-especially among women-as entertainers.

During the debate one man said to Camara:

You stated that the first time that you met or saw a homosexual was when you were in Europe at the age of twenty-three, I wonder if you could tell us a little about your earlier years back home in Guinea, what you experienced in the way of stories that you heard, or any other type of information you received vis-à-vis homosexual life or homosexuality in Guinea or other parts of Africa for that matter.

He further stated:

I have a friend from Africa who told me stories about growing up that revealed a rich life, perhaps not equivalent to homosexuality or homosexual lifestyles as is known in U.S. culture, but that there was the existence of homosexuality and that there was mention of these experiences during the generation of his parents and grandparents.

Camara replied:

It is true that gay relationships or homosexuality presented in the film is not the way that it is viewed by the great majority of people in my country. Homosexuality is very much accepted in the community. The reason is simple, in people’s view a male homosexual is someone who is very feminine and who imitates women, they are the friends of women or they are close with women. So when there is a party or a social gathering it is the homosexuals who come to make the party alive. Because they know how to do the traditional dances, they dance well and they make people laugh. So in that sense homosexuals are very accepted and integrated into society. But the minute that you say that a homosexual is a man who makes love with another man or a woman who makes love with another woman that is when the problem starts. Because they don’t even understand how that is possible. So there is a certain level of confusion in people’s understanding about the situation.

In the context of my project on black gay male spectatorship, I found that the film Woubi Cheri (1998) by Philip Brooks and Laurent Bocahut served as a follow-up of sorts to Dakan in the sense that it provided answers to some of the questions posed by black gay audiences in the United States vis à vis homosexuality in Africa. While Dakan presents a fictionalized version of what could happen between two lovers in a same-gender relationship, Woubi Cheri presents a documented reality of some men in same-gender relationships.

During several discussions after screenings of Dakan and Woubi Cheri, I was able to get an array of responses from black gay men regarding their impressions of the films. The first gathering was an informal discussion held after the screening of Dakan at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, « Reel Affirmations, » among whom were several gay men from various parts of Africa who expressed a great deal of enthusiasm about being able to see representations of themselves and their experiences on screen, they were especially excited about seeing the film at a movie house at full-capacity on a big screen. There was a clear level of euphoria that they could for once leave a movie theater and discuss images and experiences that reflect them.

The second informal discussion took place with two men, from Africa and the African Diaspora. Both had seen Dakan as well as Woubi Cheri, thus the discussion centered on a comparison between the two films. Both identified more closely with Dakan. The African Diasporan man felt that Dakan fit more into his ideal of a relationship with another man. While it was a fictional account he felt more in touch with its characters and their romance. It was the way he would like to imagine the representation of homosexual love. While Woubi Cheri was a non-fiction account, he felt more removed from it. It did not represent for him how he lives out his life as a gay man. The African man also felt that Dakan reflected more realistically his experiences as a gay African man. He expressed disappointment in Woubi Cheri, asking why it had to focus so much on the « excesses » of that life. Why did they have to show drag queens and transvestites, why couldn’t they show just regular gay people? While he was not embarrassed, he appeared to be concerned about the general impressions that outsiders would have. He felt that because there were not many films about gay Africans, this film might leave the impression as the definitive representation. I suggested to him that perhaps these men had less to lose by « coming out » publicly on film than other men who preferred to be less visible. I asked him would he have been willing to come out in this film. He agreed that he is dealing with the issue of « coming out » in a videotaped presentation of a performance group of African gays and lesbians. The group is dealing with the whole issue of audience. The members are asking the question, « who are they really 'coming out' to in terms of presenting their work publicly? »

The third session was organized for the express purpose of discussing black gay male reception to the film Woubi Cheri. Most of the people in attendance had never seen an African film before. The majority in attendance had not seen Dakan. I told the group the purpose of my project; I asked an initial question and from that point, the group engaged in a discussion with each other.

I asked the group how many of them had ever seen an African film before Dakan or Woubi Cheri, the majority said they had not. I asked the same question while waiting in the long line to get tickets to see Dakan at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Most of the people that I queried also said they had not. While it is true that in the United States African films in general are not released in commercial movie houses and on rare occasions--outside of film festivals-are programmed in art houses, Dakan and Woubi Cheri were embraced by a group who generally do not go to see African films. Also, both films have been screened in various black gay social venues around the United States. My preliminary research in black gay male spectatorship as it relates to these two films confirms the long held attitude that specific groups, whoever they may be, seek to find what the Washington DC Gay and Lesbian Film Festival title suggests « Reel Affirmations »--a play on the homonyms, « reel » and « real » the former in terms of film, and the latter in terms of the actual--an affirmation of their experiences and life.

During the group discussion, an African Diasporan man from the United States talked about what he perceived to be similarities between gay life in the United States and Africa in the film Woubi Cheri:

While I had never seen an African film before, I was amazed that the gay life in Africa was as similar to the gay life in America. We have always heard that there is no gay life in Africa or that there is a very small gay population. From the film, you can see that there is a gay life and at every level, lesbians, homosexuals, drag queens, bisexuals. If you were to take people out of that setting and bring them here, it just matches very well.

Another African Diasporan man felt moved by Woubi Cheri:
I found it to be inspiring, as an African American gay man it is always inspiring to see other people of color who are gay, willing to take risks to be who they are, so for me it was touching in some ways, and I appreciated the opportunity to see it.

The transgender aspect of the film drew the attention of several men:

#1: I enjoyed the trans-genders in the film because I did not think that Woubi Cheri was--well not unbelievable--but I certainly imagined that there were experiences of other gay men. I thought it was good to see trans-gender people, I don’t know that I necessarily see trans-genders on the continuum of homosexuality but I like seeing that it is a calling, something innate and it was good for me to see them choosing to live what they felt inside, and I thought that was encouraging.

#2: I thought that it was interesting that the trans-gender people became the focus of the film. It leaves a question as to what extent it is an aspect of gay life in Africa, as opposed to the gay life in Africa. I suspect that it is an aspect of gay life in Africa as in America; where with most gay Africans, like gay black Americans, we are less out front about who we are.

#3: Barbara (1) is fascinating; she is so good!! They should just bring her here. You know it is interesting that drag queens have always been in the front, on the line of the gay movement. She is such a good example of that; she is so good at disarming people’s fears and prejudices.

#4: I think that happens with trans-genders even in our [U.S.] society. I think of RuPaul and how society picked that one to accept and to put her in an old navy commercial, have her own talk show; she is somewhat mainstream. But, on many levels I still see most societies treating trans-genders like they use to treat African Americans, as minstrels; « It is okay to entertain me and make me laugh, and yes she can come to my parties and add a certain amount of color. But, I don’t know if I am really going to accept you, or invite you to my church or join my social organizations or anything like that, but it is okay if you entertain me. »

The above statement confirmed the predominant attitude regarding the « queen » or « folle » that Camara described as the general impression that he and many other Africans have of homosexual men.

The idea of family within gay communities was also a point of comparison. One figure in the film, Laurent, stated: « your real family is the one you create. Nobody has to hide anything. » As is discussed below, in the film Paris is Burning by Jenny Livingston (1990), the family, as part of a « house » is an important social outlet for some gay men.

One comment was made:

It was interesting to see how they have to carve out their own families. In the same general population, many times we have to do the same thing--carve out our own families. Family has a different terminology and a different definition and to be in a position where you are in a community that is welcoming and embracing--many times we choose our neighborhoods and places we go and the things that we do because of the comfort level, of not being chastised or ridiculed. It was much the same in the film and I find that to be interesting. It was very enlightening, heartfelt, and affirming.

The African member of the audience talked about his experiences with both Dakan and Woubi Cheri as well the general responses he receives as a gay African in the United States:

Being African and being gay, I was not at all surprised to see these kinds of films about Africa because I have been through this, seeing these boys coming out. I hope that we have more and more people seeing these kinds of films, so that these people who ask these questions about homosexuality in Africa after seeing films like this will no longer do so. I have been asked: « what is the difference between an African gay and an African American gay. » The question was a surprise to me because a gay is a gay. I do not see the difference. People ask me does my family know and so on. But yet, here in the United States there are many, many gay people who are not out to their families.

Two comments were made:

#1: There are reasons for black Americans to think that there are no gays in Africa because there are religious and social groups here that tell us that there is no such thing as gays in Africa and I was told that if they were, they would be stoned, which is shocking in itself.
#2: Well there is this whole myth that when homosexuality exists among blacks it is a white « disease » and it came from white people and it is not something indigenous to or inherent to African people. It is white, bizarre and perverted.

Drawing from the film, Woubi Cheri, the group had varying perspectives regarding what they perceived to be supportiveness and tolerance of homosexuality in Africa.

#1: I found it interesting that there seems to be a level of tolerance that I saw in the film among the straight community. I was thinking had that been filmed here in America would the response have been the same. People did not seem to be « freaked » out by it. I don’t know if that would necessarily have been the case here. I did not see any gay bashing, I am sure homophobia exists in Africa; I think I got a bit more knowledge about the attitudes. They seemed to be more tolerant. It did not seem to be such a big deal and people who talked about it disclosed it to their family. Here it is uncommon for people to disclose to their families. But it appeared that the family was very supportive. I did not hear about people being beat up, people were actually celebrating. Again, I don’t know if I could have seen that here. I think that there can be a lesson learned, that the African community…well it is our nature [as black people] to be more tolerant and we should give ourselves more credit.

#2: I hope you are right but Barbara did talk about being stoned during the daytime.

#3: And they wanted to have parties only in certain communities because they thought it was safer.

#4: They also said that they wanted to be away from journalists who came out of curiosity. They wanted to have some level of privacy.

#5: There did not seem to be anybody who was homophobic, repulsed, or opposed.

#6: I am sure that they could have walked up to the average person and gotten the homophobic response. I think for this kind of film they were trying to show the positive aspects of being a gay person. They did not show any lesbians in the film, which may have been more balanced.

#7: This just proves that the goals of gay life are the same, to be whom you are and to enjoy your life.

#8 (white audience member): I wonder how they selected the straight people, the two women that Barbara was talking to and then the group of guys. I wonder if the producers picked out people who appeared more sensitive than others. And asked them would they be willing to talk about gender issues. Maybe nine out of ten refused but the ones that we finally saw agreed. Documentaries are not as objective as people think they are. When I visited Senegal, for instance, I never saw people as comfortable talking about gay sex. This is the second time that I have seen the film [Woubi Cheri] and I see more the second time, and I would love to see it a third time since I will be able to pick up even more from the subtitles. It is wonderful that there is a complexity in the social structure...In terms of how the straight people were selected. Barbara seemed to have a relationship to the two women. They did not seem to be strangers. They know people themselves, and they know who is going to be receptive and who is going to be friendly.

#9: From what I saw from the film it seems like a great place to go if you are gay (laughter).

#10: Yes I am thinking that is where I wanted to be.

The African member of the audience gave a different perspective about responses to homosexuality in Africa, suggesting that the level of tolerance is different from country to country. At the same time, he agrees with the attitudes that Camara expressed about the general stereotypes that people hold about a gay person:

It is not easy being gay in Africa. It is not easy to just say so openly that you are gay, perhaps it exists in Cote d’Ivoire, but it is not that way in Senegal, people are not as free to be open. People will get beaten up. I remember only one person openly cross-dressing in Senegal. He was a very famous gay. Gorjigeens (2) are what one may call the « folles » or queens, they are entertainers who cross-dress and perform at weddings and parties. They dance and make the guests laugh. They are not like the young gay men that you see in Cote d’Ivoire having intimate relationships. It is difficult to come out in Africa. I came out when I was seventeen, for five years my father did not talk to me at all. My mother did not talk to me for three months. It is hard; it is not easy.

Labeling and role playing within couples was also a point of comparison:

#1: One person in the film said that he refused categorically to be put into labels. But yet it was clear that he fit into the category of yossi (3), where he was not « effeminate » and he was clearly the « male, » and I guess that meant in role-playing also, he was going to be the « top » so to speak. I doubt that you will find a yossi who would bottom. So they are still fitting into these sorts of categories. That is sort of primitive lingo. None of us here likes to discuss our sexuals that way. Everyone protests, « oh I want to get beyond that stuff. » And it is true it is kind of BS [bullsh*t]. He says he wants to get beyond those definitions, yet he is still planting them. He is a yossi, why can’t a guy who wants to be a « normal » guy, i.e. non-feminine, why can’t he be the bottom, it doesn’t look like they give themselves the opportunity. If you are going to bottom then you are going to be a woubi. So it’s complex but it’s simple.

#2: That’s sort of typical here to. We use roles as well, butch/femme, top/bottom; it’s the same.

#3: In Senegal too, gorjigeens, act feminine, they want to be the wife, they want a man as a husband. Similar to the roles of butch and femme here.

#4: I remember during the debate after Dakan when the audience asked Mohamed Camara did he know any gay people and he said « no! » He meant no, in the context of how he presented it in the film, men loving men. Men overtly expressing love for each other, he said no. And the people in the audience could not accept his denial. He said well, in fact I only knew them as the entertainers, as the « folles », « queens » who would come to parties and give everybody a good time. And so, they would never be taken seriously. Heaven forbid if they start saying, « I love him, we make love together. » It is as if to say: wait a minute; you can dress up, as long as it is fun and we are entertained but that it is only to this extent.

#5: In fact, this is the same attitude regarding the gorjigeens in Senegal, but at the same time, if I could talk about the scenario in Dakan, I don’t think it is realistic either. That was not something that I lived in Senegal.

#6: If I could compare this film with Paris is Burning and look at the ball scene and the houses (4), we notice that the role models for the drag queens were white women. What I found interesting in Woubi Cheri, was that, while you did have some who wore lipstick and straight wigs--and of course Barbara, who seems to have studied every mannerism of a westernized woman--you had the head wraps and the boubous, so that even when there was the cross-dressing, there was that African aspect to it and I found that interesting, it was not always the emulation of westernized white women in terms of make-up, hair and dress.

#7: Talking about Paris is Burning in another context, I think it is interesting that when we were talking about a timeline, I don’t think that Africa, in terms of the gay community, is so far behind us. People talked about when Paris is Burning came out that this would be the new thing and there were going to be all these black gay representations on the screen and that did not happen and Paris is Burning came out less than ten years ago and there has not been a major influx. And now there have been two films, and of course, Africa is not a single country. There have not been many other black gay films in the United States, beyond Marlon Riggs.

#8 (white audience member): I was struck that one of the men [in Woubi Cheri] was a seer. You think for instance in Native American culture, where gays are accepted they are made to fill a role almost as a spiritual character. Vincent appeared to rise above the categories of gender and he could be whatever he wanted to be, his relationship with the older woman was full of imagery. The two of them were spiritual leaders almost. It is almost as if there has to be this obligatory visual representation of the gay man who is a spiritual character. Whereas Paris is Burning, which is an incredible film--actually the first time that I saw Woubi Cheri was in tandem with Paris is Burning, it was a very self-conscious pairing, there were many parallels made--but, there was not the spiritual character like Vincent who rose above it all, throwing cowry shells to predict the future.

#9: Yes it was incredible, I found it interesting that the man who came to see the seer was also gay and the reading was a prediction about his future relationship with another man. I also found it interesting that Vincent’s experiences were presented as « a glance in the life of an Ivoirian man ».

#10: I was struck by the range of people; we saw a cross-section of gays with different identities, and we saw the yossi, the woubis and the transgenders.

The audience members discussed the demographics of gay representation in the United States. The discussion was in response to a comment about how homosexuality is experienced in an African village from which ensued a comparison with gay life in small town USA.

#1: I found it interesting in terms of class or social milieu, I found that there was a glimpse of the life of gay men in popular areas of the city, to some extent in the outskirts of the city as well as the rural areas, in very simple, everyday neighborhoods.

#2 (white audience member): My first experience in Africa was two and a half years in a village. Naturally, I contrast my first experiences on the continent with that. In the village there is nothing like anything we see in Dakan. I saw Paris is Burning when it came out a long time ago so it is good to have that kind of association now, Paris is Burning was a very foreign experience to me. Very urban in that sense. In rural communities, I did not see any of that; it is not talked about. In a village, a man is expected to have a wife or two or three or four, and to have as many children as possible and get a plot of land. Yes he may travel and go to town and so on, but this manifestation of gayness would not be an experience of people in the rural areas, nor would it be something that would, from my impression, be talked about and considered to be a kind of life outside of traditional male, female roles, which is the whole fabric of society, the kinship and the agrarian-based society and so I think it is a very urban phenomenon. You would see it in Abidjan, or in a big city, but I don’t think you would see it just anywhere. And people who grew up in small towns here in the United States; gay men get out of their small towns and go to big cities where they can find their own families. I think it is an interesting contrast, and even in the villages here in the United States people say, » oh no we don’t have that here, it is not in the village », and it is a conception of… it’s just like a villager saying they have never seen a two storey building, or they hadn’t seen the ocean or what have you, it is not a part of people’s reality.

#3: I think that is what people mean when they ask the question that someone mentioned earlier about gay people in Africa. I had the impression that there are gay people in small town America, there is not necessarily a gay life you may have a couple of gay friends but nobody else knows they are gay, of course, and then you live your role to your family, you perhaps get married you have children. I don’t think that a lot of people feel there are no gay people in Africa, but is there a gay life? Because « gay life » is a very western concept, and a form based on constructs in industrialized societies and notions of « modernity ». Many of us are brave, but we choose to be brave still when we leave home, when we leave whatever town we are from, we come to the big city, we come to Washington DC, or we go to New York and then we live this « gay » life. But I know many people who did not live that life when they were in their particular community.

#4: There is no social context within which to really act out ones gayness in Africa; other than South Africa, there are no gay bars.

#5: Or the whole notion of « coming out » is a more recent phenomenon itself in the United States. So it is very interesting to have this film from Africa where they were certainly coming out on screen to be seen by thousands of people.

#6 (white audience member): I also wonder what was the impression of the people in this film, that this film was going to be distributed in Abidjan or is this something that is going to be taken across the water and distributed in Europe and the United States.

#7: That is an interesting question, what were the expectations of the participants, what did they feel? I also wonder if they generally felt, that they had nothing to lose.

#8: Even within the gay community here in the U.S., not everybody would accept being in this film. It is not being afraid that your family is going to see it. It is something about a sense of privacy.

I found during these discussions, that African gay men felt a powerful affirmation from the attention that African gayness received, African Diasporans exhibited a sense of shared experience with their continental brothers and felt a strong sense of parallel experiences. And while it was not overtly stated, there was also a sense that Africans were not so different than African Diasporans, thus debunking false perceptions that the U.S. media presents of Africans in general, which often cause misconceptions and alienation by African Diasporans. I also felt that other men of color as well as white men felt affirmed that the diverse homosexualities and masculinities were universal.

The two films released in short intervals added an important element to the discussion on spectatorship and African films among the gay men of different racial and cultural backgrounds. In African cinema discourse, there is often the question: « for whom are African films made? » especially since so few Africans on the continent actually get to see these films. Since my query focuses on spectatorship in the United States, I will say that if films like Dakan and Woubi Cheri initially attract the attention of people in search of a commonality vis-à-vis their sexual orientation, because they also show African faces, life and the reality of Africa in general then it serves a larger purpose. I remember hearing about a gay African Diasporan man stating after seeing Dakan that he was struck by the close-up images of African faces on the screen. These were faces, with features and dark pigmentation that he never sees on U.S. television and movie screens, unless it is to ridicule or stereotype black people. He felt that these were faces of people presented in a beautiful and careful way. So in a way, as a black person, while he came to see the film because of its gay subject matter, he left better appreciating Africa and its people and at the same time identifying himself with them not only as a gay brother but also as a black brother. Perhaps in that way Dakan and Woubi Cheri were able to break through a well-defined African film viewing circuit and reach another group of people who will now seek out African films in general.

Bringing together the two films, Dakan and Woubi Cheri allowed the possibility to discuss the continuum of male homosexualities and masculinities that emerged – a secluded, same-sex intimacy within the complexity of African traditions to a close-knit gay community that included a very open transvestite. While the emphasis on the very "female-looking" Barbara is a dominant element of Woubi Cheri, there are also very diverse masculinities that other men express within equally varied sexual identities. (5) The films Woubi Cheri and Dakan shed light on the debates around the « un-Africanness » of homosexuality that gay African Diasporan men have to refute constantly or that gay African men must challenge when confronted with claims that it is a « white man’s disease » introduced to black people. The emergence of masculinities studies that encompasses discourses on homosexualities and sexual identities is an important contribution to the reading of visualizations of African masculinities.

1. Barbara, a prominent figure in the film Woubi Cheri is a transvestite and the leader of a very close-knit transvestite group. She is the president of the Cote d »Ivoire Transvestites Association. Bibiche and Tatiana, two other figures in the film, are cross-dressing prostitutes.

2. Ousmane Sembene includes a brief presentation of a gorjigeen in his film Xala (1974) as a cross-dressing waiter at the wedding of the protagonist El Hadj. In Touki Bouki (1973), Djibril Diop Mambety depicts a wealthy homosexual named Charlie. In this almost utopian environment where women and men live in luxury and bliss, their homosexual lifestyle is presented as just one among others. As an « iconoclast » Mambety inserts this scene as a shock effect, as Charlie flirts with the character « Mambety » on the telephone and suggests that they will get together later.

3. An explanation of terms is given for various expressions used among the « woubi » community, as follows:
 woubi: is a male who chooses to play the role of « wife » in a relationship with another man.
 woubia: gayness
. yossi: bisexual
. controus: homophobes
. toussou bakari: lesbian

4. The film Paris is Burning is a documentary depicting one aspect of the lives of a gay subculture in New York City. « Balls » are events where gay black and Latino men dress and role-play in a variety of categories for competition. « Houses » are the families that the men construct in order to have a sense of solidarity, companionship, support and friendship.

5. Similarly, filmmaker Jenny Livingston’s focus on the transgender people and transvestites in Paris is Burning de-emphasizes the diverse identities and masculinities that the other men played out.

07 June 2009

Florentine Yameogo: Women, children, youth, cultural heritage at the forefront - Burkina Faso

Florentine Yameogo: Women, children, youth, cultural heritage at the forefront - Burkina Faso

Excerpts from an interview with Florentine Yameogo held at the 15th FESPACO, February 1997, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Translated from French. First published in Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film, Video and Television by Beti Ellerson (Africa World Press, 2000). Image: Screen capture with artistic representation.

I find the focus of your film, Melodies de femmes, about women having their say through songs particularly fascinating. Could you talk it?

Melodies de femmes, which is a 24-minute film, is told from the perspective of a young girl from the city. She recounts the lives of the women of her village who express themselves through their songs. The songs are used as a means of expression in traditional society.

Could you describe your experiences while making the film and why you chose this subject?

I chose this subject because often when I went on vacation in the village, the women sang a great deal. They sang when they were grinding millet, on their way to the river to wash the clothes. Generally, they sang when they worked. When they sing they send a message and sometimes this message expresses their joy, pain, suffering or aspirations. I was struck by the singing and asked them why they sang. I was told because they did not have the right to speak, particularly in public. When they left their homes, they could not express themselves.  It was forbidden for a woman to raise her voice. The only thing that was tolerated were songs, which allowed them to express whatever they wanted.

Often these were societies where there were polygamous marriages, and there were several co-wives.  When there is resentment among co-wives they sing to show this. When they feel that their husband favors one wife over the other, they sing about this while working. The husband feels that he is being attacked but he cannot really hold it against them. And this goes for other situations that they live. Thus, singing is their only means of expressing themselves.

I have observed as time goes on, that the women sing less and less. Before, I noticed that they worked mainly at the mill where they crushed grain, which was prepared for batter made of millet or corn and then cooked for the main meal. Today, with the modernization of technology, there are automated mills that are being installed just about everywhere, even in the most remote villages. This means that the women now go to the mills only to drop off the grain, they line up their recipients in front of the mill and they return home. Of course, this also means that they no longer sing. They also go to the public faucets where there is running water or to the water pumps, rather than to the river. Often there is jostling and pushing, one woman declaring to the other that she arrived first.  This means that not only do they no longer sing, but they also squabble among themselves.

In the past, the singing was a very elegant means to live their experience. When I realized that it was disappearing, I wanted to preserve this practice by doing this film. I also wanted to let the children, especially the city dwellers who do not know about this tradition, discover that another way of expressing oneself exists.

So, it was through the young girl who lived in the city that this story was recounted. I also noted that there was a parallel between the girl from the city and the girl from the village. The story, which was a message recounted using the oral tradition, was also told in epistolary form. While writing the letter, the young girl actually narrates the story of the film.

Yes, the young girl as city dweller has the chance to go to school and she can write her feelings about her experiences. That is something which did not exist in the traditional society.  It was through the oral tradition rather than through the written word that things were transmitted.  It also gave her the chance to express herself by writing about it. Through this adolescent girl, I reveal what existed and what is now disappearing.

Melodies de femmes was told through the perspective of a young girl, and as you stated, you made the film with young people in mind.  By the choice of themes for your films, do you actually attempt to target young people?

I made another film that also focuses on the youth.  It speaks about the extra-curricular activities that young people are involved in, and is earmarked for city dwellers. It is a portrait of a student, who in his spare time, plays in a "Do-Do" troupe, which is a cultural group in the neighborhood.  The film is used as an example to show that although one goes to school, one may also have an interest in one's own culture.

The children involved in the Troupe Do-Do create masks made of sponges to make different forms of animals.  Then they play music, and the animals dance.  It is very beautiful to see.  This film I also made for children.

Burkina Faso is the country that hosts FESPACO and is very committed to African cinema. Does this have a direct influence on the Burkinabés in terms of their appreciation of the cinema, especially African films?

The Burkinabés are very much cinema lovers. One observes this through their participation during several events that are organized during FESPACO.  Even outside of the festival, they go to see films often. Of course, one knows that images relay messages and different aspects of a culture are passed on from the perspective of the person who is behind the camera, who writes the script, and so on. Therefore, because there are more films that are produced outside than those nationally, this means that people are beginning to forget their own culture. I think that it is the role of the filmmakers in their respective countries, to attempt to restore our culture that is about to disappear, by bringing it to the screen.
The theme of FESPACO 1997 is "Cinema, Childhood, and Youth." The theme was chosen in order to highlight the importance that cinema has on young people.  Do you feel that your role as filmmaker reflects this?

I was very pleased with the choice of this year's theme, "Cinema, Childhood and Youth" because it was a theme in which I was already interested.  Through this topic, I felt that we were given the opportunity to really think about the impact that images have on our children.  I work for the television and we have very few national programs for children.  We know that children like to imitate, and so everything that they see on television they try to imitate.  We are realizing that if we make films that address their needs in particular, that treat themes and subjects that interest them, that, in fact, we will actually participate in their intellectual, cultural and physical development.

As it relates to themes on and for children, I had the chance to participate in a workshop organized in France in 1994, which focused on this theme.  We were sixteen participants from different African countries, and there was a second session on the same theme where fifteen other African participants attended; all the participants were women.  From this workshop, we ended up with some thirty different subjects since we each had to produce a particular topic.
Unfortunately, we were not able to find funding to complete the project.  It would have been wonderful to see these thirty films at FESPACO, directed by women around the theme of children, for children...

You just mentioned that the participants at this workshop were all women.  Would you say that children-focused films and programs tend to be made by women?

Yes, I would say there is a tendency.  I have observed that when there is an opportunity to participate in a workshop that is organized to bring together several African countries—and I have myself participated in two workshops for children—the majority of the participants are women.  Other women participants also notice in their countries—and I am again talking about national television—that this is an area that is designated for women, because men generally do not consider focusing on this area.  Women tend to be much more interested.  Perhaps it is also in part a maternal response.  Women are generally the ones who educate the children, and perhaps it is for this reason that a great many more women than men are interested in the needs of children.  Of course, this is a personal response.

What are your impressions of African cinema and what do you feel is your role within it?

When speaking of African cinema I think of it in terms of the content of the films that convey something cultural.  There is always this notion of culture that turns up repeatedly.  If we make films that truly reflect who we are, I think that it can be accepted everywhere, and we have the same level of technical experience as people anywhere else...Each country brings what is particular to its culture.


05 June 2009

A Focus on Burkinabé Women in Cinema, Visual Media and Screen Culture

A Focus on Burkinabé Women in Cinema, Visual Media and Screen Culture
by Beti Ellerson

The article will be updated to reflect current realities - Updated 31 December 2017.

From the very beginning of the history of cinema in Burkina Faso, women have played a prominent role. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, home to the legendary FESPACO, the biennial pan-African film festival, is also known as the capital of African cinema. Burkina Faso’s commitment to the promotion of African cinema spans fifty years with the creation of the festival in 1969, and is reflected among the highest levels of government.

The country’s president bestows the Etalon de Yennenga, the grand prize of the festival to the winner. General Secretaries of the Festival have gone on to hold other important posts in the government. Two women were among the organizers of the first festival: Alimata Salembéré, a director of the RTV (Radiodiffusion Télévision Voltaïque) at the time, was president of the organizing committee; while Odette Sangho, a representative of the CCFV (Comité d’Animation du Centre Culturel Franco Voltaïque), was a member of the program committee. Women continued to be visible in the subsequent Organising Committees, notably Simone Aïssé Mensah who took over the presidency for the second FESPACO and continued in this position through the fourth.  The Festival is directed under the Secretary General, a post that Alimata Salembéré held from 1982 to 1984, thus overseeing the 8th FESPACO in 1983.

During the week-long festival, students are on holiday and participate in the various activities. The inclusion of youth dates to the first festival in 1969. At the request of the Organizing Committee, Jacqueline Ki-Zerbo, the director of the Cours Normal de Jeunes Filles (and also the wife of the renowned historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo) assembled sixteen girls to participate as hosts to welcome the many guests. One may note among Burkinabé films, the visibility of children as main protagonists. Notably, Gaston Kaboré’s 1982 classic film Wend Kuuni for which the young Rosine Yanogo won the best actress award for her role as Pognéré. The 1997 festival theme, "Cinema, Childhood and Youth" emphasised the significance of cultivating the experiences of African youth as it relates to cinema. Florentine Yaméogo elaborates this point in an interview with me: “I was very pleased with the choice of this year's theme, because it was a theme in which I was already interested.  Through this topic, I felt that we were given the opportunity to really think about the impact that images have on our children...We are realising that if we make films that address their needs in particular, that treat themes and subjects that interest them, that, in fact, we will actually participate in their intellectual, cultural and physical development.” 

Also located in Ouagadougou, are the Cinémathèque africaine, an infrastructure for the conservation of African films as well as a location for research and study, and the MICA (International African Film Market), whose current president is Suzanne Kourouma. In addition, Ouagadougou was the location of the Institut Africain d'Education Cinématographique (INAFEC), the historic film school at the Université de Ouagadougou where some two hundred students throughout the continent were trained between 1976 and 1987.  The core curriculum at INAFEC was multifaceted with a focus on areas such as radio, television, print journalism, scriptwriting, editing, and film production.  The curriculum required that the students first learn scriptwriting and editing, and then work with an assistant director before learning to direct.  After completing the core curriculum, there was the choice between two divisions, one for those who specialized in cinema; and the other for those who specialized in communication.

Many of the first generation of Burkinabé women in cinema were trained at INAFEC: Aminata Arby Boly, Valérie Kaboré, Marie Jeanne Kanyala, Suzanne Kourouma-Sanou, Adjaratou Lompo-Dadjoari, Fanta Régina Nacro, Aminata Ouedraogo and Téné Traoré. They currently work in some aspect of cinema, such as filmmaker, film editor, scriptwriter, film critic, film distributor, film producer and film organizer. Women who have made equally important contributions have trained in other programs in Burkina Faso, Europe as well as the United States:  Laurentine Bayala, Chloe Aicha Boro, Marie Danielle Bougaïre-Zangreyanogho,  Sarah Bouyain, Theresa Traoré Dahlberg, Claire Diao, Aminata Diallo-Glez, Benjamine Douamba, Henriette Ilboudo, Martine Condé Ilboudo, Sophie Kaboré, Benjamine Nama, Franceline Oubda, Adjaratou Ouedraogo, Aissata Ouarma, Danièle Roy, Kadidia Sanogo, Diane Sanou, Cilia Sawadogo, Apolline Traoré, Aminata Yaméogo and Florentine Yaméogo.

Burkina Faso has an early tradition of women making important contributions to society; Princess Yennenga is an illustrious example. The Etalon de Yennenga, the grand prize of FESPACO, is represented by a statue with the image of Yennenga astride a stallion. Franceline Oubda describes the importance of this representation: 
“You have seen that in a conscious or unconscious way, the image of Princess Yennenga is the grand prize of FESPACO, which is very significant.  It demonstrates the importance of women in society.  And I think to have this prize is a crowning achievement.  And we women must fight so that women will achieve this.

If we succeed in obtaining the Etalon de Yennenga, the efforts of women will be crowned and we will have reached a certain objective.  Princess Yennenga was the proof of courage and bravery, the proof of endurance, and she was a woman who did a great deal in Burkina history.  I think to fight for a woman to obtain the Yennenga is truly a step forward, and it will be for the greater welfare and improved standard of women in general.”

Sarraounia, the legendary Azna queen, was the subject of the 1986 film by Mauritanian Med Hondo.  The film by the same name, recounts the African resistance to the French invasion Niger, led by Queen Sarraounia. Burkinabé Ai Keita, who made her debut in the role of Sarraounia notes the tremendous support that the country gives to filmmaking efforts (the film was co-produced with Burkina Faso). Even though this was her debut role, she became wildly popular after it won the Etalon de Yennenga. Similarly, Amssatou Maïga, also a first time actress in her role as the adult Pognéré, became a household name after Buud Yam, a sequel to Wend Kuuni also by Gaston Kaboré, won the Etalon de Yennenga.  Beyond the interest in actors based on star appeal, there is appreciation for the contribution that the actors actually make. The 2003 FESPACO celebrated African actors and actresses under the title: The role of the actor in the creation and promotion of African cinema. Nonetheless, African actors and more specifically actresses have had to push for representation in the form of an actors guild. Towards this effort, actress Georgette Paré created the association, Casting Sud, to promote and support the interest of African actors.

An entire generation of Burkinabé has been raised in a cinema culture thanks to the country’s expansive role in cinema. Thus it is not surprising that women have played an important part from the start and continue to have the support and encouragement to enter into the diverse areas of cinema and to succeed.

In a 2009 interview with Claire Diao, Aminata Ouedraogo attributes this high visibility of women to the initiatives of INAFEC. With its multi-faceted curriculum, graduates were prepared to work in diverse areas of audiovisual production. This practice is evident in the experiences of many of its alumnae. During her professional career Aminata Ouedraogo has made several films and now devotes her time to the pan-African organization for African women film professionals created at FESPACO in 1991. Adjaratou Lompo-Dadjoari who has held senior positions at the National Television of Burkina, made a documentary in 2015 entitled, Les Amazones du cinéma Africain | The Amazons of African cinema about the rise of women professionals in the diverse areas of African. In addition to her filmmaking duties, Valerie Kaboré divides her time to research in communication and development and as director of Media 2000, a film production company based in Ouagadougou. Fanta Nacro who has attained international prominence, is an advocate for the empowerment of women in cinema, which is reflected in her relationship to women professionals in front of and behind the camera in all phases of the filmmaking process. Though the school no longer exists, it has set in place a cadre of women (as well as men) thus forging a tradition for future generations to continue in its footsteps. 

Patrick G. Ilboudo. Le FESPACO 1969-1989: Les Cinéastes africains et leurs oeuvres. Editions La Mante, 1988.
Hamidou Ouedraogo. Naissance et evolution du FESPACO de 1969 à 1973: Les Palmares de 1976 à 1993.  Burkina Faso, 1995.

Relevant Links:
Timeline of Burkinabé Women in Cinema
Relavant articles on Burkinabé women in Cinema, Visual Media and Screen Culture from the African Women in Cinema Blog:

Alimata Salambéré honoured by UNESCO | Alimata Salambéré distinguée par l’UNESCO

Aï Keïta-Yara dans/in “Sarraounia” by/de Med Hondo

FESPACO: Alimata Salembéré, its first president a "woman of principle" | Sa première présidente, “une femme debout”

Frontières, by/d'Apolline Traoré : “Four women tackling African integration” | Quatre femmes à l'assaut de l'intégration africaine by/par Sid-Lamine Salouka

FESPACO 2017: Ouaga Girls by/de Theresa Traore Dahlberg (Burkina Faso

Adjaratou Ouedraogo : Painting and animation, sharing one's experiences through the message of art | La peinture et l'animation, de partager son vécu à travers les messages de l'art

Claire & Angèle, Nadia, Pocas, Rama, in/en conversation: To be a woman filmmaker in Africa | Être réalisatrice en Afrique

Report by | Compte rendu par Laurentine Bayala : JCFA 2016 - Film Festival of African Women | Journées cinématographiques de la femme africaine - Burkina Faso

Afrogames : Diane Sanou spearheads the crowdfunding campaign | Diane Sanou pilote la campagne de financement participatif

Les Amazones du cinéma Africain | The Amazons of African cinema by Adjaratou Lompo

Marie Danielle Bougaïre-Zangreyanogho : At the presidency of CIRTEF | À la présidence du CIRTEF

Les silences de Lydie by/de Aissata Ouarma

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