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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31 August 2009

Anne Mungai, trailblazer, pioneer in Kenyan cinema, visual media and screen culture

Anne Mungai, trailblazer, pioneer in Kenyan cinema, visual media and screen culture
 
Interview conducted by Beti Ellerson at FESPACO, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in 1997 for the African Women in Cinema Project.

First published at the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema |
Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma


Anne, what do you see as your role as an African woman filmmaker?

My  role, is not just to complement what male filmmakers are doing. It is to fill the gap which will come from seeing issues from a woman's perspective.

When I write my scripts or direct films, if I give it to a man to look at he looks at it from a very different perspective.  And being a woman and being a mother, I think I write my films from my heart.  What I feel is what I know.  I think my films are more real and they portray real women's situations.  For example, I portray situations in my country on women's issues that are also universal.

So it's cinema from the heart, which a man may do but he would not portray in the same way.  So in general, I think my role is to promote the image of the African woman. When I finally started going to the cinemas and watching television programs in Kenya, each time an African woman appeared she played a very weak character.  She was always a cook, a servant to somebody, a mistress to somebody, a slave, she's crying, she's pregnant.  So the images that I saw on the screen and on television were always of an African woman in trouble.  I said yes, but how does she overcome these problems?  That was never shown.


I think that is what motivated me.  I've seen my mother, I've seen her in trouble, I've watched my father die, there was my mother with six children.  We are all grown up and I admire the way she did it.  I then started wishing that I saw more films with strong African women characters; that is the role I want to play.  There is a gap, and I want to fill it in my films.

In 1991 there was a workshop for African women in the image industry, as it is now called.  Could you talk about that process and what has happened in the six years since the organization was established, in terms of the dynamics of the organization?  What are the objectives and activities of the regional organizations?

FEPACI has always had regional secretaries and they have always been men. At FESPACO in 1989, I raised the point, "how are we going to deal with these issues?  Though we are both men and women, each time we come here as filmmakers, the issue of cinema is addressed as though there are just men alone."

We also have the French-speaking African women and the English-speaking African women and the whole question around the problems of how communication in English and French affects the financing of the Bureau. The reason why we have been meeting from time to time is to find out how we can overcome these problems.  How do we as women overcome our problems and go beyond the language barrier of French-speaking and English-speaking regions, and know that we are on the continent and we have our duty to promote our sisters. We have a duty to promote the African woman's image and to make our productions.  How do we solve that?


[As regional coordinator of the pan-African organization “Women of the Image”] I represent eleven countries of East Africa and I have been trying to reach the women in my region.  But I don't know how to reach the women in Djibouti or Ethiopia, for instance.  I tried once to organize a workshop in Kenya and I brought in some women from East Africa.  We met in Nairobi.  And when they went back, there needed to be a follow-up.  Faxes and telephones are needed.  We are struggling making films, we have needs at home, we are mothers; we have to feed our children. So you are not really going in your pocket to get money to travel, meet or do faxing, it's not possible.  So funding has been a major obstacle.

What are some of the ways that you could propose strengthening funding possibilities?  Do you always have to go outside to Europe for financing?  Is there some way that there can be a inter-African connection?

At the same time we want to sensitize people in our own countries to help us, because now cinema is looked at as a luxury.  For a long time we have been so bombarded by Hollywood movies that when you talk about movies everybody is thinking about Hollywood, everybody is thinking about fun.  So back home nobody really takes you seriously.  So gradually, slowly and slowly we have our people who now appreciate seeing films by African people on African issues, problems, aspirations and hopes.

When they look at a film on the screen they now begin to appreciate that we have our own humor, we can also look at our own movies and laugh.  We may laugh at our problems but also find solutions as it sinks home slowly and slowly.  Then maybe now if you start looking for help at home, it will make sense.  But before it was difficult because people think you just want to have fun. They think you want to make cinema just to amuse; and then, of course, they think, why should people give money to you just to have fun.

Of course when you talk about Africans appreciating African cinema there is also the question of the ability to distribute and exhibit African films in Africa.  I remember your film which you presented here at FESPACO in 1993, it was very successful, what about the distribution of that film and other films from Kenya and other regions in Africa?

Distribution has always been a problem. Again as I said, we have this francophone block and anglophone block.  So you find that the English-speaking filmmakers have a different problem with distribution, the French-speaking filmmakers have still another problem.  Their films are more easily distributed in France and the other French-speaking countries.  When you make a film in English and try to get it distributed in other parts of the continent where French is spoken, it becomes difficult.
Distribution has been a problem and it is one of the agendas that we are going to discuss at one of the women's workshops.  How do we get to see each other's films, how do we get to distribute films?  These are the questions that we are asking. That is why we say we need help; we are struggling.   We hope that we can have seminars and workshops and maybe do some brainstorming on how to solve the problems of distribution.

30 August 2009

A Glance at Kenyan Women in Cinema, Visual Media and Screen Culture

KENYAN WOMEN
IN CINEMA, VISUAL MEDIA
AND SCREEN CULTURE

UPDATED 20 May 2020

Kenyan scholar Wanjiku Beatrice Mukora asserts that “women filmmakers have been very significant in forming the foundations of national cinema in Kenya”. In fact, the Kenyan female presence in African cinema dates back to the late 1970s and early 1980s with the emergence of Jane Murago-Murene and Anne Mungai who have forged an impressive repertoire of documentary work. Moreover, Women in Cinema in Kenya, the provisional committee of African Women in Film and Video (Kenya section) was put in place in Kenya at the beginning of 1993, consisting of Eulalie Namae, chairperson, Anne Mungai, organizing secretary, Dommie Yambo-Odotte, secretary, Jane Murago-Munene, treasurer and members Jane Lusabe, Elizabeth Kamau and Irene Mwakasi The organization is affiliated with the AWIFAV, created in Accra, Ghana in November 1992.

Mungai's acclaimed 1993 film Saikati was her first feature fiction film. She recalls her reason for coming to cinema during my 1997 interview with her:

I think my role is to promote the image of the African woman. When I finally started going to the cinemas and watching television programs in Kenya, each time an African woman appeared she played a very weak character. She was always a cook, a servant to somebody, a mistress to somebody, a slave, she's crying, she's pregnant. So the images that I saw on the screen and on television were always of an African woman in trouble. I said yes, but how does she overcome these problems? That was never shown. I think that is what motivated me. I've seen my mother, I've seen her in trouble, I've watched my father die, there was my mother with six children. We are all grown up and I admire the way she did it. I then started wishing that I saw more films with strong African women characters; that is the role I want to play. There is a gap, and I want to fill it in my films.

Jane Murago-Murene, with Anne Mungai, Jane Lusabe and Dommie Yambo Odotte who trained at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, as well as German-trained Wanjiru Kinyanjui, comprise the first wave of Kenyan women filmmakers—emerging in the 1980s. While Esther Adagala is most noted for her work as a media specialist, she is also among these pioneers with the 1984 documentary Women in Health.

Dommie Yambo-Odotte who is executive director of the Nairobi-based organization Development Through Media created in 1996, is also a director with a significant body of work produced in the 1990s. Jane Murago-Munene similarly wears multiple hats--as filmmaker, chairperson of the Kenya National Film Association and Eastern Africa regional secretary of Fepaci (the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers). Wajuhi Kamau who produces video educational materials for the Educational Media Service, a department within the Kenyan Institute of Education, directed Mine Boy in 1998. Also in the 1990s, Elizabeth Okodo, Mary Wagaturi Otuka and Njeri Karago debuted with a film—Immmunization Spots (1994) and Through Women’s Eyes (1996), Ascent (1996), respectively.

Dommie Yambo-Odotte had this to say about African women and cinema (Ecrans d'Afrique, no. 12, 1995 profile by Noufou Ouédraogo):

It is difficult to get into African cinema for both women and men, but it is harder for women. Women have lots of ideas at the moment about how to convey their problems and concerns on the screen. The major problem remains the sources of funding. These sources have to be opened up to African professional women who can talk about the problems of women certainly better than anyone else.

The first decade of 2000 has been equally productive with the debut films of Wanuri Kahiu, Wanjiru Kairu, Judy Kibinge and Hawa Noor. Wanuri Kahiu’s second film, the award winning From a Whisper (2008) is a fiction work about the 1993 terrorist bombing of the US embassy in Kenya from the perspective of the local people who were the main victims.

Judy Kibinge of DocuBox had this to say when asked the question by moderator Beti Ellerson during the “Sisters in African Cinema” focus at the Afrika Film Festival in Cologne 2016, “Exploring the notion of a sisterhood in African cinema I would like to pose the question, “where do you position yourself in the context of a “sister in African cinema”? Does it exist for you? To what extent is it a reality or an idea? What could a sisterhood in African cinema be, in an ideal situation?”

The term invokes an idea, something that we are heading towards. I feel a sense of sisterhood every time I meet an African female filmmaker. You are joined in purpose. But having said that I don’t feel the existence of a big network because I feel that things keep us from that network, language for instance. I wish that we could take this translation booth and headphones to breakfast even. Because there are so many things that you want to say and there is a distance caused by language, at festivals for instance. But despite that, when you speak with sisters, with filmmakers, who create these pieces like you, there is definitely an immediate kinship.

Judy Kibinge’s reflections echo  those of Anne Mungai’s also discussed in the 1997 interview:


How do we as women overcome our problems and go beyond the language barrier of French-speaking and English-speaking regions, and know that we are on the continent and we have our duty to promote our sisters. We have a duty to promote the African woman's image and to make our productions.  How do we solve that?

Producers are very important as they do the behind the scenes duties of searching for funds and the myriad tasks of film production. According to Women's E-news (1) producer Njeri Karago mortgaged her home and land to meet the budget for the film she was producing. Producer Catherine Wangui Muigai, of Kaza Moyo Films, an audio visual company, worked with Anne Mungai for the film production of Saikati the Enkabaani (1998).

During an interview in 1999, I asked Wanjiru Kinyanjui the importance of African women taking part in film criticism. She had this to say:

African women should take part in film criticism because they can correct images of themselves and even of their surroundings. Their point of view is important, seeing that they comprise at least half the population of the continent; and also, they can also tell us how they really see men, either as a suppressing group, as husbands, as fathers, as rulers, etc., and be able to pinpoint some discrepancies evident in the way they apparently "are" or how they "think".

Thus, it is fitting to highlight the work of scholar Wanjiku Beatrice Mukora among the contributions of Kenyan women in cinema as her scholarship is important to the study and research of African women in cinema. Her 1999 Master’s Thesis “Disrupting Binary Divisons: Representation of Identity in Saikati and Battle of the Sacred Tree analyzes the films of Anne Mungai and Wanjiru Kinyanjui. She follows the footsteps of researcher, Esther Adagala whose works include “Situation of Women and the Media in Africa” and “Women's Access to Decision Making in and through the Media with Particular Reference to the East African Situation” Both works were published by the Women in Communication Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, 1993 and 1994 respectively.

As filmmakers, producers, researchers and scholars, Kenyan women in cinema each in her own way plays an important role in the development and evolution of African cinema.

Women’s E-news (http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/1997/context/archive) last accessed 8-30-09. No longer active.

Ecrans d'Afrique, no. 3, 1993.


FILM CRITICS AND SCHOLARS 

Esther Adagala (Filmmaker researcher)

“Women's Access to Decision Making in and through the Media with Particular Reference to the East African Situation”. Women in Communication Trust, 1994.


“Situation of Women and the Media in Africa”. Women in Communication Trust, 1993.

Rachael Diang’a (professor Kenyatta University)

Trans-formal aesthetics and cultural impact on Ousmane Sembene's Xala. In Ousmane Sembène and the politics of culture. Eds. Lifongo Vetinde and Amadou T. Fofana. Lanham, Maryland : Lexington Books, 2015.

Style and content in selected Kenyan message films: 1980–2009, PhD thesis. Nairobi: Kenyatta University, 2013.

Wanjiku Beatrice Mukora (Scholar)

"Beyond Tradition and Modernity: Representations of Identity in Two Kenyan Films." Women Filmmakers Refocusing, eds., Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis, Valerie Raoul. University of British Columbia Press, 2003, pp. 219-228.

Disrupting Binary Divisions: Representation of Identity in Saikati and Battle of the Sacred TreeMaster's Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, 1999. (Last accessed December 2017).


Following is an impressive list, though not exhaustive of some of the Kenyan women in cinema, visual media and screen culture including, filmmakers, producers, director of photography, critiques, scholars who live and work in Kenya and the Kenyan diaspora:

Esther Adagala, Zélie Asava, Sippy Chadha, Rachel Diang’a, Hawa Essuman, Jennifer Gatero, Dorothy Ghettuba, Mumbi Hinga, Joan Kabugu, Wanuri Kahiu, Wanjiru Kairu, Wajuhi Kamau, Njeri Karago, Judy Kibinge, Wanjiru Kinyanjui, Jane Lusabe, Beryl Magoko, Appie Matere, Beatrice Wanjiku Mukora, Ng'endo Mukii, Jane Murago Munene, Anne Mungai, Isabel Munyua, Faith Musembi, Jinna Mutune, Wairimu Mwangi, Serah Mwihak, Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann, Alison Ngibuni, Wangechi Ngugi, Wanjiku wa Ngugi, Carol Nguta, Wanjiru N. Njendu, Hawa Noor, Matrid Nyagah, Lupita Nyong’o, Elizabeth Okodo, Mary Wagaturi Otuka, Nini Wacera, Rose Wachuka, Delphine Wairimu, Catherine Wamuyu, Catherine Wangui Muigai, Beatrice Wangondu, Dommie Yambo-Odotte 


AFRICAN WOMEN IN CINEMA BLOG LINKS TO KENYAN WOMEN IN CINEMA SINCE THIS ORIGINAL POST ON 30-8-09 in descending order :

Faith Musembi: Chumba
20 MAY 2020

In Search by Beryl Magoko 
31 OCTOBER 2019

Subira by Sippy Chadha 
31 OCTOBER 2019

Kitwana’s Journey, an animation film by Ng'endo Mukii commissioned by Awareness Against Human Trafficking Kenya
24 JANUARY 2019

Laureates of the Afrika Film Festival Köln 2018 Audience Award: Hawa Essuman and Machérie Ekwa Bahango https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2018/09/laureates-of-afrika-film-festival-koln.html 28 SEPTEMBER 2018

Follow the Udada International Women’s Film Festival – Nairobi - From 11 to 20 October 2018 https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2018/10/follow-udada-international-womens-film.html 12 OCTOBER 2018

Rafiki: to our forbidden love! | à nos amours interdites ! Cannes 2018 (analysis/analyse, Falila Gbadamassi - Africiné) See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2018/05/rafiki-to-our-forbidden-love-nos-amours.html 16 MAY 2018

Rafiki by/de Wanuri Kahiu : Cannes 2018 - Un Certain Regard (Kenya)  See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2018/04/rafiki-byde-wanuri-kahiu-cannes-2018-un.html 12 APRIL 2018

Mama Afrika Film Festival (Nairobi). The festival, previously known as Udada Festival, aims to increase the exposure of upcoming and established women creatives: filmmakers, but also visual artists and writers, among others. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.fr/2017/11/mama-afrika-film-festival-nairobi-7-10.html.  6 NOVEMBER 2017

Report on Fokus: Sisters in African Cinema - Afrika Film Festival Cologne 2016 (Featuring Judy Kibinge). See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.fr/2016/09/report-on-fokus-sisters-in-african.html. 30 SEPTEMBER 2016

Michelle Mboya’s Seed & Spark crowdfunding for her film “The Camel’s Back”, produced by Wangechi Ngugi. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.fr/2016/02/michelle-mboyas-seed-spark-crowdfunding.html. 8 FEBRUARY 2016

Irish- Kenyan Scholar Zélie Asava: mixed-race identities and representation in Irish, U.S. and French cinemas. Zélie Asava of Irish-Kenyan parentage with English citizenship, is a lecturer in film and media theory and national cinemas at Dundalk IT and University College Dublin. She explores mixed-raced identities and its representation in Irish, U.S. and French cinemas. See https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.fr/2017/09/zelie-asava-book-mixed-race-cinemas.html. 28 FEBRUARY 2015

Out of Africa International Film Festival (OOAIFF) - Mumbi Hinga (Australia), Wairimu Mwangi (Kenya), Rose Wachuka (France). See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.fr/2014/11/introduction-out-of-africa.html. 4 NOVEMBER 2014

UDADA Film Festival (Kenya) - 24-29 October 2014 - Interview with co-organiser Matrid Nyagah by Savine Bretz from the Goethe Institut. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.fr/2014/10/udada-film-festival-kenya-24-29-october.html
Udada Film Festival – 1st edition, women's film festival - Nairobi Kenya. See:

Philippa Ndisi Herrmann crowdfunds for her film project The Donkey that Carried the Cloud on its Back. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2013/11/philippa-ndisi-herrmann-crowdfunds-for.html. NOVEMBER 2013

Hawa Noor. "The filmmaking career running in my blood", a conversation with Hawa Noor. The trajectory of Hawa Noor from Kenya parallels that of many African women in cinema, who in addition to director, work in various media-related areas such as camerawoman, scriptwriter, festival, forum and conference organizer, cultural events curator, lecturer in media-related areas, all of which play important roles in the culture of cinema. And thus they wear multiple hats, and rather than changing mediums or fields, there is fluidity within these roles. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-filmmaking-career-running-in-my.html. 28 SEPTEMBER  2013

Ng'endo Mukii's animation/mixed-media film: Yellow Fever, about African women and skin bleaching. See: 

Beryl Magoko : "The Cut" (FESPACO 2013). Beryl Magoko’s film The Cut, about female genital cutting was in the official selection of Fespaco 2013. See: http://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2013/02/fespaco-2013-beryl-magoko-cut.html. 10 FEBRUARY 2013

Wanuri Kahiu: Afrofuturism and the African. Wanuri Kahiu’s TEDX talk about Afrofuturism to a Nairobi audience in July 2012 was an insightful discussion at the intersection of its Afro-American origins, its application within an African context, and how it compares to her film Pumzi. See an analysis of her talk: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2012/09/wanuri-kahiu-afrofuturism-and-african.html. 17 SEPTEMBER 2012

Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann. In a conversation with Beti Ellerson Kenyan-German Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann explores how her multiple identities and complexity of experiences inform and influence her work. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2011/11/conversation-with-philippa-ndisi.html. 28 NOVEMBER 2011

Wanjiru Njendu from Kenya and currently based in Los Angeles, is a member of Women in Film, founder of A Magic Works Production. See talks about her 2011 film Look Again, about two women's struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of an accident. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2011/11/focus-on-wanjiru-njendu.html. 11 NOVEMBER 2011

Peres Owino, who is based in the United States, talks about her documentary project "Africans versus African Americans: Healing the Silent Sibling Rivalry". See; https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2011/10/peres-owino-talks-about-her-documentary.html. 22 OCTOBER 2011

Judy Kibinge’s Dangerous Affair, is the focus an article published on FilmKenya, of which an excerpt is presented on the African Women in Cinema Blog. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2011/10/judy-kibinge-dangerous-affair.html. 07 OCTOBER 2011

Wanjiru Kairu speaks about what inspired her to be a filmmaker, the Kenyan film industry, and her 2010 film Weakness. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2011/07/wanjiru-kairu-portrait.html. 07 JULY 2011

Wanjiku wa Ngugi talks about the Helsinki African Film Festival that she founded and which highlights African women in cinema at the 2011 edition. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2011/05/wanjiku-wa-ngugi-talks-about-helsinki.html
20 MAY 2011

Jane Murago-Munene: Monica Wangu Wamwere, The Unbroken Spirit. The documentary was awarded best documentary at Fespaco in 2011. See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2011/02/jane-murago-munene-monica-wangu-wamwere.html. 14 FEBRUARY 2011

Jane Murago-Munene: Entrepreneur of the Cinema Arts in Kenya.Capital Talk with Jeffrey Koinange, in four-parts, features Jane Murago-Munene discussing her journey into film production and the significance of the Turning Tide: Women Entrepreneurs in Africa project. See the summary and find the link to the YouTube video: See: https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2010/10/jane-murago-munene-entrepreneur-of.html. 13 OCTOBER 2010

Hawa Essuman with her award-winning Soul Boy, which won Best Film at the Luxor African Film Festival in 2012. See https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2010/08/hawa-essuman-and-soul-boy-project_28.html. 28 AUGUST 2010

Anne Mungai, trailblazer, pioneer in Kenyan cinema, visual media and screen culture


Award winning actress Lupita Nyong'o is also part of the impressive list of Kenyan Women in Cinema.
See the distributor website Third World Newsreel for her 2008 debut film In My Genes See: http://www.twn.org/catalog/pages/cpage.aspx?rec=1222&card=price. 04 OCTOBER 2009.

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema : Kenya

REPORT BY BETI ELLERSON