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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28 October 2011

Cineaste Nadia El Fani reflects on the elections in Tunisia

Nadia El Fani (France Inter)
Nadia El Fani, both a politically engaged filmmaker and a political activist, has been visible throughout the Tunisian revolution and the ensuing election. Following a television interview about her film documentary in May 2011 during which Nadia El Fani expressed her secularist views, she was the object of an attack campaign by those who considered the film to be anti-Islam. The title of her documentary was changed from Neither Allah nor Master to Secularism, Inch'Allah (God willing) to minimise the controversy. Today, 28 October 2011, she was the guest of Hélène Jouan of France Inter. She talked about the election victory of the islamist party Ennahda and its implications for Tunisia, the left and pro-secularists like herself.
5 minutes with Nadia El Fani, Franco-Tunisian cineaste and director of the documentary film, Secularism, Inch'Allah!  Nadia El Fani, is the guest of Hélène Jouan on France Inter (7:50 am 28 October 2011). Translation from French to English by Beti Ellerson

Introduction: The cineaste Nadia El Fani is the invited guest today.

Good morning Nadia. It is official since yesterday evening that the islamist party Ennahda which lead with more than 40 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, not an absolute majority but are claiming to be the head of the new government. Are you surprised by the victory of the so-called moderate islamists? 

Well, I don't want to say victory, since they did not receive an absolute majority. But I am being honest when I say that the progressives were shattered by the outcome. I never would have imagined that they would have attained such a high percentage of votes. We will have to analyse the results to see what happened. It was a wake up call for the Tunisia of today about the conservative mindset of part of Tunisia.

How do you explain this victory? Was it that the islamists were the first victims of Ben Ali which gives them a certain credibility among the Tunisians today?

Of course that played a certain role as they made it clear that they were the martyrs of Ben Ali's tyranny. But perhaps also the left did not sufficiently show that they were equally victims of his regime, everybody was oppressed. Of course the islamists were oppressed en masse, perhaps blindly as everyone in the islamist movement was not involved in politics. It was viewed by them as an attack on religion and they took advantage of this. And the progressives who are pro-secularism like me, were viewed as being on Ben Ali's side, as they are all against religion. An easier target than to deal with what we stood for.

Ennahda is attempting to reassure everyone, to demonstrate a moderate stance, ascribing to democracy by calling for the secular parties which came in second and third place to join in a coalition with them. Do you accept this moderate position that is presented? What does this mean to you?
I don't believe that moderate islamists exist. I even call them anti-democracy.

But yet they are taking a pro-democracy position!
Of course, we know these types who talk about democracy to get in power but once there enact laws that are liberticidal, it is nothing new. It exists everywhere in the world. I am also concerned about this, we saw during the campaign, the islamists do what they do everywhere, they start by attacking artists and then intellectuals...

...of which you were a victim... and also Marjan Satrapi...
Yes, and before me there were others. Even under the Ben Ali regime we were the object of calamitous campaigns in those newspapers that we called "rags" at the time. The same journalist during the Ben Ali period...the so-called liberals are now at the service of Ennahda, one saw them on television--national and private, and read their articles in the newspaper. And after the infamous interview that I had, they were the ones who published a communique that was broadcast non-stop, dissociating themselves with me for merely stating that I was atheist.

As I stated earlier, there are secular groups who have accepted to be part of this coalition. Moncef Marzouki, longtime adversary of Ben Ali and head of the Congress for the Republic (CPR) states: Ennahda should not be taken for the Taliban, they are moderate among the islamist. Do you think that a secular group can be part of this coalition, to act as a safeguard, especially during the writing of the constitution...

Unfortunately, it is a pity that one will do anything to get in power. And that if the left wants to contain the islamists they must always play the role of the opposition. As the left has always been, and the way it appears, will continue to be.

and not be part of the coalition... and the 40 percent who voted?

Yes, that is the question, how did it happen? In a year's time we will see if those unemployed think that Ennahda will be able to give them jobs. The lamb that they bought to celebrate Eid and the elections, will they be able to buy one every month? Will those who are hungry be able to eat everyday? That is not where the problem is. It is the construction of a country based on values--for them moral values, for us, universal ones. And in effect, it was for the left to show what values are to be constructed for today's society.

The model for Ennahda today appears to be the AKP, the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, while conservative, they are looking towards economic prosperity. Could that not be the case in Tunisia. An Ennahda representative has already stated that there will not be restrictions on the beaches, on alcohol, both for Tunisians and foreigners.

I would like to believe what they say, but based on the facts presented today--even during the campaign--not even elected they were able to prevent the release of a film such as mine in Tunisia which posed questions about secularism. That was proof that even before coming to power they were able to suppress our individual rights. What will it be like when they are in power?

There have already been tensions starting last night by opponents of the rise of power of islamists, notably in Sidi Bouzid. Do you anticipate more resistance among these sectors--the anti-islamists and secularists like yourself as a result of the Ennahda victory, will Tunisia be divided again? 

The left is fundamentally democratic and will fight using political means and not resort to violence. On the other hand, the islamists, perhaps not Ennahda, though we have already seen the salafists at work, barely condemned by Ennahda. What are they going to do about the radical branch that elected them?

Thank you Nadia El Fani. Just a reminder that your film [Secularism, Inch'allah] can still be seen in France, in Paris. And in Tunisia?

Yes, from Tunisia only, in its entirety, free of charge on DailyMotion by videostreaming
5 minutes with Nadia El Fani, Franco-Tunisian cineaste and director of the documentary film, Secularism, Inch'Allah!  She is the guest of Hélène Jouan on France Inter (7:50 am 28 October 2011). Translation from French to English by Beti Ellerson

26 October 2011

Stefanie Van de Peer: Researching North African Women in Cinema

©Stefanie Van de Peer
Stefanie Van de Peer from Belgium has crossed the African continent doing research on women in literature and cinema. She has published widely on Tunisian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Syrian and Lebanese films.

Stefanie, your Masters and doctoral studies have specifically focused on gender and Africa. In fact, your first degree at the University of Ghent also dealt with women. What inspired your interest in women in Africa as a topic of study?

My degree in Ghent was in literature, and so I read postcolonial theory, and African poetry and novels. It was at that moment that I became intensely interested in languages, and studied a bit of Afrikaans. It is very close to Flemish, my mother tongue, yet the subtle differences in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary opened to me a world of shades and nuances. It taught me to think about how big the world really is and how small my world had been up until then. 

I travelled to South Africa on a scholarship, for three months of research at Stellenbosch, into the poetry of Wilma Stockenstrom. Many of her collections were at that university, and there was also a special collection there with her protest poetry under Apartheid. It was very interesting how a woman who wrote what were to me the gentlest poems, romantic and introspective, could also write these poignant rebellious poems that did not necessarily sound rebellious but were so nonetheless. Again, I was enchanted with the nuances of language and poetry. So it is those similarities and differences that inspired me, the creativity and the confidence I encountered in women’s poetry and art.

My very long dissertation got a distinction. This was the first time in my life I felt I had done something important, something that would make a difference in the world. It did not in the end, but it changed me a lot. My first time away from home, alone, in Africa, utterly changed me. 

Your Masters degree in contemporary film and literature examined alternative forms of feminisms in sub-Sahara Africa. What were your findings, how did you theorize these “alternative forms” in your study of Nigerian women’s literature? Were there references to cinema in any way, especially as it relates to female representation?

When I finished my first degree in Belgium, I took on a job in advertising in the UK, and decided to also do a Masters degree, part-time. Being in the UK, away from home, gave me a new insight into politics. Being away gives you a different perspective on things that have seemed so normal for so long. For my Masters I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and realized the secrets of Belgium’s history in the Congo. I became very angry: we had not learned about this in school!

So in Newcastle, I was taught by Jack Mapanje, a Malawian poet who had to flee his country because of the poetry he wrote. I read prison literature with him, and every essay I wrote for my MA turned out to be about African literature or film. I realized I had found something I passionately cared about, and I wanted to learn more and more about this massive continent where Europeans had just gone and stolen everything, not just material goods and raw materials, but also people. I guess I was outraged by history and politics and wanted to put things right, for myself, even though maybe I couldn’t. For one essay I decided to write about African women’s literature, and I came across Flora Nwapa’s Efuru and loved it so much I wanted to write my dissertation on it. I read all her novels and really loved the spiritual world of goddesses and stories of strong women and mothers. I had studied feminism and gender studies, but saw resistance to my form of feminism, which was new. I read Ifi Amadiume, Obioma Nnaemeka, I learned about womanism, Africana womanism, a feminism that was founded on equality between men and women, and on collaboration between them, on the community. 

I think that for me it is reassuring to know that there are many different forms of feminism, that there are feminisms. It also showed me that I had rather strong opinions, and that I was interested in history and politics. Having worked in advertising and journalism, I had become more and more interested in the moving image as a continuation of my interest in literature. I wanted to study journalism and documentary making in Africa. I wanted to continue to hear different voices – not selected for me by Western media but offered to me by those African women I wanted to learn from.

You recently completed your doctoral research on documentary filmmaking by North African women at the University of Stirling in Scotland. For your research you focused on the countries, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Which filmmakers did you research for your study and what were the factors in your selection? 

When I applied for my PhD, I intended to research a Tanzanian documentary, These Hands by Flora Mbugu-Schelling, Anne Laure Folly’s films from Togo and Ateyyat El Abnoudy from Egypt, to get a transnational perspective on the documentary form in Africa, and to look at the different regions’ feminisms. However, as I started my research with the films of Ateyyat El Abnoudy, and read about North African cinema, it became obvious that the Maghreb was seen as something separate from African cinema. Not only that, it was also seen as separate from Middle Eastern cinema. It did not seem to fit anywhere and as such was usually ignored or forgotten. Because of this, I became more interested, and decided to focus on North African film. 

I decided to focus on the pioneering women documentary makers of North Africa: Ateyyat El Abnoudy from Egypt, Selma Baccar from Tunisia, Assia Djebar from Algeria and Izza Genini from Morocco. They have been marginalised within the limited space preserved for the field of African filmmaking. I illustrated how North African cinema has suffered from neglect in studies on African as well as Arab culture and particularly African and Arab cinema.

What were your premise, theoretical framework and methodology? And what were your findings?

My approach was transnational and Bakhtinian in the sense that I cultivated an awareness of being an outsider looking in. I promoted a constant self-awareness as a Western European and an academic interested in the area that is defined as the Middle East. Like the documentary makers, I took the nation state as a starting point so as to understand its effects, in order to be able to critique it and place the films in a transnational context. The documentaries in my thesis illustrate that films of a socio-political nature contest the notion of a singular national identity and can become a means of self-definition. Asserting one’s own cultural and national identity, and subjectively offering the spectator an individual’s interpretation of that self-definition, is a way towards female emancipation. Going against the grain and avoiding stereotypes, evading censorship and dependence on state control, these directors find ways to give a different dimension to their identity.

I suggest that their common aesthetic is one that develops moderation in terms of context, content and style. There is a cinematic way of implicitly subverting not only the (colonial) past but also the (neo-colonial) present which goes further than re-inscription or compensation: new modes of resistance co-exist with the more rebellious and heroic ones. These women’s films rewrite, imply and contemplate rather than denounce and attack heroically. They do not reject as much as interrogate their situations, counting on the empathic and intersubjective abilities of the spectator. I conclude with the idea that moderation is the foundational concept of a post-Third Cinema transnational aesthetic in North Africa. Ateyyat El Abnoudy, Selma Baccar, Assia Djebar and Izza Genini are pioneers of women’s filmmaking in North Africa, who opened up a space for underrepresented subjects, voices and gazes.

You also co-direct the Africa in Motion festival in Edinburgh...

I met Lizelle Bisschoff, who founded Africa in Motion, a film festival dedicated to showcasing the best of African cinema in the UK. We travelled to FESPACO together, and decided I was going to join the team of the festival, with the explicit goal to bring North African films to the attention of the audiences. Co-directing AiM with her has been an amazingly enriching experience, bringing films to the attention of audiences who would otherwise not have had the chance to see these films. Inviting filmmakers also enriched my personal experience of the festival and of filmmaking in Africa. It gave us both the opportunity to engage with the films we wanted to write about on a public level – instead of staying in the academic ivory tower, we were able to really set up a dialogue with audiences and film lovers about African film, and the lack of it in mainstream cinema exhibition. That is where my interests lie now: I am interested in transnational production of films, and am especially preoccupied with the (lack of) distribution channels.

Did your Master's research influence in any way your approach for your doctoral study?

Because I was not necessarily completely familiar with all film theories, I used postcolonial literary theory to approach my films and my women initially. During the course of the PhD I of course became more familiar with lots of African film theorists, and feminist film theory, but I kind of devised my own way into transnational documentaries, combining my literary knowledge with my new cinematic findings. It was really interesting.

Why the transition from literature to cinema?
The transition from literature to film came naturally: I became more politically minded and activist, and had always had an interest in the concept of representation and self-representation. This was more explicitly done and problematised in documentary film than any other form I knew. However, I did have to learn about film theory, especially feminist film theory, so I read Laura Mulvey. But this was not satisfactory for me. I had to find transnational feminist theorists Ella Shohat and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, I interviewed my women filmmakers, I read a lot of French theory. Nothing really formed a tight theoretical background however, and so my methodology really rooted itself in the interviews, and the women’s individual views on feminism and women’s roles in North Africa/Middle East. I read books on Islam and women, Fatima Mernissi, Leila Ahmed, etc. and am now hoping to build on my methodology to come up with a reasonable new way into women’s transnational cinema.

In what ways is the study of literature and cinema similar? How are the approaches different?

The similarities I found were great: here was again a new form of feminism for me, that was indeed not so different from the womanism I had discovered during my Master's. Again the community featured very prominently, and so did motherhood. At the same time, I liked the subtlety with which these women, despite their protests against feminism, were so preoccupied with equality and the frustration with despotism, I really liked the ambiguity about terminology, as it made me think again about words and their impact.

Perhaps you can also talk about the differences and similarities of researching women in North Africa and sub-Sahara Africa.

I want to be careful with essentialising the differences, but broadly I think there is more sensuality and outspokenness in sub-Sahara Africa, versus the permissibility in North Africa. This of course depends on the political climate the artwork/film was made in – if censorship is all-encompassing, and the filmmaker does not want to be exiled, she needs to bend and break the rules in order to make films that are satisfactory to her, while still working within the boundaries set out by the censor. This subtle dissidence is intriguing and reveals the amazing creativity behind films. The literature I read by Flora Nwapa was moreover accepted in the canon of African literature in English language, whereas the North Africans I studied were not.

You are presently doing research at the Five Colleges Women’s Studies Research Center in Massachusetts. What is the subject of your research and your future plans regarding your interest on women and cinema in Africa?

I am still working on transnational feminist documentary making and will continue to do so. I am looking at Flora Mbugu-Schelling’s These Hands this week, thinking about the voice and the gaze in her film. Their hands, their voices and their sense of community make of these women literally a body of sensuality under the duress of hard labour.

But mostly, I now look at the younger generations making documentaries in the Maghreb, Egypt and also in the Levant. I am simultaneously scared and excited about what is happening in the Maghreb and the rest of the Arab world during the Arab Revolutions. I think it can potentially open doors for women documentary makers, and indeed it is already doing so. Nadia El Fani from Tunisia, a few other young filmmakers in Egypt and some women in Syria are confronting their recent history head on. Women in Syria are using the revolution as a backdrop and central theme to new films, shot digitally and secretly.

I want to keep trying to make these and other films available more widely. I am especially concerned about distribution. People at festivals everywhere are talking about the optimism and opportunities surrounding transnational co-productions, but I think one of the major things to address is the difficulty of seeing these films. We know they are there, but it is hard to find them. Ideally, I’d like to go into distribution and devise a way of overcoming this major hurdle. Realistically, I am going to keep writing about them, teaching them and organizing festivals or small events to draw people’s attention to films from Africa and the Middle East.

Interview with Stefanie Van de Peer by Beti Ellerson, October 2011

24 October 2011

Scenarios from Africa 2011: A strong female presence

The objective of Scenarios from Africa is to give young people a unique opportunity to learn more about HIV/AIDS. It helps them to understand and to express what the epidemic means for their own everyday lives, and for their friends, families and communities. It also allows them to inform others throughout Africa and beyond about the need to protect themselves from HIV infection and to support those who are most directly affected.

Inspired by the French project "3,000 scenarios against a virus" , the project was conceived in 1997 as the pilot "Scenarios from the Sahel". Thousands of young people under 25 in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso participated, coming up with ideas for short films on HIV/AIDS. The contest was so successful that a second contest was held in 2000. Under the name Scenarios from Africa, it was expanded geographically in 2002 to include young people across the continent.

Held every three years, the success of the contest is owed to the efforts of over 1,500 community organizations working in partnership. To date 145,875 young people from 47 African countries have participated in the Scenarios from Africa scriptwriting competitions.

The 2011 edition of Scenarios from Africa reflects a strong female presence among the 25 winners--7 texts from central Africa; 6 from western Africa, 6 from eastern Africa, and 6 from southern Africa. Of the 25 contestants 17 were girls/young women--the youngest 12 years old! Moreover, two young women were among the awardees of the three grand prizes!

Mounifa Bodi (Togo)
Hermance Donoumassou (Benin)
Rose Dusabe (Rwanda)
Augustine Gamene (Burkina Faso)
Kui Gathinji (Kenya)
Grace Gutu (Zimbabwe)
Nikita Heaven Iradukunda (Rwanda)
Catherine Kimotho (Kenya)
Nyasha Michel (South Africa)
Shile Motsa (Swaziland)
Anne Matho Motsou (Cameroon) 
Sanele Mpofu (Zimbabwe)
Ella Liliane Mutuyimana (Rwanda)
Rosine Nacouli (Burkina Faso)
Rosine Kakou Fonou N’guessan (Côte d'Ivoire)
Nadine Essomba Ngongang (Cameroon)
Samkelisiwe Simelane (Swaziland)

1st Prize to Augustine Gamene of Burkina Faso and team:

The winning story was written by a team of three young women. Their team, in and of itself, represents Africa from the Sahel region to the Indian Ocean. Congratulations goes to team leader Augustine Gamene, age 22, of Tampouy, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, along with her friends and teammates, Hasina Rabesiaka and Haingosoa Genevieve Razafindravaondrina whose families are from Madagascar.

This is the tale of a lively, intelligent primary-school girl named Malika. Using vivid, easy-to-understand images, Malika’s doctor explains to her what HIV can do in a person’s body, and what her antiretroviral drugs are doing to protect her – IF she takes them as she is supposed to. Malika relays all of that information to her best friend, Wendy, whose parents don’t like the idea of their daughter being close to a person living with HIV. In the end, the parents come around, and friendship and love win the day.

3rd Prize to Rosine Kakou Fonou N'Guessan of Côte d'Ivoire:

Congratulations to Rosine Kakou Fonou N'Guessan age 23, of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire! Her scenario, “The Letter”, is about a strong young woman named Olivia. Living with HIV since birth, Olivia tells her boyfriend about her status. He takes his distance from her and sends her a break-up letter. Olivia responds in kind with a letter of her own, in which she writes:

“I know that all men aren’t like you. I know that someday, somewhere, a man who’s ready for me, just for me, will see in me the qualities he seeks in a wife: beauty, intelligence, the fear of God, respect, love and all the rest. I know that one day I will meet someone interested in the purity of my heart and not the purity of my blood.”

Mounifa Bodi of Togo, one of the 25 international winners: 

Congratulations to Mounifa Bodi of Lomé, Togo, age 19! Mounifa’s story is one of criminal mismanagement at an AIDS-service organization. The director and his cronies embezzle funds and steal ARVs that were to be distributed for free. The result: ARV supplies run out for those who can’t pay. The problem is solved and the culprits arrested thanks to the tenacious activism of people living with HIV and the determination of an honest, hard-nosed chairman of the organization’s board of directors – a man who simply cannot be bought.

Hermance Donoumassou of Benin, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Hermance Donoumassou, age 18, of Porto-Novo, Benin. Synopsis: Martin, a teacher of final-year students at a secondary school, discovers by chance that one of his best students uses drugs. In order to dissuade him from continuing and to raise awareness among the whole class, he decides to tell them the story of his own sister, who became infected with HIV from injecting drugs with a shared needle.

Rose Dusabe of Rwanda, one of the 25 international winners:
Congratulations to Rose Dusabe, age 18, of Kigali, Rwanda! Rose calls on the AIDS-response community to ensure that HIV-awareness programs are made accessible to the deaf – something which is often completely neglected. In Rose’s story, the author befriends a classmate named Alphonsine, who is deaf. The author takes the time and makes the effort to learn sign language to communicate with her new friend, and she then discovers that Alphonsine contracted HIV from being raped. Alphonsine had found herself in a vulnerable situation with a man, but she hadn’t suspected she was indeed vulnerable, because no one had ever communicated those risks to her in a way she understood.

Kui Gathinji of Kenya, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Kui Gathinji, age 23, of Uplands, Kenya. Her beautifully crafted text, entitled “A Story of Hope”, bears the mark of a very talented writer. Kui’s message is one of strength & empathy among the large and growing number of people who were born with HIV and are now coming of age as dynamic, invaluable members of our communities.

Grace Gutu of Zimbabwe, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Grace Gutu, age 23, of Harare, Zimbabwe. In her story, Grace addressed a choice faced by many people living with HIV: confidence in modern medicine’s ability to treat their HIV infection with ARVs, or faith in the claims of certain “prophets” who say they can “cure” HIV/AIDS.

Grace writes in her conclusion: “Those that decide to go to these healing crusades should not decide to stop medication without consulting their doctors. ... It is wise for them to first go for another HIV test before stopping medication to check whether they have been healed or not and to discuss it with their doctor.”

Nikita Heaven Iradukunda of Rwanda, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Nikita Heaven Iradukunda, age 12, of Kigali, Rwanda. The moving, fictional story called “My Mother and I”, is a beautiful example of a healthy, open dialogue within a family.

Catherine Kimotho of Kenya, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Catherine Kimotho, age 24, of Nairobi, Kenya! Catherine’s fictional story is masterfully told in just two scenes. In the opening scene, we experience the terror and despair of a young woman who was sold into prostitution by her own family. “The man had pointed directly at her and for a moment she prayed that it was someone else who was being picked. She stood up and walked towards the man while Mademoiselle led them through the corridor towards an empty room. Groans, screams and sighs were all she heard, a few years ago she would have tried to fight, run, beg or cry but these didn’t work so she accepted her fate and learned to shut out the noises.” Scene two arrives suddenly, as a big surprise. Once again, the young woman is afraid, but for a completely different reason. Now freed from prostitution, she is about to go before a committee ... to present a funding proposal for an HIV education programme in her village. “The strategy was to focus on play therapy that involved children who were H.I.V positive and the rest of the children within that village.”

Nyasha Michel of South Africa, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Nyasha Michel, age 14, of Kwambonambi, South Africa! Nyasha’s fictional story, entitled “Never Give Up!”, is the moving and inspirational tale of a strong young girl named Rudo. Her father is gone; she is alone in caring for her mother, who is living with AIDS. Rudo fights and wins two battles: one against a classmate out to stigmatize her, and one to convince her mother to take her treatment seriously … for her sake.

Sihole Motsa of Swaziland , one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Sihole Motsa, age 13, of Swaziland! The fictional story Sihle tells is a heartbreaking one of repeated domestic violence as seen through the eyes of a child. “Finally her mother decided to tell her brothers who advised her to report the matter to the police. She would agree to go to the police but change her mind again. She would tell her brother, ‘I will not lay charges against the father of my own children.’ One time when she was badly hurt she went to the hospital but she refused to reveal the real cause of her injuries. A few months after that she died. … The girl is wondering if her mother was treated well if she could be still alive. Her father is alive and enjoying life. So please, if you are abused don’t keep it to yourself. Fix it before it is too late. Tell someone the truth.”

Anne Matho Motsou of Douala, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Anne Matho Motsou, age 20, of Douala, Cameroon! Anne’s text, entitled “A Mother’s Worries”, deals with a question that poses an enormous dilemma for mothers living with HIV: breastfeeding.

For HIV-positive mothers, the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months unless replacement (bottle) feeding is:
• acceptable (socially welcome)
• feasible (facilities and help are available to prepare formula)
• affordable (formula can be purchased for six months)
• sustainable (feeding can be sustained for six months)
• safe (formula is prepared with safe water and in hygienic conditions).

Sanele Mpofu of Zimbabwe, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Sanele Mpofu, age 22, of Harare, Zimbabwe! An extraordinarily talented writer, Sanele created the fictional story of a young woman named Amina, from learning that she’s pregnant and HIV+, through despair and anger, and concluding with hope:

“I’m glad you decided to keep the baby,” the doctor said, as he sat opposite Amina. “Though, your CD4 count has reduced, and now we will have to start you on a course of ARV’s, as well as a multivitamin which is excellent for pregnant mothers.”

“I know that I’ve made some stupid mistakes, but I finally realised that I had to change everything about my life. It’s about living positively and putting my baby and my health first. It’s almost as if, in a strange way, I’ve been dying all my life, and now I can finally live.”

“Positively,” said the doctor, smiling.
“That is why I am here today. I have decided to go on the Treatment Programme.”

Ella Liliane Mutuyimana of Rwanda, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Ella Liliane Mutuyimana, age 22, of Kigali, Rwanda! In her introduction, she writes: “This scenario is based on kids’ desire to always be informed about everything, not to be kept in the dark when things happen, but rather to be prepared.” Ella Liliane’s fictional story is about a girl who loses her two parents because of AIDS and then learns that she herself is HIV+. Nobody had ever told the girl anything. Ella Liliane’s scenario is an appeal to adults to talk with kids who are affected by HIV, to take the time to listen to them and understand their concerns. If HIV+ kids are given the attention and compassion they need, then Ella Liliane’s hopeful conclusion can come true: “HIV cannot be cured, but the hearts of those who have it can be healed."

Rosine Nacouli of Burkina Faso, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Rosine Nacouli, age 22, of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso! Rosine’s story is about a young couple, Elyse and Maxime, on their wedding day. Elyse is proud that up to this day she never gave in to Maxime’s pressure to have sex; she is a virgin bride. Maxime, on the other hand, dealt with Elyse’s constant refusals by heading straight for the local brothel. He wasn’t always careful. The honeymoon is about to begin, and they’ve never talked about getting tested for HIV….

Nadine Essomba Ngongang of Cameroon, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Nadine Essomba Ngongang, age 21, of Yaoundé, Cameroon! Nadine’s text addresses a critical reality in a world with HIV/AIDS: Being informed of the risks, deciding on one’s prevention strategy (condoms, abstinence…) and preparing to use that strategy are often not enough. The fact is that in the heat of an intimate encounter, just as we are about to make love, many of us forget or abandon our chosen strategy and take risks. Nadine’s story is designed to help us deal better with that crucial moment of truth when passions can blind our reason.

Samkelisiwe Simelane of Swaziland, one of the 25 international winners:

Congratulations to Samkelisiwe Simelane, age 23, of Mbabane, Swaziland! Her fictional story, “Corruption that killed my mother”, is about a single mother living with HIV, struggling to provide for her four children. “Because the CD4 count was found to be low, she was advised to start taking ARVs immediately. She did so while she was still in hospital and her life improved because also eating a proper diet. She was then discharged to come home. Because of our financial situation, she could not eat balanced food to boost the ARVs she was already taking. Sometimes she would take them on an empty stomach and that affected her health further.” The text is surprising in that the corrupt culprit is in fact the woman’s church, which she had always supported generously. That church abandoned her in her moment of greatest need. “I just could not understand why the pastor who was not employed together with his wife but could afford to build a two story house, drive 3 expensive cars and have his children attend in the most expensive schools.”

Text of announcements of winners and descriptions of scenarios from the Scenarios from Africa Facebook Page

Scénarios d'Afrique 2011: Une forte présence féminine

Scénarios d'Afrique a pour but de fournir aux jeunes une opportunité unique d'en apprendre plus sur le VIH/SIDA. Il les aide à comprendre la portée de l'épidémie pour leur propre vie quotidienne et pour leurs amis, leur famille et leur communauté. Il leur permet d'informer les autres à travers l'Afrique sur la nécessité de se protéger de l'infection à VIH et de soutenir ceux qui sont les plus directement affectés.

Inspiré de « 3 000 Scénarios contre un virus », un projet mené en France entre 1992 et 1994, "Scénarios du Sahel" a été conçu en 1997. Des milliers de jeunes au Sénégal, Mali et Burkina Faso ont pris part au concours qui les invitait à proposer des idées de petits films sur le VIH/SIDA. Le concours a été si bien accueilli qu'un second concours a été organisé en 2000.

Élargi sur le plan géographique en 2002, le concours devient Scénarios d'Afrique. Au cours des éditions 2002, 2005 et 2007/8 du concours, des jeunes de toutes les sous-régions du continent y ont pris part grâce aux efforts collectifs de plus de 1.500 organisations travaillant en partenariat au niveau communautaire.

Jusqu’ici, 145.875 jeunes originaires de 47 pays africains ont participé aux concours Scénarios d'Afrique

L'édition 2011 de Scénarios d'Afrique a eté marquée par une forte présence féminine - les 25 scénarios venants de partout du continent: 7 textes de l’Afrique centrale ; 6 de l’Afrique de l’ouest ; 6 de l’Afrique de l’est ; et 6 de la région sud. Parmi les 25 lauréats, 17 sont des filles/jeunes femmes dont la plus jeune est âgée de 12 ans! En outre, deux jeunes lauréates ont décroché deux des trois grands prix!

Mounifa Bodi (Togo)
Hermance Donoumassou (Benin)
Rose Dusabe (Rwanda)
Augustine Gamene (Burkina Faso)
Kui Gathinji (Kenya)
Grace Gutu (Zimbabwe)
Nikita Heaven Iradukunda (Rwanda)
Catherine Kimotho (Kenya)
Nyasha Michel (Afrique du Sud)
Shile Motsa (Swaziland)
Anne Matho Motsou (Cameroun) 
Sanele Mpofu (Zimbabwe)
Ella Liliane Mutuyimana (Rwanda)
Rosine Nacouli (Burkina Faso)
Rosine Kakou Fonou N’guessan (Côte d'Ivoire)
Nadine Essomba Ngongang (Cameroun)
Samkelisiwe Simelane (Swaziland)

1ère Place au Concours à Augustine Gamene du Burkina Faso et son équipe malgache:

Félicitations à Augustine Gamene, 22 ans, de Tampouy, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, et ses coéquipières originaires de Madagascar, à savoir Hasina Rabesiaka et Haingosoa Geneviéve Razafindravaondrina ! 

Augustine, Hasina et Haingosoa ont écrit l’histoire de Malika, une élève d’école primaire qui vit avec le VIH. Son médecin fait preuve de beaucoup de patience et de créativité pour expliquer à Malika en termes simples ce que le VIH cherche à faire dans le corps humain, ainsi que le fonctionnement de ses ARVs. L’histoire souligne aussi les effets néfastes de la stigmatisation et l’importance du soutien et de l’amour de l’entourage.

Prix spécial de la 3ème place à Rosine Kakou Fonou N'Guessan de Côte d'Ivoire:

Félicitations à Rosine Kakou Fonou N'Guessan, 23 ans, d’Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire !  L’héroïne de son texte, intitulé « La Lettre », est la jeune Olivia. Vivant avec le VIH depuis sa naissance, Olivia annonce à son petit ami qu’elle est séropositive. Il devient distant avec elle et finit par lui envoyer une lettre de rupture. Elle lui répond à son tour en utilisant le même canal et en le sensibilisant.

Olivia écrit : « Je sais que tous les hommes ne sont pas comme toi. Je sais qu’un jour, quelque part, un homme spécialement préparé pour moi, saura voir en ma personne les qualités qu’il recherche en une épouse : la beauté, l’intelligence, la crainte de Dieu, le respect, l’amour et j’en passe. Je sais qu’un jour je rencontrerai quelqu’un qui sera intéressé par la pureté de mon cœur et non la pureté de mon sang. »

Mounifa Bodi du Togo fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Mounifa Bodi, 19 ans, de Lomé, Togo ! Mounifa a écrit une histoire de détournement de fonds et d’ARV au sein d’une organisation de prise en charge du VIH. Les crimes commis par l’équipe de gestion mènent à une rupture de stock d’ARV. Le problème est résolu, et les coupables arrêtés, grâce à l’activisme acharné d’un groupe de PVVIH, ainsi qu’à la détermination d’un homme intègre, à savoir le président du conseil d’administration de l’organisation.

Hermance Donoumassou du Benin fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Hermance Donoumassou, 18 ans, de Porto-Novo, Benin ! Voici son propre résumé de son texte : « Martin, professeur en classe de terminale découvre fortuitement un jour, que l’un de ses meilleurs élèves consomme de la drogue. Pour l’en dissuader, et toucher du même coup, toute sa classe, il décide de leur raconter l’histoire de sa propre sœur infectée au VIH suite à une injection de drogue à l’aide d’une seringue infectée. »

Rose Dusabe de Rwanda fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Rose Dusabe, 18 ans, de Kigali, Rwanda ! Haut et fort, Rose lance un appel à la communauté anti-SIDA de rendre les programmes de sensibilisation accessibles aux sourds et malentendants.

Kui Gathinji du Kenya fait partie d des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Kui Gathinji, 23 ans, de Uplands, Kenya !  A travers son texte, Kui s’est révélée comme étant une jeune écrivaine talentueuse. Dans son « Histoire d’espoir », elle nous parle du courage et de l’empathie des personnes – toujours plus nombreuses – qui sont nées avec le VIH et qui deviennent des ressources inestimables dans nos communautés.

Grace Gutu du Zimbabwe fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Grace Gutu, 23 ans, de Harare, Zimbabwe ! Son histoire traite une question sensible à laquelle des personnes vivant avec le VIH sont souvent confrontées : faire confiance à la médecine moderne, avec ses ARV et ses contrôles cliniques et biologiques, ou bien croire à ceux qui prétendent être capable de « guérir » le VIH/SIDA par la prière. Que faire ?

Nikita Heaven Iradukunda de Rwanda fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Nikita Heaven Iradukunda, âgée de 12 ans, de Kigala, Rwanda ! Son émouvante histoire de fiction intitulée « Ma mère et moi » est un bel exemple d’un dialogue sain, franc et ouvert au sein d’une famille.

Catherine Kimotho du Kenya fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Catherine Kimotho, 24 ans, de Nairobi, Kenya !  Le début de son histoire fictive nous tombe dessus comme un choc. Il s’agit d’une nuit de terreur dans un bordel, vécue par une jeune femme qui avait été vendue par sa propre famille à un réseau de prostitution. Deuxième séquence de l’histoire, deuxième choc : on retrouve cette même jeune femme, de nouveau angoissée, mais pour une toute autre raison. Libérée de la prostitution, elle se prépare à présenter un projet de sensibilisation du VIH devant un comité. Une renaissance en force !

Nyasha Michel d'Afrique du Sud fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Nyasha Michel, 14 ans, de Kwambonambi, Afrique du Sud ! Dans son texte, Nyasha raconte l’histoire émouvante d’une jeune fille nommée Rudo. Son père n’est plus ; c’est à Rudo seule de prendre soin de sa mère, qui vit avec le SIDA. Rudo mène et gagne deux batailles : une contre une méchante camarade de classe qui cherche à la stigmatiser, et l’autre pour convaincre sa mère à prendre son traitement à sérieux, pour elle.

Shile Motsa de Swaziland fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Shile Motsa, 13 ans, du Swaziland ! Sihle a écrit une histoire déchirante de violence conjugale, racontée du point de vue d’une fille dont la mère est battue régulièrement par son père. Elle lance un appel : « S’il vous plaît, si vous êtes victime de violences, ne gardez pas ça pour vous. Racontez la vérité à quelqu’un. »

Anne Matho Motsou du Cameroun fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Anne Matho Motsou, 20 ans, de Douala, Cameroun ! Son texte, intitulé « Les inquiétudes d'une mère », traite un problème qui pose un énorme dilemme aux mères vivant avec le VIH, à savoir l’allaitement au sein.

L’OMS recommande aux mères séropositives d’allaiter exclusivement au sein pendant les six mois suivant la naissance de leur enfant à moins qu’elles ne disposent d’une alimentation de substitution:
• acceptable socialement;
• pratique (matériel et aide disponible pour préparer les biberons);
• abordable (il est possible d’acheter la préparation pour six mois);
• utilisable à long terme (pendant six mois);
• sûre (la préparation peut être mélangée à de l’eau potable, dans de bonnes conditions d’hygiène).

Sanele Mpofu du Zimbabwe fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Sanele Mpofu, 22 ans, de Harare, Zimbabwe !  Sanele, qui a une très belle plume, a créé l’histoire d’une jeune femme nommée Amina. Après avoir appris qu’elle est non seulement enceinte (à sa grande surprise), mais aussi séropositive, elle fait un immense voyage émotionnel : choc, déni, colère, négociation, dépression et, enfin, acceptation.

Ella Liliane Mutuyimana de Rwanda fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Ella Liliane Mutuyimana, 22 ans, de Kigali, Rwanda ! Dans sa note d’intention, elle écrit : « L’écriture de ce scénario est basée sur l’envie que les enfants ont de toujours être mis au courant de tout, de pas être mis à part quand il arrive une chose anormale, mais plutôt d’être préparé. » Ella Liliane nous raconte l’histoire d’une fille nommée Emily qui vient de perdre ses parents à cause du SIDA et d’apprendre qu’elle vit avec le VIH. Personne ne lui a jamais rien dit. Rien. Ella Liliane lance un appel, un cri de cœur : il faut absolument qu’on parle, franchement et longuement, avec les enfants affectés par le VIH, qu’on les écoute attentivement pour comprendre leurs angoisses. « LE SIDA NE SE GUERIT PAS, MAIS LES CŒURS DE CEUX QUI L'ONT GUERISSENT. »

Rosine Nacouli du Burkina Faso fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Rosine Nacouli, 22 ans, de Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso ! Rosine nous raconte l’histoire d’un jeune couple, Elyse et Maxime, le jour de leur mariage. Elyse est vierge et fière de l’être ; pendant les longs mois de leurs fiançailles, elle a toujours refusé de faire l’amour avec lui. A chaque fois, Maxime a trouvé refuge dans les chambres de passe, parfois sans protection adéquate. Elyse et Maxime n’ont jamais parlé du dépistage, et la lune de miel commence dans quelques heures….

Nadine Essomba Ngongang du Cameroun fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Nadine Essomba Ngongang, 21 ans, de Yaoundé, Cameroun ! Nadine : « Le scénario que nous allons vous proposer s’inspire d’un constat : dans la bataille contre la propagation du VIH/SIDA, les personnes cibles sont bien souvent au courant de la menace qui pèse sur eux. Beaucoup ont même vu trop près d’eux les ravages de la pandémie, mais ils continuent à avoir des comportements à risque malgré les multiples campagnes de sensibilisation dont ils font l’objet. Cela est tout simplement dû au fait qu’il existe encore et toujours un cap à franchir, et ce cap se situe dans la psychologie des partenaires au moment de passer à l’acte. Très souvent l’empressement que procure le désir du plaisir l’emporte sur le dernier geste qui sauve. Même quand le préservatif, par exemple, est à portée de main on a si souvent perdu la ressource psychologique, l’effort de l’intérieur qui pousserait à le prendre. Ce n’est qu’après l’acte que l’on réalise qu’on venait de prendre un risque et c’est le début de l’angoisse. Notre scénario se propose donc de contribuer à aller plus loin que d’habitude dans le combat, d’inciter au dernier geste. »

Samkelisiwe Simelane de Swaziland fait partie des 25 lauréats internationaux:

Félicitations à Samkelisiwe Simelane, 23 ans, de Mbabane, Swaziland ! Son texte, intitulé « La Corruption qui a tué ma mère », est l’histoire d’une femme vivant avec le VIH qui a beaucoup de mal à joindre les deux bouts et à nourrir ses quatre enfants toute seule. Elle est mise sous ARV, mais à cause de la pauvreté et la malnutrition, son traitement ne marche pas, et elle meurt. Et le corrompu dans tout ça ? C’est son église, qui avait sollicité et reçu son généreux soutien financier depuis de longues années, mais qui lui tourne le dos au moment où elle a besoin d’un minimum d’appui. « Je ne pouvais pas comprendre comment ce pasteur et sa femme, les deux sans travail, pouvaient avoir les moyens de construire une grande maison, d’avoir 3 voitures de luxe, et d’envoyer leurs enfants aux écoles les plus chères. »

Provenance des textes d'annonces des lauréats ainsi que des descriptions de scénarios: Page Facebook de Scénarios d'Afrique.

22 October 2011

Peres Owino talks about her documentary "Bound: Africans vs. African Americans"

©Peres Owin
Peres Owino from Kenya, settled in the United States after completing her university studies there. She discusses her experiences as actor and filmmaker, and her current documentary project which explores the sometimes tense relationship between Africans and African Americans. Peres Owino talks about her documentary project initially titled "Africans versus African Americans: Healing the Silent Sibling Rivalry". It was released in 2014 under the title Bound: Africans vs. African Americans 

Peres, what brought you from Kenya to the United States and what were some of your initial experiences? 

I moved to the US, to Wisconsin to attend university. Everything about America was a cultural shock, from the automatic doors to cows to winter. The America I came to was not the America I saw on TV back in Kenya. Thanks to Hollywood, America was high life, manicured lawns, fast cars and faster women.   
Ending up in Wisconsin, and living amongst "ordinary" men and women was almost surreal. I got to see a different and yet familiar side of Americans. That experience made Americans more like me and fostered in me a deep love for the Midwest. I cannot think of a better introduction to this country. See, too often we get lost in images in celluloid. We let our minds be shaped by fantasy and imagination, disconnected from the beauty of experiencing what is real. There is a realness about the Midwest. And it doesn't hurt that fall is gorgeous.

Your training is in theater and acting, and now you are undertaking filmmaking. What are some of your acting projects and how did you develop an interest in filmmaking?   
I started in theater almost accidentally while in high school back in Kenya. My schoolmate, Bernadette (I still remember her name) forced me to audition for the drama club. Years later, I have had the honor of playing some of the great classical roles like Hamlet and Lady Macbeth. And this fall I am playing the most challenging role ever in Peter Barnes' "Red Noses" directed by Tony Winner Dominique Serrand. The Classics are great and all, but I also use this avenue to tell the stories of my people. In 2009 I wrote and performed my first original stage work, "Beauty For Ashes" which was my story and the story of numerous women. I followed that with "Cut" in 2010 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a story about two girls and the issue of genital mutilation.                    
Where film is concerned, I fell in love with cinema while watching The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a child. Unlike theater, there is something more lasting about film for me. And I speak as both an actress and a writer/director. I am a film actress because the world needs to see the African woman in many shades, not just as a rape/war victim. I applaud directors who share this idea; directors like Simon Brand who cast me in his movie Default, coming out in 2012.  It was an amazing experience and he specifically did not want to play into the violent relationship between African men and women that you see out there. My most interesting film role, which wrapped 2 weeks ago, had me speaking entirely in Arabic. I have never been more grateful for being a Swahili speaker.
But all this creative energy steamed from my love of reading and writing. I was most overwhelmed when I held a hard copy of my first published book, On The Verge, in my hand. 

Your subject of your current documentary project, “Africans versus African Americans: Healing the Silent Sibling Rivalry" is fascinating! There have been many debates, studies and much dialogue around it. I have discussed this issue with my African and African American students—among whom I have witnessed these misunderstandings! What inspired you to deal with this topic?
When I was in Kenya I studied the history of the Maafa (African Holocaust/Enslavement of Africans) extensively. I read the writings of Frederick Douglas, Harriet Jacobs, Olaudah Equiano, the Slave Narratives and felt a pain inside me. I felt that somehow I had something precious to give to those who were denied it. And I promised myself that when I came to America I would give every African American I met, Africa.                                                   

But when I got here things weren't what I thought they would be. For one, it seemed to me that none of the African Americans I was encountering cared about Africa and its "booty scratchers". I approached an African American student whom I "mistook" for an African (I wonder why) and was swiftly told, "I am not African, you people sold us." I was shocked. We began to dialogue and needless to say, we became good friends. Together, we integrated the African students into the Black Students Union. It became a place for Africa's children to meet and get to know each other. We were only 45 of us, so that was easy to do. On campuses like University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with huge African and African American populations the divide is accepted and remains. I often attended African parties in Whitewater and not once in five years did I see a single African American in attendance. And that is sad. That is the other side of the coin, the side we are most concerned about.  

How will you contextualize this debate/issue in the documentary?

This documentary will look at those things that make us similar, what unifies us as opposed to what divides us. We can all agree we have been dealing with the latter for over 500 years. 

The title itself which positions the two groups in opposition, using the word “versus” as well as “rivalry”, suggests that the film will focus on the tensions between them. Are you also hoping to use the film as a means of resolution?                                             

The title seems to generate a lot of feelings, and that is a good thing. I want to work on something that makes people feel something. The film will inform, that is all a film can ever do. Resolution is up to those who view it.  

Will it also be used as a teaching moment for Africans on the continent?

Our hope is that we get this done and viewed by the African Diaspora. For that to happen, we need the Diaspora to walk with us. We are currently fundraising and need donors, publicists, marketing gurus, friends of friends, network bosses, you name it. If we can get everyone to be a part of this, there is no telling how far up the hill we can move this rock. Anyone who wants to be a donor can visit our Indiegogo page*.

In the meantime we have a Facebook page where others are already involved in the conversation. We encourage people to post relevant materials on there. The Facebook page is great because Facebook is accessible to the whole world. So, a young man in Gabon can dialogue with a young man in Harlem. 

There has been a long history of people of African descent in the United States embracing Africa and Africans, let’s take W.E.B. Du Dois, at the turn of the 20th century as an example. And who, to note as well, is buried in Ghana. What has changed during the past century in your view? 

It is interesting that you ask that question, because we are asking it. The visible bridge existed well into the 80s. African Americans helped the Ethiopians fight of the Italian invasion. Tom Mboya, a Kenyan Nationalist spoke at the March on Washington. African Americans are partly responsible for the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. We have always been a part of each other’s struggle and victories. What changed? I have a theory that is way too controversial to state here. It will only open a can of worms that I would much rather deal with after the documentary's release.

To what extent has the mainstream media and culture contributed to these attitudes about Africa?                                                     

I think the media has done a great injustice in its representation of people of African descent. If you believe the media, the only things living peacefully in Africa are the wildlife. I mean, who didn't want to be Timon and Pumba? "Hakuna Matata" But the humans are constantly battling famine, disease, poverty and themselves. It is depressing. But trust me when I say Simba is not the only thing living in bliss in Africa.

And let's not get into the portrayals of African Americans. They are narrowed down to entertainers, athletes, criminals and irresponsible fathers with a great slant on the latter. While in Kenya we were bombarded with the Jerry Springer show and OJ Simpson trial. Why? Why did a Kenyan need to see these? What else was going on in the world in 1995? Dr. Bernard A. Harris became the first African American to walk in space. WTO was established. A 6.8 earthquake hit Kobe, Japan. Norway and Russian almost had a grave misunderstanding. Mississippi FINALLY ratifies the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. The House of Representatives votes to cut taxes on Corporations. France resumes nuclear testing and launches a counter-coup in another country. I mean, more important stuff was happening. But the world needed to see this black/white murder story. We needed to watch the racial polarization of America. 

That being said, we are too smart to blame the media. Taking personal responsibility means knowing better than to let the media form your judgments. Library cards are free in this country, go read a book, browse a computer, form your own opinions. Take everything with a grain of salt, question every opinion given to you as truth. The fact that no major media outlet is covering "Occupy Wallstreet" is proof that the media's role is to pump out the agenda of its shareholders.

How do African Americans get their information and formulate their attitudes about Africa in your opinion? Especially since most do not have the opportunity to travel to the continent or study about the countries and peoples in a manner that will allow them to have a realistic point of view. Even the historic election of Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, the U.S. media treated his paternal heritage in a very different way than his maternal one.     

Mostly through the media, some by studying, few by visiting Africa. Most African Americans have not visited Africa not for lack of interest, but because the plane tickets are so damn expensive. With regards to the president, the disrespect awarded him is painful to watch. The idea of shouting "You lie" in Congress to the sitting president would never have occurred to any Member of Congress if the said president was of a paler hue. It shows America's continual struggle with the race complex.

Your company, Nyar Nam Productions, what is its mission and some of its projects? 

The mission of Nyar Nam (Daughter of the Lake) is to tell great stories. Stories that I find fascinating enough to commit myself to for months. Our first project was "Beauty For Ashes", a play about my life, about walking through depression into self-definition. One of my firm beliefs is that by fighting my demons in public they stop tormenting me in private. Then the dark comedy "Cut", a play about two twelve year old girls on the night before their circumcision. Our third project is "Africans versus African Americans: Healing the Sibling Rivalry". The website is the hub for all things related to this project. Early next year I will spend considerable time promoting this documentary and my book, On The Verge. There may be room to shoot a short film, who knows?

Kenya is emerging as an important center for filmmaking in Africa. What role would you like to play in its success?  

I would like to be both an audience member and a storyteller. I want to hear and see the tales as told by my people and join in the telling. Film is a team sport, you have to be both audience member and filmmaker. 

Interview with Peres Owino by Beti Ellerson, October 2011


*The website is no longer active

20 October 2011

Redefining Women in Nollywood

Redefining Women in Nollywood by BENJAMIN NJOKU/Vanguard20 October 2011. Republished from

What is the place of women in the Nigerian film industry? How much has the industry helped in the empowerment of the womenfolk? Is it that the women have been portrayed in a bad light or that, they are made to be victims of systematic discrimination and stereotypes in Nollywood?

These are some of the questions, Dr. Akin Alao of the History Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, attempted to answer last week, while delivering a position paper at the just concluded 5th edition of the Festival of Indigenous African Language Films,(FIAF), held in Akure, the capital city of Ondo State.

His paper titled “Women Empowerment in Nigerian Film industry”, basically attempted to redefine the place of women in the nation’s movie industry. He acknowledged the fact that the film industry performs dual functions as it concerns the image of women. First, the industry mirrors the society as it is, showing the sex role division and secondly, reflects the roles which are believed to be appropriate for women.

For the university don, taking a holistic look at the industry, admitted that the Nigerian film industry has been reinforcing the social reality of stereotyping women, which he blamed on the media.

According to him, this stereotypical depiction of women in the media is a common phenomenon in Nigeria and such that reinforces dis-empowerment status in the society.

Alao, therefore advocated the need for the film industry to activate a considerable amount of attitudinal change favourable to women by attempting to set agenda or new roles women for women in other for them to effectively play their part in the twenty first century development agenda.

While calling for a greater valuation and esteem for the female gender, the lecturer stressed the need for women to move from just being actresses to moving into the more technical areas of film making which include; directing and production among other things.

“This is what communication scholars refers to as Agenda setting function of the media. The whole idea of agenda setting in the media centres on media directing the opinion of the public along the socially accepted or approved lines. Since the 1975 UN conference on women, the world has come to recognise officially women as vital development partners in the world economy.”

“That a woman could occupy central role in development agenda has been accepted at least on paper. Using the film industry, we could promote this expected role of our women until we achieve the set objective for women empowerment in our society.”he argued.

Continuing he added that “Since the whole concept of empowerment is dependent upon self-actualisation and confidence to independently take decisions without recourse to men as masters, if women are portrayed in a new light through home videos. It would have a profound implication for their status in society.”

‘In his own paper,Professor Onookome Okome of the Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, who delivered the guest lecture, reinforced the need to pay more attention to the context and content of film practice in contemporary Nigeria.

In his lecture titled “Language and Indigeneity in Nigerian Cinema”, Okome drew attention to the need to properly interrogate the phenomenon of “culture” with a view to coming to terms with its complexity, dynamism and pluralism especially when viewed against the backdrop of its enduring manifestations in Nigerian Cinema.

He also called for attention on the role of the travelling theatre tradition, the celluloid films and tele-drama for the development of contemporary Nigerian video film industry. Regardless of the language of its expression and cultural background, Nigerian films,he argued, have contributed remarkably to the world cinema and the economy of Nigeria and perception of Nigeria by the outside world. There is, therefore, the need to build upon this success and address various challenges in the industry, some of which came to the fore during the question and answer session.

The Festival, which ran from October 2nd through 5th, was declared open by Dr Olusegun Mimiko, the Executive Governor of Ondo State, accompanied by his wife, Mrs Olukemi Mimiko, and members of his Cabinet.

In his remarks, Mimiko noted that the film medium is a key propagator of indigenous languages and cultural values which needs to be cultivated towards achieving meaningful development.

According to him, for development to be meaningful and sustainable, it needs to be grafted upon cultural values of the people, drawing examples from Asian countries like Malaysia, Japan, Korea and Singapore. Such values include honesty, hard work, unity and a sense of the community as against individualism being glorified by liberalisation and globalisation.

Redefining Women in Nollywood by BENJAMIN NJOKU/Vanguard 20 October 2011. Republished from

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