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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12 December 2021

African Diasporas. Positioning France within afro-descendant women's cultural and cinematic imaginaries and identities

 Positioning France within afro-descendant women's cultural and cinematic imaginaries and identities
Reflections by Beti Ellerson

Notes continuing...
France has been a site of cultural and cinematic imaginaries for a generation of African women who have and continue to navigate its capital Paris and other areas of the Hexagon. With its rich cinema culture and history, it has been fertile ground for African women with an interest in filmmaking and screen culture production and activism as early as the 1950s and 1960s. A hub within which African women from Francophone regions and beyond may gather to network, study, edit, and research, many who sojourn to the country returning to their place of origin, while others make it their home, to settle, live and work. With such a strong presence of women who reside or circulate in France, it is not surprising that there is a corresponding level of recent activities and events that is emerging to meet their needs. Some of the cinematic gatherings with a focus on African women and/or women of the South dating back to the 1990s include the Women's International Film Festival at Creteil and Cannes. Continuing in this tradition are gatherings at landmark festivals such as Festival des films d'Afrique en pays d'Apt, as well as Francophone festivals in neighboring Switzerland, such as FIFF Festival International du Film de Fribourg. Moreover, the International Colloquium "Francophone African Women Filmmakers: 40 years of cinema (1972-2012)" held in Paris in November 2012 highlighted contributions of afro-descendant women in France, Africa and internationally. The proliferation of programming that includes afro-descendant women is no doubt a reflection of the universal call for multiculturalism and gender parity and a European imperative to focus on inclusion and diversity within its own population and borders.

The iconic Afrique sur Seine (Africa on the Seine), directed in 1955 by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and his colleagues (Robert Caristan, Jacques Mélo Kane, Mamadou Sarr) while in film school in Paris, is a seminal work in the history of African cinema production. As colonial subjects of French West Africa, these African students migrated to France to study; and because they were not permitted to film in, at the time, French Colonial Africa, they constructed an Africa in Paris posing the question as a point of departure for the film: Is Africa in Africa, on the banks of the Seine, or in the Latin Quarter?

Revisited by the “grandchildren” of Afrique sur Seine more than sixty years later, the film continues to be relevant to a third generation of African filmmakers, which is indicative of the ubiquitous flow, exchange and influences inherent in the fluidity and circulation of peoples, ideas, and experiences within the global African world. And perhaps more significantly, it reveals the indelible impact on African cinematic discourse, of these initial attitudes regarding identity. For her graduation film, Une Africaine sur Seine (An African woman on the Seine), Senegalese Ndèye Marame Guèye revisits Afrique sur Seine, posing many of the same questions about home, place, location and subjectivity explored two generations before; her concluding remarks in the film:  Beautiful images will have to be born again in the Sahara, envisioned by the grandchildren of [Paulin Soumanou Vieyra] from an imaginary born of the rivers of Africa, and not of the waters of the Seine”.

And yet, as the exchange of ideas, visions, dialogue and knowledge increasingly globalizes, Ndèye Marame Guèye’s pronouncement is perhaps more symbolic than an actual prognosis for future generations of African makers. That she utters these words in a student film made in Paris, is indicative of the earlier practice that persist in the present: of student migration to the West to study and later settle to live and work, which is often due to the lack of film training in Africa as a whole, although there are schools and institutes that are steadily emerging throughout the continent. However, most return to their home countries after their studies, making important contributions to local, regional and continental cinema cultures. Conversely, there is a generation of first-gens who were born in the host country of their immigrant parents, which they call home, or the bi-racial and/or bi-cultural women whose parents met and settled in or returned to the country of one of the parents; or in still another “journey of identity”, who acquired their global hybrid identity as “third-culture individuals” during a childhood with expatriate parents who worked as professionals in host countries—some remaining outside of Africa, and others returning to the continent.

Hence, contemporary films by afro-descendant women frame their characters within an environment that contextualizes the current realities of present-day French society especially as it relates to identity, inclusion and belonging. However, these works, most of which are documentary films though the number of fiction films are growing, underscore the vexed realities of "other" French identities in the current French social and political landscape, in which their afro-descendant identities must be negotiated and are in perpetual flux.
A selection of articles on the African Women in Cinema Blog that frame contemporary afro-descendant women, identity and positionality in France

Afropolitaine webserie: 100% afro
Mame-Fatou Niang's and Kaytie Nielsen: Mariannes noires

Josza Anjembe: Le bleu blanc rouge de mes cheveux (The blue white red of my hair) | French

Amandine Gay: To be a black woman in France has its specific issues

Isabelle Boni-Claverie: Trop noire pour être française

Claude Haffner: Footprints of my other

Pascale Obolo: The Invisible Woman

Gendered representations of Africans in the French Hexagon

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