Spotlight on African Women in Film

It will be almost sacrilegious to ignore the wonderful high-level work created by African women filmmakers and storytellers this year (2013-2014). From shorts to feature films and documentaries, the following directors and subjects have brought to life stories by or about African women within specific African cultural contexts that are also globally relatable: Chika Anadu, Uche Nwadili, Joanna Lipper, Hafsat Abiola, Dyana Gaye, Judy Kibinge and Nadine Otsobogo Boucher. Below is the magic they birthed on our silver screens.

#1 B For BOY

Initial Release: 13 November 2013 (USA)

Director: Chika Anadu

Writers: Chika Anadu

Lead Cast: Uche Nwadili, Ngozi Nwaneto, Nonso Odogwu

Runtime: 118 minutes

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis

B For Boy is a contemporary drama set in Nigeria, about one woman’s desperate need for a male child; which reveals the discrimination of women in the names of culture and religion.

Review

This film stands out in the sense that although it is a culturally heavy Igbo film, it is absolutely not your typical Nollywood film. B for Boy is a Nigerian art house film with Igbo cultural aspects that most deep-rooted patriarchal societies can easily relate to.

It is a film about a culture that glorifies the male child and doesn’t suffer women, inept in this regard, lightly. The male child is heir to his families heritage, and hence, of high value to Amaka’s (Uche Nwadili) in laws. Even as she suffered a stillbirth alone, she kept the horror of the incident to herself, and resorted to purchasing a male infant from a poor woman while her husband was away.

Uche Nwadili’s performance is breath taking, and an excellent choice on the part of the casting directors. Despite her terrible suffering the audience is not completely drawn into being overly sympathetic towards her experience since she is definitely a tough woman, her emotions fluctuate effortlessly from an embittered woman to an endearing oga-madam or wife. There is somewhat of a natural lighting through out the film and handheld (slightly shaky cam) feel, allowing the audience to feel the rawness of the character’s emotions.

#2 THE SUPREME PRICE

Initial Release: May 29, 2014

Director: Joanna Lipper

Producer: Joanna Lipper

Lead Cast: Hafsat Abiola, Wole Soyika, Ibrahim Babangida

Running Time: 75m

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Synopsis

The Supreme Price is a feature length documentary film that traces the evolution of the Pro-Democracy Movement in Nigeria and efforts to increase the participation of women in leadership roles. Following the annulment of her father’s victory in Nigeria’s Presidential Election and her mother’s assassination by agents of the military dictatorship, Hafsat Abiola faces the challenge of transforming a corrupt culture of governance into a democracy capable of serving Nigeria’s most marginalized population: women.

Review

Albeit the fact that this film offers a rough overview of Nigeria in the time of Abiola, the director, Joanna does an excellent job of introducing and highlighting the women who carried on the legacy of the president who never took office. It is clear that Abiola fathered several children, but this film is seen primarily through the eyes of his daughter Hafsat, the chosen one.

The director makes jump cuts between Hasfat’s many causes, her parents’ campaigns, insight from dignitaries, and family members making the storyline incomplete. Once the audience is introduced to Hasfat’s mother, Kudirat, there is an innate need to know more about her role in bringing justice to her husband. Unfortunately not much can be covered in the space of 75 minutes. The film serves as an excellent historical anecdote and introduction to the issues of corrupt power that plagued Nigeria in the early 90’s.

#3 Original Title: DES ETOILE – English Title: UNDER THE STARRY SKY

Initial release: Jan 29, 2014

Director: Dyana Gaye

Lead Cast: Ralph Amoussou, Mareme Demba Ly, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye

Running time: 88 minutes

Rating: 5/5

Number three on our must watch list takes the GoWoman all the way to East Africa, Kenya.

Over one winter, through the cities of Dakar, Torino and New York, we follow the exiled paths of several interconnected characters. For her husband’s funeral, New Yorker Mame Amy returns to Dakar with her 19-year-old son Thierno, who takes his first ever steps on African soil. Sophie, 24-years-old, leaves Dakar for Torino to join her husband Abdoulaye. He is missing. Abdoulaye has just arrived in New York with his cousin through an organisation of clandestine migrants. As the days go by, their destinies begin to echo one another, through the diversity of the cities they are crossing, somehow all united under the same starry sky.

A brilliantly executed film with beautiful cinematography and a story, which highlights the metaphor of human emigration as similar to a constellation. Just like the formation of stars that meet thousands of miles apart, we too are just human beings, miles a part, creating a formation while in in passage.

The story explores the interconnectivity of three characters who meet highly unexpected twists in fate in their various places of immigration, and are forced to negotiate their new living experience in three separate continents under the same starry skies.

Dyana weaves in their stories simultaneously, each relationship is effortlessly juxtaposed as one character emigrates, and another immigrates into the same space. Slowly the audience uncovers the relation of one character to the other.

Finally we cannot forget to mention the cinematographer on the project, Irina Lubtchansky, who employs a framing technique whereby characters are seen looking far out of the box frame, creating a sense of longing, and vacillation on the part of each character.

#4 SOMETHING NECESSARY

Initial release: 2013

Director: Judy Kibinge

Cast: Susan Wanjiru, Kipng’eno Kirui Duncan, Hilda Jepkoech

Writer: Mungai Kiroga, Jc Niala

Running time: 85 minutes

Rating: 5/5

Lets leave West Africa for a moment and venture into the magical world of filmmaking in the East. A journey into the works of one of Kenya’s gift to African filmmaking, Judy Kibinge, as she brings JC and Mungai’s drama, Something Necessary to life.

Synopsis:

SOMETHING NECESSARY is an intimate moment in the lives of Anne and Joseph. A woman struggling to rebuild her life after the civil unrest that swept Kenya after the 2007 elections claiming the life of her husband, the health of her son and leaving her home on an isolated farm in the Kenyan countryside in ruins, she now has nothing but her resolve to rebuild her life left. A young man, troubled gang member who participated in the countrywide violence is drawn to Anne and her farm seemingly in search of redemption.

Review:

What is a victim, what is a perpetrator and where is the line in-between? The film begins with a distressing look at the chaos that ensued post 2007 Kenyan elections, a situation which rid the lead character, Anne, of life as she knew it. She awakens from a coma and realizes that she is now a victim of sexual violence, her husband is killed and her child, diseased.

There is a quick change from the chaotic beginning to a quieter, and closer following of Anne’s experience as a victim, and one of the gang members who changed her life, Joseph.

Something Necessary stands as an everlasting testament to a real Kenyan story. Although Mungai’s beautifully written script focuses on the victim’s experience, the director chooses to pencil in the victim’s road to recovery as we follow the bitter burden that possessed him after his wicked deed. The inexplicable part of it all is Joseph’s serendipitous journey into Anne’s life. He gets a job as a construction worker, tasked to rebuild Anne’s shattered abode, a task he takes on with so much care, as it quite literally a form of reparation for atrocities committed.

All in all the audience is dragged into questioning the circumstances that shape the nature of the human spirit in times of war or unrest.

#5 Original Title: DIALEMI (ELLE S’AMUSE) – English Title: DIALEMI (SHE’s HAVING FUN)

Initial Release: 2013

Director: Nadine Otsobogo Boucher

Writer: Nadine Otsobogo Boucher

Cast: Prudence Maïdou, Laurent Owondo

Running time: 20 minutes

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Every creative GoWoman re-imagines herself at some point in her adult life. Self-actualization allows her to accept herself in her entirety, valuing her beauty and essence in its rawest form, nudity, as a vessel of expression, and the purest version of art itself. In Dialemi, Elle (Prudence) has possessed the artist (Laurent), whose love immortalizes her in a stone sculpture.

Synopsis

A house overlooking the sea

A man, a sculptor, lives there alone.

He needs inspiration.

One afternoon, SHE, a mysterious woman appears.

He was waiting for her.

It is a film about creativity and about love. About the inspiration that one enjoys.

Dialemi means “my love”

Review

Dialemi employs elements of magical realism, camera angles and a pace that sucks in the audience, in a manner that allows us to fully experience his loneliness, vulnerability and a complete range of his emotions.

As he chips away at the Mbigou stone, in deafening silence, he slowly sculpts the face of a woman’s immortalized beauty. This woman is Elle, his muse, the lady in a photograph on his wall. Sculpting through her, her subtle appearances, her nudity, and her essence, bring him brief moments of joy as he brings her to life.

This film is 20 gratifying minutes of art, beauty and pure, magical love.

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