Sunday, September 17, 2006
12. Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene's "Moolaade" (2004): Africa ought to be proud of this film!
Ousmane Sembene is a colossus among African filmmakers. He is what Kurosawa and Ray are to Asia. At 82, this man is making films on women's problems, on colonialism, on human rights without losing sight of African culture.
Moolaade deals with rebellion by African women against female circumcision, a tradition upheld by elders, Muslim and animist, in a swathe of countries across Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Interestingly, the film is an uprising within the social traditions that allow the husband full powers over his wives and acceptance of other social codes to whip his wife in public into submission. How many women (and feminist) directors who preach about female emancipation would have dared to make a film on this subject in Africa? The subject could cause riots in countries such as Egypt. Sembene is more feminist than women and I admire this veteran for this and other films he has made. He graphically shows how women are deprived of sexual pleasures through this practice and how thousands die during the crude operation.
Moolaade deals with other aspects of Africa as well. It comments on the adherence to traditional values that are good--six women get protection through a code word and piece of cloth tied in front of the entrance to the house. It comments on materialism (including a bread vendor with a good heart for the oppressed who is called a "mercenary" by the women who claim to know the meaning of the word) that pervades pristine African villages (the return of a native from Europe and the increasing dependence on radios for entertainment and information).
Sembene's cinema is not stylish--its style stems from its simplicity and its humane values. Sembene's films allow non-Africans to get inside the world of the real Africa far removed from the world of the Mandelas, constant hunger and the epidemic of AIDS that the media underlines as Africa today. Sembene's film is not history, it is Africa today. The performances are as close to reality as you could get.
At the end of the film shown at the 2005 Dubai Film Festival, I could not but marvel at a man concerned not at making great cinema for arts' sake but using it creatively to improve the human condition of a slice of humanity the world (and the media) prefers to ignore. How many of us worry about the conditions of life in Africa, let alone the social problems of women in Africa? Here is a director nudging us to think on those lines. Through this film, a subject that most Muslims prefer not to discuss is brought to the screen.