CFMS talks gender and sexuality in African film for Africa Month
May was Africa Month, and in celebration, CFMS hosted two events for Women Screen Africa - firstly a screening of African films directed by women, and secondly a panel discussion on those films by postgraduate students.
The following films were screened on Friday 26 May:
The Sleeping Child/ L'enfant endormi (dir. Y. Kassari, 2004) – 110mins
Breaking out of the Box (dir. Z. Matebeni & B. Kheswa, 2011) – 40mins
Difficult Love (dir. Z. Muholi, 2010) – 47mins
Mother’s Day/Kare Kare Zvako (dir. T. Dangarembga, 2005) – 30mins
The screenings were followed by a panel discussion on Tuesday 30 May by CFMS postgraduates Norita Mdege, Emelia Steenekamp and Clarien Luttig.
Mdege focused on the film Kare Kare Zvako in a presentation entitled "Not Bumpkins: Tsitsi Dangarembga and the Representation of Rural African Women on Film." According Mdege's abstract: Fictional film representations of rural women in Zimbabwe often obscure women’s multiple experiences and silence their voices. This is partly because the films are often funded by humanitarian organisations and the representations framed within humanitarian projects such as those that aim to create awareness about diseases or human rights. In this context, rural women are then represented and positioned as recipients rather than producers of knowledge. This structure of funding often creates a complex relationship between filmmakers and their films as they sometimes end up being mouth pieces for humanitarian organisations rather than have the space to engage with communities in their own creative ways. This discussion will explore Tsitsi Dangarembga’s relationship with her films. Specific attention will be placed on Dangarembga’s film Mother’s Day/Kare Kare Zvako (2005), and how she uses the film to engage with the experiences of rural women and women in general within Zimbabwe’s postcolonial context.
Steenekamp's presentation was entitled "Levels of Exile in Yasmine Kassari's The Sleeping Child." She summarised her research as follows: "Sleeping Child," in Maghrebi mythology, refers to an unborn child that has been "put to sleep" in the womb through white magic. According to this myth, the foetus can be carried in dormancy for years, to be woken up once the mother is ready for its birth. Through her film on this topic, Yasmine Kassari effectively unpacks the different dimensions of the concept of reproduction. The film tells of a group of women, along with a child "asleep in the womb", who are left behind in a small Moroccan village, when all the male residents leave for Europe, communicating only through occasional video messages recorded on VHS. Through a minimalist aesthetic, and a very effective application of mise-en-abyme, the spectral presence of the patriarchy permeates the film. The men are absent, yet present - present as talking heads on a screen, an unborn child, and a resolute matriarch. The aim of my study then, is to examine the ways in which Kassari's film interweaves these different liminal spaces and creates an acute sense of exile and alienation.
Finally, Luttig's presentation called "African Women, Queerness, and Documentary Film" touched on both Difficult Love and Breaking out of the Box. Luttig explained her presentation as follows: Questions of whose stories are told, how they are told, and by whom, form an important and often difficult subject within South African cinema. This discussion considered such questions with regards to factors including, amongst others, race, gender, and sexual orientation. As the socio-political landscape has evolved, there has been an encouraging increase in Queer directors working in South African documentary film, producing films that focus specifically on themes of identity in relation to gender and sexuality. It seems that Queer identities – and specifically, Queer Black identities – have thus far been better represented in local documentary as opposed to fictional films, with a strong focus on the personal as political. This discussion raised questions about why this is the case, and suggested that contributing factors include funding, accessibility, and the need for an all-too-often marginalised group of identities to be represented in local non-fiction film. It further contextualised why this is so significant – especially in a country where the legislation protecting Queer people from discrimination does not always translate into lived experience.