The emergence of female characters in the African continent’s recent cinematographic production confirms the inversion in the distribution of roles heralded by Malian filmmaker Adama Drabo’s Taafe Fanga (Skirt Power) at the 15th Fespaco. In his film, for the first time, men only held secondary roles.
The screenplays of a series of films screened at the 17th Fespaco consolidate this major innovation.
In his feature film, Faat Kiné, presented out of competition, « the elder of the elders », as the veteran Ousmane Sembene likes to call himself, chooses a petrol station manageress. She is portrayed to be a modern woman, the prototype of the emancipated female, whose successful career frees her from the tutelary yoke of an inconstant and cupid polygamous husband. She reflects the combat of many self-made African women, her path making her a role model. It is in this respect that she comes over as a liberating figure, because she conveys moral values that the younger generation should take inspiration from to avoid becoming the playthings of irresponsible skirt-chasers.
Filmmaker Roger Gnoan Mbala proposes another image of African women in his epic fresco Adangganman. In it Albertine Nguessan plays Mô Akassi, a rebellious mother, beholder of the Word that frees. She uses this against the slave-trading monarch’s bloody repression. In this seventeenth century Africa, Mô Akassi incarnates dignity, nobleness, and the refusal of servitude. She does not waver before the brutishness of the Amazonians, the cruellest of whom Ehua, played by Bintou Bakayoko – ends up joining the camp of the oppressed. The Mow Akassi and Ehua characters are constituents of the same liberating figure, both carrying out acts to put a stop to the repression and generalized servitude.
In Bàttu, adapted from La grève des Battu (The Beggars’ Strike) by the Senegalese novelist Aminata Sow Fall, the Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko casts Cameroonian actress Félicité Wouassi in the role of the beggars’ leader. The accuracy of her composition makes her a sympathetic character so natural is her acting style. Used to playing modern characters, Félicité Wouassi demonstrates the extent of her talent by playing on another register. Her performance is a true feat. She thereby proves that any kind of role depends on the actor’s ability to propose a convincing interpretation.
The image of modern women conveyed in Les Couilles de l’éléphant by Gabonese filmmaker Joseph Koumba Bididi raises serious controversy in terms of the moral it implies, but all the same reflects a reality in contemporary Africa. As the tensions in the family increase, the heroine and her daughter prove to represent the two sides of the same coin. Both resort to blackmail to meet their ends. The mother calls on the expertise of a woman versed in occult practices to (re)conquer her inconsistent husband. As for her daughter, she plays on sentimental fibres. She goes as far as getting together with her father’s rival, which is her way of teaching her parents a lesson. Moralists will not be able to refrain from seeking the traces of productive values of some sort or another in this vitriolic portrait that are capable of re-establishing the equilibrium in a society where everything is influenced by traffics of political influence.
In his rereading of the Wagadu legend, Sia, le rêve du python, which narrates several West African peoples’ founding myths, Burkinabè director Dani Kouyaté depicts subjugated women. Whether it be the queen mother decked out in the imperial court, or the young pubescent girl delivered to the seven-headed python the metaphor of the perversion of a mystical and devotional power behind which the notables hide as they fuel a myth to satiate their libidinous appetites women are seen to be submissive with only madness as a way out.
Burkinabè director Fanta Régina Nacro, on the other hand, paints the portrait of a combative female in her short film Bintou. This combatant mother sways her husband’s feudal stances to construct the future of their home.
The growing presence of African actresses in leading roles accentuates the general trend in the African continent’s films and will become stronger as the number of women directors increases. Their sensitivity and their sincerity will not fail to heighten the complexion of Africa’s filmography.
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