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.

01 September 2014

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part V – Exploring a plurality of experiences

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part V - In one of the first of the class exercises, students were assigned artists/filmmakers to research and prepare a visual oral presentation. This post outlines the activity that explores the these artists and filmmakers and their work. 


During the spring 2014 semester I taught a course that I created called, African Women in Art and Cinema. In the Part I Blog post, I presented the course description. Part II elaborated the course structure, outline and themes. Part III focused on introductory sources that frame theoretical and critical practices of interpretation and contextualise women artists’ multiple experiences. Part IV explored the themes “women’s voices” and “women’s stories” and the ways in which they are contextualised and problematized—Beti Ellerson, September 2014

In one of the first of the class exercises, students were assigned artists/filmmakers to research and prepare a visual oral presentation. As was emphasised before, the choice of artists/filmmakers was guided by available visual materials (especially films as there is a dearth of accessible works in the United States) and readings in English (or from my translations from French):

Jane Alexander, visual artist (South Africa)
Raja Amari, filmmaker (Tunisia/France)
Elisabeth Atnafu, visual artist (Ethiopia/USA)
Sokari Douglas Camp, sculptor (Nigeria/UK)
Angèle Etoundi Essamba, photographer (Cameroon/Netherlands)
Nikyatu Jusu, filmmaker (Sierra Leone/USA) 
Aida Muluneh, filmmaker/photographer (Ethiopia)
Wangechi Mutu, mixed-media artist (Kenya/USA)
Ingrid Mwangi, interdisciplinary artist (Kenya/Germany)
Fanta Nacro, filmmaker (Burkina Faso)
Zullah Otto-Sallies, filmmaker (South Africa)
Akosua Adoma Owusu, filmmaker (Ghana/USA)
Bridget Pickering, filmmaker/producer (Namibia/South Africa)
Bernie Searle, interdisciplinary artist (South Africa)
Mary Sibande, photographer (South Africa)

As with the selections presented in Part IV, one may note that the women span the continent, reflecting its diversity of languages and cultures; thus allowing a trans-continental perspective.

Students were exposed to many cultural experiences, ideas and concepts. The work of Zullah Otto-Sallies introduced students to the Bo-Kaap, one of the oldest districts of South Africa, with a large population of people of Malay descent as well as a significant Muslim population. Her work also highlights the generational shifts and the tensions that they engender.

Students also learned about what Ghanaian-American Akosua Adoma Owusu describes as “triple consciousness”: being American, of African parentage and culture, and, sharing the same skin-colour but not the same history as African-Americans. Similarly, Sierra Leone-American Nikyatu Jusu’s work exxamines the experiences of first-generation Africans born in the United States.

Moreover, the exercise revealed that many of the women work at the intersection of mediums, notably Wangechi Mutu’s animation work: "The End of Eating Everything". The students discovered the globality of the women’s experience, having travelled, studied, worked or lived in multiple environments.

As will be discussed more extensively under the theme, identities, this exercise revealed the important role that identity plays in the works of so many African women cultural producers.

Two student reflections:

It is this exploration of identity – personal as well as cultural – that defines the work Akosua Adoma Owusu does, and makes significant her contributions to the realms of African and American film.  Owusu utilizes her position as a Ghanaian American to examine a particular subset of the African experience – that of the African immigrant in America – and conveys the inter-culture mingling that occurs by mingling cultures within her own films…Through this manipulation, Owusu generates discussion of what shapes the concepts of culture and identity, and how the two concepts relate and interact. (Abbie Thill, Denison University).

An important lesson to draw from the work of not only Jane Alexander, but also the artists and filmmakers covered in class, is the importance of art as a forum for worldwide dialogue regarding human rights. The sustained discourse stemming from film festivals, art exhibitions, discussions and forums creates an open space for analyzing and interpreting the unique human experience that can touch all members of all races, ethnicities, classes and genders on a basic, wholly natural level. Open sharing of cultural experiences, worldwide plights, social injustices and widespread violence extends the reach of critical voices of African artists to span the entire continent and cross oceans to spark worldwide collaboration, partnership, and eventually, change and activism. (Jenna Breslin, Denison University).

By Beti Ellerson, September 2014



31 August 2014

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part IV – Women’s Voices – Women’s Stories


Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part IV explores the themes “women’s voices” and “women’s stories” and the ways in which they are contextualised and problematized.


During the spring 2014 semester I taught a course that I created called, African Women in Art and Cinema. In the Part I Blog post, I presented the course description. Part II elaborated the course structure, outline and themes. Part III focused on introductory sources that frame theoretical and critical practices of interpretation and contextualise women artists’ multiple experiences—Beti Ellerson, August 2014

The objective of the weekly critical reflection paper was to make connections on the readings, discussions, lectures and visuals as they evolved from week to week, critically engaging the course content. The critical reflection paper was a space within which students worked through the concepts, theories, questions and difficult issues that were addressed. I found this exercise to be a very satisfying activity, as it was a way to interact directly with students, responding to, commenting on their reflections and dialoguing with them via email communication.

Under the themes “Women’s voices” and “Women's Stories, Experiences and Realities” students were exposed to myriad creative expressions and practices based on the conceptual framework of “the plurality of African women’s voices”: that African women are not a monolith. This notion became the leitmotiv of the course, as students incorporated it into their evolving knowledge and understanding of African women experiences.

Each student was assigned an interview of a filmmaker to read and critically engage for the class lecture, visual presentation and discussion:

Angola: (3 short profiles) Sarah Maldoror, Maria João Ganga, Pocas Pascoal
Cape Verde: Isabel Moura Mendes 

One may note that the selection of women spans the continent and encompasses the diversity of languages and cultures, thus reflecting a cross-continental perspective. Excerpts of their work were presented to contextualise the ideas and examples explored and examined during the interviews.

The storyteller, an identity visible across the artistic experiences of African women, has its origins in the deep-rooted oral traditions of most African societies. What stories do African women tell? How do their life experiences impact their art and choices? How do the realities of the societies where they are born or in which they navigate reflect in their art? These questions were addressed through readings of the selected interviews noted above and the focus on four artists that follow.

The choice of an eclectic selection of artists was based on—which was already emphasised as an objective of the course—the desire to highlight the multiplicity of women’s stories, women’s voices:
-  writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
-  painter Kebedech Tekleab (Ethiopia)
-  multi-disciplinary artist Werewere Liking (Cameroon)
-  the late singer Cesária Èvora (Cape Verde).

As underscored earlier, the choice of artists was also guided by available materials and readings in English (or from my translations from French) that were directly relevant to the issues and concepts of the course objectives. Points to consider for the readings and the class visual presentation and lecture included:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: What is the danger of a single story?

Kebedech Tekleab: Using brush and pen to tell the experience of war and conflict

Werewere Liking: The Village Ki-yi, a social movement that builds alternative approaches of development
"Werewere Liking at the Villa Ki-Yi". Peter Hawkins. African Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 359 (Apr., 1991), pp. 207-222.

Cesária Évora: Beyond exotica and nostalgia, telling stories through song. "Cesária Évora 'The Barefoot Diva' and other stories". Carla Martin, TransitionsIssue 103, 2010 pp. 82-97. 

The session began with excerpts from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk, warning of the danger of a single story. How a single story limits, stereotypes, thwarts the notion of multidimensionality, encourages the monolithic idea. Her admonishment had unexpected results, leading into a class discussion during which students gave examples of their own experiences of “the single story”. Not specifically about Africa or African women; but rather like Adichie, when realizing that they had viewed someone through a single lens, based upon an incomplete or distorted story. This lesson became an epiphany, a learning moment. 

While Kebedech Tekleab uses her brush and poems to relate her story of internment as a civilian prisoner, her story becomes a universal one, she traverses borders beyond her own experiences connecting with, concerned about, the universality of human suffering. She is not merely a former African civilian prisoner, but a person among others in the world who endured suffering and has overcome it through creativity and art.

As a multi-disciplinary artist Werewere Liking defies artistic categories, as well as takes a critical and committed position regarding culture, language and gender. Her story unfolds as a multi-layered, cross-disciplinary visual, performative text.

Cesaria Evora’s role as cultural ambassador challenges the prevailing image of her as the “barefoot diva of the islands” and the stereotypical “mother Africa”, her songs relay her myriad stories of love, life, dreams and hope.

In her critical engagement with the theme of women’s multiple voices and stories, student Jenna Breslin (Denison University) had this to say in her critical reflection: All four artists— Chimamanda Achidie, Werewere Liking, Cesária Evora and Kebedech Tekleab—use diverse forms of art, language and connection to conquer the danger of the “single story” that threatens to drown out the voices of diversity in understandings of African culture and the human condition. Instead, by crossing national and ethnic boundaries and connecting individuals based upon human commonalities of emotion and experience, instead of separating them upon lines of the stereotyped “single story,” we see how the works of these African women apply dignity and honour to our understanding of Pan Africanism and African women, not as a monolith, but as an expansive spectrum of experiences. 

By Beti Ellerson, August 2014


30 August 2014

The Distinguished Woman of African Cinema Award presented by Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ)

The Distinguished Woman of African Cinema Award was inaugurated by Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ) in 2007. WFOZ, established in 1996, is Zimbabwe’s leading women filmmaker’s organisation and the oldest functioning film institution in the country.

The Distinguished Woman of African Cinema Award is presented biennially to a woman of African descent anywhere in the world who has made and continues to make a significant contribution to the African film industry within any of its areas. The main aim of this award is to focus attention on the need for women of colour, particularly those of African descent, to tell their stories in film. The award is presented at the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF).

The award:

- honours an outstanding woman who, through her endurance and the excellence of her work has helped to expand the role of African women in the film industry,

- recognises outstanding achievements in any area of film development, production and distribution,

- recognises a filmmaker who opens paths for other women filmmakers of African descent.

IIFF is engaging with African Women Development Fund (AWDF) to make it an annual award as the number of African women and women of African descent engaging in cinema, whether practically or in advocacy, is increasing.

2007

At its first year in 2007 there were two nominees: Musola Cathrine Kaseketi and Lebo Mashile, who became joint winners:

Musola Cathrine Kaseketi of Zambia, is founder of the Zambian International Film Festival and the first professional Zambian woman filmmaker.

Lebo Mashile of South Africa, poet, writer and actress.

2009

In 2009 there were three nominees: Susan Makore, Nakai Matema, Dorothy Meck 

Nakai Matema of Zimbabwe, the 2009 laureate, has produced, directed, trained filmmakers and was until 2010, the director of the Zimbabwe International Film Festival. 

Susan Makore has lectured at the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, Zimbabwe Open University and currently the University of Zimbabwe. In addition she is the Managing Director of Mighty Movies Private Limited.

Dorothy Meck joined Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) as a producer with Radio 4 and later moved to the television department. She has produced and directed over 45 drama series and has mentored young women aspirants on these productions.  

2011

In 2011 there were three nominees: Jackie Cahi, Beti Ellerson, Bridget Pickering 

Beti Ellerson, the 2011 laureate (United States), is the founder and director of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Jackie Cahi is a filmmaker, producer and cultural activist from Zimbabwe.

Bridget Pickering is a producer and filmmaker from Namibia based in South Africa.

2013: Due to circumstances, there was no competition in 2013.

2014

The nominees of the 2014 edition: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Yaba Badoe, Lupita Nyong’o

Kenyan-Mexican Lupita Nyong’o, the 2014 laureate, is an Academy Award winner for her role as supporting actress in the film 12 Days a Slave (2013) by Steve McQueen; she is also a filmmaker (In My Genes, 2009).

Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Achidie is a writer whose 2006 novel Half of a Yellow Sun was adapted for the film of the same name. The rights of her most recent novel Americanah has been optioned by Lupita Nyong’o.

British-Ghanaian Yaba Badoe is a writer and filmmaker. She launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for her film project on acclaimed writer Ata Ama Aidoo.

Thank you to Tsitsi Dangarembga, founder and former director of International Images Film Festival for Women, and current Director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa (ICAPA) Trust, who graciously responded to my request for information regarding the origins, history and evolution of the Distinguished Woman of African Cinema Award--Beti Ellerson, August 2014.

29 August 2014

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture Part III – Theoretical and critical practices of interpretation


Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part III focuses on introductory sources that frame theoretical and critical practices of interpretation and contextualise women artists’ multiple experiences.


During the spring 2014 semester I taught a course that I created called, African Women in Art and Cinema. In the Part I Blog post, I presented the course description. Part II elaborated the course structure, outline and themes. In Part III, I will focus on introductory sources that frame theoretical and critical practices of interpretation and contextualise women artists’ multiple experiences. How visual representations of African women, especially in cinema are theorised and problematized, and how theories and critical inquiry on African women in cinema have evolved. The presentation of the film Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema, has been a useful tool for me to structure the course, as a means for women themselves to talk about their experiences with cinema—Beti Ellerson, August 2014

A few publications have been available in the last few years that serve as primary texts in the study of African women in cinema, notably the special issue of Journal of African Cinemas: Celebrating 40 years of films made by women directors in francophone Africa and Feminist Africa: African Feminist Engagements with Film, both issued in 2012. My contributions to both journals served as readings for the discussion on theoretical and critical practices of interpretation. In both articles, “Towards an African women in cinema studies” in Journal of African Cinemas, and “Reflections on cinema criticism and African women” in Feminist Africa, I probe the tenets, critical debates and developing trends in what has evolved as a veritable African Women in Cinema Studies. Essential to this discussion is its vital role in the history of African cinema, Women’s Studies and film criticism.

In the introductory week of the course, the students presented a short overview of their assigned countries in order to become familiar with or give a review of the historical contexts of the vast continent of Africa.

Under the theme, Women Artists’/Filmmakers' Voices the class had a glimpse at historical, political, and cultural events of African societies through the eyes of their women cultural producers, featuring Safi Faye (Senegal), Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Fatou Kandé Senghor (Senegal) and Rina Jooste (South Africa). The readings included: “Safi Faye: Africa through a Woman's Eyes: Safi Faye's Cinema” by Beti Ellerson, in Focus on African Films (Indiana University Press, 2004) by Françoise Pfaff, interviews with Tsitsi Dangarembga and Rina Jooste, and the translation from French of an autobiographical narrative by Fatou Kandé Senghor. The choice of the women was guided by my interest in highlighting the interdisciplinarity of African women artists’ lives, how they work at the intersection of multiple experiences. Safi Faye is a filmmaker and anthropologist, at the same time she blurs the boundaries of the documentary and fiction. Tsitsi Dangarembga is a filmmaker, writer, cultural activist, and organizer. Fatou Kandé Senghor is a multi-media artist, connecting the borderlines of filmmaking, performance, plastic arts, music—including hip hop. Rina Jooste, a musician turned filmmaker, and in turn historian, brings together these elements to deal with the difficult, storied history of South Africa, and in particular Afrikaner experiences and identities.

Students, thus, are exposed to the concept of African women in cinema as an expansive, outward-reaching entity, and from the beginning of the course, experience Africa as a vast continent with plural histories, cultures, languages and identities, and African women artists as complex and multidimensional human beings.

by Beti Ellerson, August 2014


28 August 2014

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part II - Course structure, outline and themes

La Noire de...(1966) Ousmane Sembene
Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part II is an elaboration of the course structure, outline and themes.


During the spring 2014 semester I taught a course that I created called, African Women in Art and Cinema. During the Part I Blog post, I presented the course description. In this post I will discuss the course structure, outline and themes—Beti Ellerson, August 2014

The course began with an overview, contextualizing African women in art, cinema and culture and framing the theoretical and critical discourse on visual representations of Africa and African women. Many of the sources were drawn from my own work in forging an African Women in Cinema Studies, especially because of its accessibility and also because I could engage the students directly with my research process, beginning with my book, Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film, Video and Television (Africa World Press, 2000), the film Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema (2002, distributed by Women Make Movies) and the creation of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema, (which I am founder and director) with its public forum, the African Women in Cinema Blog.

While the above sources focus broadly on the moving image, I was able to easily integrate them into specific and general discussions on visual art and cultural production. What drew me to “African Women in Cinema” as a study and research focus was its incredibly broad range of discourse and practice. Women on, in front, behind the screen—as makers, producers, scriptwriters, actresses, role models, consciousness raisers, practitioners, technicians, organisers, fundraisers, social media community managers, bloggers, agents of change, activists, advocates, audience builders, cultural producers, cultural readers, and above all, storytellers—they are all part of this notion of “African Women in Cinema” as a conceptual framework.

The course was organized around the following themes:

Women artists’/filmmakers' voices
Women's stories, experiences and realities
Critical voices of women actors
Visual representations of African women
Interrogating identities, bodies, sexualities, femininities
Intergenerational perspectives
African women, new medias, social media  
Global diaspora, transnational
Gendered sensibilities: Male gazes, masculinist/feminist?

Structuring the course thematically allowed me to bring together women across disciplines. One of the regrettable downsides to this endeavour, and which I emphasised to the students throughout the course, was that those whose work was accessible, whose presence was visible, who were studied, focused on, talked about, written about, promoted, were the ones who were most likely included as examples—and I consciously avoided any “starification” encouraged by gatekeepers and self-promoters. And of course there is the inherent limitation of the 16-week semester. And thus, my objective was to give visibility to as many as possible, no matter how tiny their (online, researched, written) presence, by a variety of activities and exercises—critical written reflections, research, presentations, panel discussion, simulated exhibition/festival—and above all, by my own acknowledgement and recognition of their work during the class lectures.


27 August 2014

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part I - Introduction


Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part I

During the spring 2014 semester I taught a course that I created called, African Women in Art and Cinema. During the next several posts I will share the course description, interactions, projects and the myriad experiences of the students, as well as give my reflections on the course in the context of an emerging African Women Cinema Studies--Beti Ellerson, August 2014.
Following is the course description as presented in the syllabus:

The course explores visual representation, the gaze and African women’s experience with the visual image across artistic disciplines, especially as it relates to image construction and social location. The course probes issues of identity, power, agency, the body, sexuality, race, ethnicity, gender and positionality at the intersection of feminism, postcoloniality, cultural studies and visual culture. 

The diversity and plurality of African life, history, experience and culture suggests that there is a plurality of African women’s experiences, thus the importance of using an interdisciplinary approach. To better understand African women’s cultural production, it is important to contextualize it within the larger sphere of African history in general, and African cultures in particular. The course explores the history, experiences, tendencies and sensibilities of African women’s artistic practice at the intersection of cultural criticism, postcolonial theory and gender analysis. The course draws especially from continental African women’s cultural discourses.

Understanding that Africa is a vast continent with many different languages, social and political histories, geographic and demographic specificities, as well as religious and cultural practices, the course highlights the plurality of African societies. 

The course explores African cultures, histories and social interactions through the eyes of African women, traversing cinema, material culture, visual culture, sartorial and corporeal practices, music and dance, oral tradition, spirituality, African landscapes and environments, life cycles, African/Western encounters, African diasporas, technologies, resistance and conflicts, African liberation and independences, and the diverse critiques of African societies through their women artists. Central to the goals of the course is to study the particular nature of the diverse African social, cultural, political and economic systems. Thus the course will look at national, regional, continental and international trends and issues.

Themes of ethnicity, gender, religion, identity, relocation and diaspora, trauma and conflict—important issues of the first decade of the twenty-first century—identify some significant themes that will inform the course study.
This course enables an understanding of the complexity and diversity of African contemporary societies, through the eyes of African women. The course holds transforming potential for the students, and will be useful in their career goal of promoting greater understanding of African women’s role in cultural production, through its inquiry and analyses of the intersecting dynamics and focus on critical questions for study.

by Beti Ellerson, August 2014


26 August 2014

Women in Ecrans d’Afrique/African Screen: From the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema Archives


Women in Ecrans d’Afrique/African Screen: From the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema Archives:

Ecrans d’Afrique/African Screen was the first pan-African revue of its kind dedicated to cinema, television and audiovisual producers in Africa. Created  by FEPACI, the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers, it was in existence from 1991 to 1998.

Women were visible both on the covers and in the pages of the revue. Following are citations of and links to articles, profiles and tidbits highlighting African women in all areas of cinema: filmmakers, editors, actors, producers, make-up artists, and other posts.