[News] Sembene's 'Moolaadé'

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 30 11:04:03 EST 2004

Friends, i haven't seen it yet as it opens in the Bay area Friday, but his 
films are always a must see (and one of my favorite filmakers and writers).

Ritual and refuge

DESPITE BEING 81 years old, director Ousmane Sembene shows no sign of 
losing his edge. Sembene, who became Africa's most venerated filmmaker on 
the strength of works like Black Girl and Xala, is as incisive as ever in 
Moolaadé, a folksy feature with a tough topic: the long-standing practice 
of female genital mutilation. The film takes place in a rural village 
colored by the dusty browns of earth and the vibrant primary colors of 
African cloths. Four young girls evade a "purification" ceremony by seeking 
refuge in the bustling household of Collé Ardo Gallo Sy (Fatoumata 
Coulibaly), a proud woman who refused to have her own daughter cut. Collé 
declares a moolaadé, invoking an ancient spell that makes her household an 
impenetrable safe haven for the girls. The film examines the woman's 
transgression from every imaginable angle, and while Sembene is very much 
on her side, he's more interested in negotiation than in resolution. The 
writer-director does for the village what Spike Lee did for the Bed-Stuy 
neighborhood in Do the Right Thing: his kinetic editing, composition, and 
staging make for a living, breathing space that allows us to feel the fiery 
intensity of the characters' conflicts. Moolaadé is a film that's 
experienced more than it's watched, and it's one of the most powerful works 
to hit theaters in recent memory. (Max Goldberg)

Stand against genital mutilation

By Jacqueline Fitzgerald
Tribune staff reporter

Senegalese writer and director Ousmane Sembene is often called the father 
of African cinema. It's an accurate description, but also the sort of label 
that makes the famous novelist and filmmaker bristle.

The son of a fisherman, Sembene, 81, avoids making pronouncements on his 
weighty reputation or the impact of his films, many of which have a strong 
feminist streak. Instead, he speaks frankly about everyday issues facing 
Africans, especially women.

One of the most serious concerns, especially for rural women, is female 
circumcision--the deliberate cutting or mutilation of genitalia sometimes 
referred to as a "purification" ritual. In some cases, girls die from the 
mutilation. For those who survive, there are serious psychological and 
physical risks, including pain, shock, hemorrhage and infection.

Sembene's latest movie "Moolaade" tells the story of Colle Ardo Gallo Sy, a 
woman who shielded her daughter from mutilation and fights to protect a 
group of girls from the procedure. By resisting, Colle faces repercussions 
from her fellow villagers and endangers her daughter's prospective marriage 
to the heir-apparent of the tribal throne.

WN recently talked (via an interpreter) with Sembene about his movie, which 
opens Friday at the Music Box Theater.

Q. What does the word Moolaade mean?

A. Sanctuary, asylum and the right to protection.

Q. How widespread is the practice of female circumcision?

A. It is practiced in many African countries. If you look at the African 
continent, out of the 54 states that form the African union, female genital 
mutilation is practiced in 38 states. ... Thousands of young girls die from 
the operation.

Q. What percentage of girls who have the procedure die?

A. It's very hard to give exact statistics, but I would say 10 percent of 
the girls die. The reason why it's hard to give statistics is because most 
of it is practiced underground. Many Africans think that it is dictated by 
tradition. ...

There is a window of change because there are a lot of women who have been 
mutilated themselves, but who now refuse to have their daughters go through 
it. There are some states also that have passed legislation outlawing 
genital mutilation.

Q. How many states have passed legislation?

A. About 15 countries, including Senegal. Not all groups practice it in 
Senegal. Even in the same country or culture, you find that some practice 
it and some do not. ...

I think it's good to pass legislation outlawing the practice, but it takes 
more than the stroke of a pen to outlaw it. I think the most important 
aspect is education: Going into rural areas and talking to people.

Q. In the film, the character Colle (played by Fatoumata Coulibaly) is 
beaten for her resistance, and the men destroy the women's radios, their 
point of contact with the rest of the world.

A. The opposition comes from their husbands and then from society at large. 
[Circumcision] is very, very deeply ingrained in people's beliefs, mostly 
elderly people who inherited the practice and who do not want to give it 
up. ... There are many [men] who say even now that they would not marry a 
woman who has not had the mutilation. ...

The burning of the radios is not something I made up. There are a lot of 
villages where men have confiscated the radios. Even now, today.

[Other forms of punishment] could be as bad as death. Or women being 
completely marginalized, completely isolated.

Q. What would you say to the argument that as Westerners it's not our place 
to judge or criticize the practice of other cultures?

A. You have every right to talk about it because you are expressing your 
solidarity with other women in other cultures. In New York City, after a 
screening, an African woman came and gave me a note telling me she had gone 
through the excision and she was thanking me for giving her a voice through 
the film because she is afraid to talk about it. She's intimidated. So, if 
you don't talk about it here in this country, who is going to? ... It is 
not the preserve of African women. And I think it's something every human 
being should stand up and condemn.

Q. Is there a big difference in audience reaction in Europe and America?

A. There is a great difference. Americans are more curious to know about 
things and they are more open-minded. For instance, in many American 
colleges and universities, every aspect of African studies is taught. And 
the way things are going right now, I would even foresee a day when 
American students will know more about Africa than Africans who are 
studying in Africa! ... In Europe, you can count the [number of] people who 
are interested in Africa. As far as Africa is concerned, Europe is very, 
very backward and the reason why it's backward is there is an assumption of 
superiority. ...

I'm very happy to be able to show the film in the United States and 
particularly in Chicago. I want to show a positive image of Africans 
standing up for themselves.


E-mail jfitzgerald at tribune.com

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