[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
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
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
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
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
The Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110
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