- Teaching African Women in Cinema, Part One
African women must be everywhere. They must be in the images, behind the camera, in the editing room and involved in every stage of the making of a film. They must be the ones to talk about their problems.—Sarah Maldoror1
The epigraph by Sarah Maldoror has become a leitmotif in my writings, discourse, and classrooms as I extend her declaration to embrace women in front of the screen as well, as cultural readers, scholars, critics and theorists of African women in cinema studies. These viewers also have a vital function in the study and analysis of cultural production as it relates to women’s role in creating, shaping, and determining the course of their cinematic history, the intellectual and cultural capital that it produces, and the intangible cultural heritage to which it contributes.2
Taking on this call, I initiated the African Women in Cinema Project in 1996 as a postdoctoral study. What drew me to African women in cinema as a study and research focus was its extremely broad range of discourse and practice. Women on, in front of, behind the screen—as storytellers, makers, producers, scriptwriters, actresses, role models, consciousness raisers, practitioners, technicians, organizers, fund-raisers, social media community managers, bloggers, agents of change, activists, advocates, audience builders, cultural producers, cultural readers, film critics, scholars, and researchers—all contribute to the idea of “African Women in Cinema” as a conceptual framework.
My work on African women in cinema grew to include my book Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film, Video and Television (Africa World Press, 2000), and my film Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema (2002, distributed by Women Make Movies). I chose the title to envision a screen culture in which the moving image, visualized on myriad screen environments from white cloth to movie screen, television set, computer monitor, [End Page 251] inflatable movie screen, mobile phone, tablet, and diverse emerging media, becomes the meeting point for African women to tell their stories. Moreover, the title contemplated an imaginary community where African women’s experiences of cinema may be shared, analyzed, documented, historicized, and archived.
Following the release of the book and film, the project developed into the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema (of which I am both founder and director), and its public forum, the African Women in Cinema Blog. The center’s organizing principle is based on two key elements. The first is the work of the pan-African organization of women professionals of the moving image, created in 1991, and now known as the Association of Professional African Women in Cinema, Television and Video (Association des Femmes Africaines Professionnelles du Cinéma, de la Télévision et de la Vidéo) (See text of statement in Documents section, this issue.). The second organizing principle focuses on the experiences of these individual women recounted in interviews, speeches, artists’ intentions, mission statements, and in their films. Drawing from the Association of Professional African Women’s objectives of providing a forum for women to share and exchange their experiences and formulating mechanisms for continued dialogue and exchange, I have worked to develop a historiography in an attempt to chronologize and bring together the disparate parts.
In this two-part article I share my experiences in teaching, speaking, researching, and writing on African women in cinema. I envision these materials to be adapted for courses, seminars, and presentations in women’s studies, African studies, film studies, communications, modern language and culture, art history, and visual culture, to a global public: students, specialists, stakeholders, and interested cultural readers.
I have presented the resources discussed in this article as if I were not bound by the limitations of accessing materials and of linguistic restrictions, thereby drawing from a range of sources, languages, information, and technologies. What still remains an obstacle, nonetheless, is the availability of films—which is the case in African cinema studies in general due to the constraints of distribution—and supporting documentation. Perhaps the most frustrating limitation is the fact that resources, for various reasons, are not always accessible directly...