- Teaching African Women in Cinema:Part Two
The second part of this essay offers a primer on African women in cinema studies, which is based on actual courses, seminars, and lectures and draws directly from articles posted on the African Women in Cinema Blog1 since its inception in 2009. A longer version of this article was published in nine parts on the blog.
Toward an African Women Cinema Studies
A developing corpus of literature serves as primary texts in the study of African women in cinema, several essential readings include: the special issue of Feminist Africa on African Feminist Engagements with Film2 and Journal of African Cinemas’s special issue on Celebrating forty years of films made by women directors in francophone Africa,3 both issued in 2012, and Gaze Regimes: Film and Feminisms in Africa,4 a by-product of the African Women in Film Conference held in Johannesburg in 2011. My three works in the volumes contribute to the discussion on historical, theoretical, and critical practices of interpretation. In each, I outline the tenets, critical debates, and developing trends in what has evolved as a veritable subdiscipline of 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.
Included also in this emerging review of literature on African Women in Cinema Studies are books, scholarly journal articles, graduate theses and their subsequent publication, and the citations and links of which are accessible on the website of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.5 The ensemble of publications collected here, though some are out of print or not accessible to a global public, is indicative of the expanding written works that contribute to the emerging subdiscipline of African Women in Cinema Studies.
In the introductory sessions of the course, students present a short overview of their assigned countries in order to become familiar with or give a review of the political, social, cultural, and economic histories and [End Page 217] geographies; languages, religions, and topography of the vast continent of Africa. The mapping of Africa during these sessions allows the class as a whole to participate and become familiar with, updated on and acquire a deeper knowledge of Africa. It also serves as references to which students may return throughout the course when discussing the film practitioners and the specific themes and settings of their films.
The objective of assigning weekly critical reflection papers is to make ongoing connections with the readings, discussions, lectures, and visuals as they evolve from session to session. The critical reflection paper is a space within which learners work through the concepts, theories, questions, and difficult issues that are address I find this exercise to be particularly satisfying as it is a way to interact directly with students, responding to, commenting on their reflections, and dialoguing with them via email.
Under the theme, “Women Artists’/Filmmakers’ Voices” the class has a glimpse at historical, political, and cultural events of African societies through the eyes of their female cultural producers, featuring Safi Faye (Senegal), Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Fatou Kandé Senghor (Senegal), and Rina Jooste (South Africa). The readings include: “Africa through a Woman’s Eyes: Safi Faye’s Cinema,”6 and from the African Women in Cinema Blog, interviews with Tsitsi Dangarembga and Rina Jooste, and the autobiographical narrative by Fatou Kandé Senghor also translated in English from French. The choice of the women was guided by my interest in highlighting the interdisciplinarity of African women’s lives, how they work at the intersection of multiple experiences: Safi Faye as filmmaker and anthropologist, blurring the boundaries of the documentary and fiction; Tsitsi Dangarembga as filmmaker, writer, cultural activist, and organizer; Fatou Kandé Senghor as multimedia artist, connecting the borderlines of filmmaking, performance, plastic arts, music—including hip-hop; Rina Jooste, as musician, filmmaker and historian, brings together these disciplines to explore 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...