Between the ‘lighter’ offerings in our African season, which involve music festivals and alien shootouts, we are extremely proud to bring you Moolaadé (2004); a powerful, challenging and at times uncomfortable film from lauded Senegalese director/author Ousmane Sembène.
Moolaadé, which has proven to be one of Sembène’s most critically acclaimed work, and also sadly his last, sees him tackle the controversial, emotive and disturbing subject of female genital mutilation. Despite being ten years young, the film is still as relevant and topical as it was upon release, and is also, fittingly for our season, a truly multinational example of contemporary African cinema – having been co-produced in Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tunisia and Cameroon.
Far from being a dark or excessively distressing piece, Sembène approaches the theme from the angles of female choice, strength and empowerment, and the film is also littered with an appreciation of the positive aspects of tribal culture, community, diversity and music.
Set in a remote town in Burkina Faso, where the male town elders have decided the best way to deal with female dissent is to burn their radios and block up wells to prevent suicide, Moolaadé begins with four terrified young girls who have fled from an impending “purification” ceremony, resolving that they will not be “cut”. They appear at the door of the stubborn and kindly Collé, the third and favourite wife of a prominent town elder, begging for her protection. Collé, having suffered the pain and extreme violation of “the cut” herself, is already considered somewhat of a subversive among the townsfolk for her refusal to have her only daughter undergo the barbaric procedure.
Risking the wrath of the stone faced, red robed Salindana, an unsettling band of knife wielding local mothers, neighbours and friends who are determined to enforce the traditional ceremony on the runaway children, Collé grants the titular “Moolaadé”. This complex spell-like vow of protection, tied up in much honour and superstition, is symbolised and enforced by a piece of colourful string she ties outside the threshold of her extended household. Through this seemingly simple act, Collé defies and enrages her husband, elders and an entire town, and overnight is transformed into a figurehead of tribal female power in an exclusively patriarchal society, inspiring equal measures of respect, fear, shock and disgust.
Collé’s defiance of a practice for which the only justification among its supporters in the town is that “it dates back long ago”, is made more complex when her daughter Amasatou’s arranged marriage to the wealthy son of a town leader is cancelled due to malicious gossip about her status as a “bilakoro” (uncircumcised).
The opposition continues to intensify, but faced with public shaming, physical intimidation, violence, and the murder of those who support her, Collé’s refusal to submit and break the “Moolaadé” threatens the status quo and creates a divide among the inhabitants of the village. As tradition clashes with progress, the female townsfolk are presented with a cross roads: whether to risk punishment and unite behind Collé to inspire an uprising, or stay silent and continue to see their young daughter’s lose the struggle for autonomy over their own bodies.
– Holly Thackeray
Doors open from 6.30PM. Free tea and coffee will be available on arrival and Abi will be baking up a batch of traditional Senegalese cinq centimes (peanut butter cookies). Mmm… cookie…
We look forward to seeing you there.