Claske DIJKEMA, June 2008
An African film about ending excision in a small village.
Ref.: « Moolaadé », a film : Directed by Ousmane Sembène, Produced by Ousmane Sembène and Thierry Lenouvel, Written by Ousmane Sembène, Starring Fatoumata Coulibaly, Music by Boncana Naiga, Release date(s) May 15, 2004 (Cannes Film Festival), Running time 120 min (France) / 120 mins (USA), Language French / Bambara., The film won the Price : « Un Certain Regard and a special mention » in the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, in 2004.
Languages: French, Bambara
Document type: Video
Mooladé is a beautiful film teaching us about the courage needed for changing traditional, harmful practices like excision -female genital mutilation. The beauty of the film lies in the fact that it goes beyond the power relations between men and women and gives insight in the complex relationships among men, women and the children they are trying to bring up.
The swedish Max Scharnberg decribes the story as follwing: « In an African village this is the day when six 4-9-year-old girls are to be circumcised. All children know that the operation is horrible torture and sometimes lethal, and all adults know that some circumcised women can only give birth by Caesarean section. Two of the girls have drowned themselves in the well to escape the operation. The four other girls seek « magical protection » (moolaadé) by a woman (Colle) who seven years before refused to have her daughter circumcised. Moolaadé is indicated by a coloured rope. But no one would dare step over and fetch the children. Moolaadé can only be revoked by Colle herself. Her husband’s relatives persuade him to whip her in public into revoking. Opposite groups of women shout to her to revoke or to be steadfast, but no woman interferes. When Colle is at the wedge of fainting, the merchant takes action and stops the maltreatment. Therefore he is hunted out of the village and, when out of sight, murdered. »
The film is set in a colourful Burkina Faso village dotted with immense, man-tall anthills, and a mosque made from clay that resembles a gigantic hedgehog. The village is a symbol of green Africa, a time capsule that nonetheless is not immune to the influences of the outside and ‘modern’ world. There are two elements in the film that signify this - one is the radio, loved by the women in the village, and which is banned after being deemed the root of Colle’s rebelliousness. The other is the son of the village elderly who lives in Paris and comes back home to be presented with his future wife. While the conflict seems to be about leaving behind tradition in favour of modernity, we should not overlook the fact that Colle protects the girsl against their mothers and the practitioners of excision using traditional beliefs to do so (Mooladé).
This film teaches us a number of lessons of bringing about change. The first one concerns: « how to rally support for one’s cause »? The second regards the rôle of the marter. Colle does not give in on her principles until the point when she is beaten by whip in public. This is at the same time the turning point of the conflict in her favour. The third concerns the compexity of power relationships; While friend and enemey groups give the impression to be clear cut, shifting allinances can tip the balance crucially in a different direction. While in the beginnning the conflict seems to be between Colle and the other wives of her husband against the more traditional forces in society (practitioners of excision, elders and mothers in favour of excision), the conflict is shifting to turning around men against the women.
This shift takes place when the men take away women’s radio’s, rallying them behind one cause. While in the beginning Colle had a minority position, this is the moment in the film when women start shifting solidarity to other women in the presence of so much pressure from the men.
The moment when Colle’s husband whips her under the cheers of all men of the community is the point when the women for the first time raise their voices in favour of Colle and therefore against the power of the men. It is also a point of no return for their allegiances. Women as a group cannot accept a women to be beaten in public. While physically Colle has lost the battle, it becomes clear that emotionally she has won. The balance is tipped in her favor when a man outside the community -the merchant- interposes himself in the beating. The moment, one man has taken the side of the women, more are following.
While the conflict seems to be about tradition and modernity, men and women, renegotiating hierarchical power relationships in general is at the heart of the film. How much power does the husband of Colle have finally when he is reprimanded by his elder brother, blaming him not to be under his control? By giving space to his wife and creating freer relationships between him and his wife, he impacts the relationships between all men and their wives. This is therefore not an individual question but one of the entire community. For men to keep their politically privileged position, they have to make sure that all men reinforce this relationship.
The Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène comments on the effort of changing relationships between men and women by quoting a poem by Louis Aragon, which says “Woman is half of the sky.” He mentions that it’s a beautiful sentence. But it also takes a lot of work, here, somewhere else, say in northern Europe. « But I’m afraid that women in those other cultures also castrate men because they’re too powerful. In Africa, the challenge is to restore love to those women. People say a man can accomplish anything when he finds love in the gaze of his lover. I think that’s all kinds of love. How can we restore that love to women’s faces? » In his film we see that in order to bring about change, we need courage and persistance but that love is at the basis of Colle’s motivations, while fear at the basis of those resisting change. Understanding these two basic emotions is key to change.