copyright 2011, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 53, summer 2011

At the global market: Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaadé and the economics of women’s rights

by Amy E. Borden

Following its 2004 release, Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaadé was honored at European, African, and U.S. film festivals for its polemical depiction of women refusing to continue the common practice of female genital cutting (FGC) in traditional West African communities.[1][open endnotes in new window] According to the World Health Organization (WHO) an estimated 92 million Western and Northern African girls ranging in age from infancy to puberty have undergone one of the many procedures that comprise FGC.[2] In the film Sembène provides a blueprint for grassroots human rights activism to animate universal human rights conventions within a local context. His dramatization of how an individual woman may resist the practice of female genital cutting — “purification,” in the language of the film’s Islamic village elders — provides a model for how West African social activism may elevate women’s rights within traditionally male-centric communities.

The human rights discourse that surrounds the film often comes extra-diegetically, firmly rooted in the funding of the film, its reception in first world film festivals, and its use as a tool by anti-FGC activists, as well as diegetically in its narrative and staging. Analyzing its funding, narrative form, and didactic nature will contribute to our understanding the film as an explicitly staged lesson in social activism; it is an unique text to examine critically to explore the cinematic forms by which international values may be translated and enacted in local communities. Set in a rural farming village in Burkina Faso, the film revolves around the efforts of Collé Ardo Gallo Sy to protect a group of girls who have fled the community's FGC ceremony. The second and favorite wife of the younger brother of one of the village elders, Collé was “cut” when she was a girl and now refuses to have her own daughter, Amsatou, purified according to the community's beliefs.[3] Once the mother’s decision is made public in the community, Amsatou is considered bilakora or “impure.” Collé’s own FGC experience has created lifelong health difficulties for her, including infections as a child and difficulty during Amsatou’s birth. Showing her ragged cesarean scar to the village women who want their daughters to undergo FGC, Collé reminds them that she nearly died during childbirth because of the lasting effects of the FGC procedure. The visibility of the procedure remains marked by Collé’s scar, which reminds the audience that the ceremony has physical consequences for a woman’s health and affects her body for the remainder of her life.[4]

Her personal experience with FGC and decision to exempt her daughter from the village practice frames the film when four young girls seek Collé’s help after escaping the salindana — the group of women responsible for cutting the young girls in the village. Collé grants the girls sanctuary or moolaadé, which is represented for the community by a multicolored rope tied across the open doorway leading into her multigenerational family compound. The rope demarcates a bound space in which the girls are safe — they cannot be taken from the space nor can they leave until Collé utters “the word” that breaks the moolaadé. A moolaadé both grants sanctuary and levies a curse on those who violate its protection. According to village tradition violating the moolaadé may result in death. In fact, adjacent to the village mosque built 150 years prior, one of the three central structures in the village is a large termite mound the community considers to be the transfigured body of a former king who violated a moolaadé. During the film these two structures act as reminders of both the religious doctrine and community-driven cultural beliefs that guide the village.

In film festivals in the developed world and urban cultural centers, ranging from Cannes to New York to Toronto to Adelaide, Australia, to Pittsburgh to FESPACO as well as in the film’s US and UK press books Moolaadé is described as “a rousing polemic directed against the still common African practice of female circumcision.”[5] The film’s non-apologetic didactic structure and the extra-diegetic discourse it inspired in both its programmed position in film festivals concerning the rights of women and the reviews the film prompted harness its first world reception to an ideal liberal political solution to the complex tangle of universal and local approaches to human rights.[6] This solution entails valuing directed proclamations of FGC as “mutilation” and linking it to first world discourse concerning abortion.[7]

Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf is one of several anthropologists and activists who argue that naming FGC a “mutilation” carries with it neocolonial connotations that ignore the ritualistic importance of the practice, which “rests on an opulent repertoire of diverse cultural themes regarding notions of femininity, beauty, tradition, gender, sexuality, and religiosity.”[8] Isolating FGC as a misogynistic practice that robs women of sexual pleasure, as activist Fran Hosken does in her oft-cited Hosken Report, presumes that a woman’s control of her body is the central issue, as in Western debates concerning the legality of abortion which highlight the patriarchal authority exerted by religious and cultural institutions that condemn the practice. Abusharaf critiques Hosken’s essentializing and patronizing insistence that a “lack of human compassion and vicious greed” perpetuates FGC due to the male dominance exhibited in traditional societies.[9]

As Sembène develops a plot around this practice, the script pays attention to the patriarchal structure of the local community, but it also illustrates the interdependence between this structure, the women of the community, and external organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union. Sembène highlights the hypocrisy of the local governing institutions, rather than, as Hosken asserts, the inhumanity of their actors. By doing this, he demonstrates how eliminating the practice is intertwined with education, particularly that provided by mass media, and with the economic and political opportunities available to women. Moolaadé demonstrates a critique of the practice tied to the overall status of women within the community’s public institutions. By focusing on Collé as the central community activist, Sembène allows her to form a collective anti-FGC group that challenges the authority of the community’s governing elders, thereby letting the women collectively gain access to power within the community’s political and juridical institutions.

Throughout most of the film Collé provides the force for change with important support from her husband’s other wives, including her husband’s elder wife. Collé begins as an individual actor, gains the support of her sister wives, and by the end of the film has gained the support of the mothers whose daughters originally fled the ceremony. The film demonstrates in its trajectory how an individual may move from a lone activist to a collective force able to confront male elders in public. The narrative has a progression from individual to collective and the scenes juxtapose domestic space and public space as both imbued with political and juridical powers. With such a script, Sembène concretizes the ways universal prescriptions for human rights abuses may be enacted on a local stage. He does this by creating a film that demonstrates how human rights discourse may be translated into the vernacular of daily living via articulating local cultural customs, media discourse, and support of western, democratic human rights values as an accompaniment to economic opportunity.

As such, the film operates in a space bound on one side by first-world human rights, proclaimed universal by the United Nations, and on the other by grass roots activists, whose work confronts the realities of local politics and economies rooted in the shifting terrain of Islamic western African communities, which are often dominated by patriarchal political institutions but which also rely on the village women’s voluntary participation to function. As he does in his other films and novels, Sembène uses characters read allegorically to locate a balance between the universal and local. In this way Moolaadé is both a tool used by anti-FGC activists and a reflection of the methods non-governmental agencies (NGOs) currently use to foster changes to women’s rights in local cultures.

In Moolaadé Sembène considers how women may effect change in their communities and families if given access to the economic and cultural power that had in previous generations been reserved for men. Focusing on both Moolaadé’s narrative and its funding history, I argue that Sembène uses a narrative form that features the development from individual activist to collective force to depict the potentially liberating force of internationally defined human rights in a West African context when used by local activists. His depiction of women as collective and individual forces for change touches on questions of the libratory potential of capitalism and media as modernizing forces for a contemporary generation of African community leaders.

The depiction of modern activism within the Islamic, West African community depicted in the film is presented diegetically via the narrative construction of the film’s main character, Collé, played by renowned Malian women’s rights activist, Fatoumata Coulibaly. Collé is constructed as an individual whose personal experiences offer an interiorized psychological depiction and history of a woman now advocating for cultural change; she uses her personal experiences to change community practice and belief. In the script, Collé’s ability to assert her personal experiences and values within the community may best be understood as a staging of the drama of human rights activism. In some ways, the character exemplifies ways in which contemporary human rights declarations and proclamations issued by, for example, the United Nations; additional NGOs, such as Tostan — a Senegalese women’s rights NGO; and various African continental human rights treaties, such as the African Banjul Charter, may be translated into local action on the part of activists and grass-roots campaigns aimed at ending FGC, and, by extension, advance West African women’s rights.[10]

J. Hoberman describes the film as “diagrammatic” in its approach to women’s rights in a review prior to the film’s New York theatrical run (“Auteurs”). He particularly cites the rousing rally staged in front of the community’s male elders at the end of the film where the majority of the village women adopt Collé’s position against genital cutting. The rally is staged and shot as a public performance; it mimics events sponsored by anti-FGC NGO Tostan, which has held rallies celebrating the decision by local women to end FGC in communities throughout Senegal.[11] In the scene’s staging, the village elders occupy one third of the on-screen space, the pro-Collé supporters another third, and the salindana occupy the final third, eventually joining the community’s women creating a division between the sexes in the blocking of the sequence. The lesson of this rally is bolstered by a mother, Salba, who holds her infant godchild in the air while chanting alongside the other village women that this girl will not be “cut,” that no girls will ever be “cut” again.

In addition to the film’s conclusion, Hoberman is perhaps more correct in his reading than he imagined. As I will argue, the plot of Sembène’s final feature film strongly resonates with articles inscribed in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the 1980 establishment and 1993 strengthening of provisions for the rights of women in the UN the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).[12] The entire premise of the film — the right of protection or moolaadé — is specifically covered in the UN Universal Human Rights Declaration as the right of seeking and enjoying in other countries “asylum from persecution.”[13] If one accepts the film’s central thesis that ritual “purification” is a form of persecution, Collé is justified in creating a free space beyond the rules confining conduct in the village (Moolaadé). The sanctuary she creates via the moolaadé is akin to a nation-state with its distinct but permeable boundary — members of the community may move between it and the village at large; they may not, however, remove the young girls who have sought sanctuary from the space without Collé’s permission. Much like a sovereign authority, it is only Collé’s “word” that may release the girls from their protected space (Moolaadé). Additionally, the space Collé creates emerges from a historical tradition understood as juridical within the village because of its ability to punish or allow clemency. This tradition is substantiated in the community via the cultural memory marked in the village by the termite mound.

Sembène’s career-long critique of nation as a corrupted patriarchal institution that denies equal rights to women complicates the idea that a sovereign space akin to a nation-state may provide safety. The fact, then, that this asylum is enacted by and controlled by Collé, a woman, is significant because it asserts the ability of women to claim sovereign power from local, cultural traditions. Collé’s ability to provide asylum and to assert that ability within the community may be seen as a performance of the provision in the UN human rights’ declaration that states, “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community” and guarantees “the right to…security of person.”[14] The fact that both the men and women of the community respect the sanctity of the moolaadé regardless of the gender of its enactor points to local cultural traditions on which activists may build in the pursuit of women’s rights.

Anthropologist Ellen Gruenbaum describes how asylum has become an effective means for women to remain in first world countries — “Canada, Australia, Sweden, and others” to avoid FGC in their home nation.[15] It is an increasingly useful tool for women to gain protection for themselves and for parents to gain protection for their female children. While limited, the practice has received a lot of press coverage, particularly following Togo citizen Fauziya Kassindja’s and Ghanian citizen Adelaide Abankwah’s applications for US asylum in the late-1990s and Malian Aminata Diop’s application for asylum in France in the early-1990s.[16] Citing the increased recognition of cultural practices as a basis for asylum, Gruenbaum argues,

“The use of asylum provisions for cultural, rather than strictly political, risks is a remarkable development, giving new stature to the human rights of women and children to be protected from the effects of their social and economic disempowerment. The basis for such claims to asylum is the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, on the grounds that these women would be at risk of grievous harm in the forms of FGM [female genital mutilation] if they were to return home.” (217)

By enacting a local cultural custom to create an asylum within the community, Collé effectively relocates an international anti-FGC human rights tool at the local level. This staging allows Sembène to provide an argument for local change that does not draw directly on the authority of the laws of other nations, as is the case with the asylum cases mentioned previously, nor directly on international conventions, such as the UN Refugee Convention Gruenbaum cites. Sembène’s use of asylum as a juridical form of protection indirectly draws from the discourse surrounding international efforts to end FGC, yet forcefully argues for local, community-driven actions.

Considering relations between the local and international, I will discuss how African activists against FGC have taken on the task of facing cultural and religious traditions that uphold the practice, and also examine how they use local traditions to resist FGC. I will also make note of how New York University cultural anthropologist Sally Engle Merry takes some of these issues of social change and traditional values up on a more theoretical plane. In her 2006 study Human Rights and Gender Violence Engle-Merry further complicates the notion of the universal as an ethical and political category that takes as its departure point a modernity rooted in colonialism. Using Engle Merry’s and African activists’ writing, my discussion will consider how Sembène’s film negotiates the twin discourses of international and local human rights definitions diegetically and extra-diegetically via the instructive nature of the narrative.

Allowances not made: debt, dependence, and gender in Sembène’s oeuvre

Two weeks after Moolaadé premiered in competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the festival’s un certain regard prize, Sembène was awarded the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Fellini Medal on May 28 in Barcelona. According to the UNESCO website,

“the medal is awarded to directors and actors in recognition of their contribution to the respect and promotion of cultural diversity.”[17]

Since the film stands firmly against the practice of female circumcision, no matter how firmly based in tradition, the film’s didactic narrative only arguably meets the criteria of respect for cultural diversity outlined by UNESCO.

Writing the Islamic male elders of the village as one-dimensional characters who seem to oppress their wives and daughters solely for the sake of religious tradition and their own sexual desires and egos, Sembène avoids staging a dialogue between the cultural factions advocating for and against genital cutting. Furthermore, after seeking Collé’s protection we hear each of the young girls explain why they resisted the purification ceremony. This allows Sembène to give a voice and autonomy to the affected girls and provides the audience with a counter argument to the “purification” ceremony, parts of which are staged throughout the film (Moolaadé). In contrast, the female elders of the salindana are practically silent in the film — their major dialogue consists of threats to kidnap the protected girls and plots to defeat Collé in her resistance.           

Perhaps any emphasis on the rights of the disadvantaged would meet with the same opposition from traditional ways that depend on hierarchies. However, by choosing not to display a dialogue between the two factions, Sembène resists depicting contemporary modes of activism adopted by such anti-FGC organizations as Tostan: these groups invite men and women to learn about the effect of the practice on women’s rights and health in an educational setting that does not immediately demand that villagers abandon FGC (Ben-Ari 5). By filming a polemical engagement with women’s rights rather than an evenhanded consideration of the diverse economic and cultural traditions associated with the practice, Sembène, in fact, continues his longstanding critique of patriarchy, and its corresponding hypocrisy, in post-colonial political and family institutions.

Coming at the end of Sembène’s long career, the Fellini Medal award announcement notes that the Senegalese director, the first Sub-Saharan West African filmmaker to be awarded the medal, was chosen because his

“socially committed film-making has led him in the course of his career to deal with such issues as the importance of community, corruption, changes in family structure, women, the lone citizen versus bureaucracy, poverty and colonialism.”[18]

The UNESCO citation honors Sembène for his critiques of West African postcolonial political and social structures as he questions the plausibility of a functional, humane nation within the legacy of colonial rule. Often driving this critique is Sembène’s skepticism of capitalism and his insistence that moneyed interests drive the policies and values of nations governed from a traditionally male-centric viewpoint. In most of his writings and films, Sembène explores the corrupting force of capitalism, especially when it reinforces lines of influence and power that continue from a colonial past to the continued dominance of patriarchal power.

Calling attention to Sembène’s interest in women’s rights, Frederick Case maintains,

“The major ideological principle that characterizes his work is the recognition of the rights of women in society and the affirmation of their economic, social, and cultural role in the dynamic determination of the destinies of African people.”[19]

Throughout his career, Sembène periodically returns to questions concerning women’s rights as inextricable with the rights of the formerly colonized people. It is the theme with which he began his career in Black Girl (1966).

Perhaps it’s my desire to tie beginnings to endings, but in Moolaadé I find parallels with Black Girl, particularly in the centrality of the female protagonist, Diouana; she’s endowed with a psychological depth demonstrated via voice over and flashback. In Black Girl Diouana’s thoughts are unable to be vocalized both because of the dominant French discourse that defines the parameters of her entry into the Cote D’Azur setting her employers have brought her to and because her position as colonized maid, cook, and nanny overwhelms her ability to assert herself within her employer’s world. Diouana’s thoughts are only provided in voiceover narration and via flashbacks to her life in Dakar. Unlike Collé, who forms a collective cultural and political force and who uses her past experiences as a foundation from which to alter the village’s practice of FGC, Diouana kills herself rather than continue to be alienated and abused in a setting which does not welcome her as anything more than a worker.

Considering the two women, Collé’s ability to advocate for her daughter and for the other daughters of the village in a way unavailable to Diouana provides a tangible representation of the modernization of West African women’s rights from colonial rule to contemporary national and community rule. Although Collé is the second of three wives, the other wives support and join her efforts as the film progresses. Furthermore, while Collé’s husband is bullied to savagely beat her in front of the village to extract the word that will lift the moolaadé, by the end of the film he leaves his place with the male elders to support and join the community’s women in their anti-FGC rally. In Moolaadé the juridical and cultural power Collé is able to claim in her community to effect cultural change and to assert control over herself and the village girls is markedly different from the options available to the female characters that populate Sembène’s earlier films and fiction.

In earlier films Sembene often uses women characters as allegorical representations of the competing cultural and social experiences of the immediate post-colonial nation state. As such, they are drawn as dependent on their husbands and unable to effectively gain autonomy from the values and mores that determine their subservient status. Marcia Landy writes that via allegory Sembène emphasizes “the importance of the link between history, politics, and culture.”[20] Both Landy and Philip Rosen have noted how Sembène often uses allegory to address West African postcolonial experiences. Rosen uses Fredric Jameson’s concept of political allegory to consider how Sembène depicts the relationship between the collective and the individual:

“The most direct proposal for understanding Sembène’s representational strategies with respect to nationness, therefore, would be to treat individual characters as narrative agents that allegorize collective aspects of African life and history….This allegorization involves a relation between the private and the public: stories of individual characters or configurations figure a broader public, collective context whose signified is national.”[21]

While Collé should also be read as an allegorical representation of the individual communities and African nations that may act to end the practice of FGC, in his earlier films and fiction Sembène uses the relationships between men and women to acknowledge that economic and social viability is impossible for women whose sole source of income and status emanates from their husbands. In his earlier films gender is not only used allegorically; the portrayed inequality between men and women in traditional, polygamous families also allows viewers to confront the detrimental national and local effects of perpetuating conservative, patriarchal forms of governance for both public and private institutions. Sembène’s exploration of how women navigate within Western Africa as it modernizes invites us to consider not capitalism itself as a governing malaise, but the perverse combination of capitalism and traditional patriarchy that perpetuate the subjugation of women in the name of tradition.

This critique may be found in “Her Three Days,” a story set in a location similar to that depicted in Moolaadé: a polygamous West African Islamic community. Sembène uses the story to critique what he sees as the inherent gender inequality of polygamy. Preparing for her three days with her husband, Mustapha, Noumbe repeatedly places herself in debt at the local marketplace in order to purchase meat and goods for a feast she prepares hoping to entice her husband to spend more time with her now that he has taken a fourth and younger wife. As seen by her husband, his other wives, and the community, Noumbe is pitiable; she is unable to care for herself — she eats ash mixed with water to supplement the medicine she can no longer afford for her heart condition — or to entice her husband to care for her and their children. When he does arrive, days late and disdainful of her, she protects herself from allowing him to see her disappointment and humiliation by being shrill and distant. Sembène’s depiction of the cruelty of the marriage and the village’s view of it, reinforces the infectious inhumanity of personal relationships which are conceived of and exist in a system of gender inequality.

The sickly and dependent Noumbe both desires the attention and resources her husband offers, while resenting and rebelling against his dismissive treatment of her, yet she prepares for the mere possibility of his visit by exacerbating her already tenuous economic status. Noumbe’s debt cycle reminds the reader that the economic means needed to access goods are a necessity for postcolonial communities. Access to the meat and goods Noumbe desires to maintain her status in the eyes of the community also maintains the illusion of her status for her husband. Via her debt cycle, intractable poverty and lack of community respect, readers can see Noumbe as an allegorical representation of the postcolonial nation state that is economically and socially tied to the former colonizing power, resulting in stasis and sickness, debt and dysfunction for the immediate postcolonial generation. She is caught in a terrible cycle: her husband’s disdain causes her anguish, but it is his presence, which she desires, that she imagines will extinguish that anguish; in fact, it simply exacerbates it.

The relation between debt and access to postcolonial national institutions is a central theme in Sembène’s work. It is one that takes a more pronounced gendered character in later films like Faat Kine (2000) and Moolaadé, in which female protagonists are able to assert independence and agency in male-centric institutions. However, Sembène does not reserve his critique of the debt cycle that capitalism perpetuates in the developing world to a commentary on gender equality. He uses debt to dramatize how colonial institutions and values perpetuate themselves within contemporary capitalism. His use of markets and capital in his earlier films illustrate how values are culturally inscribed by Western capitalism, often in ways that perpetuate class hierarchies and gender inequality. Since neoliberal market ideas dominate contemporary capitalism, Sembene’s last films offer a perspective that is markedly different from the depiction of postcolonial hypocrisy offered by earlier films.

In Mandabi (1968) he highlights the corruption prescribed by capitalism on postcolonial national institutions to show the intractability of the colonizer/colonized debt cycle. Sada Niang describes the film in this way:

“A model of postcolonial double critique [that] swiftly moves away from the Manichean dichotomy inherent in the nationalist creed (us vs. them) to locate itself within an ideological space bounded by ‘citizenship,’ legality, democratic entitlements and traditional status in post-colonial Africa.”[22]

Adapted from Sembène’s novel of the same name, Mandabi’s plot revolves around a money order — a mandabi — sent to Ibrahima, a rural patriarch, from his nephew, Abdou, who works as a Parisian street cleaner. In his attempts to cash the order, Ibrahima is confronted with national and economic bureaucracies hostile to providing him access. As Sembène describes this situation,

“He is caught in a situation that goes beyond him because he has always thought that he was, as Ibrahima Jeng, a personality in his own neighborhood where everybody knows him. But as he goes out of his own traditional culture, he goes to a modem culture where the identity card has nothing to do with internal autonomy within a group where he was not an anonymous person. Out of his culture, he becomes an anonymous person.”[23]

As he will in Xala (1974), Sembène creates an urban environment comprised of national and financial structures that are actively hostile to allowing rural citizens access. Access is the purview of the financially elite who demand fees and bribes from Ibrahima, ultimately causing him to owe more than the money order is worth even before he is able to cash it. While he is anonymous within the new nation’s urban modernity, Ibrahima’s rural status as patriarch and recipient of the mandabi preserves his identity. Traditional cultural positions preserve a male-centered worldview as a form of protection from the anonymity post-colonial modernity fosters.

In Moolaadé the themes of debt and capitalism are introduced early in the film with the anticipated arrival of the king’s son, Ibrahim, who carries with him the promise of money earned from his employment in Paris. Through Ibrahim Sembène explores the politics of contemporary global and local economies and its relationship to the recognition of a woman’s right to control her body and to have access to a public forum to demand rights. As he does in Mandabi, Sembène uses financial ties to a colonial past to suggest that economic sustainably depends on international capitalism to support the desire for consumption that modernization brings to the village.

Called to pay his father and fiancée’s debts, Ibrahim lectures Mercenaire on price gouging. To this the shopkeeper replies that the cost of convenience and transportation make his stale bread and overpriced kettles a virtual steal. This interaction, which notably occurs in French, highlights how the village economy depends on the infusion of money from the European Union, in this case, France, to pay for goods purchased on credit. Here the village king’s purchasing power is intertwined with the ability of Ibrahim’s fiancée, Collé’s daughter, to also purchase goods on credit from the village market. The ability to participate in the local economy illustrates how a form of equality may be achieved via economics.

While debt is used differently in Moolaadé than in “Her Three Days” and Mandabi, in all three texts Sembène uses the themes of debt and consumption to problematize the continued relationship between Africa and Europe. In these works credit is nearly the only means by which the economically disenfranchised may gain access to financial and national institutions. In Mandabi this disenfranchisement is extended to Ibrahima’s wives. At the beginning of the film they are shown lamenting the family’s lack of food due to Ibrahim’s unemployment. As soon as they know about the order, which they do before Ibrahim does, they see the means by which they can feed their family and have credit extended from the community’s shopkeeper to buy food. Sembène portrays this initial use of credit sympathetically, but as the film continues the mere existence of the money order creates an infectious desire for money and goods within the family’s community. Ibrahima’s wives purchase goods on credit from a travelling salesmen, promising payment from the money order, which the entire village now knows about, and, later in the film, purchase bras from a peddler who comes to the family home.

In what is otherwise a sympathetic depiction of women in the film, Sembène points to the dependency created by unearned money by casting Ibrahim’s wives as susceptible to the enticements of consumption on credit. The debt cycle is portrayed in Mandabi, as it is in “Her Three Days,” as a means of dependency and disenfranchisement. Astou, Abdou’s mother and Ibrahima’s sister, is seen by the community’s men as unreasonably incensed in her reaction to Ibrahim’s failure to cash the money order and to have borrowed and spent more than its value in his attempts. At the end of the film, referring both to her response to Ibrahim’s failure and Ibrahim’s wives, a male villager laments, “May Allah protect us from women’s domination.”[24] This sentiment is expressed nearly verbatim in “Her Three Days.

At the end of the story Sembène inserts mention of the nascent organizational structures women are forming around the country when one of Mustapha’s associates comments that the village women — “these hussies” — think they are going to run the country now that they have associations.[25] Similar to the way the male village elders pressure Collé’s husband to assert his authority over Collé’s assertion of her autonomy via the moolaadé she enacts, by drawing attention to women’s emerging political access and the disdain this access elicits, Sembène is able to highlight the entrenched gender inequality of postcolonial political and economic institutions. This inequality carries on in Moolaadé with the numerous remarks made by village elders — both male and female — that an uncut girl, bilkora, will be unable to marry.

Discussing Sembène’s Xala, released the same year “Her Three Days” is first published, Marcia Landy points out,

“The obsession with money and power surfaces as the primary problem and the implicit alternative involves the eradication of the conditions produced by capitalism, conditions which create stark contrasts between rich and poor, men and women, and blacks and whites, and now, in the neocolonial present, between blacks and blacks” (32).

Read against the modern, tolerant masculinity that Ibrahim represents in Moolaadé, in Xala Sembène address the intersection of colonial rule with a form of masculinity defined via the accumulation of wealth and status. This intersection is made apparent when cabinet minister and Chamber of Commerce member El Hadji Abdou Kada’s is unable to perform sexually on the occasion of his third marriage. He has been cursed with a xala — an impotency curse levied on him by a traditional, rural community from which he expropriated money meant to secure the community’s rice supply for his own wedding ceremony.

The last two feature films Sembène made, the second and third of a trilogy about women in twenty-first century West Africa that began with his 1999 short film L'heroisme au quotidien, continue his exploration of the influence of capitalism in West Africa as a modernizing force. In both Faat Kine and Moolaadé, Sembène shifts from a direct critique of the corrupting influence of capitalism and its ability to retain colonial values that uphold patriarchical social structures to an indirect critique by depicting how women may gain social and economic independence by harnessing the modernizing potential of capitalism embodied in middle-class business ownership and in the proliferation of communication technology. Faat Kine perhaps most dramatically draws on the modernizing power of capitalism when the stability and independence it may offer is provided to an unmarried woman who is able to create a middle class life for herself, two university-bound children, and her mother. Kine’s ownership and management of a local gas station depends on her ability to navigate both small-scale and institutional financial transactions. In one instance, she refuses a customer’s payment in French francs and refuses the woman’s subsequent offer of a bracelet as payment. Because she has created her own middle class life by building herself from an unwed mother abused by her rural, traditional father, Kine is able to navigate everyday financial deceptions. She is the personification of a Western-defined striving member of the middle class, complete with a beautiful home decorated with a large painting of Nelson Mandela, a son who aspires to be the nation’s president, and a daughter who desires to immigrate to Canada for her university education.

As opposed to Ibrahima’s inability to navigate the bureaucracies of both the post office and an urban bank in his quixotic attempts to cash his money order, as an urban, middle class business owner Kine is familiar with the practices of contemporary financial institutions. She refuses the terms of a loan that would require her to use her home as collateral to fund her daughter’s desire to attend university abroad. By claiming the loan terms amount to usury, Kine avoids the debt cycle previous characters in Sembène’s films and fiction so easily fall into; her middle class status allows her to use savings to fund her daughter’s education ensuring her autonomy and the future autonomy of her children. Instead her daughter and son will attend the local, national university, paid for from Kine’s savings. Considering Faat Kine within his depiction of women within the post-colonial capitalism found in West Africa points us to the variations within Sembène’s critique of global capital as an irrational force that allows for modernization via similar values and inhumanity that marked colonial rule.

Women’s rights and the markets that support them

In Moolaadé Sembène further contextualizes the politics of female genital cutting by depicting aspects of neo-colonial and local markets as the political means by which human rights enter into village life. He recognizes the complexity and inextricability of the relation between rights discourses and economic factors. In Moolaadé, the local market is the site at which Sembène stages discussions and actions that highlight the complex position held by liberal economies in the developing world. Similar to Faat Kine, the film presents a view of women’s rights as inherently tied to the market economies that fuel global trade. This happens via the character of Mercenaire. He is the conduit of material and information from the city, manufactured clothes and plastic buckets, as well as radios and the batteries that power them. As such, Mercenaire has the role of peddler as introducer of modernity to rural people. This is an old theme that Sembène uses to highlight the give and take these markets provide in this village in Burkina Faso, which acts as an allegorical staging of the opening of Africa to Western-defined human rights and the market conditions cast as their preconditions.

Visually, the importance of markets and capital is emphasized in the long tracking shot Sembène uses to begin Moolaadé. In it Mercenaire, a former UN peacekeeping soldier stationed  in the Middle East and now current proprietor of the village’s mobile market place, bicycles into town as the children of the village follow him, pushing his cart as he pulls it with his bicycle. He arrives to set up his shop. He is a near-pied-piper for the village children as the film begins. It is primarily around the character of Mercenaire that the film’s discourse on economics revolves; he provides the goods the village men and women purchase with a mix of cash and credit.

In this capacity he is the figure of the contemporary secular African when viewed against the Muslim male elders of the village. Mercenaire dresses in shorts and t-shirts to secularly and economically differentiate him from the village men’s traditional flowing wide sleeved grand boubou. Sembène matches his arrival in the film with shots of the village’s domestic life — children playing and women cleaning and attending to the community without the presence of any of the village men. Disproportionate to that activity seen in the image, the sound of babies cooing fills the soundtrack. The cries of the girls seeking sanctuary interrupt the diagetic establishment of domestic life. At this point the film shifts from establishing its domestic and market spaces to transforming its domestic sphere into a political sanctuary.           

It is also in woman’s a teasing conversation with Mercenaire at his market stall that viewers are made aware that Amsatou is the fiancée of the village king Doucourai’s wealthy Parisian-employed son, Ibrahim. Her teasing of Mercenaire as a mercenary or “killer of women and children who also does coup d-etats,” which Amsatou claims she learned from the radio, characterizes how Mercenaire’s military past is partially understood within the village. In a similar conversation between Amsatou and Mercenaire later in the film, we learn that his true past is that of United Nations’ peacekeeper and midlevel army officer sacrificed for the profit of his superiors after he acted as a whistleblower.

In fact, Mercenaire, the former junior military man and small-time business owner — someone clearly influenced by practices of global capital — is killed after he interferes with Collé’s public beating by her husband. Read allegorically, the UN figure oversteps a local boundary by interceding in a husband’s authority over his wife. Mercenaire overwrites a traditional form of power and for this he is sacrificed. The beating, however, is one of the factors that move nearly all of the village women to accept Collé’s resistance to purification, effectively opening the village to universal definitions of human rights. This opening is signaled by Ibrahim’s decision to marry Amsatou and accept the bilakora status of his new bride. The acceptance by the future King of the village — born into one culture but able to profit within another, in this case the former colonizer’s culture — suggests that the inevitability of economic viability in West Africa rests with an embrace of certain Western cultural values. This is not a stringent assertion made by the film. It is an acknowledgement that the internal struggles of women against practices of FGC in West Africa depend on a space of market exchange.

Indeed, when the girls reach Collé and are granted sanctuary, she asks where they got the idea that she would or could protect them. One girl answers quite starkly that they “heard about Amsatou, who is not cut, and her fiancé is in France and will bring a lot of money.” Much like a portion of Moolaadé’s funding history, the West-African residents of the film’s setting rely on money from France and an institution marked by the United Nations to facilitate an equalization of political and gender hierarchies. With both the king and Amsatou cast as consumers, it is Ibrahim as the first-world representative who foots the bill submitted to him from the former United Nations’ soldier, who acts as the facilitator of the market’s ability to offer a form of equality for both his father the king and his fiancée.

Ibrahim’s return to marry Amsatou and his decision at the end of the film to marry her even though she is seen as “impure” by the village elders, moves Sembène’s critique away from capitalism, per se, to an old guard patriarchy that relies on that system to support a disempowering male-centric form of government. Because it is Mercenaire who will be killed for interfering with Collé’s whipping at her husband’s hand, and it is he whom the village men see as perverting their wives and daughters via the batteries he sells to power their radios, it is in some ways ironic that Mercenaire’s interactions with women at his market stall consistently evoke the label “womanizer” by them. His outrageous flirting with them may make the moniker a deserved one; it is part of his salesman patois. His “perversion,” as the men in the village come to understand it, rests in his position as the economic conduit for information and as a representative of trade and capital marked with a past affiliation with the United Nations.

As in Faat Kine, at the end of his career Sembène’s Marxist-Leninist critique of capitalism has shifted to a critique not of moneyed interests but of the stasis these interests perpetuate when adopted and used by the immediate post-colonial generation of men like Xala’s El Hajid who became local and national leaders. Like Kine’s children Djep and Aby in Faat Kine, Ibrahim and Amsatou represent a future where the modernization fostered by global capitalism — including the creation of a middle class — translate into middle class values of gender equality.

Women’s rights and the media that support them

Perhaps more so than any of Sembène’s previous films, Moolaadé’s didactic narrative translates universal human rights standards into local, community-driven reforms. Moolaadé played in film festivals across the African continent, including the Sixth Annual Dakar Film Festival in December 2004[26]; the 26th Durban International Film Festival in South Africa in June 2005; the 2005 FESPACO festival, where it won a special health prize; and the 2006 Zimbabwean International Film Festival, where Sembène won the Best Director award two years after the film’s initial festival premier.[27] Even with subsidies from Africa Cinemas, a 25-theatre group of cinemas subsidized by Europa Cinemas via the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission to increase theatrical African-film exhibition,[28] the film’s sole African theatrical run occurred in South Africa in the late-summer of 2005.[29]

Françoise Pfaff argues that Sembène’s films are not solely meant as entertainment; rather,

“His films are primarily intended for African audiences for whom they serve as a tool for progress through self-examination.”[30]

Moolaadé epitomizes the didactic impulse of Sembène’s filmmaking. In an interview Sembène explains that the film has become a “reference tool” for educating communities in a “fight to eradicate” FGC.[31] As such, according to Sembène,

“[the film] belongs to Africa now. And it must be used by women who struggle… to eradicate circumcision” (“Interview,” Making).

In fact, Sembène’s description of the film as a tool is exactly how it is currently used. Since its release at least four different NGOs, including both Tostan and a UK-based African diaspora NGO, Foundation For Women's Health Research & Development (FORWARD), have used the film as an anti-FGC activist’s tool. FORWARD launched the film’s May 2005, UK premiere, sponsored screenings throughout the UK, and in 2008 released an anti-FGC activists guide that works alongside the film to incite conversation and debate for the men and women in diasporic communities that practice FGC.[33]

In addition to the work FORWARD does in diasporic communities in the UK, it also secured funding in 2005 to pursue an advocacy project in Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania entitled “Advancing the Human Rights of African Girls” that uses Moolaadé to “work on various forms of gender based violence including FGM, child marriage, domestic violence, marital rape among others using the film as an entry point” (Trustees 10). While I have focused on the way the film treats FGC, it also touches on these other issues via the public whipping Collé’s husband unleashes on her and the fact that Ibrahim’s father and uncle wish him to marry an eleven year-old cousin who has been cut rather than the “impure” Amsatou. This prompts Mercenaire to repeatedly accuse the three men of being “pedophiles.”

In January 2006, FORWARD partnered with the Inter African Committee (IAC) and Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) to sponsor the launch of the film in Khartoum, Sudan, which included “screenings held for Sudanese women’s rights organizations… to prepare a platform for the film, gauging public acceptance and assessing the extent to which organizations felt the film was appropriate” (Trustees 34). SIHA also screened the film and held discussions in a “number of locations” on the Horn of Africa, including at its 2006 annual meeting in Hargeisa, Somaliland.[34] IAC continued using the film in Sudan by incorporating it into a two-day training forum for Imams in Alsalama.[35] This workshop dovetails with the Committee’s three-year (2009-2012) plan to use media — “Internet, the radio, television, newspapers, magazines, Folk dances, Poetry, and age-group dramas” (sic) to raise anti-FGM awareness (21). The hope is that “continual media publicity will further lead to populations receiving positive reinforcement that will enable them to stick to the decision to end these harmful practices” (21).

Moolaadé’s use by these international and national rights organizations speaks to the particular power media has to spread human rights’ awareness. This is a theme directly depicted in the film and one that the film itself embodies in its own funding history and existence as a media text. As media, Sembène’s production employed local craftsman and was itself a tool of modernization that introduced a communication infrastructure to the village in Burkina Faso in which it was shot in 2002. Without a telephone or electricity Sembène explains,

“[the villagers] didn’t live as they did in the past but they didn’t have the means of communication that we have today” (“Interview,” Making).

Throughout the film Sembène repeatedly highlights the commensurate importance of communication technology with local cultural and religious traditions by framing the village mosque, the anthill that houses the cultural memory of the moolaadé, and the women’s confiscated radios at the center of the village. Iconographically, Sembène uses the anthill as both sovereign tomb and a symbol of the sanctuary its history espouses in relation to the village mosque and the current expression of Islam as a part of that history. Coupled in this iconography is the image of the radios. Their prevalence in the film is an evocation of the necessity of “freedom of expression and access to news media” in the UN Human Rights Declaration.[36] The multiple shots of the radios in the foreground with the anthill/tomb in the mid-ground and the mosque in the background is a constant reminder during the last third of the film of a further exchange, perhaps read as an evolutionary process, into a technical space, of a modernity marked by information and ones ability to access it.

The importance of this process is marked repeatedly during the film. Echoing Mercenaire’s arrival into the village laden with the goods he will sell, Ibrahim’s arrival is staged as an updated version of the first. As opposed to Mercenaire’s bicycle, Ibrahim arrives in a small pickup truck packed with goods, including a visibly new television that he will present to his father later in the film. That gift will set the stage for the son’s departure from his father’s position that the women’s radios in the village must be confiscated. When Ibrahim desires to set up the television,s he is told he cannot because the village media, in this case radios, are being confiscated to help tamp down the rising concerns about FGC. Cast with the women of the village by being denied his access to media, Ibrahim asserts,

“Everywhere radios and television are parts of life. It is the progress of the world.”

Sembène uses the market as both the means of access for resistance and as the site of global suppression for the local economy. The villagers purchase the batteries the local woman use to power their radios at Mercenaire’s market. After her mother grants the girls sanctuary, Amsatou’s first purchase at the market is bread, which is cheaper than rice, and batteries, which power the village radios. These radios — powered by the commerce directly benefitting a former UN peacekeeper and African Union soldier — become the objects on which the male village elders fixate when faced with resistance on the part of the village women. They see the women’s access to media as threatening because it is a path to the global world beyond the village. In response, the village men collect and burn all of the women’s radios to regain control over their actions and thoughts. Walking past the humming pile of radios adjacent to the mosque and termite mound, one woman voices this idea: “Our men want to lock up our minds” (Moolaadé).

The great irony of the film is that the women gain just as much power to resist FGC from local cultural practice — the ability to evoke moolaadé or sanctuary — as they do from the media the men think is their greatest threat. The radios, batteries, and neoliberal marketplace all wrapped within the marker of the universal standards of the United Nations are driven from the village, yet Ibrahim remains, effectively taking Mercenaire’s place as a provider of media with his insistence that not only radio, but television will be present in the village’s life. Sembène forcefully accentuates this development with the film’s final shot: a match cut from the ostrich egg at the top of the mosque to a television antenna.

A blueprint for human rights discourse

In addition to the way the film depicts how local activists may work on a grass roots level, diegetically and extra-diegtically it is a blueprint for local activists who not only wish to help educate communities but who wish to fund and run a human rights NGO. From its funding to its narrative, Moolaadé addresses the challenges of recognizing and mediating human rights violations in African nations; as human rights scholar Sally Engle Merry suggests, these challenges lie in the difficulty in translating the UN Human Rights doctrine and the African Banjul Charter into a vernacular implemented at local levels.[37] In her work she outlines the conundrums facing human rights activists who work to alter local behaviors in the face of these problems. To conclude I am going to work through Merry’s conundrums to draw together the diegetic and extradiegetic means by which Sembène’s film functions as a blueprint and model for anti-FGC activists.

Coupled with the local justice achieved in the film via the moolaadé, the use of local customs and mores addresses Merry’s first and second conundrums:

Sembène’s translation from universal to local makes the adoption of rights easier. It also allows for a more substantial transformation because Collé’s actions challenge the power and authority of the village elders patriarchical juridical system, overcoming its stringency by accessing the community via a public rally. Collé and the village women invite the elders to join them by making FGC a public issue. Collé’s husband chooses to act first, followed by Ibrahim’s decision during the rally to move away from the elders and to assert his own autonomy. These acts challenge the community’s “existing assumptions about power and relationships” in the way that the future king and, to this point, the weakest member of the village elders assert their authority (Merry 5). This lays the groundwork for future gender equality. Ibrahim seals this transformation by proclaiming that he will choose his own wife and allow the village to have access to media, proclaiming, “the era of little tyrants is over — forever.”

The importance of media to the film’s narrative and Collé’s appeal to the moolaadé are two ways Sembène highlights the importance of rights consciousness via both local cultural traditions and national/international media access. Another narrative tactic is to have the local women eschew generational and ideological divisions at the end of the film to jointly demand that the female and male village elders support halting the practice. Their collective demand to end the cutting is particularly poignant because it is prompted in part by one woman’s grief over her daughter’s death after she removed the girl from Collé’s custody to undertake the purification ceremony. Diatou’s young death coupled with the women’s joint reaction to the public whipping inflicted on Collé by the village elders unifies the women of the community in opposition to FGC in a public ceremony filled with song and dance.[38] Much like the ceremonies Tostan sponsors, the village women perform their right to protect their own children by ending FGC in the village via a public performance filmed as an entry into the pubic sphere of the village’s political and juridical institution.

At the end of the rally Ibrahim, the future king, supports the rights demanded and performed by the village women when he reminds his father and uncles that he will choose his own wife, rejecting their choice of his eleven-year old cousin who was to replace Amsatou. Sembène stages this interaction at the end of the rally as a culmination of the women’s demands: Ibrahim moves away from the village elders and walks toward the community’s women, following Collé’s husband who had previously refused to “tame” his wife to put an end to her demands and to silence her role as individual activist and organizer. This movement to the local overcomes the impediment of universal juridical institutions by adapting to local customs.

At no point in Moolaadé does anyone invoke national, international, or pan-African laws protecting the rights of women. While Mercenaire is identified by the villagers as a former UN peacekeeper and member of the African Union’s peacekeeping force, he only allegorically represents international NGOs or pan-African institutions. The juridical system available to members of the community are only those available locally; namely, the village elders who convene to hear the salindina’s grievances concerning Collé’s moolaadé and who meet to discuss her resistance among themselves. This absence calls attention to non-local institutions lack of power to provide juridical support for women who find themselves denied the rights offered them via international and pan-national treaties or national laws. FGC is, in fact, illegal in Burkina Faso, where the film is set, yet there is no mention of a national juridical infrastructure available to provide Collé and the girls she protects with protection and justice (Ben Ari 5).

This situation is not unusual in African nations like Burkina Faso and Senegal where national law prohibits FGC (Ibid). Although the Banjul Charter provides that “‘the state shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination of women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions,” Wolfgang Benedek, professor of international law, contends, “little use has been made of this provision and its potential by African women themselves, as there have hardly been any cases brought to the Commission.”[39] Law scholar Henry Onoria suggests that one reason behind the provision’s sparse use is that the protections granted women are contextualized within the confines of family and traditional values.[40]

By contextualizing women’s rights as part of the family unit, those rights are specialized and separated from the idea of universally granted human rights. Because women’s rights are specialized, they are applicable only when recognized and advocated by “traditional values” upheld by the state to support the “natural unit” of the family (“African Banjul” 2). Cast like this, the right of a woman to control her body, for example, is secondary to the state’s duty as “the custodian of the morals and traditional values recognized by the community” (Ibid). Trapped by such traditional practices as polygamy and FGC, an appeal to women’s rights falls short of an appeal to human rights which are not bound in the Charter by definitions of family or traditional values — values, as in Moolaadé, often controlled by male-centric juridical and political institutions.

Considering this history Moolaadé offers a local alternative to the pan-African juridical approach suggested by the Charter.[41] Instead of the appealing to universal definitions, the film locates a way to empower the village women in their own cultural traditions and values. By using the traditions of the village and accessing the historical memory of its founding by calling forth a moolaadé from the tomb/anthill, Collé invokes the privilege of a local institutional political apparatus by tapping into a cultural history she actively works to supplant. This empowerment allows the women to effect change in the village’s political and juridical institutions. It is here at the most basic level that the film demonstrates its work to translate the universal discourse of human rights into the vernacular by employing local cultural practices and legitimating the cultural change within local advocacy.

Diegetically and extra-digetically, Sembène’s didactic narrative is an illustration of Engle-Merry’s fourth caveat:

The majority of the film’s story is told via Collé’s attempts to convince the other women in the village not to have their daughter’s purified, rehearsing the reasons against the practice for members of both the village and the wider audience screening the film. Her work in the film gives voice to the young girls who initially flee the ceremony; her act of defiance years before was remembered and re-enacted by these young girls, effectively documenting how rights consciousness may be employed at the local level. This consciousness is most spectacularly celebrated at the end of the film with the rally staged by the village women for an audience of village elders. At that rally, Ibrahim demonstrates a generational power shift by reaffirming his commitment to marry the “impure” Amsatou.

 “Rights consciousness” is certainly highlighted by the prevalence of the radios in the community. This is particularly true because of the way the film uses them as one of the focal points around which the village women gather for both news and, after the radios have been taken from them, as a symbolic measure of their lack of access to both rights and information. Sembène often draws a direct connection between resistance to FGC and media. When his elder brother confronts Collé’s husband about Amsatou’s status he links the two: “She [Amsatou] has to be purified. Collé’s radio should be confiscated.”

The film’s blueprint for activism is complete when Ibrahim, the economic supporter of the village and hereditary future ruler of the Elder’s Council, is motivated by Collé’s use of local, cultural tradition to effect longstanding change, including the necessity for television and media access in the village. The forms by which media transmit images and ideas across cultures are at stake in the third of Merry’s conundrums:

I have discussed the importance of the village’s access to media at some length, so to conclude I will consider the second portion of Merry’s formula; namely, that international legitimacy requires visible transnational rights principles. This principle is especially applicable to Moolaadé as an international release. The lack of an effective and consistent human rights’ court system institutionalizes the difficulty of a uniform system of justice and the ability for that system to act as an effective venue in which to challenge human rights abuses on pan-national and international levels — the very levels at which Sembène was able to solicit funding.

As it has for nearly all of his films, Filmi Domireew, Sembène’s production company, received funding from pan-African, international NGO, and European funding sources. The extent to which the film is entangled with European and human rights NGOs on a financial level demonstrates how the interaction between Western definitions of universal rights and local action touches extra-diegetically on the film’s treatment of capitalism as a force that may transmit Western-defined human rights.

Seeing the film’s position within a global discourse of human rights necessitates an exploration of the film’s funding to appreciate both the complex funding situation endemic to contemporary West African cinema as well as the centrality of the film’s staging of the modernizing potential of markets and media in its treatment of the complicated international space of global and regional human rights discourse. Because the film’s narrative is so concerned with market exchanges and the function of distinct economies within the village — financial, cultural, and gendered capital — the economic network that brings the film to the screen is a vital microcosmic layer of the film’s story.

Coinciding with Moolaadé’s release, his receiving the award from UNESCO highlights Sembène’s career-long depiction of the struggle for women’s rights and discursively asserts the role of NGOs and the United Nations as longtime financial supporters of Sembène’s films. In the case of Moolaadé, the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for Senegal provided support for the film via four United Nations organizations: UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Development Fund (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The WHO also contributed to the film’s budget. Nowhere was I able to locate exactly how much money these organizations contributed to the production, but the very fact of their participation exists as a material bridge between the current funding realities of African media and NGOs that use economic support to act as stewards for human rights concerns within the Global South.[42]

The subject matter of Moolaadé, the approach the film takes to its subject, and the resources needed to fund the film emerge from the same global space. In addition to NGO participation, economically and physically Moolaadé is a transnational West-African/European co-production. Its principle filming and post-production occurred in 2002 in Djerisso, Burkina Faso and Morocco and its funding was from international NGOs, EU arts subsidies, and African national production companies, so it works amidst a global space of cultural diversity often economically tied to former colonial powers.

In terms of its production, the film is a predominately West African concern. Sembène himself suggests as much when he proclaims:

“My pride is in being able to say that this film, Moolaadé, was born on the continent and from the continent. That is my personal pride. Maybe I will be able to show African filmmakers, the younger ones, that we can create everything we need within the continent.”[43]

Recognizing the bravado of a filmmaker, especially one working within a structurally underdeveloped national and spotty pan-national cinematic production space, the funding sources for the film complicate this proclamation while acknowledging the universal-to-local translation the film provides within in its narrative.

The Pan-African economic component of Moolaadé exists among the co-producers of the project, although even these have ties to the European Union. One producer, Direction de la Cinématographie Nationale (Burkina Faso), is arguably the most established West African national production fund with contributions to over forty feature films.[44] Another, Cinétéléfilms (Tunisia), is a private production company established in 1983 that provides training courses to young filmmakers and production financing; although, I was only able to find one other film to which it has contributed money.[45] The final African producer is Les Films de la Terre Africaine (Cameroon), a production and distribution company established in 1994.[47]

Much like the way the village opens to international human rights standards via the allegorical representation of international and Western nations embodied in the characters of Mercenaire and Ibrahim, the bulk of the film’s financial resources come from French sources, particularly executive producer Cine Sud Promotion. Although Filmi Doomirew, Sembène’s Senegalese production company retains international theatrical rights for Moolaadé, in both the film’s credits and U.S., U.K., and Fr. press books the French cultural subsidiary Ciné Sud Promotion is listed as the sole executive producer of the film contributing  121,959 ffr to the film’s 2003 proposed 7,000,000 ffr budget ( 1,067,143) with additional contributions from the European Commission, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Culture and Communication, and Centre National de la Cinématographie (France).[47]

Unusually for a film receiving funds from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ciné Sud Promotion, which stipulates that the “greater part” of its contribution must be “earmarked for post-production in France,” Moolaadé’s complete post-production was finished at the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (Morocco) where Sembène also did much of the post-production for Faat Kine in 2000.[48] The Centre was established in 1994 and is responsible for authorizing and attracting productions to the country and facilitating a Pan-African film culture in Western Africa. Most often this support is provided, as in the French model of support, for post-production work down on-site, which was the case for Sembène’s final film.[49]

The visibility of transnational values Merry suggests is necessary to receive funding from first world organizations extends beyond a view of the empowered village women. The first-world audience of the film, within which I include the NGO and EU funding apparatus, are allowed to see a depiction of a rural West African farming village where capitalism operates as a successful system for commerce, bringing with it both trade and rights.

The village’s relative prosperity is striking — Collé’s husband returns from tending the village crops and announces that it has been a good year and the market is filled with goods that Sembène shows being purchased with money, rather than credit, by various community members. By the end of the film there is a healthy pile of confiscated radios indicating that a number of the villagers have regular access to media.

Taken alongside the critiques Sembène have leveled at the debt cycle prevalent in immediately post-colonial West Africa, the depiction of capitalism in Moolaadé works alongside the need Merry outlines to use transnational principles to receive funding. Unlike the depictions of capitalism and debt in Mandabi, Xala, or “Her Three Days,” in Moolaadé, Ibrahim easily attends to the debts taken on by his father and Amsatou. Furthermore, with Amastou and Ibrahim’s marriage apparently set at the film’s conclusion, both Collé and her daughter are economically rewarded for their decision to publically demand rights for women.

By staging the public rally, the film’s penultimate assertion is that FGC may be ended when local and international institutions find common ground to secure women’s rights. Sudanese women’s rights activist Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim reminds us that ultimately, “The battle against female circumcision is a political one” that first necessitates “transformative change in the socio-economic and legal status of women,” including “decision making in and out of the home.”[50] The final lesson of Moolaadé may well be that first world money may bring economic opportunity, but it is only in combination with local customs that cultural traditions may open to universal definitions of human rights.


1. [FOR ALL INTERNET SOURCES, PLEASE GIVE A COMPLETE URL, SO WE CAN SET UP HOTLINKS] FGC is also referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) by organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Western and African activists such as Amal Abd El Hadi, Alice Walker, Evelyn Accad, and Fran Hosken, author of The Hosken Report: Genital & Sexual Mutilation of Women. For these activists, “mutilation” accurately names the procedure as an unnatural disfigurement and highlights what they see to be the misogynistic undercurrent of a practice they understand to rob women of sexual pleasure. As will become clear in this essay, the practice is not easily isolated in this way; rather, it engages with gender, sexuality, and economic freedoms in a complex dynamic that is not easily cast as misogynistic. The language of FGM has also come to be seen by local activists as a Western neocolonial judgment that works to shame and press Western defined rights discourse on local communities, thereby ignoring the cultural, juridical, and gendered traditions of these communities. For these reasons, I will use female genital cutting (FGC) throughout my essay. [return to page 1]

2. These procedures include: clitoridectomy – “partial or total removal of the clitoris,” excision – “partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora,” and infibulation – “narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.” World Health Organization (WHO), “Female Genital Mutilation,” Media Fact Sheet, no. 241 (February 2010) web, 27 Dec. 2010.

3. Moolaadé, dir. Ousmane Sembène, perf. Fatoumata Coulibaly, Dominique Zeïda, Théophile Sowié, 2004, DVD, New Yorker Films, 2005.

4. Sudanese gynecologist Hamid Rushwan lists “bleeding, shock, tetanus, blood poisoning, urine retention, urinary tract infections, hardened scars, cysts, abscesses, menstrual problems, sexual problems, infertility, pelvic inflamatory disease, and psychological problems as some of the effects the procedures may induce.” Qtd in Abusharaf and Asma Mohamed Abdel Halim, “Questioning the Tradition: Female Circumcision in Sudan,” African Women’s Health, ed. Meredith Turshen (Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 2000): 125-6.

5. New Yorker Films press book available online at <www.newyorkerfilms.com>.

6. Prompted by the simultaneous U.S. premiere of Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and Sembène’s Moolaadé at the 42nd Annual New York Film Festival in 2004, J. Hoberman reviewed both films as movies of a similar ilk. He writes,

“The two punchiest movies in a generally strong lineup are both boldly diagrammatic placards in which rebellious middle-aged women stand up for their gender and consequently collide with the primal power of a punitive patriarchy. Each heroine is, in her way, a midwife to history.”

Hoberman’s review highlights the “agit-prop” nature of Sembène’s production and suggests that the two films may be read together as stories of women working against irrational belief systems that govern their societies and bodies. In Drake the irrational system is the bureaucracy of Western government and in Moolaadé it is the fundamentalism and patriarchy of the village’s Islamic elders, male and female alike. Both systems are marked within each film by a dominant political entity unable to see their way into the ‘women’s issues’ that affect members of their community. Setting aside Hoberman’s equation of religious belief with irrationality, his review provides us with a sense of how the film was received by a liberal, Western audience already familiar and somewhat comfortable with the struggle for women’s rights. J. Hoberman, “Labors of Love They Want to Defy the Logic of All Sex Laws: Auteurs Tackle Abortion and Female Circumcision,” Village Voice 24 Sept. 2004, web, 4 February 2006.

7. After Hoberman’s pairing of Drake and Moolaadé in his review, an art cinema in Rhinebeck, New York, offered a series entitled “Women's Issues Examined at Upstate,” where they programmed the films in back-to-back single week runs touted as the presentation of “two politically charged dramas in the month of January: Moolaadé, about female mutilation in Africa, and Mike Leigh's abortionist drama Vera Drake” “Advertisement,” Hudson Valley Times, web, 27 April 2006.

Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, “Revisiting Feminist Discourses on Infibulation: Responses from Sudanese Feminists, Female “Circumcision” in Africa, eds. Bettina Shell-Duncan, Ylva Hernlund (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000): 152. In the same volume also see: Claudie Gosselin, “Handing Over the Knife: Numu Women and the Campaign Against Excision in Mali,”193 and Fuambai Ahmadu, “Rites and Wring: An Insider/Outsider Reflects on Power and Excision,”284. Also see Abusharaf and Halim, 125-128.

9. Fran Hosken, The Hosken Report: Genital & Sexual Mutilation of Women, 4th edition (Lexington, MA: Women's Internet Network News, 1993): 16. Qtd in Abusharaf, “Revisiting,” 161.

10. Tostan is a women’s rights NGO based in Senegal. It receives a portion of its funding from UNICEF and other first world NGOs.

11. Nirit Ben-Ari, “Changing Tradition to Safeguard Women; Villagers Join Campaigns Against Female Genital Mutilation,” Africa Recovery, United Nations, 17.1 (May 2003): 4.

12. United Nations, General Assembly Resolution 34/180 of 12 Dec. 1979. Cited in Christine Ainetter Brautigam, “International Human Rights Law: The Relevance of Gender,” The Human Rights of Women: International Instruments and African Experience, ed. Wolfgang Benedek, Esther Kisaakye & Gerd Oberleitner (London: Zed Books, 2002): notes 12, 27. Established in 1979, CEDAW is operational under the United Nations Commission for Women (CSW), established in 1946 as the major policy body for the monitoring of women’s rights, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). See Shanthi Dairiam, “Introduction,” Bringing Equality Home: Implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (New York: UNIFEM, 1998): 8-9.

13. United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Article Fourteen, 1948, UN.org, web, 20 July 2009. In December 1948, the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In an international, quasi-juridical fashion this act codified a set of human rights granted, protected, and recognized by state powers. The 1948 act was a solidification of the rights of nation-states as granters of such rights. The Declaration sets the parameters that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights uses to monitor human rights abuses.

14. United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Article Twenty-Seven, 1948, UN.org, web, 20 July 2009.

15. Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy; An Anthropological Perspective (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001): 216.

16. For a discussion of how the Kassindja and Abankwah cases influenced U.S. asylum law and women’s rights see Corinne A. Kratz, “Seeking Asylum, Debating Values, and Setting Precedents in the 1990s,” Transcultural Bodies: Female Genital Cutting in Global Context, eds. Ylva Hernlund and Bettina Shell-Duncan (Rutgers University Press, 2007): 167-201. Gruenbaum illustrates how asylum petitions often work by describing how a Nigerian woman in the United States on a student visa with her husband remained in the country and won an asylum petition to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services after she refused to return home after her husband’s death, fearing her U.S.-born daughter would be forced to participate in a FGC ceremony and that both would be considered the “property” of her husband’s family (216).

17. UNESCO, “Film directors Ousmane Sembène and Chantal Akerman awarded UNESCO's Fellini medal,” 26 May 2004, web, 15 April 2006.

18. Ibid.

19. Frederick Ivor Case, “Aesthetics, Ideology, and Social Commitment in the Prose Fiction of Ousmane Sembène,” Ousmane Sembène: Dialogues with Critics and Writers, ed. Samba Gadjigo, et al (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993): 4.

20. Marcia Landy, “Political Allegory and ‘Engaged Cinema’: Sembène’s Xala,” Cinema Journal, 23.3 (Spring 1984): 32.

21. Philip Rosen, “Nation, inter-nation and narration in Ousmane Sembène’s films,” A Call to Action: The Films of Ousmane Sembène, Ed. Sheila Petty (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996): 35.

22. Sada Niang, “Mandabi: Character, Context, and Wolof language,” Jump Cut, 40 (March 1996) web, 12 Nov. 2010.

23. Françoise Pfaff, Interview with Ousmane Sembène, The Cinema of Ousmane Sembène, (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1984): 127. Qtd. in Niang, note 3.

24. Mandabi, dir. Ousmane Sembène, perf. Malhouredia Gueye, Mustapha Ture, Ynousse N’Diaye, Thérèse Bas 1968, DVD, New Yorker Films, 2005.

25. Ousmane Sembène, “Her Three Days,” 1974, African Rhapsody; Short Stories of the Contemporary African Experience, ed. Nadezda Obradovié (New York: Anchor Books, 1994): 203.

26. “Dakar Film Festival Opens in Homage to Writer, Filmmaker Ousmane Sembène,” Agence France Presse – English, 15 December 2004, web, 10 Sept. 2006.

27. “Zimbabwe Awards Ceremony Marks ZIFF End,” Africa News, 4 September 2006, web, 10 Sept. 2006.

28. According to BBC News, with an annual 1.5 million euro budget Africa Cinemas objectives are to maintain a significant presence of mainstream French and European films and locally produced Pan-African films through market subsidies of both exhibition spaces (Cameroon, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Mali) and distribution companies (Mali, Senegal, Benin Burkina Faso, Niger, Cameroon). “Europa Bankrolls African Films,” BBC News — International Version, news.bbc.co.uk, 22 May 2003, web, 21 April 2006. Also see: “African Film Library,” France-Diplomatie, diplomatie.gouv.fr, n.d., web,28 March 2006.

29. “Capsule Review,” The Canberra-Times, 26 August 2005, web, 4 April 2006. “Critic’s Pick: Moolaadé,” The Canberra-Times, 3 September 2005, web, 4 April 2006.

30. Francoise Pfaff, “The Uniqueness of Ousmane Sembène’s Cinema,” Ousmane Sembène: Dialogues with Critics and Writers, ed. Samba Gadjigo, et al (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993): 21.

31. Interview with Ousmane Sembène, Making of Moolaadé, interview by Daniel Graham, trans. Samba Gadjigo, 2002, DVD, New Yorker Films, 2005.

32. Foundation For Women's Health Research & Development, Trustees Annual Report, (March 2006): 32-33, web, 10 October 2010.

33. FORWARD, Newsletter (August 2008): 2, web, 10 October 2010.

34. Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), Newsletter (Winter 2006): 3, web, 27 December 2010. Like, Tostan, SIHA is a women’s rights organization run by local activists that, according to its newsletter, receives funding from N(o)vib, Oxfam Germany, UNICEF, the French Government, the Canadian Government and the Open Society Institute” (1).

35. Inter African Committee, Annual Report (2009): 8. IAC is a NGO comprised of representatives from twenty-eight African countries and sixteen affiliates in
Europe, Canada, USA, Japan, and New Zealand that collaborate with the WHO, the UN, and the African Union.

36. United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Article Nineteen, 1948, UN.org, web, 20 July 2009.

37. Sally Engle Merry, Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law Into Local Justice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006): 1-2. The UN Declaration of Human Rights acts as a model for various regional and continental commissions on human rights such as the African Banjul Charter on Human Rights. The Banjul Charter is the youngest regional commission and the only to include at its inception specific provisions guaranteeing the rights of women, modeled in part after the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

38. After attending NGO sessions at the 1995 Beijing Convention on women’s rights, Gruenbaum writes that locally driven NGOs are using song and entertainment as pedagogical tools to help combat FGC and to educate women about their national and international rights in the developing world: “Girls songs are quite popular in Sudan” (213).

39. Wolfgang Benedek, “The European System of Protection of Human Rights and Human Rights of Women,” The Human Rights of Women: International Instruments and African Experience. Ed. Wolfgang Benedek, Esther Kisaakye & Gerd Oberleitner (London: Zed Books, 2002): 225. The full article reads, “The Commission shall draw inspiration from international law on human and peoples' rights, particularly from the provisions of various African instruments on human and peoples' rights, the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the Organization of African Unity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other instruments adopted by the United Nations and by African countries in the field of human and peoples' rights as well as from the provisions of various instruments adopted within the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations of which the parties to the present Charter are members.” Organization of African Unity, “African (Banjul) Charter on People’s and Human Rights,” OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982), adopted 27 June 1981, entered into force 21 October 1986: 2, Africa Union, web, 22 July 2009.

Considering the paucity of women’s rights cases brought before any pan-African court, one could suggest that the greatest function of these regional commissions is as publicity organs promoting the rights enumerated in their conventions to the population they serve, which is no small thing. The economic contributions of the state members of the Commission fund these activities with additional monies from various organizations within the United Nations; the question of enforcement beyond promotional activities is, unsurprisingly, largely a question of economics. While the European Commission, established as part of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, houses a court where cases of human rights violations may be brought, the African Commission has only recently established an African Court of Human and People’s Rights. The purpose and structure of the Court was adopted by the African Union in 1998 and ratified by the necessary fifteen nation-state members. This ensured a 25 January 2004 establishment, with the election of judges in July of the same year. Even with the 2004 establishment deadline sources for the Commission’s necessary funding, let alone the separate court system, remained largely uncertain at the time of ratification (Benedek 224). So while cases may be brought before the Commission, at the time of Moolaadé’s production and release, there was not yet an OAU operational juridical enforcement mechanism capable of awarding compensation or engaging in binding arbitration. “Great News For The Fight Against Impunity on the African Continent: the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights Will Enter into Force on 25 January 2004,” International Federation for Human Rights, 7 January 2004, web, 15 April 2006.

40. Henry Onoria, “Introduction to the African System of Protection of Human Rights and the Draft Protocol,” The Human Rights of Women: International Instruments and African Experience. ed. Wolfgang Benedek, Esther Kisaakye & Gerd Oberleitner (London: Zed Books, 2002): 234. Provision one of the Charter reads:

“The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society. It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical health and moral [sic].”

Provision two reads:

“the State shall have the duty to assist the family which is the custodian of morals and traditional values recognized by the community.”

Organization of African Unity, “African (Banjul) Charter on People’s and Human Rights,” Africa Union (21 October 1986): 2, web, 22 July 2009.

41. Two years after Moolaadé’s initial African festival premieres, a growing number of challenges to national laws emerged from the Charter and the Commission that drew on the Charter’s provision that traditions and customs are ‘consistent with international norms on human and peoples’ rights. Onoria cites one case in particular where “the Botswana Supreme Court disallowed the argument about ‘traditions’ of a ‘patriarchal society’ that denied lineage (in effect citizenship) via the mother. The court was willing to discard a tradition that was in violation of the rights of women and uphold the principle of nondiscrimination” (235). This case was heard in a national court system and cited by Onoria as the type of case that highlight human rights’ abuses as well as matters of economic, social, and cultural development that could be heard in the African Union system after the physical establishment of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights. However, there still remains the challenge to further translate the principles enumerated in the 1948 doctrine and the Banju Commission into a force capable of influencing the juridical systems of multiple individual nation-states. Even with the physical establishment of an African Court of Human and People’s Rights (CHPR) in Arusha, Tanzania, as of June 2009 the court had yet to hear a case and had no provisions to protect plaintiffs and witnesses against retaliation from defendants. UPI Newswire reports that in March 2009, the African Union announced the establishment of yet another human rights court: the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (CJHR). According to a 2008 report in Africa News,

“Together, the idea of these two courts gave initial credibility to the suggestion that African governments actually wanted to end impunity and make justice accessible to all. In June 2004… African governments agreed to merge the two courts into one institution.”

They argued that a merger would assure adequate resources to fund an effective continental court. In April [2008], after four years of negotiations, African justice ministers agreed to the text of a single legal instrument to create an African Court of Justice and Human Rights” (“Effective”). Furthermore, according to a report issued by Chatham House, a British think tank that monitors human rights on the African continent, the CHPR will be “wound down” over the next few years as it is combined with CJHR. The resulting court will act as “the main judicial organ of the African Union” (2). As of July 2009, the court has yet to hear a single case. One reason for that may be the lack of protection able to be offered by the court as well as the fact that “individuals and NGOs are only able to bring cases in their own right if the state against which they are complaining has signed a special declaration accepting the competence of the Court to hear cases brought via this route” (2). “African Court to Address Human Rights,” UPI Newswire, 23 March 2009, web, 10 September 2009. Sonya Sceats, “Africa’s New Human Rights Court: Whistling in the Wind?” (London: Chatham House, March 2009): 2, web, 10 September 2009.

42. The film’s credits alsoacknowledge the funding participation of two private foundations: the Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation, a Swiss grant giving trust with a history of research monies granted to children’s health causes and non-profit arts organization and the German Church Development Services.

43. Ousmane Sembène, Interview by Samba Gadjigo, 11 April 2004 (New York: Artificial Eye and New Yorker Films Press Books): 4.

44. Direction de la Cinématographie Nationale, culture.gov.bf, n.d., web,3 February 2006. Beginning in 2005, it has also funded a regional training school and film and dv post-production resources via IRIS (Institut Régional de l'Image et du Son) in partnership with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the French Community, Belgium and the Société de Développement des Entreprises Culturelles (SODEC) of Quebec. IRIS, iris.gov.bf, n.d., web, 20 July 2009. The site has not been updated since 2007.

45. Cinetelefilms.com, n.d., web,3 February 2006. The website for the company is no longer functioning as of July 2009. The Unifrance website lists the company as an active producer of feature films up to 2007 when it funded The Wedding Song directed by Karen Albou. This site credits the company as producing sixteen films form 1995 to 2007, including Moolaadé and Denys Arcand’s Quebecoise production The Barbarian Invasions (2003). Unifrance is an organization funded in 1949 to promote French language cinema around the world. “Filmography by Cinetelefilms,” Unifrance, en.unifrance.org, n.d., web, 20 July 2009. Funded by the French CNC (Centre National de la Cinématographie), according to its website it works as a sort-of clearing house for French language film professionals:

“Unifrance currently has around 600 members, including feature film and short film producers, sales agents, directors, actors, authors (screenwriters), and talent agents.” “Our Mission,”

Unifrance, en.unifrance.org, n.d., web, 20 July 2009.

46. “Les Films de la Terre Africaine,” imdb.com, n.d., web, 30 March 2006. As of this writing, the company has helped fund three films: Moolaadé, and two films directed by Basak Ba Kobhio: Le silence de la forêt (2003), which screened at Cannes and Toronto, and Sango Malo (1990).

47. “Moolaadé,” France Diplomatie, diplomatie.gouv.fr, n.d., web, 21 April 2006. Ciné Sud Promotion is a subsidiary of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs that acts as the economic arm of the ministry’s support of cinema produced in the Global South. It has supported productions in thirty-one of Africa’s forty-seven countries, as its predecessor funding agency, the Bureau of Cinema, did under the 1961 established Ministry of Cooperation, as well as productions from South America, the Middle East, Eastern and Central Europe, and Asia. While the Ministry’s funding of Ciné Sud was previously localized to features produced on the African continent, it widened the international scope of its funding in the mid-1990s to recognize the increased need for cultural productions throughout the Global South. Ciné Sud has funded over 400 films since this shift, with an average aid award of 110,000 Euros. Filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno points out that, unfortunately, the Ministry’s budget did not increase in proportion to the increased countries served. Additionally, in order to qualify for funds, “The greater part of the sum must be earmarked for post-production in France.” For a complete list of countries whose films have received production funding please visit “Film List by Country,” France Diplomatie, diplomatie.gouv.fr, n.d.,web, 18 July 2009. Jean-Marie Teno, “Imagining Alternatives: African Cinema in the New Century,” newsreel.org, n.d., web, 20 March 2006.

48. “Rules of procedure,” France Diplomatie, diplomatie.gouv.fr, n.d., web, 18 July 2009.

49. Centre Cinematographique Marocain, ccm.ma, n.d., web, 30 March 2006. The Centre is responsible for a repertory theatre, post-production facilities, production training services, and it controls a Help Fund, established in 1980, prior to the Centre itself, aimed at the promotion of a national cinema through the support of both feature and short films. In 2004, new regulations were drafted for the Help Fund to provide for both production assistance and support during the screenwriting process; however, films at the post-production stage are given funding priorities. In 2006 there were over 150 applications for support made to the Centre from all stages of production; most of the applications -- 90% -- are from Moroccan filmmakers of varying experience. As of June 2009, the Fund had contributed 2009 monies to eleven feature productions after reviewing twenty-two features readying for post-production and two features in initial production stages. All eleven films are in the post-production stage. See the following press releases: “Communiqué du Fonds d'Aide — 2ème session 2009,” ccm.ma, n.d., web, 20 July 2009. “Commuinqué du Fonds d'aide 1 ère session 2009,” ccm.ma, n.d., web, 20 July 2009.

50. Interview with Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, 7 June 1997, Los Angeles, CA. Qtd in Absharaf and Halim,138.

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