Africa’s major film event – on the scale of the Oscars – celebrated its 50th year this month with more films, more visitors and a disappointing showing of women selected to compete for any major prize.
And women are not having it.
“Can it be that in 50 years, there hasn’t been a single woman capable of telling a great story to win the Fespaco?” said South African filmmaker/actress Xolile Tshabalala, who features in “Miraculous Weapons”, directed by Jean-Pierre Bekolo, a Cameroonian.
Burkinabe director Apolline Traore agreed there’s a problem in gender equality for directors.
“There’s no equality for the craft of a woman director,” Traore declared. “Neither in Africa, nor in the whole world.” Traore’s film, “Desrances”, won a special honor at the festival.
French actress Nadège Beausson-Diagne recalled an attempted rape by an African director 18 years ago. “There was #MeToo in America, #Balancetonporc [#DenounceYourSwine] in France; but in Africa, no one has spoken about it yet, but that is not because it doesn’t exist,” said Beausson-Diagne, who is of Ivorian descent.
The actress went on to launch a campaign aimed at getting African women to talk about sexual aggression. The campaign, dubbed #Memepaspeur – “not even scared” – means “the fear must switch sides”. “It’s time to speak out,” she said.
But the most painful memory came from Azata Soro, assaulted by Burkinable filmmaker Tahirou Tassere Ouedraogo with a shard from a broken bottle. “He ripped open my face,” said Soro, who still has facial scars. He admitted to the attack and received a suspended sentence. Worse, she said, was that his film was selected by FESPACO for the festival.
This year’s top award went to Rwandan director Joel Karekezi for his film “The Mercy of the Jungle”. A road movie, it focused on the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo through the eyes of two soldiers lost in the jungle.
Egyptian director Khaled Youssef won second prize for his drama “Karma”, while third prize went to Tunisia’s Ben Hohmound for “Fatwa” about a father who discovers that his dead son had been a jihadist.
Elsewhere at the festival, a monument in honor of Thomas Sankara, the idealistic ex-president of Burkina Faso was unveiled. Assassinated in a coup d‘état in 1987 after four years in power, Sankara is an icon of pan-Africanism, still celebrated by the continent’s youth.
The bronze statue is 16 feet high.
It is a “well-deserved tribute to the man who was the father of the democratic and popular revolution,” Burkinabe president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré said, adding that “we are managing to ensure that (the murder of Sankara) can finally be tried and those responsible will be held accountable.”