Beti Ellerson of ‘African Women In Cinema’

Beti Ellerson (photo: Christophe Poulenc)

Beti Ellerson established the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l’étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma in 2008. It is a virtual, dynamic and in-depth archive of information on the research, study and documentation of African women in cinema. Beti’s African Women in Cinema, in French and English, is a database with a lively blog, details about women filmmakers, video interviews, essays and reviews and various associated social media accounts. In today’s intense dialogue about inclusion in filmmaking it’s a vital resource and I want to celebrate Beti and her work.

How did the centre start? Were you a filmmaker?

This passion began twenty years ago. It grew out of my desire to continue my post-doctoral research project, entitled African Women in the Visual Media: Culture and Politics, that I started as a 1996–1997 Rockefeller Humanities Fellow. I was really interested in being a cultural activist, extending my interest and work beyond the academy. I had already studied film history, criticism, and analysis. I wanted to actively engage with the moving image and to better understand its process; hence, I acquired skills in scriptwriting, video production, editing and television production at the local public access community television.

My activism entailed direct engagement with the vibrant local film/cultural community in Washington DC, especially to provide a more diverse perspective with innovative and compelling content, so a few years later I used that experience to produce and host a series called Reels of Colour (by its title you can imagine it dealt with people of colour), a total of 27 episodes that ran on the local public stations in the Washington DC area from 1997 to 2000.

This background prepared me for the documentary project Sisters of the Screen, that culminated in a book and film both entitled Sisters of the Screen, released in 2000 and 2002 respectively.

Afterwards, my desire to continue documenting the research and expanding the ever-increasing voices of women motivated me to utilise the virtual environment to create an on-going dialogue with the women and a space that could be constantly updated and accessed worldwide.

In 2004 I created an extensive online teaching and learning guide on African women in cinema, which includes some of the foundational content now featured in the centre’s pages. At the time I was lecturer at Howard University in Washington DC and I received a grant that provided the capacities to create the virtual space.

Have you lived in Africa?

My ‘lived’ experience in Africa began as a doctoral student, but now the continent (and the many countries) where I travel for research, conferences, festivals, and simply to visit, is my other ‘home’.

Why is your blog in French as well as English? Do you have a French
connection yourself?

I use French language in my work because an important aspect of the evolution of African cinema has francophone beginnings. Many of the pioneer films in sub-Sahara Africa were from francophone regions and perhaps in the early decades during the evolution of African cinemas, there were more francophone films than anglophone. The woman who is considered to be the first African woman to make a film, Thérèse Sita-Bella, was from the French-speaking region of Cameroon, and her film Tam Tam à Paris, made in 1963, well, by the title one can imagine that it was set in France. In 1969 the two seminal film festivals were created in Burkina Faso and in Tunisia, and most of the films screened at the festivals were from francophone and North African Arab/francophone countries. A cursory look at a roster of African women filmmakers indicates that there are as many films from francophone regions as, for instance, from anglophone regions.

French is also the administrative and or official language of many countries in Africa, so French is the language of communication for most women coming from francophone regions, and of course France and Belgium are home to many women of the African diaspora.

I would like to encourage a multi-lingual approach. I hope that the lusophone region becomes more visible, though presently there are fewer filmmakers from that area. But it is important to note that Sarah Maldoror, an important name in African cinema history, directed the iconic Sambizanga (1972), a Portuguese-language film that follows the journey of Maria in search of her husband, Angolan revolutionary Domingos Xavier. However, to incorporate Portuguese would require language skills that the centre would need to acquire, but there is hope.

I’ve had a direct connection with France for over thirty years. My husband is French and the language of our household is French. I have dual citizenship; hence I am Franco-American and navigate between the two countries. The centre travels with me on my migrations, now for the fourth time, which I hope will be the last, to France.

Are many films being made in the continent’s own languages?

Yes. Many, perhaps a majority of the films set in Africa are in African languages, which also brings up the question of subtitling.

You’re covering a huge area. Do you do it all alone?

I am the director of the centre and while I have had ‘assistants’ and others involved, I basically run it myself, much like a full time research project. I research information for updating, manage the social media networks, communicate with a variety of individuals: African women in cinema, film professionals, cultural studies/women studies scholars and cultural activists like yourself — our meeting on social media is an example of the types of contacts and communication that I have on a regular basis. In addition, I am invited to conferences, panel discussions, and teleconferences and I do so under the title of Director of the Centre. Another aspect of what I do is research and write about the trends, tendencies and histories of African women of the screen, as papers for chapters, articles and catalogues or encyclopaedia entries — and of course as content for the African Women in Cinema blog.

Regular correspondence comes from a broad range of individuals with varying interests who become aware of the centre through internet research. Young African women send their scripts for suggestions and questions also about how they can get into cinema. Graduate students write to ask for suggestions and comments for their senior undergraduate, masters and doctoral theses. Professors inquire about films and suggested readings. Festival organisers inquire about suggestions for films, about contact information for a filmmaker or a film distributor for a particular film.

There’s a constant flow of press releases for events, links to trailers of new films, requests for papers from conference organisers. And there have been diverse other situations.

What are the key networks you use?

The centre has a presence on most of the main platforms. This included Wikipedia, but because of some issue of which I have yet to get to the root cause it was taken down. I do hope to get it back in order to have a presence there. Facebook is a means to connect and network with colleagues and potential colleagues and I’m quite encouraged by the broad reach of Twitter.

Since I am able to use the analytics and statistics of the website and pages, which reveal the traffic sources and audience, I can observe the page visits and views by country and am very encouraged by the broad range of interests. Of course I look at the page-view count, but what I find much more promising than how many hits are obtained, is when I notice a page view of a post that was published three or four years ago, from someone who did a search regarding that topic and came across the blog. This indicates to me that the blog is useful as a research tool and is accessible worldwide.

Translation and search features are available on the blog, which make translation and keyword searches immediately available. I also do a great deal of outreach and hyperlinking and this reveals the centre’s interest in sharing and broadening the dialogue. In turn, the blog is mentioned and shared on websites and pages that have similar interests. So far, there are only texts and images or in the case of the moving image, embedded videos from the video-sharing site that feature the person or event that I am discussing.

Does some of your work critique Nollywood’s (and any other African ‘-ollywoods’) treatment of women, in front of and behind the camera? If it doesn’t, are there any others doing this work?

I include the Nollywood genre in my courses on African cinemas, but I have not explicitly written about it nor have I delved into representations of women in this genre. However, I have interviewed two women who address the representations of women in the “-ollywood” phenomenon that is sweeping through Africa. The topic of Dr. Agatha Ukata’s PhD thesis, The Images(s) of Women in Nigerian (Nollywood) Videos, explores the representation of women in Nigerian cinema.

Agatha Ukata

Similarly, Dr. Joyce Osei Owusu focused her doctoral study on Ghanaian women video/filmmakers.

Joyce Osei Owusu

She is following closely the influences of Nollywood on the emerging video movie phenomenon in Ghana (an interview with her just out, here).

Do you have plans for further development of the site?

I have considered some kind of audio-visual video component. I do hope to upgrade it to enhance the interactivity and overall access to the information out there in multiple platforms, including transmedia storytelling.

How do you define ‘African Women in Cinema’? Do you include women who are not of African descent but who are citizens of an African country or were born there?

I have used the term ‘African Women in Cinema’ as an organising principle, to frame a field of study. It provides a conceptual framework in which I can discuss the practices of the myriad practitioners and stakeholders.

In addition to the diverse professions that are directly involved in filmmaking, women in the roles of festival and cultural organisers and film critics and cultural producers have played pioneering roles in African cinema history. Actresses have also been instrumental in the groundwork for African cinematic practice; for instance, Zalika Souley a pioneering actress from Niger was a founding member of FEPACI (Pan African Federation of Filmmakers /Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes) formed in 1969 and in 1998 Burkinabè actress Georgette Paré initiated Casting Sud, a pan-African casting agency to promote African actors and actresses, to name two of many initiatives.

I include women of the global African diaspora, which implies women of African descent, but there is not as much focus on women of other origins who were born on the continent. This has been a polemic that I have struggled with and try to redress. I am in many ways an insider/outsider, so I do not want to be the person who defines who is African. I do try to ask pointed questions as it relates to identity and white privilege when I interview ‘white African women’ (I suppose if one can say black European one could also use the term for white people in Africa as white African!)

Map from Sisters of the Screen (2000)

If you have read the book and seen the film Sisters of the Screen, you will notice that white women are not included. But if you peruse the blog there is a visible presence of white South African women and women of Africa from diverse ethnicities. So there has been an evolution in my approach and my own thinking. But it is also important to note that, when I first began my studies in African cinema at the end of the 1980s South Africa was still under apartheid and southern Africa was in a rather delicate state culturally. And perhaps that coloured my attitude about African identities onward. At the beginning of my book I stated–

Another theoretical discussion in defining who is African in African cinema is the question of Africans of European descent…, [and of] my choice of including…African diasporans…which has to do with my own positionality as an African diasporan. I would like to revisit Kenyan Tomaselli’s question as a point of departure for the above ‘debate’–

Questions not easily resolved on the issue of what is African cinema concern, for example, what constitutes Africa. Is Arab film and South African production part of African cinema? Is ‘Black’ cinema necessarily ‘African’ in origin? Is there such an identity as ‘the African personality’? Should African cinema necessarily be linked to its Black diasporic equivalents in the United States, France and England?

Have I denied [Africans of European descent] an identity as African, yet defined Arab women [of the Maghreb] within an African identity as well as linked African diasporans to African cinema as Tomaselli states in his essay?

The debate is not new. And it appears, is far from being resolved or finding a consensus, neither by Africans themselves, the sprawling African global diaspora nor the outside gatekeepers.

While I was very happy to be part of the African Women Film Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2010, this kind of dialogue did not happen there as it was very clear that ‘African Women’ meant ‘black’ African women, or at least it did not include white women film practitioners beyond the German organisers of the Goethe Institut. It was the same case at the African Women’s Film Forum in Ghana in 2013, organised by the African Women’s Development Fund, to give two examples of major African women in cinema events held on the continent.

In terms of North African women of Arab descent, well, I have thought about this identity more recently when I published an interview of a Palestinian woman by a guest contributor. I thought why not women of Arab origin beyond North Africa, even though they are located outside of Africa? Which returns to the question I asked some 16 years ago in Sisters of the Screen. Why embrace the African world and diaspora but not the Arab world beyond North Africa?

Back in 1991, a women’s workshop was held as an official platform during FESPACO (Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou) and precipitated an identity crisis that I will try to explain and put in context in the present. I did not attend the festival but tried to capture the essence of the issues by asking some key players and attendees to explore them, in my Sisters of the Screen project.

Many of the festival-goers attended the opening session, but when the workshop began some of the organisers asked that all non-African women leave, all who did not identify themselves as African women, i.e. the men of all ethnicities and the white women (and I do not imagine at that period there were any from South Africa). A second call was made, presumably because other ‘non-African women’ were still present, and an identity crisis ensued, because this call was for women from the African diaspora to leave as well. Many initially refused to do so, including French-Guadeloupian Sarah Maldoror, who is considered a pioneer of African cinema.

It’s also important to note that some of the ‘African women’ who were in attendance were based in Europe and not in Africa, though they may have been born and raised there. There were other women of the diaspora who had very close ties to Africa and at least one was married to an African man — who was in fact a filmmaker. So this ‘will-the-real-African-please-stand-up’, dilemma was entangled in identity politics.

This scenario would not happen today for at least two reasons. The first is, that FESPACO announced in 2013 that there would no longer be a distinction between diaspora and Africa in the official competition.

The second is that with the global African diaspora firmly anchored throughout the world with its members born in every conceivable country, to adhere to an assignment of identity by whether one’s immediate ancestors were born on the continent is no longer tenable.

And there’s perhaps a third reason, based on one of the main reasons given to me when I asked some of the key people what was the reason for this distinction and separation made at that meeting in 1991. They stated that ‘African continentals and African diasporans have two different realities’ which is why there was the exclusion: the African diasporans would lack understanding in terms of dealing with solutions to African continental women’s needs.

This has been a conundrum that I have struggled with and try to redress. What does an Ethiopian based in Lebanon have in common with a first-generation American of Korean and Tanzanian parentage, a Swedish-Burkinabé, a German-born woman of Ghanaian parentage, a Senegalese raised in France and based in Belgium? These women would have been considered ‘African’ and allowed to attend the meeting, because they have direct lineage to Africa, i.e. one of their parents was born in Africa: they may claim direct heritage, rather than only ‘ancestry’ which is the case of diasporans. There is much discourse around ‘exilic, transnational and diasporan’ identities and there are as many definitions. Which is why I posed the questions: ‘When does the African become the African diasporan? What is the identity of her story, which may be far removed from what may be viewed as an ‘identifiable’ African experience?’

This was an issue that mixed-race British-Nigerian Ngozi Onwurah faced in the 1990s. A film like The Body Beautiful, an experimental film set in England which focuses on her relationship with her white British mother would not be considered by some to fall in the realm of an African story, while her documentary, Monday’s Girls, traces a girls’ coming-of-age ceremony is set in Nigeria and is labeled as an African film.

There are many facets to the identity issue if one looks more globally. An African American, born and raised, with generations of history in the United States, will be framed within this identity and categorised as such, whereas a person of European descent who migrates to the country may navigate within the dominant (white) culture with no questions asked. I have seen this happen with white South Africans, in fact. The dominant culture consists of people of European descent, but indigenous people or those who have inhabited the country much longer are not fully included in the dominant discourse and perhaps more importantly are not the ones who are fundamentally involved in the production of knowledge, as may also happen in New Zealand.

When I began my postdoctoral research in 1996, my intention was not to make separations and divisions, categories and delineations. But the reality is that these distinctions are made, in academia, in all areas of cultural discourse, and in the real world in general. Nonetheless, in terms of identities, I am now seeing twenty years later, a definitive blurring of boundaries that was already beginning to happen in the late 1990s as the connections with the coloniser countries began to shift, as diasporic migrations intensified. At the present there are as many Ghanaians and Kenyans training in the United States as in Britain. So that Wanuri Kahiu and Lupita Nyong’o from Kenya and Nicole Amarteifio from Ghana are visible names in the United States culture circuit. Senegalese and Burkinabe film students are completing their studies in the United States in addition to France, which in the 1970s and 1980s was the main destination. And there are the ‘first-gen’ Americans such as Akosua Adoma Owusu (Ghana), Issa Rae (Senegal), Nnegest Likke (Ethiopia), Cheryl Dunye (Liberia), Nadia Sasso (Liberia), Eliaichi Kimaro (South Korea-Tanzania) with hybrid cultures and dual identities; the content of many of their films reflect this duality.

There is similar identity blurring in France’s Claude Haffner and Sarah Bouyain who deal with this in their work. Amma Asante is Ghanaian-British and while Belgo-Congolese Monique Mbeka Phoba was raised and educated in Europe, she has a strong African-focused filmography of works. On the other hand Monique Mbeka Phoba is definitely in tune with the growing presence of Belgo-Congolese discourse on identity. She was consultant for and played the role of mother in Pauline Mulombe’s short film Tout le monde a des raisons d’en vouloir à sa mere | Everyone has Reasons to be Angry with their Mother. In an interview with her published in the blog, Pauline Mulombe had this to say about her film–

The question of identity is already resolved in the film because it is not its central theme. The protagonists, the daughters, do not have an identity problem. They respect their cultural heritage but they want to live their lives as they see fit. The film is located principally within the context of tolerance, indeed acceptance, by their mother, of their multi-culturalism and their reality. The youngest wants to enjoy herself and grow and develop by making the most of European social and cultural life. The middle daughter wants to utilise all of the possibilities available to resolve her problems, even if it means doing things that are unthinkable in her culture of origin, such as taking the birth control pill when still an adolescent. The oldest, even if she does not openly show her homosexuality, knows that she is 100% gay.

All of these trends, tendencies, practices interest me. What I’ve been able to do with the African Women in Cinema blog is not to have to decide what and who to focus on but rather to present profiles, glimpses, moments. Having said that, perhaps the main focus is on women of African descent outside of the United States and those in the United States who work outside of the African American framework; the latter being more recent as I want to follow the practices of first-gen Africans and expatriate African women working in the United States. I must note nonetheless that the transnational practices of African women makers have been a reality since the beginnings of African cinemas. In other words, African women have always navigated terrains and traversed boundaries to do their work, tell their stories, make the films, even in the United States — though there were only a few who emerged as early as the 1980s. I have an article in progress on this topic.

I think as identity in the global African Diaspora becomes increasingly nebulous, with tentacles in all regions of the world, the identifiability of African cinema(s) will become equally indefinable.

I think that for almost all women, distribution is a problem. We make smaller budget films with tiny marketing budgets. Usually audiences don’t care about the gender of the writer or director. And we now have to compete with the men writers, directors and producers who have identified the economic benefits of films with female protagonists (for instance, Brooklyn, Room etc) and have more resources to make those films. Array, ‘dedicated to the amplification of independent films by people of color and women filmmakers globally’ has developed innovative strategies for distribution. But are there particular obstacles for African women filmmakers from outside the United States, who don’t have distribution support from Array or the level of support that filmmakers like Amma Asante and Ava DuVernay can now access?

Distribution has been by far one of the most persistent concerns of all African filmmakers along with funding and exhibition. A comment that Debra Zimmerman, the executive director of the New York-based Women Make Movies (WMM) made could serve as a response in a way to this question.

…We’re much more interested in seeing films made by African women about African issues. But the truth is that sometimes the films that they make are not really easy to market to a US audience because they’re speaking from a position of within. And it is easier for Americans to hear an American voice talking about what’s going on in Africa then they are in an African voice. Generally that’s when we say yes we will pick it up, even though we know that our job’s going to be harder. But in the way we believe that women should tell their own stories, we believe that Africans should tell their own stories….

I wonder if Westerners viewing films about non-western societies tend to have difficulties understanding those whose point of view, point of reference, are from positions within those societies.

So a groundbreaking distribution company such as WMM must really work hard to include films by African women filmmakers. Debra Zimmerman also stated in another interview that 80% of their income comes from universities. That in fact, her vision of WMM would not exist without the collaboration of these institutions. And just to note, it is not as if a vast amount of films by African women are distributed by WMM, and also consider that the collection is documentary and experimental films. So one may imagine that mainstream distributors would have even less interest in making an effort to incorporate their stories.

There are myriad small distribution companies but one has to dig for them. I do know that attempts to keep distribution information accessible and up-to-date. When available, the distributor and contact is included on the individual film description page on the website; so it is very helpful in this regard. I dream of this kind of resource, and hope to have it available on the centre’s website one day.

But to return to my point about Debra Zimmerman’s comment, Video-sharing sites such as YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion bypass the gatekeepers as well as the western-normative politics of representation, bringing the content directly to the viewers, who like/dislike, comment and share. They’re a real game changer in terms of the promotion of one’s work and getting out the information about where the films may be accessed/bought.

Do you see webseries as part of ‘cinema’? I love the webseries I know of, like Jacqueline Kalimunda’s Single Rwandan Seeks Serious Relationship that asks ‘How do people love after genocide?’ and An African City, about a group of women who return to Ghana. And I’ve read about others, in articles like Neyat Yohannes’ 6 Amazing Web Series By Women From The African Diaspora. And everywhere, webseries are growing in influence, somewhere between cinema and television.

Webseries have a growing importance for underrepresented groups such as women of colour. Senegalese-American Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl set a precedent that Nicole Amarteifio followed with An African City. Many webseries have been profiled on the blog, to highlight their rising popularity as a genre as well as travelling vignette stories such as Polyglot, Strolling and Pretty. And there is no question about the important role that the Internet and digital technologies have played in creating these spaces. Just to imagine when I taught the university undergraduate courses Black Body, Dress and Culture beginning in 1995, and even the Black Women in Visual Culture course from 2000, that I had to scrape and scramble to find visual content to discuss the global African diaspora, where now it is a matter of doing a web search and clicking on the link! This certainly has made the global African village more accessible!

Many of the creators of the webseries are from the millennial generation, and are among a cohort of women who cross languages, geographies and cultures. But I think it is important to note that we are referring to these transnational women of African descent who circulate largely in the Global North, those who were born, raised or studied there, and who have passports or access to the means for traveling, unlike most Africans living on the continent. Even in the case of An African City, which, is about ‘Ghanaian women’ who return after having lived abroad, their lived experiences are in the Global North. And hence, the appeal to western viewers looking for another representation of Africa, as the producer states, beyond the miserablism that is presented in mainstream media. I think their positionality and their representations of ‘a western-normative modernity’ have an important role to play in the reception of this series. I observe this in webseries and sit-coms coming out of Africa that also operate within this western-normativity, where the hairstyles, manners and speech show similarities; a phenomenon which is influenced by the flow, exchange and influences of/with global African diasporas.

While the new technologies appear to level the playing field in some ways, it still is about who has access to them and who does not. So if we are talking about African audiences, we have to also recognise that it may not be most African audiences who have access to the means to view this innovative content.

I rely on you for information about African women’s film festivals. I know you also attend and jury at some of them. And when I think of women’s film festivals, I always remember what British director Andrea Arnold said when she spoke of her experience at Films de Femmes, one of the oldest women’s film festivals

I always notice how few [films by women] there are at film festivals. I went to Créteil International Women’s Film Festival in France with Wasp in 2004, stayed on for a few days and watched all these films by women. I spent the whole time crying because there were so many films that had so much resonance for me, being female. It actually made me realise how male-dominated the film industry is in terms of perspective. If you think about a film being a very popular and expressive way of showing a mirror on life, we’re getting a mainly male perspective. It’s a shame. I saw a lot of fantastic films at Créteil that I never heard about again.

Do you feel the same at the African women’s festivals, inside and outside Africa? What have you learned from the festivals?

Yes, the role of film festivals for African filmmakers in general and African women in particular, is fundamental, even if according to some filmmakers there is not much benefit beyond the initial screenings there. You noted that my resources have allowed you to stay informed about African women’s film festivals, and I am glad to know that they have been useful in spreading the news.

I wrote an article that elaborates on African women and film festivals in order to emphasise the important role that they have played on so many levels and to highlight African women’s visible presence within them for almost 50 years. So I will draw from it to respond to your question. To start with, Alimata Salembéré was a founding member of FESPACO and president of the organising committee of the first festival in 1969. She then served as General Secretary of FESPACO from 1982 to 1984, overseeing the 8th FESPACO in 1983. Hence, from the start of this emblematic institution and seminal cinematic infrastructure in Africa, a woman played a pivotal role in its creation.

In tandem with the role of exhibition — in many cases the only venues where women’s films may be shown to a larger public — film festivals are spaces for networking and are used as local and regional conduits around which women may interconnect continentally and globally; hence a meeting place for pitching, networking, workshopping and sharing ideas. A film festival is often a pivotal space where African women continent-wide may gather and meet. Many film festivals and cultural events with film components, both on the continent and beyond, have been founded by African women, some of them filmmakers. This practice demonstrates the advocacy role that African women in cinema take on to create the requisite infrastructures for promoting African cultural production.

Which ones do you especially recommend for people who want to become familiar with African women’s cinema?

The list is long, in fact, as there are many festivals on the continent and beyond that regularly give retrospectives, gendered themes or special sections. A selection of film festivals devoted to women from the continent include: International Images Film Festival for Women (Zimbabwe) created in 1996, Films Femmes Afrique | Films Women Africa (Senegal) created in 2003, which reconvened with its 2nd edition in 2016, International Women Film Festival of Salé (Morocco) founded in 2004, Mis Me Binga, (Cameroon) created in 2009, Women of the Sun Film Festival (South Africa) which is not presently active was founded in 2010, Journées cinématographiques de la femme africaine (JCFA) | The Film Festival of African Women (Burkina Faso) founded in 2012 which alternates with FESPACO and is set around International Women’s Day in March, and Mzansi (South Africa), Tazama (Congo-Brazzaville), Udada (Kenya), Festival du Cinéma au féminin | Women’s Film Festival (Congo-Kinshasa), all created in 2014. These festivals, created during the past 20 years, span the continent representing all regions, North, South East, West and Central.

Are there filmmaking incentives or state funders in any African countries that particularly support women filmmakers? In Africa, I think of Mira Nair’s Maisha Film Lab, but maybe there are more? Has anyone researched what helps African women and which other countries (the United States, Germany, Sweden?) are most welcoming to African women filmmakers?

From the late 1960s there have been initiatives on a continental basis such as FEPACI, founded to address the needs and interests of all African filmmakers and serve as a continental voice. Women began to coalesce in the early 1990s. The seminal moment was the 1991 meeting that I talked about earlier in another context. One of the concerns that are often voiced among the filmmakers is the lack of support from their governments. On the other hand Burkina Faso, the home of the historic FESPACO, is regarded as the model in terms of the government’s commitment to cinema on all levels.

There are local initiatives and I am impressed to see the efforts to maintain gender parity, and women are often at the forefront. My recently published report for alphaville,African Women of the Screen at the Digital Turn’, has much more detail about them, including this–

Since the millennium, cultural institutions equipped with training facilities have proliferated on the continent, with women participating in record numbers. [Among them] are institutes and programmes such as the Media Centre of Dakar and the Masters programme in Documentary Cinema Studies run by the University of Gaston Berger in Saint Louis — both in Senegal — and the Institut Imagine in Burkina Faso have attracted women, who, after completing their training, returned to their communities to collaborate in initiatives made possible through new technologies….The Ouagadougou-based Institut Imagine, founded by renowned Burkinabé filmmaker Gaston Kaboré, has emerged as an important venue for film training and production.

And there are many partnered projects with western institutions, like the Maisha Film Lab. I think the vastness of the continent, its diversity, and linguistic, geographical and historical scope preclude a study that would actually bring together all these myriad pieces: the difference in languages, histories, and cultures of such a vast continent has impeded a meaningful collection of data. And besides, African governments have not shown any real interest in making it happen on the state-level, which is requisite to a viable pan-African initiative.

Looking back, what are the key positive changes you’ve seen over twenty years? And looking forward, what initiatives give you hope?

New media such as the internet and digital technologies have been a game changer for African women in cinema. The phenomenal reach of social media and the accessibility of digital technologies are fundamental in the way African women are able to network, gain access to information and knowledge and, share their work. What initiatives give me hope? The festivals, forums, online projects that I see emerging where women of Africa and the global African diaspora are reaching out to connect, support, dialogue and take action.

Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema/Centre Centre Pour l’Etude et la Recherche des Femmes Africaines dans le Cinéma

African Women in Cinema blog

vlog (being updated)





Further Reading: Online Articles by Beti

African Women, Cinema and Islamic Cultures

African Women of the Screen at the Digital Turn

Black Gay Male Spectatorship in the United States: The Reception of the films Dakan and Woubi Cheri

Building a Historiography of African Women in Cinema

Cinémas documentaires en Afrique au féminin

Écrans d’Afrique au féminin au tournant numérique

Interview about Market Imaginary with Joanna Grabski

Keynote: 40 years of cinema by women of Africa by Beti Ellerson. Colloquy: Francophone African Women Filmmakers: 40 years of cinema (1972–2012)

Reflections on African Women on and behind the Screen

Reflections on Cinema Criticism and African Women

Sinemaabi: Djibril Diop Mambety — English | Français

Sisters of the Screen African Women in Cinema Conversations

Safi Faye’s Gaze: The Evolution of An African Woman’s Cinema

The Female Body, Culture and Space/Le corps féminin, la culture et l’espace

The Female Body as Symbol of Change and Dichotomy: Conflicting Paradigms in the Representation of Women in African Film

The Visual Culture of Curacao: A conversation with Felix De Rooy

La culture visuelle de Curaçao: Entretien avec Felix De Rooy

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Part One by Beti Ellerson, Black Camera Vol. 7, No. 1 (Fall 2015), pp. 251–261

Teaching African Women in Cinema

Visualizing Herstories: Towards an Introduction to African Women Cinema Studies

Words and Images of Kebedech Tekleab




Interviews, podcasts & analysis from the global #womeninfilm movement since 2009. So many activists whose work I admire.

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Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.

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