By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin
While films like Black Panther have recently garnered huge attention to the area, there are still millions of people who have never seen an actual African film. Luckily, the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality most recent edition of Feminist Film Fridays fixed that with a screening of African legend Ousmane Sembène’s film Faat Kiné.
Feminist Film Fridays have served as a way to understand what feminism fights for and why by using films, since movies are always a fun way to tell a story while also stirring up a conversation.
A previous film shown was Iron Jawed Angels, which details the women’s suffragette movement in the United States. While that film focused on white feminism in North America and their struggle for voting rights, Faat Kiné turns its lens onto the oft-overlooked feminism in Africa, specifically post-independence Senegal.
Director Ousmane Sembène sets most of his movies in his home country of Senegal and is typically labeled “the father of African film” for being among the first school of African directors to craft acclaimed, introspective films. Since his movies are set in his hometown, he understands the social issues affecting the nation acutely.
Starting with his first film, 1966’s Black Girl, up until his final film Moolade, Senegal’s dominant patriarchy as well as the damning effects of colonialism have been recurring themes in his work. The film being screened detailed more of the aforementioned concept, but forty years after Black Girl Sembène continued his role as a prominent voice on feminist themes with Faat Kiné.
Faat Kiné stars Venus Seyes as the ubiquitous title character as she rises through the ranks of Senegalese society despite embodying several cultural taboos like being a woman and owning her own business. In addition to owning a gas station, Kiné is also an unwed mother with two children.
While the director could have just showed her struggles in a cliché, linear fashion, he chooses instead to use flashbacks for pivotal moments in Kiné’s life that convey how stacked the odds have been against her across her whole life.
The film shows Kiné’s college days where a secret relationship with her professor led to her getting pregnant. In a cruel twist, not only does her professor refuse to help raise the child, but he also gets her expelled from the university. Even worse, her father refuses to support Kiné through this hardship and disowns her instead, which viewers see is the least of the abusive things Kiné’s father does in the film.
Another flashback shows how Kiné persevered after being abandoned. With no chance at college anymore, she works at the gas station while raising her kid, and eventually gets engaged to another man and pregnant with his child. The film doesn’t let the good times roll for too long though, and soon enough the man steals all of her money and leaves her.
As harsh as Kiné’s struggles are though, Sembené’s film is still an uplifting movie that highlights the amount of strength women must get through those moments with their heads held high. The colors in the movie, from the opening shot’s colorful wastebaskets to Kiné’s beautifully patterned dresses, are bright and plentiful enough to communicate the movie’s lightheartedness beneath its occasionally darker elements.
Overall, Faat Kiné is a great introduction to Ousmane Sembené’s works as well as African films themselves. The movie also features feminist themes without coming off as forced. For another great movie focused on women’s issues, the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality is having one last Feminist Film Friday this week with the 1991 film Fried Green Tomatoes.