MUST WATCH: Women’s Liberation in ‘MOOLAADÉ’ (Directed By Ousmane Sembene)


Moo­laadé focuses on Collé, the female prot­ag­on­ist who pro­tects four girls against female excision (or female gen­it­al mutil­a­tion to be more accur­ate) car­ried out by the Salindana; a group of eld­erly women who per­form the ‘oper­a­tion’. Moo­laadé itself is an ‘order of pro­tec­tion that holds a magic­al potency’ (Nochim­son, 2012:4). It is Collé alone who can lift the Moo­laadé if she is to “utter the word”, thereby lift­ing the pro­tec­tion and allow­ing the Salindana to take the girls. Collé sings and dances as she, and the oth­er women of her com­pound, cel­eb­rate the first vic­tory over the vil­lage eld­ers when the Salindana fail to take the four girls from Collé as she refuses to lift the Moo­laadé. We thus wit­ness the first vic­tory, or the first step towards lib­er­a­tion, begin­ning in one home from which the struggle spreads bey­ond as the nar­rat­ive devel­ops. The set­ting of the film is presen­ted as a typ­ic­al rur­al Afric­an vil­lage, per­haps to sig­ni­fy its ordin­ar­i­ness, its like­ness to any oth­er rur­al Afric­an com­munity. These factors are sig­ni­fic­ant because ‘Sem­bene insisted on indi­vidu­al choices, pro­act­ive choices anchored in the famil­i­ar, the banal, that could lead to excep­tion­al moments of change in the every­day’ (Lindo, 2010:123). Indeed there is noth­ing out of the ordin­ary about the con­di­tions from which res­ist­ance takes root, nor about the prot­ag­on­ist and second rank wife who decides her­self to lead the res­ist­ance. moolaande

Defy­ing the vil­lage eld­ers, Collé is whipped in pub­lic by Ciré, her hus­band. We hear the men yelling “Harder”, “Utter the word”, jux­ta­posed with the women on the oth­er side shout­ing, “Don’t say it”, “Don’t fall”. We also see the Salindana sup­port­ing the men. Fur­ther­more, it is the male fig­ure of Mer­cenaire who stops the whip­ping, ‘by defend­ing a woman pub­licly, he dimin­ishes the author­ity of the eld­ers, chal­lenges tra­di­tion­al prac­tices and val­ues, and betrays the male solid­ar­ity that sus­tains the eld­ers’ author­ity’ (Lindo, 2010:118). Con­sequently, the scene can be inter­preted as more than simply the bin­ary oppos­i­tion of men against women, and can per­haps be under­stood as tra­di­tion­al val­ues being pit­ted against a new move­ment cham­pi­on­ing more mod­ern ideals headed by Collé. Collé can be con­tras­ted to the Salindana and the male dig­nit­ar­ies who cling onto old ideas steeped in tra­di­tion while she, like the intro­duc­tion of the radio into her cul­ture that we see her often listen­ing to, is sim­il­arly intro­du­cing altern­at­ive ways of think­ing. Per­haps this is again indic­at­ive of the theme of tra­di­tion versus mod­ern­ity because ‘the radio, in par­tic­u­lar, is regarded as a pro­pa­ganda machine that intro­duces new ideas into the vil­lage and is held account­able for Collé’s decision to chal­lenge female cir­cum­cision’ (Lindo, 2010:118–119).

The radio, Mer­cenaire and the char­ac­ter of Ibrahi­ma, are all emblem­at­ic of mod­ern­ity in this vil­lage where news travels by the beat­ing of a drum. Sig­ni­fic­antly, all three sup­port the female’s lib­er­a­tion. Nochim­son claims: ‘This ten­sion shows a way in which the abso­lute rule of men is threatened by the new avail­ab­il­ity in Djerisso of West­ern ideas, […] that have reached the vil­lage through the radio and through Mer­cenaire’ (2010:371–372). How­ever, Sem­bene goes some way to ensur­ing that female lib­er­a­tion is not com­pletely an extern­al idea, sup­por­ted by extern­al factors. We hear Adjar­atou mock West­ern girls “with hair down to their but­tocks”, express­ing a desire not to assim­il­ate West­ern cul­ture. Indeed, “Sem­bene often has harsh words to say about women who blindly imit­ate West­ern fash­ions’ Murphy, 2000:141). Also, the ‘every­day hero­ism’ of Collé fur­ther inscribes the notion of res­ist­ance as from with­in Afric­an soci­ety rather than it being frowned upon by the Afric­an view­er because it is presen­ted as hav­ing been pol­luted by West­ern soci­ety. ‘The film­maker is there­fore aware of how the radio can also shape and dif­fuse images and ideas in pro­gress­ive ways for his soci­ety’ (Lindo, 2010:119), but is care­ful not to over­state this and thereby neg­lect the role of the every­day Afric­an. Thus, Sem­bene films and writes with an Afric­an audi­ence in mind, as oppose to a European or Amer­ic­an audi­ence. To cor­rob­or­ate this, poly­gamy is not cri­ti­cised and per­haps delib­er­ately by Sem­bene because ‘pre­serving insti­tu­tions such as poly­gamy is seen as res­ist­ance against out­side forces’ (Murphy, 2000:127). Present­ing change com­ing from with­in Afric­an soci­ety is import­ant because Moo­laadé ‘seems expli­citly inten­ded to encour­age indig­na­tion and, ideally, action’ (Por­ton & Rap­fo­gel, 2004:20), and so it is neces­sary for Sem­bene to strike the right bal­ance between mod­ern forces act­ing upon Afric­an soci­ety as well as emphas­ising the abil­ity and poten­tial for pro­gress com­ing from with­in this very soci­ety in the post-colo­ni­al era.

moolaande 1The reas­on for the burn­ing of the radi­os by the men of the vil­lage is giv­en by one of the women, San­ata, who states: “Our men want to lock up our minds.” As a res­ult, men are asso­ci­ated with dom­in­a­tion and power from which women struggle to escape. The radio and the tele­vi­sion are for­bid­den in the vil­lage much to Ibrahima’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion as he argues, “We can­not cut ourselves off from the pro­gress of the world.” Sem­bene there­fore laments ‘the fail­ure of the men of his gen­er­a­tion,’ (Murphy, 2000:125) in fact, ‘Sem­bene has often spoken about his belief that post-inde­pend­ence Africa has been failed by men, and that women must thus play a lead­ing role in any trans­form­a­tion of Afric­an soci­et­ies’ (Murphy & Wil­li­ams, 1997:61). The cri­tique of male dom­in­a­tion in Moo­laadéworks to del­e­git­im­ize both the abso­lute power of men and the mis­guided ideals that they adhere to, ulti­mately, Sem­bene is ‘cast­ing women as a potent force with­in Afric­an soci­ety’ (Murphy, 2000:125) and cement­ing their place in the social arena in post-colo­ni­al Africa.

At the end, Collé is encour­aged to con­front the men, “Let’s put an end to female gen­it­al mutil­a­tions. This day will see the end of our ordeal.” As Collé addresses the men, a female gri­otte steps for­ward. The import­ance of this scene is sig­ni­fied by the pres­ence of the ori­gin­al gri­ot, who, tra­di­tion­ally, ‘is present at all major events to observe and pre­serve the his­tory of the moment’ (Bouchard:57). The male gri­ot watches on dumb­foun­ded as the female gri­ot chants praises, “Djerisso women, fasten your seat belts. You are more vali­ant than men.” San­ata, the female gri­ot, is told to shut up as she is “from a lower caste”, anoth­er instance of Sem­bene pro­mot­ing every­day hero­ism. The men’s responses seem irrel­ev­ant and the women’s move­ment seems to have emerged vic­tori­ous over the ideo­lo­gies of the male dig­nit­ar­ies. Here, Sem­bene is ‘in essence, attempt­ing to cre­ate a “new gri­ot­ism” for mod­ern Africa’ (Bouchard:54), one that ‘upholds truth and justice in the face of mor­al cor­rup­tion’ (Bouchard:53).  Finally, Ciré leaves the men after hear­ing Collé declare that the Grand Imam said on the radio that female excision is not required by Islam. Ibrahi­ma also leaves. These defec­tions are sig­ni­fic­ant as ‘Sembene’s every­day hero­ism opens up a par­ti­cip­at­ory space in which both men and women can choose to come togeth­er to effect change’ (Lindo, 2010:121). Amsatou, the bil­akoro, or “unpur­i­fied” daugh­ter of Collé, approaches Ibrahi­ma and he goes against the orders of his fath­er by tak­ing her as his wife.

moolaande 2

The first event of this new soci­ety free of female gen­it­al mutil­a­tions. A new gen­er­a­tion in Ibrahi­ma, the King’s son, and Amsatou, are shown to do things dif­fer­ently. Amsatou vows, “I am and shall remain abil­akoro.” Ibrahi­ma smiles approv­ingly, sug­gest­ing that now, the female does have a voice and finally, in Ibrahima’s words, “The era of little tyr­ants is over.” The final sequence of the film shows the flames from the burn­ing radi­os cloud the egg at the top of the Mosque. One could per­haps inter­pret this as mod­ern­ity being presen­ted as pro­gress­ive and some­thing that should sur­pass reli­gion in post-colo­ni­al Africa because reli­gion is to some extent presen­ted as the reas­on for the views held by the men. On the oth­er hand, per­haps reli­gion is presen­ted in a more pos­it­ive light as it was indeed the Grand Imam on the radio who Collé referred to. From the egg on the Mosque, the cam­era cuts to an elec­tric aer­i­al, per­haps again stat­ing that reli­gion and mod­ern­ity must coex­ist in post-colo­ni­al Africa, both have been influ­en­tial in the tri­umph of women’s lib­er­a­tion.

In Moo­laadé, Sem­bene is speak­ing for the woman, his ‘aim is to voice the res­ist­ance to dom­in­a­tion that would oth­er­wise have no pub­lic out­let, speak­ing out on behalf of those who are mar­gin­al­ised and oppressed, yet still defi­ant, with­in his soci­ety’ (Murphy, 2000:225). In this sense, Moo­laadé con­tin­ues a reoc­cur­ring theme in Sembene’s career whereby ‘the major ideo­lo­gic­al prin­ciple that char­ac­ter­izes his work is the recog­ni­tion of the rights of women in soci­ety’ Gad­jigo, 1993:1). Ulti­mately, Sem­bene ‘exposes women’s con­cerns to mobil­ize change in con­tem­por­ary soci­ety as it con­fig­ures new vis­ions and ideas not only of women, but also of men’ (Lindo, 2010:112).


Nadeem Fayaz


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Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra

Edit­or / Research­er at No Bounds
Gata is a music and arts lov­er, stud­ied anthro­po­logy, art man­age­ment and media pro­duc­tion ded­ic­at­ing most of her time to cre­at­ive pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.
Gata Malandra

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About Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra
Gata is a music and arts lover, studied anthropology, art management and media production dedicating most of her time to creative projects produced by No Bounds.

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