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Social Media Is Doodling On Pictures of Burundi's President In Support of Arrested Schoolgirls

Folks online are using the hashtag #FreeOurGirls to remind Burundi's president that scribbling is not a crime.

Last week, three Burundian schoolgirls were taken into custody after doodling on a picture of President Pierre Nkurunziza in their textbooks. The girls, all under the age of 18, face up to five years in prison for the act.

Now folks on social media are rallying behind the girls, using the hashtag #FreeOurGirls. People are not only voicing their unwavering support for the young girls against the heavy hand of the president, they're also using it as an opportunity to share pictures of the president with their own doodles.

In true elementary form, some images show the president with playfully drawn-on mustaches, hats and hair. One of the more creative doodles shows the president with a curled mustached and a short blue wig on.


Authorities had initially arrested seven schoolchildren total who were accused of defacing images of the president. Four of the children were subsequently released, while the three schoolgirls are awaiting trial.

This was only the most recent instance of children being harshly punished for "defacing" the image of the president. In 2016, 11 students were arrested for doing the same, and several children have been expelled after doing so in the past.

Over the weekend, social media users began to lambast the Burundian president for his actions, causing #FreeOurGirls to being trending in the country.

The doodles point out how outright absurd it is for children to be arrested for what amount to nothing more than harmless childhood antics.







Interview
Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Tanzanian Filmmaker Amil Shivji is Making History with a Story of Love and Resistance

As the first Tanzanian film to be chosen for TIFF, Shiviji's film is sure to get the African country a seat at the table.

Amil Shiviji remembers, like many other Tanzanians, reading the book "Vuta N'Kuvute" when he was in high school. Written in Swahili, Adam Shafi's award-winning coming-of-age love story, set in colonial Zanzibar, left an impression on Shiviji, a budding young writer at the time. But it wasn't until he was in the middle of working on his first film, many years later, that he returned to the story, looking for inspiration among local authors like Shafi. The novel would not only provide that, but it would also become the second film he made and the first from Tanzania to be selected for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Born in Dar Es Salaam, Shivji has spent his career telling stories of marginalized communities and re-imagining the way Tanzania is seen on screen. When he's not making films, he's lecturing at the University of Dar es Salaam.

He spoke to OkayAfrica about shooting Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute) in Zanzibar and researching colonial-era life.


Image: Courtesy TIFF


How did you return to the story of Vuta N'Kuvute?

I was dealing with writer's block in the middle of making my first film, T-Junction, which also has two women at the center of the story. A friend suggested I take inspiration from some of our local writers. I picked up Vuta N'Kuvute and started reading it, and it really took me on a journey. The writing, the poetry, the symbolism, the metaphors, everything about it was so Zanzibari. You felt the island, you felt the coast, you felt the rhythm of the waves, you felt everything that Shafi wrote, and it was very cinematic. It just spoke to where I was in my career; I was developing my visual style more. So it helped me finish T-Junction and definitely gave me the inspiration to do the script. But I also then knew I wanted to make a movie out of the book.


How did you eventually end up making it?

I optioned the novel in 2016, which is not really a method of working in Tanzania. But I thought it's best to do this, to try to formalize these approaches to filmmaking and these structures, as much as we can in order to create an infrastructure. I used it to create an example of a possible infrastructure of our own, that can be more long-term. So at the time, I was like, if the movie gets made, and I have an interview one day, with [for example,] OkayAfrica, I can tell them about it. It can be part of the story and the creative possibility and not just a fluke or coincidence. You can choose a novel to make a film. So we optioned the book, and then felt confident to continue with the film and bought the rights two years later. And then we shot it.


You chose to shoot more in Ng' ambo, the so-called 'other side' of Zanzibar, rather than in the more popular area of Stone Town. What was that like?

There's no denying the role Stone Town plays in the tourism, the narrative, of Zanzibar. I understand the necessity of that. It is a beautiful place for people to come and see it. But Zanzibar is so much more than a World Heritage Site and so much more than the old buildings of the Sultan, or the slave trade. It's current, it's contemporary, there are people there. And I wanted to tell their story. And that's where I chose to base the film, more on the Ng'ambo side, which in Kiswahili in English means the other side, like the other side of the tracks, the working-class neighborhood. So we filmed more there and that really made me happy. Because even when we were working out there, people appreciate the fact that we were telling a story from that side and not just Stone Town. If you want to be honest to the history, the struggle of the working class in Zanzibar, then it would be happening in Ng'ambo. The colonial administration officers never went to that side. So a lot more places of resistance for more activities would happen there. Stone Town was really the colonial stronghold. Making a revolutionary piece for me in the 1950s, it would have been contradictory to set it in Stone Town simply for the mesmerizing architecture.


You made a 50s-era period piece — what was the most enjoyable part of that for you?

The research. I come from a culture of academia, my family [is full of] academics, I spent significant time at the university research lab and also teach at the university. So the research report is probably the most exciting part because it really allowed us to tap into the primary source material, which was probably the majority of it was led by white researchers and authors from the West. And the way they would write about Zanzibar — not all of them — but more times than not, was in a very, like, outside, foreign perspective, looking in from the out, and not really speaking to the everyday struggles of the Zanzibar people, that someone who speaks Swahili can very much understand. So there's a lot of contradiction in the research material, which pushed me to further do more of my own primary collective research, which was talking to Zanzibar people and going to the archives. The archives are not in the best state. So what we did is, when we would collect material, we would go back to the archives and give them digital copies on a flash or over email, or digitize some of their work, as well, and give it back to them. When I make films, it's not just about the final film, it's always about the process. It's part of my activism. Every film I make affects me as an individual. Finding the right material to be able to tap into, from the 1950s, was a challenge because we were never behind the camera at that time. But we really were able to gather the information that contradicted a lot of the historical material that was there, but also offered us a way to tell the story that we felt was true to Zanzibar's history.


'Taarab' music is a big part of this film…

Historically 'taarab' was Arabic music that came from Egypt. It was really highbrow, elitist in its approach. It was not meant for the Black African population. It was meant for the Arab and Indian population, more so, the Arab population. It would be a huge orchestra, 20-25 people singing in Arabic. And then came Siti binti Saad, the famous taarab singer from Zanzibar, and the first African to sign with Columbia Records. We modeled [actress] Site Amina's character on Siti binti Saad.

She was from Ng'ambo, she was a working poor class woman. She would sing in the Sultan's palace, because of how beautiful her voice was, and she would sing in Arabic. But when she would go back to Ng'ambo area, she would sing in Swahili for the people. She would do this because they had a story to tell. Either they'd come to her to complain about an abusive husband or to complain about the landlord taking too much money, so she would immediately start creating lyrics and singing in response to this. And the songs would be so good that everyone wanted to sing them too. They were catchy, but it was also a way of responding to the social or current issue. She was doing it in Kiswahili because said more people could access it. She revolutionized taarab in East Africa.


What do you think your film being at Toronto means for the Tanzanian film industry?

I'm careful to call it an industry yet because we lack the infrastructures for it to be sustainable for it to be long term. It's more of a film sector, and we make a lot of films but they don't cross boundaries, they don't go to festivals. We don't even have any marketing and distribution models anymore. Now that we had any, but there was some form of distribution to the DVD market but that's completely sidelined by the streaming platforms. If it was an industry, you would have this infrastructure for people to follow through with, but I think we're getting there, and I think putting in these small elements, small pillars of direction does allow filmmakers and future filmmakers and even current filmmakers to have a system in place that they can depend on and can develop together and grow together. Because creativity exists, the power force exists and labor exists, the interest and enthusiasm is there, clearly, but we lack professionalism, inherently because of the lack of infrastructure. So I feel like if we continue to focus on making good films, but also in addition, trying to create most of the presence internationally, then we can get more of, not only a financial injection into the film industry, but also a creative one.


The film will have its African premiere in Burkina Faso. Where to from there?

We would like to bring it home in a way that really creates an impact. It's a novel in schools, so we'd like to send it to schools, create a discourse around Zanzibar history. It hasn't been taught properly, or it has been redacted in many ways, for political reasons. Also, I want to make sure the film finds an audience beyond Tanzania because this is one for the Swahili-speaking region — Mombasa in Kenya, Nairobi, Rwanda, Uganda, all the way to Somalia, this represents the coast. It's not a unique one-of-a-kind story. It's the 1950s, it's a time of revolution, of star-crossed lovers, so it's not a unique story, per se, but Zanzibar makes it unique.


Watch the trailer for Amil Shivji's film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute) here.

Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute) Trailer www.youtube.com

Music
Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

Darkovibes & Davido Share the Addictive New Single 'Je M'appelle'

Ghana and Nigeria combine in this new party anthem.

Ghana's Darkovibes comes through with a big time collaboration with Nigerian superstar Davido in "Je M'appelle."

The new song, which was produced by Ghana's MOG Beatz, is built on an infectious, high-pitched synth beat, which both Darkovibes and Davido trade verses over before going into the French chorus.

"Je M'appelle" is also accompanied by a new music video, directed by Jay Vertex, which solidifies the party energy of the tune and sees both Darkovibes and Davido donning traditional Ghanaian attire.

Darkovibes is coming off a busy 2020, having released two projects, the acclaimed Kpanlogo album and The Cornerstone EP.

Get into Darkovibes' "Je M'appelle" below. We can see this one playing at parties for the rest of the year.

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Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.