At the May Talk Party Series, two emerging filmmakers shared thoughts about creating presence for marginalized communities within contemporary forms of cinematic storytelling. SELASIE DJAMEH and MANDIAYA SUMANI SEINI are creating films that speak about political and social norms that influence how Ghanaian identities are shaped. By focusing on the magic of women’s stories and the historical import of northern Ghana, these filmmakers are directly confronting who is included in the narratives (old and new) of the country and what it means to be Ghanaian.
Mandiaya’s first film, The Forgotten Kingdom: Chronicles of The North, was especially insightful as it dealt with the rise of the Naa Gbewa Kingdom of the Dagbamba stretching over present day Burkina Faso, northern Togo and northern Ghana. The current political crisis in northern Ghana can be traced back to colonial invasions spanning hundreds of years. Mandiaya’s documentary comprehensively explores the story of Naa Gbewa, interviewing chiefs, historians and thought leaders across three West African countries. The film contemporizes what could have easily been boring academic banter.
As the film details, the territory was artificially demarcated during the first world war, when three foreign armies, notably the British, French and Germans invaded the Kingdom and dismembered it. The film lays out this compelling narrative through accounts by current reagents and royal descendants of the king, Naa Gbewa. The next phase of the project will involve adapting the story for comic books to make the history more accessible to young people. The University of Ghana and the University of Development Studies are currently using it as reference material. Films like The Forgotten Kingdom also show how digital culture provides new ways of understanding Ghana through inscribing meaning and reproducing different forms of reality.
Selasie Djameh, a student at NAFTI, is creating films that grapple with concepts of feminism, gender, sexuality and identity in Ghana. Ghana is polarized by patriarchy, the kind that does not account for women in history. Selasie’s film, My Red, opens up the subject of menstruation and challenges how feminine blood is perceived by women and men audiences. ‘My Red” is about normalizing conversations around menstruation, in a society (and world) that has made it taboo to touch or interact with women during this sacred time or to discuss women’s monthly cycles, often re-emphasized through religious fundamentalism.
What became obvious during the Q&A with Selasie following the film screenings was that different forms of “cycle shaming” have shaped how we think of women (as tainted, impure, unclean, etc.). This can become internalized as trauma that defines womanhood as something to be ashamed of. Selasie’s films are in direct opposition to those images of women that have been crafted within patriarchal systems of oppression and promote the marginalization of women. Chasing Sunrise is an example – Selasie’s 2-minute film explores the relationship between sisters, a narrative she conjured that intentionally absents men instead to focus on women-only storytelling.
Stories like that of Mandiaya and Selasie are reconnection projects, patching historical gaps and filling the tanks of our memory banks.
Story by Kwame Boafo
Photos by Kpe Innocent