Exploring African Cinema's Reflections on Motherhood

Exploring African Cinema’s Reflections on Motherhood: Films to Watch

#MothersDay 2023 (U.S.) African cinema reflections…

African films have historically delved into the complexity of maternal stories, offering diverse narratives on motherhood in various contexts. Do you have any favorites? Here are a few recommendations. Please chime in!

1) “Kaddu Beykat” (“Letter from My Village”) (1975) by Safi Faye, from Senegal. It is considered the first feature film made by a sub-Saharan African woman: village women navigate poverty, drought, and tradition while striving to improve their lives and educate their children.

“Sarraounia” (1986) by Med Hondo, from Mauritania

2.) “Sarraounia” (1986) by Med Hondo, from Mauritania: historical epic depicting resistance led by Queen Sarraounia against the 1899 French colonial invasion. The film highlights Sarraounia’s multifaceted role as a warrior, leader, healer, and nurturer for her people and the environment.

3) The Silences of the Palace (1994) by Moufida Tlatli, from Tunisia. Exploration of women’s lives in a royal palace during Tunisia’s struggle for independence in the 1950s. A daughter grapples with her mother’s role as a palace concubine — sacrifices for her daughter’s wellbeing.

4) “Yaaba” (1989), by Idrissa Ouédraogo, from Burkina Faso. A young boy forms a special bond with a woman he calls “grandmother,” who is accused of witchcraft. After her passing, her love and wisdom live on in the children she touched.

“Hyenes” (1992, Djibril Diop Mambety, from Senegal.

5) “Hyenes” (1992), Djibril Diop Mambety, from Senegal. A woman who was impregnated, abandoned, and exiled returns years later, as a wealthy and powerful woman who offers to pay the village to kill her ex-lover. The film explores how she challenges the patriarchal and neo-colonial order.

6) “Moolaadé” (2004) by Ousmane Sembene, from Senegal (Burkina Faso). Explores issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) in a village, following how a woman defied the tradition and sheltered four girls who refused to undergo FGM, and how she faced resulting conflict with her community.

7) “Mother of George” (2013), by Andrew Dosunmu, from Nigeria (US). The challenges a Nigerian couple faces under pressure to conceive, ushering in a new era. It specifically highlights the wife’s desperate measures and the interference of the mother-in-law.

“Frontières” (“Borders,” 2017) by Apolline Traoré, from Burkina Faso

8) “Frontières” (“Borders,” 2017) by Apolline Traoré, from Burkina Faso. A road movie that follows four women from different African countries who travel together by bus to attend a wedding. Along the way, they face various harassment and sexism, while bonding as friends and mothers.

9) “Chez Jolie Coiffure” (2018) by Rosine Mbakam, from Cameroon. Portrait of a Cameroonian hairdresser running a salon in Brussels. Explores the challenges of motherhood as she balances her business, family, and community while navigating the hardships of being an undocumented immigrant.

10) “Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You” (2019) by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, from Lesotho. A letter to the director’s mother and homeland, feeling suffocated by his complex relationship with both, as he reflects on his personal experiences of leaving for Germany.

“No Simple Way Home” (2022) by Akuol de Mabior, from South Sudan

11) “No Simple Way Home” (2022) by Akuol de Mabior, from South Sudan. As peace in South Sudan hangs in the balance, a mother and her daughters return home from exile. Her mission: to safeguard her late husband’s vision, as her daughters struggle with what it means to call South Sudan home.

These are a few #MothersDay films telling diverse stories of motherhood, directly or indirectly — love, sacrifice, resilience, grief, hope, and dignity, reflecting varied contexts and cultures, such as colonialism, independence, and tradition. Feel free to chime in with your picks.

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