African cinema is booming. The continent is awash with creative minds with a flair for storytelling who are bringing life to local stories and sharing them across the globe — from gripping thrillers and intensely-emotional dramas to celebrations of musical heritage and biopics.
We spoke to seven great female directors from Africa to ask them what they love most about their work — and why you should too.
1. They get to dispel myths and tell a different story
“The single story of an African woman tends to be that she’s poor, she’s struggling, she’s a victim. So I wanted to show the complete opposite of that.” Tired of constantly dealing with such stereotypes and misconceptions, Ghanaian director Nicole Amarteifio decided to create her popular web series “An African City,” which is often referred to as Africa’s answer to “Sex and the City” — the show follows five fabulous women as they return to their native Ghana following several years living abroad.
“I really do feel like I am part of the movement,” she says. “For me ‘An African city’ Is not just a TV show, but it’s really trying to do something.
“So when I see all the young people talking online, talking about the show and talking about issues brought up in the show, that makes it all worth it. When women come up to me in a restaurant here in the city and say ‘thank you, thank you for showing a different side of the continent, of our country, of us as African women’, that makes it all worth it.”
2. They have been bucking the trend from the start
“In Kenya, there seems to be more well known female directors than in many other parts of the world,” saysKenyan director Judy Kibinge who relishes in a profession she says some may find unconventional. “From as far back as the 1980s most of our pioneer directors were female; people like Anne Mungai, Jane Muenene and Njeri Karago, the latter of whom came back to Kenya after a successful career in Hollywood to kick-start our industry here.”
The 48-year-old Nairobi-based creative is probably best known for her 2008 documentary “Coming of Age” for which she won the “Best Short Documentary” category at the Africa Movie Academy Awards the following year. Then there’s her feature-length film “Something Necessary,” which documented the fictional tale of a husband and wife struggling to rebuild their world following the elections unrest in 2007. In addition to her writing and directorial turns, Kibinge has also founded DOCUBOX, the only documentary film fund in East Africa.
“Many of my films feature very strong Kenyan women — not because I am trying to prove a point but because these women are so reflective of the kinds of women I know and live with and love. I’m able to present a different picture of an African woman to a world that imagines us to be beaten or downtrodden when really we are the backbone of this continent.”
3. They prove they are just as good as men
Who says women can’t do what men can? Certainly notTope Oshin Ogun, a multiple award-winning director and producer from Nigeria. The best part of her job is proving how bad-ass women in the director’s chair can be.
“(It) gives me the opportunity to be different and break boundaries, which is what I like to do,” she says. “I like to do the extraordinary, challenge norms and achieve the seemingly unachievable.
“Directing is seen as a terrain for men. Women are not supposed to tell other people especially men, what to do. Women are not supposed to know anything about the highly technical art of directing. Well, I do! And I’m loving it and not backing down,” she says.
4. They look through the camera lens from a different angle
Michelle Bello returned from the diaspora to join the Nollywood engine and has since become a celebrated female trailblazer in African cinema thanks to her second feature, the multi-award winning rom-com “Flower Girl” released in 2009. For her, filmmaking from a different point of view is what drives her passion.
“I love telling African stories from a female perspective to audiences worldwide,” explains the British-Nigerian filmmaker. “There are very few female directors in our industry which limits our voice as a whole and that is one of the reasons why I love to support other female directors across the continent whenever I can.”
5. They pioneer fresh perspectives
From being a post-production assistant in LA struggling to make it as an actress to becoming a successful music video and film director, Sanaa Hamri has come a long way from her roots in Morocco. Hamri’s strong work ethic has seen her direct several Hollywood films and episodes for popular TV shows like “Empire” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” And that’s exactly what she loves about being a female African director.
“I am able to bring an international perspective to all of my film and TV projects,” says the 38-year-old director, who got her start thanks to singing superstar Mariah Carey.
“Growing up in Tangier, Morocco, has influenced my sensibility as a visual artist and a story teller. All people from the African continent are proud of their heritage and we love putting our countries and cities on the map. We are leaders and continue to pioneer fresh perspectives in to all the other countries for the world.”
6. They address what needs to change
While some women revel in being a changemaker in a traditionally-male dominated industry, others enjoy revealing their roots and heritage through cinema. That’s certainly the case for Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu. “I love being a director and I love being in Africa. I have worked other jobs and in other places and I like this work and this place the best,” she says. “I think what I appreciate most about being a female director in Africa is that it allows me to be me.
“My job is to create. Make stuff up. How wonderful is that? Any work that allows and encourages imagination is fantastic. I play make believe and get to address everything I feel should have been done better or different through art. How wondrous!”
7. They get to be ‘superwomen’
Traditionally, many countries across the world have maintained a fairly patriarchal society — Africa has been no exception.
But as women continue to rise through the ranks, creatives like Chineze Anyaene, co-writer of Nollywood blockbuster “Ifi,” are reveling in their new position as role models for youngsters.
Anyaene says: “We live in a society were women are seen as second class citizens or a weaker sex. This perception has also translated to the film-making world, not just Africa. Directing is not a level playing field for women.
“Being a female film director in Africa, you are seen as a ‘superwoman.’ There’s little or no difference between what I can do and what a male filmmaker can do. I believe we are all human beings with a drive and mission, and your ability to achieve or complete that mission makes you unique. In film, I am constantly on a mission to achieve something , and I don’t stop until I get there.”