THE WOMANIST GAZE IN AFRICAN CINEMA: A BROTHER’S VIEW c1996, 2011

by Timothy Aaron-Styles

finzan

Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s Finzan (1990), is a womanist film with a narrative that, while focusing specifically on the socio-cultural, political and gender containment of women in the West African nation of Mali, speaks to the larger oppression and subjugation of continental African women by histo-cultural patriarchal traditions, customs and rituals based on gender, sexuality, biology, physiology and social relationships.

Sissoko’s cinematic treatise is a challenge to the traditions and customs of the rural African community where protagonist, Nanyuma, has found herself placed by destiny. Her eyes shall be our eyes as we observe traditions and customs that seek to contain and/or negate the very entity that they draw (their) life from – that has given birth to them. We shall view legacies and rituals that deny the woman her power that is/was hers before the genesis of her gender opposite and biological offspring. Nanyuma challenges the observation Linda Williams puts forth in When The Woman Looks that… :

“…Like the female spectator, the female protagonist often fails to look, to return the gaze of the male who desires her.”

Nanyuma stares back and her gaze is one of confrontation. Resistance. Defiance. Finzan, while, contesting the microscopic patriarchy of Nanyuma’s world, also assaults global patriarchy and the world – wide oppression and subjugation of femininity.

Finzan’s female protagonist is empowered with a balanced force that is naturally hers. A force that is just as organic to her as the air she breathes. That force symbolized, embodied and/or manifested by her ownership of a vagina/womb. That power is her “womaness.” Her gender, biological and physiological identity – unadulterated and uncompromised. Sissoko’s Nanyuma conforms to neither of Molly Haskell’s “superwoman” or “superfemale” classifications as defined in her From Reverence to Rape: Female Stars of the 1940’s.

Haskell asserts that the “superwoman” is she who is good enough to be a man and has achieved a masculine personality. This is where the “SW” draws her power and strength — from negating her own feminine identity and assuming the identity of “the “other” — the male. The masculine. In order for the superwoman to possess and exercise authority over others, or even over “self,” it is essential for her to “become” (the) man. It is necessary that she deny and suppress her inherent feminine characteristics and power as they are anti-thesis to true power and, might and competency.

She is socialized — she is acculturated to believe that true power lies within the “other” and imitation of the “other” is the way to obtain, achieve or realize that power. As we shall see through, Nanyuma, this notion of empowerment for the woman in and as “the other” is truly regressive/transgressive – a movement towards degeneration. A willing act and commitment to (self-) containment.

For, if the Mother is the first gender, the first principle — the primary, and therefore, the most unadulterated principle – then anything outside of, or away from, that genesis is degenerative movement away from purity and the organic order. The epitome of this regressive move is the eventual arrival at the opposite station — the “polemic other” i.e. the man. This is counter productivity at its best for the women desiring and seeking liberation. This is the psychological, emotional and spiritual sin of self – castration.

Haskell’s “superfemale” is the antithesis of the “superwoman”. The superfemale, according to the author, draws her potency from being overly feminine. This indulgence, too, requires that she engage in her own exploitation, as well as her own negation. She achieves her goals and objectives by using her charms and ability to manipulate and coerce — usually a man. This act also places power in the hands of the “other” as the superfemale has to engage in behavior defined, judged and enjoyed by someone other than herself — usually a man.

Yet, while being different, Haskell’s two woman types do share a commonality. Both require the woman to be who she really isn’t. Denial and negation are the common pre-requisites for the woman to fit either (stereo)type. Participation and/or inclusion in either require the woman to ignore the notion(s) of self-definition and self-determination.

Sissoko’s Nanyuma is a unique character — a unique prototype — as she fits neither of Haskell’s definitions. Nor does she fall in between the two. There is a profound African-American proverb applicable here that, on the surface, appears whether simplistic and unenlightening: “It is what it is.” Nanyuma is who she is — neither a superfemale nor a superwoman — simply a woman. An African woman. The first woman. A superwoman and superfemale, not in Haskell’s terms, but simply because she is a bearer and nurturer of life. As she says towards the closing of the film:

NANYUMA

This world comes from our wombs…

 This is her claim to “super” based on her role as mother of the earth and all its inhabitants — the first progenitor. But Nanyuma makes another claim to “superness” through her actions; through her decision to do what she wants to do, not as a woman defined and contained in a patriarchal world of socio-cultural codes, traditions and customs. Nanyuma transcends Haskell’s description of:

“…..the woman who ‘proves herself’ by playing it his way, by showing her physical courage…and through a respect for her, first on his own terms, then on hers, he is brought around to a more ‘feminine’ point of view.

Here is Finzan’s basic premise: Nanyuma lives in an African society where certain customs practiced some do consider being oppressive toward and of women. There are two of these traditions that Sissoko challenges through Nanyuma.

One, the major story line, deals with something between adelphologamy (brothers having and sharing a common wife or wives) and deuterogamy (second legal marriage after the termination of the first because of death or divorce). Nanyuma is the youngest of several wives and is faced with having to marry her dead husband’s brother, Bala, which she refuses. She has her own love interest, Bengali, who is from a nearby village. Nanyuma’s act of defiance, of course, throws not only her village into an uproar but the surrounding villages, as well. Her individual act of rebelliousness is more than just the bullheadedness. Her irrationally arrogant act of self – determination is akin to cultural insurrection and historical treason. Nanyuma’s “no” is a revolutionary declaration.

The second tradition is clitoridectomy i.e. female circumcision. This is the secondary plotline introduced through another female character, Fili, but which involves Nanyuma.

The uncircumcised teenage girl, Fili has to undergo female circumcision because it is the tradition of her people. Their collective/cultural definition of womanhood is based upon the mutilation/the castration of the woman i.e. the alteration of her sexual organ and, thereby, her sexuality. Her womaness. Her femininity. Her identity. Such is the ultimate act of gender subjugation.

Through Nanyuma, Sissoko raises Heine’s, Freud’s and Lacan’s questions, as mentioned in Mary Ann Doane’s Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator, of “what is Woman?” and “what signifies Man?” I add: “…And who defines and determines what ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ are? What are the criteria for determining gender outside of biological and physiological factors? Can a pre-determined relationship between the two genders be pre-determined just because of socio – cultural definitions of gender and gender roles? If so, why and how?”

Finzan, an African film, focuses our eyes and our minds – the instruments for/of our perceptual and conceptual gaze(s) — on these questions by utilizing the dichotomous Euro-western methodology of categorization and departmentalization.

The marriage of Nanyuma to Bala raises inquiries about defining “woman” and “man” in a socio-historical-cultural context. The issue of female circumcision positions the gender discussion within socio-biological/physiological-cultural terms. Extra-narratively by making Nanyuma’s eyes ours, Sissoko fixes our gaze(s) as extra-non-patriarchal. And her gaze is truly liberated for they are her eyes. Her gaze, within the narrative, is her own and therefore liberated, because it exists outside the intra – narrative patriarchal construct. Meta – narratively, Nanyma’s gaze then is ours for Sissoko has made it so. We are Nanyuma and Nanyuma is us as our eyes and gaze(s) meet and become one in the extra – narrative world.

Sissoko challenges the idea put forth in Linda Mulvey’s Woman As Image, Man As Bearer Of The Look, in two ways. One. The critical and analytical gaze of Nanyuma is the one through which representations are seen and defined. Hers is the all powerful seeing eye. Woman is the holder of the gaze. Two. Nanyuma’s sexuality never becomes an issue. (And hear I make a distinction between gender as biological phenomenon and sexuality as an aesthetic and spiritual characteristic and quality.) Mulvey’s “pleasure principle,” and its relationship to the gaze, is not a factor as far as our protagonist’s gaze is concerned.

Yet, interestingly, the director simultaneously supports and applies Mulvey’s ideology through his attacks of the patriarchal cinematic codes. Herein lies the central conflict of the narrative: the men of the village seek to quell the women’s foolish havoc to re-assert and re-establish the patriarchal paradigm where women are the object and they — the men — are the sole bearers and sustainers of the gaze. It is the males of the village who are the kings and chiefs of scopophilia.

What Sissoko has done then is brilliant! The subversion of the patriarchy takes place, not only in what we see i.e. narrative — the story taking place within the frames – but also within the way in which we spectate. Sissoko has given us a subversive/deconstructive story and a subversive/deconstructive gaze to look through. To assess. To perceive. With our new eyes, let’s now read the film.

Finzan. The pre-credit frame presents and contextualizes the story through symbolism. A male goat and a female goat are tied to the same pole. He continuously chases her, in a circle, around the pole in his desire for intercourse. Sissoko, from the very beginning uses simple action in a frame to express the layers of complexity of Finzan.

The pole represents the cultural traditions, rituals and practices that people, but specifically in this case, men and women are tied to. The pole represents that common source from which they construct identities, definitions and relationships and the power of “enslavement” it holds over them.

This is akin to Mulvey’s assertion that humans are subconsciously indoctrinated to adopt the patriarchal perspective (i.e. phallocentric) which suggests that gender and sexual difference is inherently based on power and not bio – physiology. That difference is based on a perceived notion that the woman’s lacking of a scepter (as phallic symbol and representational object of power and superiority) equates to her gender and sexual inferiority and, quite naturally, her submissive social, political and cultural status.

This creates, rationalizes and justifies the idea of “woman as object in need of subjugation” bought into by not only the male species but equally by the female. We are socialized to view women as objects of pleasure, first to be gazed at while simultaneously sexualizing them, then pursued and, ultimately conquested (i.e. Fetishistic Scopophilia.) In this regard, we humans are no different than the goats and other animals that function purely instinctively. It is when this occurs that culture does not serve as a tool of and for human development and progress but as mechanism enslavement and oppressions.

Sissoko introduces his narrative in the first post – opening credit sequence where the baby offspring of these animals are feeding from their mothers. In the first scene, the director expresses the female socio-cultural position as object of pleasure, desire, pleasure and sexual gratification. Now she is rounded out and completed — her status clarified and her containment achieved. Her   “place” within the patriarchy is elucidated. She is also rearer and maintainer of (the) offspring. Her identity and purpose, individually and within the social construct, are determined by her relationship to the “Other” and not her (own) self. She is the Signifier not the Signified. Mulvey states:

“Woman then stands in patriachal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of women still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” (Film Theory and Criticism, P. 74, emphasis mine)

In the next scene, we are in the village where we see the several wives of the dying man. They all stick close to the quarters in which he is dying – with the exception of Nanyuma who asserts her independence by laboring and her apparent lack of concern with her husband’s dying condition. She walks by the other wives…

                                                                         FIRST WIFE

She didn’t speak.

                                                                         SECOND WIFE

Yes she did but within herself —

                                                her life is beginning. Ours are

                                                ending — we’re tied to this man.

In African culture, the offering of greetings and salutations is an act of recognizing and acknowledging oneself in another. It is an affirmation and confirmation of one’s self, as an individual, being part of the human and social community. It is akin to the Hindu greeting “Namaste” – “the divinity in me recognizes and acknowledges the divinity in you.”

Nanyuma does not speak because she does not see herself. These women do not reflect her. They are women who are still objects of the gazer, as indicated by the second wife’s admitting that they are still tied to this dying man. Although he is dying, the patriarchal system still exists and they are tied to it like the goats tied to the pole. Nanyuma, however, is the liberated woman whose gaze — is from within her own self and this is the beginning of her new life for this is the genesis of her re-invention. In her mind, this man’s death is the end of her subordination.

In another subsequent scene, after the death of her husband, Nanyuma sits staring off into space as her mother speaks to her.

MOTHER

Your husband is dead. And you

                                                don’t give a damn. You haven’t

                                                even cried…Are you listening

                                                to me?

                                                                         NANYUMA

Mother, should I remind you

                                                the reason I am here? Should

                                                I tell you again about my eight

                                                years in hell. I’ve already shed

                                                all my tears.

                                                                         MOTHER

We give birth to the world, Nanyuma.

                                                And it mistreats us. We’ve to be

                                                patient and resigned.

Nanyuma’s staring off into space suggests a gaze not confined to her immediate surroundings — a look not concerned with her present situation and circumstances. It is her own free and liberated gaze fixed on wherever she chooses to. Through Nanyuma, Sissoko has re – fixed the gaze of the spectator. Her words declaring that she has exhausted her tears express her detachment from her husband who symbolizes her (gender) obligation to her culture – her place, position and status within the patriarchy. And it is not surprising that her mother understands and sympathizes with Nanyuma because she, too, is a woman. But the mother’s gaze is fixed within, and defined by, the male hierarchy comfortable with her subordination. So she acquiesces and states that they must be “patient and resigned.”  Her compliant utterance supporting Linda Williams’ statement that…

                         “…the woman’s look is literally caught up in a mirror reflection that does not simply suggest an affinity with the monster in the eyes of patriarchy, but  attempts to lure her into the false belief that she is the monster.” (p.572)

Nanyuma’s mother thinks that the problem is and with her daughter. Nanyuma represents  all rebellious women (as her mother does say “we”) and their inability or unwillingness to be patient and resigned to the social reality of their second – class citizenship although they are, as she admits, the mothers of the world – the children, the women and even the men. She does not recognize that the monster is wrapped up in the guise of the patriarchy and that her/their capitulation to the monster is what feeds and sustains its illusionary existence.

The very next scene takes us to the keepers of the patriarchal tradition: the Chief and the Griot. The former representing the social, political, economic, artistic and judicial/legal aspects of the culture; the latter representing the historical and, to an extent, the artistic. Both are essential to the preservation and perpetuation of the culture. Although individuals, both are institutions. The backbone of their culture and society rests upon them.

CHIEF

You don’t teach a new dog old tricks.

                                                                          GRIOT

Women give birth to the world but

                                                they have not ruled it as men have.

                                                                         CHIEF

There’s no reason for that. All powers

                                                are governed by knowledge and

                                                secrecy. Do you know any woman with

                                                these qualities? Secrets exist in the  dark

                                                of the night because they’re

                                                kept away from women.

GRIOT

I heard that a long time ago, there

                                                were great woman rulers.

                                                                         CHIEF

Lies! Either they are legends or the

                                                world was upside down. Our history

                                                doesn’t mention it.

There are several interesting things taking place here. First, the fact the Griot, whose primary purpose is as the keeper of history, recognizes the lofty station of women as the birthers of the world but then, in spite of this, says that they (i.e. woman) have not ruled it as men have.

This means one of two things: either women have never ever ruled or that when women  did rule, they did not do so in the fashion and manner that men have. Whichever the case, the Chief dismisses and negates either of the possibilities by asserting women’s inferiority based on meta – physics and esoterics – placing the discussion out of the realm of the practical, applied and lived implying that the patriarchal structure exists in the world of mysteries. It seems that women have no hope. Apparently even the Cosmos supports the patriarchy or is itself, patri-focal.

Interestingly enough, in a later night scene, as some the village men, (approximately twenty–some armed with weapons), pursue Nanyuma to bring her back, they encounter a cougar. (Probably a mother protecting her offspring). All the torch – bearing “warriors” scamper and quickly ascend atop the trees seeking protection from the cougar.  However, Nanyuma, using her instincts, quickly devises a quasi-military strategy to escape. She proves herself superior in the skills and secrets of the night, as she escapes both the cougar and the pursuing men who hold up atop the trees – until sunlight – before taking extra pre-caution to make sure that the cougar has left before abandoning the safety of their arborary hosts.

Attributing the knowledge and skills used by Nanyuma to escape as “masculine” would render her (a) “superwoman.” According to Haskell, there are two basic faulty assumptions concerning “male” and “female” characteristics mentioned in reference to the Spencer Tracy -Katherine Hepburn characters in their film, Adams Rib:

                         “…two basic assumptions: (1) that there are certain                   “male” qualities – stability, stoicism, fairness, dullness…and there are certain “female” qualities – volatility,  brilliance, intuition, duplicity…” (p.644)

Nanyuma simply exhibited the human ability to adapt and survive. However, the fact that she proved superior to the men in the night raises an interesting thought which refutes the Chief’s assertion that “secrets exist in the dark of night because they’re kept away from women.”

Next to The Creator – is not life considered to be the greatest mystery? Is not life formed in the deepest, darkest, inner most corridors of the womb? Is not the womb where the mysteries of life, birth and re-creation are posited and work? Is not Nanyuma, like all women, possessor of the womb?

In the next line, the Griot re-asserts his social position as keeper of the history by stating that his story has a long tradition, but the Chief super – asserts his position — his authority — by denouncing the Griot’s account as “lies!” –  with no substantial validation. No documentation and no credibility. And if there were any shred of truth to them — if there ever was a time when women ruled — the world must have been in a state of unnatural existence. Disorder. The Chief then usurps the Griot’s authority by stating that their history has never made mention of either women being great rulers or the world being in a state of chaos because of such an unnatural phenomenon. Never mind the fact that the Griot is the sacred guardian of the history – politics, especially the gender politics of the patriarchic world – supersede even history.

The scene progresses to another level when Bala enters to ask the Chief if he can “have” Nanyuma. Bala represents the youth — the male youth particularly. He is one who will inherit, preserve and perpetuate the patriarchy. He is the continuum. The Chief reminds Bala that he already has two wives and another might make him “drunk” as some men don’t know how to handle too much pleasure. Bala “jokingly” reminds the Chief that he, himself, has four.

                                                                         CHIEF

You will never change, Bala.

                                                This is an old tradition. You

                                                are only doing your duty.

                                                Nanyuma will be flattered.

                                                For a woman, the most important

                                                thing is to stay with her

                                                children.

Bala then thanks the Chief and excuses himself so that he may attend to more urgent matters. The Chief’s dialogue solidifies him as the preserver, perpetuator and protector of the patriarchy who holds and controls the destiny of women in, not only his hands but in and with his words.

He controls their destinies, not only because of the ancient patriarchal system, (“This is an old tradition”), but because he controls and masters the woman’s gaze.

CHIEF

                               Nanyuma will be flattered…For a woman, the most important

                               thing is to stay with her children….

The Chief exercises the authority given him, by the patriarchal structure and its superior male deities he protects, to define and determine what is and isn’t, what shall and shall not be, for women – even their very own desires…

“Femininity is produced very precisely as a position within a network of power relations.” (Mary Ann Doane, p. 772)

Within the patriarchy, definitions of femininity and womaness are always determined on the basis of power: man as subjugator, ruler, possessor, signified – superior and woman as subjugated, subject, possessed/object, signifier — inferior.

Then Bala has to leave for more important matters. The discussion about a woman’s fate –her destiny — her place, in society is such a trivial affair! Such a miniscule matter. What is there to discuss really? In the patriarchy, her place is already determined. It’s just a matter of lining people up – as if they were things and objects – where they are supposed to go and be.

Continuing we see Nanyuma and her ten – to – twelve-year old daughter visiting Nanyuma’s mother in a nearby village. Nanyuma’s father is emphatic about Nanyuma returning to Bala — so much so that he promises to throw her out if she does not leave voluntarily which she does only to hide out somewhere during the night, once again. Nanyuma’s daughter prepares for bed with her grandmother…

LITTLE GIRL

Why’s a grown up like mother

                                                hiding? Isn’t she free?

                                                                         GRANDMOTHER

Don’t start…You’ll understand

                                                when you get old.

                                                                         LITTLE GIRL

Are women human beings or slaves?

In this scene, Sissoko illustrates how young females are indoctrinated and comfortably made to assume their roles in the patriarchal social paradigm.  In the Chief/Bala scene expressed were ideas of pleasure, privilege, negotiation, rulership and sharing. In the Grandmother/Little Girl scene, we see suffering, suppression, subordination and subjugation.

Sissoko compares the two means of indoctrination into the patriarchal caste system — not based on ethnicity, culture or religion — but gender difference. The male’s place and position is as “he who defines” (the Judeo-Christian, Adam). The female’s is as “she who is defined” (Eve). The (young) man is taught that he is the bearer of the gaze — the maker of meaning. The (young) woman is taught that she is the object of the gaze – whose meaning is determined by her father or husband. And both shall act accordingly

“If you control a person’s thinking you do not have to worry about their action. When you determine what a person shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what that person will do. If you make a person  feel inferior; you do not have to compel that person to accept an inferior  status, they will seek it. If you make a person think that he/she is a justly  outcast, you do not have to order that person to the back door, that person will go without being told, and if there is no back door, the very nature of that person will demand that they build one.”  (Dr. Carter G. Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro, paraphrase)

Female circumcision. Nanyuma has been forcibly returned to her village after yet another failed attempt to escape. Returning along with her is her teenage cousin, Fili — a very beautifully sensuous young lady who is considered licentious by her very own father. One day, while bathing with her childhood rival (Saran), Saran notices that Fili has not been circumcised. Saran asks her if she can see her clitoris and Fili says no. Apparently Saran had been circumcised when she young. Fili goes on to proudly say that her clitoris is “part of what makes her a woman.” It is simply Fili’s awareness of her own feminity and womaness – her own sexuality – that causes her very own father to deem her “licentious.”

After bathing, Fili tells Nanyuma what has transpired causing Nanyuma to become uneasy. The naive Fili tells her that the reason she was never undertook the cultural ritual was because her mother had died of a hemorrhage during childbirth and her relatives were afraid that the same could happen to her if she were cut. An interesting conversation evolves between the two.

FILI

The clitoris is very important for

                                                us all. Why are you staring at me like this?

                                                                         NANYUMA

We have to take it off because it’s

                                                dirty.

For a moment, Nanyuma has changed her stare — her gaze. In this moment, she has become an advocate and defender of all that she has been fighting against — those who uphold the male gaze and the oppressive patriarchy. Nanyuma even speaks like them when she tells Fili that the reason that the clitoris must be removed is because it is dirty. But Fili reminds Nanyuma of her own self. Young Fili becomes her reflection as she reminds Nanyuma about the natural, inherent, God-given beauty of the woman and her femininity. Nanyuma’s memory is refreshed as Fili reminds her that the patriarchal construct is not natural…

FILI

It’s an organ to the body

                                                like the tongue.

Even Nanyuma, as liberated as she may be, is not totally free from the influences of the patriarchy. She is still in the process of re – invention – liberation — and both are processes. Sissoko reminds the spectators that the influences of the patriarchy are not that easy to destroy or detach one’s self from. We derive our identity from our socialization. This moment of regression on Nanyuma’s behalf, raises the question of whether there really is (a) total and complete, authentic female spectatorship:

                        “…Freud forcefully inscribes the absence of the female spectator of theory…to those  of you who are women…you yourselves are the problem…”  (Doane, P.758)

Or is Sissoko suggesting that cultural context is the primary and/or only factor which can exclude Nanyuma from Haskell’s Euro-centrically – based definitions and classifications? Has Nanyuma truly transcended the superfemale and superwoman classifications thereby destroying the patriarchal cinematic codes, contexts, framing and narrative?  Can female representation (and the so – called liberated woman in the real world) ever truly transcend the patriarchally contained “superfemale” and “superwoman” socio – cultural and political framework?  Or do Nanyuma’s seemingly revolutionary characteristics, in reality, simply seek to create a new space that is, although called by a different name, yet another categorical code that will smugly fit along side the two pre-existing patriarchal codes?

Although there are myriad scenes worth examining, let’s fast forward to a crucial scene where both situations are at climax:

Fili is arguing with her Uncle Tiefing who knows the reason why she has not been circumcised. Meanwhile, Nanyuma has had enough as she packs to leave her village with her youngest son.

FILI

Uncle Tiefing. This affair

                                                concerns me. You haven’t asked

                                                my opinion.

                                                                         TIEFING

Are you crazy?

                                                                         FILI

I’d be crazy to keep quiet.

                                                It’s my body.

                                                                         TIEFING

Who do you think you’re talking to?

 

FILI

I don’t want to be excised. I won’t be.

                                                                         TIEFING

You will. Stop talking crap!

                                                                         FILI

You’re talking about my life.

                                                I won’t be excised.

Fili then runs to Nanyuma who is in the process of departing to begin her emancipatory journey.  Mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted, Fili squats – instinctively and out of necessity, reaching out to the nearest tree to hold onto for support. But Nanyuma cannot liberate Fili – she must choose her own liberation.

NANYUMA

Fili, stand up! You must run away.

                                                                         FILI

I won’t go anywhere. Are they

                                                crazy? My father backed what I

                                                told them

                                                                         NANYUMA

That’s not the problem. They’re

                                                led by blind obedience to tradition.

                                                For them it’s a matter of life and

                                                death. Get up! Let’s go!

The women elders whose responsibility it is to circumcise their sisters approach Fili.

WOMAN

…You’ll become a woman.

                                                                         FILI

I’m already a woman!

After a little resistance from Fili and Nanyuma, they are overcome and Fili is forcibly circumcised (which is reminiscent of a gang rape scene) which asserts that the woman is not in charge of her own body – neither her reproductive organs nor her sexuality. The patriarchy, once again, determines and controls even her God-given rights and bestowals as bearer and nourisher of life. Fili is not even allowed to verbally participate in the discussion of her fate. This is one of the most oppressive of all oppressive acts — the denial of a person’s right to participate in their own self – definition, and self – determination – in the affirmation of their own humaness.

                        “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects…at all stages…the oppressed must see themselves as…engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of  becoming human.”      (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.52)

Tiefing’s resistance against Fili’s desire to speak is not limited to just her but to all the women that she had earlier tried to mobilize around this — their common issue and dilemma. The act of silencing Fili, who is younger than Nanyuma, is an act to put the non – conformist youth back in their patriarchal place.

Fili runs to Nanyuma in search of help. Assistance. Deliverance. But Nanyuma tells her the ultimate solution — run away. But Fili says that she won’t as she holds on to the tree resembling the goats tied to the pole at the beginning of the film. She cannot see any other solution but to plead to the upholders of the patriarchy to let her be. To let her have her from independent and liberated will. This confirms Nanyuma’s resolve. The next step, and her only option, in her process of liberation and detachment from the patriarchy is to physically leave.

It is here that Sissoko shows us that a total female spectatorship is, in fact, possible only if we can totally detach ourselves from who we have been socialized to be. For Nanyuma, the possibility of and for complete freedom is away from the village. Exodus.

For the spectator, there is an authentic female spectatorship possible — one totally detached from the patriarchal perspective that we have been socialized to think is naturally ours. Where and how shall it be found? Through the re-positioning of the gaze. It is through this re-positioning re – framing of our views — our perspectives and values — that transformation takes place and balance is achieved. It is through balance that we are able to see things clearly because we can clearly view all sides.

Through the re-positioning of the gaze, the patriarchy is deconstructed and transformed into a no – name entity and phenom that is less oppressive, less destructive, less exclusive and less dangerous – into an entity that is more inclusive, more nurturing, more natural and more human and, eventually, more divine. Nanyuma’s sums it up:

NANYUMA

This world comes from our wombs.

                                                It mistreats us. We give life and

                                                we’re not allowed to live. We

                                                produce the food crops and others

                                                eat without us. we create wealth

                                                and it is used against us…We women

                                                are like birds…with no branch to

                                                perch on, there’s no hope. All

                                                that’s left is: we must stand

                                                up and tie our belts. The progress                             

                                                of our societies is linked to

                                                our emancipation.

I am reminded of Celie (Whoppi Goldberg) in The Color Purple when she finally garners the chutzpah to stand up to Albert (Dannie Glover) while holding a knife (as phallic symbol?) to his throat…

CELIE

Until you do right by me – everything you think about is

                                           gonna crumble.

Though he is temporarily defeated and subjugated by the enraged Celie, who is about to depart on her own journey from her own gender – oppressive village, Albert upholds the globally – present patriarchy – in all its self – deprecating, self – degrading and self – containing insanity. In the only way he, as a culturally, historically, politically and socially castrated Black man in America can at this point, as physical abuse of Celie is no longer a viable option for him….

ALBERT

                                              Who do you think you is? You cant curse nobody. Look

                                              at you…you Black…you poor… you ugly. You a

                                              woman. You’re nothing at all.

Verbal castration and the attempt to re – assert masculine authority, supremacy and superiority by demeaning, dehumanizing and degrading the feminine principle. Womaness.

As previously stated, educator – sociologist Paulo Freire asserts that in order for the oppressed to be truly free, they must participate in the process of their own liberation and emancipation. They must be the determiners of every stage and aspect of their own struggle

In the case of a truly female spectatorship and representation, the responsibility for its formulation rests with women. However, this neither precludes nor excludes men from participating in female spectatorship and representation – either its formation or, once formed, its process. On the contrary — the director of Finzan is male…

…But not just any male. The male must be willing to re – position his phallocentric gaze, from the negative POV and narrative of vagina/womb as symbol and representation of lack and castration – to the newly framed gaze and narrative determined by and through Nanyuma in the first line of her closing monologue and that is: vagina/womb as source of humanity,. Culture. Civilization. Vagina/womb as source of life. Woman as birther and giver of life – male and female…mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, husbands, sons, brothers, wives and cousins.

CELIE

(TO ALBERT)

What you done to me – you

                                                already done to you.

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