Courageous battle against the circumcision of women in Senegalese film

April 2005 -

In Moolaadé by the Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, the main character Collé is the only individual in the village to rebel against the ancient tradition of the circumcision of women. She had earlier already refused to allow her daughter to be circumcised; now she protects four village girls by taking them into her home. To protect them, she calls upon the Moolaadé, an ancient spell that prevents anyone from harming the girls as long as they are on her property. Thus Collé combats one ancient tradition with another while actually striving to progress.


Still from Molaade

This 'progress' seeps into the village by means of the radio, to which the women in particular listen. This is how they hear an imam explain that circumcision is not prescribed by the Islam. The women greatly appreciate their radios, but the village elders decide to burn them all. The son of the village chief, visiting home from France, also brings modern life to the village. He has money, a suit and gives his family a television. When his father attempts to beat his son for considering marriage to Collé's independent daughter, upon the first stroke the father's stick breaks: a stick that has served him for so long.

Sembene makes grateful use of coleur locale, but has made the chaos, poverty and dirt disappear. Brilliant rays of sunlight brighten the colors of the beautiful gowns of nature. The loam huts and dirt roads in the village are strikingly clean and neat. The story unfolds quietly despite the fact that the theme could have been filmed dramatically and horrifically. Apparently, Sembene did not want to make Moolaadé a film that shows the terror of the circumcision of women. The 81-year-old director places emphasis on the courage and strength of the women who oppose the practice, allowing them triumph almost festively. This gives cause for optimism. At the end of the film, which won an award during the Cannes film festival, the antenna of the new television can be seen on the roof. Progress has definitely taken root.