Terrified by the village ceremony where they will be ‘cut’ – their genitals excised – four young girls, the oldest not yet 10, flee. They ask Colle, a circumcised woman who some years earlier had refused to have her own daughter cut, for ‘moolaadé’ – sanctuary. Colle stretches a traditional coloured rope across the entrance to her yard. The village elders, and the village matriarchs with their knives, dare not cross.

Veteran Senegalese director Sembène has made films on social and political themes for over 40 years. He was the first black African to make a feature film, the first director to make a film in an indigenous African language. Originally a novelist, he turned to film to speak to the many people who cannot afford books or who cannot read. His films, he says wryly, have their audience in Africa, and their markets elsewhere.

Moolaadé reveals conflicting traditions, and the pressure for change. It shows, like Sembène’s other films, the extraordinary and heroic in the ordinary and everyday – but also the stupid, farcical and tragic. Gently paced, it has a deceptive surface simplicity. Subtle, thematically resonant and beautiful to watch, this is a great film.

mag cover This article is from the July 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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