June 15, 2022 4:31 p.m.
Four women and their painful and violent stories, but also marked by courage and hope. From Dar es Salaam, the economic capital of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, they speak to the world through a film, Binti, which in Swahili means “girl”. And the girls are the screenwriter, the director and the producers. Applaud Los Angeles in the United States, Lagos in Nigeria, or Johannesburg in South Africa; awarded at the Zanzibar International Film Festival and able to take their place in the catalog of the international streaming platform Netflix: a novelty for a play made in Tanzania.
“The four protagonists are named Tumaini, Angel, Stella and Rose and they could live anywhere in the world, in Kenya, Europe or Hong Kong,” says Alex Temu, the actor who may play the only male character you are looking for. to understand your partner. “The problem that arises in all the stories, which worries women and also reveals men, is precisely the lack of communication.” We meet Temu in an ecological bakery with glass between jacarandas not far from the Peninsula, the fashionable district of Dar es Salaam. Next to her is Angela Ruhinda, 33, who along with her sister Alinda is the founder of the production company Binti. “All women,” she says. “It’s called Black Unicorn Studios because it wants to be as awesome as the black unicorn.”
The stories in the film, on the other hand, are from real life. Abandoned by her father and extorted from the racket, Tumaini struggles not to have to close her shop. Angel is also a victim of abuse and violence, and finally realizes that she will never work with her boyfriend. Stella is rich and has a partner who tries to love her but can’t satisfy her desire for a child. Rose, on the other hand, has a son: he has a cognitive disability and his father continues to ignore him because he does not want to take any responsibility.
“At first we thought we would title the film His life, her life, because it shows real challenges that so many women face every day, ”says Angela Ruhinda. “The stories are interclass, because they affect both the working class and the middle class; they reveal a generational gap between daughters and their mothers, custodians of wisdom in a country where the average age is 18; they show the physical or psychological abuse that affects so many girls, who are therefore seen as protagonists ”.
Binti it premiered on March 8, 2021 as “a love letter to all women” at the Los Angeles Pan-African Film Festival. Today in Tanzania it is a success and a pride. “It is directed by Seko Shamte and based on the first screenplay by Maria Shoo, who at the age of 26 in 2018 won our first competition. Made in Africa, open to stories about women’s rights “, explains Angela Ruhinda. “At the end of the year we will organize a second edition: there is a lot of talent here, although unfortunately there is a lack of equipment, resources and especially training schools.”
The cinematic truth
The story of the founders of Black Unicorn is a confirmation of this. The daughter of diplomats, Angela Ruhinda was born in Canada and returned to Dar es Salaam in 2016, after studying in Kenya, the United Kingdom and finally five years in the United States, where she attended the New York Film Academy. His contacts include Okada Media, a distribution company that has been organizing a festival in Paris since 2013 dedicated to Nollywood’s new talents, as it is known around the world in the Nigerian film industry. The Okada Media website, which favored the deal between Black Unicorn and Netflix, refers to the mission of “promoting quality African content, which should be considered the norm rather than the exception.”
According to Angela Ruhinda, things could change for Tanzania as well. And that’s why one of his projects is the opening of a screenwriting and film school in Dar es Salaam. We also talked to Alex Temu, another Tanzanian who has toured America and Europe. He arrives at the appointment quite late, but his sympathy is won in a minute. He is an architect and back in Dar, in addition to being an actor, he works in a studio. We ask them what they think Binti The men. “I think,” he replies, “that some would rather his family not see him, because he shows his own behaviors of violence and oppression.”
It’s almost sunset. We leave the city center to reach a bar by the ocean. The date is with one of the leading actresses, Helen Hartmann. In Binti she has the role of Stella, Ben’s partner, the role played by Temu. In the film, she can’t get pregnant with assisted fertilization, she suffers and is angry, but tonight she looks like a star: she has an Italian child, she explains, after greeting us with a “how are you?”. We also talk a bit about politics and Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first woman president of Tanzania, who has run the state since the death of John Magufuli, of whom she had been a deputy until March 17, 2021. “I think this It’s a phase of change, “says Smiles Hartmann, returning to other, everyday stories. And it is not true that the relationship with men is always the same: “Some are violent but also attentive or perhaps confused; in the end, however, they will have to recognize our value, perhaps also thanks to cinema.”
Regina Kihwewle nods, who has joined us and is also an actress. In Binti it has a smaller part, while it is the protagonist Mulasi yen Dodoma, a film that has just been shot. The director of both works, called Honeymoon Aljabri, participates in the conversation. He is 47 years old, has a Tanzanian mother, a Yemeni father and lives in the United States. He returned to Dar es Salaam for a few weeks, just around the time of filming Dodoma. “The film is about mental health and depression, a taboo disease that Tanzanian women are not even entitled to,” says the director. “I think that cinema should have a social function, also helping to make it understood ‘it’s okay not to be okay’, it is also a right not to feel good ”. Helen Hartmann takes the floor again. She is convinced that the taboo of mental health affects not only women but also men or children. The discussion is heating up and it’s almost dark. Next to a banana tree, beyond the wicker chairs, the mosquitoes boil. And last but not least, the Tanzanian movies. “These are open stories,” the girls reply, almost to their heart’s content. “Everyone can see each other again, everyone can write the ending.”