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Toronto Film Festival: African Cinema Gets Rare Spotlight

Black Girl 1966 African film Mbissine Thérèse DiopBlack Girl 1966 with Mbissine Thérèse Diop: Ousmane Sembene’s landmark feature film.
  • Toronto Film Festival: Generally ignored in most of the world, African cinema is the focus of the festival’s Planet Africa sidebar. Titles include Ousmane Sembene’s most recent effort, Moolaadé, and his first, Black Girl; Darrell Roodt’s AIDS drama Yesterday; and British director Tom Hooper’s South African-set political drama Red Dust, starring Hilary Swank.

African cinema at the Toronto Film Festival: Ousmane Sembene tackles female genital mutilation in Moolaadé, while landmark Black Girl gets another look

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Usually ignored in most of the world, African cinema is the focus of no less than two Toronto Film Festival sidebars: “Planet Africa,” comprising five features and eight shorts, and “South Africa: Ten Years Later” (i.e., since the end of apartheid), which will also be screening five features.

One notable entry is veteran Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene’s most recent film, Moolaadé, a multi-country (Senegal, France, Burkina Faso, etc.) production about a Burkina Faso village woman fighting to save local girls from the horror of genital mutilation (a.k.a. “female circumcision”). The title refers to the magical “spell” the villager uses to protect the girls.

Initially known for his literary output, Sembene became a world-renowned director following the release of his landmark 1966 drama Black Girl / La noire de …, believed to be the first feature by a sub-Saharan African filmmaker to be screened internationally. Black Girl is another Toronto 2004 presentation.

The story of a Senegalese woman hired as a maid in France, Black Girl is described as a parable about colonialism and independence. In the cast: Mbissine Thérèse Diop as the indomitable title character, and Anne-Marie Jelinek and Robert Fontaine as her less-than-empathetic bosses.

An aside: The original French-language title sounds like a pun on Max Ophüls’ 1953 classic The Earrings of Madame de… / Madame de…, starring Danielle Darrieux as the surnameless “Madame.”

South African cinema sidebar: International names + first commercial Zulu-language feature

Featuring lots of international (mostly British and American) talent in key roles both in front and behind the camera, the five movies in Toronto’s “South Africa: Ten Years Later” sidebar are the following:

  • British filmmaker Tom Hooper’s political drama Red Dust, starring Oscar-winning U.S. actress Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, 1999) as a New York-born, South African-raised attorney representing a local politician and apartheid-era torture victim (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor). Needless to say, this British-South African coproduction is totally unrelated to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1932 hit of the same name starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.
  • Darrell Roodt’s AIDS drama Yesterday, in which the title character (Leleti Khumalo) comes down with the disease after having contracted HIV from her husband (Kenneth Khambula). Yesterday is reportedly the first commercial feature shot in the Zulu language.
  • U.S. filmmaker Mark Bamford’s dramatic comedy Cape of Good Hope, about a trio of female dog rescue center workers – one white (Debbie Brown), one black (Nthati Moshesh), one Muslim/South Asian (Quanita Adams) – and their men problems.
  • Ian Gabriel’s apartheid-themed drama Forgiveness, in which an ex-cop (The Mummy actor Arnold Vosloo) must come to terms with his blood-soaked past. Cape of Good Hope’s Quanita Adams has a supporting role.
  • Swazi filmmaker Zola Maseko’s Drum, based on the life of investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo (played by U.S. actor Taye Diggs). Also in the cast: U.S. actor Gabriel Mann and British actor Jason Flemyng.

“Toronto Film Festival: African Cinema” endnotes

Toronto Film Festival official website.

Mbissine Thérèse Diop Black Girl 1966 movie image: New Yorker Video.

“Toronto Film Festival: African Cinema Gets Rare Spotlight” last updated in November 2022.

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