“Gho Ghirl” – corny I know. The good Lord will be spanking me for that title. I gripe a great deal about Ghanaian cinema and rightfully so because the glass is always half empty for me. To paraphrase a friend, you’re silly if you don’t see it that way. Well call me silly then because today I want to view the glass as half full for a change. A little positivity never hurt anyone. I want to salute the one thing that excites me about Ghanaian cinema – the women.
The visibility of female directors has greatly increased from even only 7 years ago when I started to scrutinize film matters. This year a lot of impressive films helmed by talented women have garnered well deserved acclaim. I quite liked Marjane Satrapi’s rosy dark comedy The Voices, debbie tucker green’s Second Coming was a brilliant moody drama and one of my more stimulating film experiences has come during A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night directed by Iranian Ana Lily Amirpour. We also had the critically acclaimed Girlhood by Frenchwoman Céline Sciamma, which I haven’t seen yet and the puzzling but rewarding feature from Carol Morely, The Falling. The world is undoubtedly a better place with these women standing up to be counted and hopefully the world of cinema is graced with more women putting in solid work. The fact that these films and more feature prominent female characters is also a plus for the industry that has rolled on over the years with questionable gender politics. What does Ghanaian cinema say to all these positive developments though? Been there, done that.
You would think in a patriarchal society like ours (as if societies everywhere aren’t patriarchal) the trend of men owning the film making space would be a given but plot twist: girls run this world (and like in my post on GHANAian cinema, the tier system caveat applies). The problems facing female directors in film industries worldwide have been structural and systemic with good old sexism underpinning everything. Talented female minds have had to prep themselves for a rigged jungle with probably old white men at the top of the food chain and for the longest time they have had to fight hard and sadly with some futility to get their way. This is ostensibly still the case in main stream Hollywood. Notice how most of the films I pointed out are essentially indie features. Ghana most definitely counts as an indie/exploitation industry which is probably why women have found easier to break through. Lord knows if Ghanaian cinema was considered a gold mine, the sexist leeches (or God forbid, white sexist leeches) would have long sunk in their claws like we see in politics, corporations and the like.
In truth I can’t really ever remember a time when a female touch hasn’t driven Ghanaian cinema. Consider the scape over a decade ago when Veronica Quarshie helmed films headlined by Pascaline Edwards and Edinam Atatsi (not forgetting the other mainstream features that starred the Josephine Attohs, Grace Norteys and Akofa Asiedu/Edjieanis of whence). I have fuzzy memories of my childhood but the film world seemed to revolve around Quarshie and she was constant on the shelves of my mum’s video rental store. Quarshie happens to be the mind behind the finest Ghanaian film I never saw, A Call at Midnight. I’m going on my father’s word here. Fast forward to the new incarnation of Ghanaian cinema and women still feature prominently. Much like Veronica Quarshie years ago, Shirley Frimpong-Manso today has a reasonably strong grip on contemporary Ghanaian film. She has earned her place at the top of the food chain with her vibrant production company and her Woody Allen-esque film output.
Shirley has been on the film making scene for about seven years and her presence not only gave mouth-to-mouth to Ghanaian cinema which was languishing in exploitation limbo post Vero Quarshie but has also seen women rise to prominence not only the directing but production and performance spectrum of things. In a recent Variety feature she talks about the gratuitously weak and submissive portrayal of women in films back in the day and she has been on somewhat of a one man woman mission to place women in dignified standing. She has walked the talk and been largely successful. She not only gave screen time to talented actresses like Joselyn Dumas and Lydia Forson but fashioned screenplays with nuanced, forceful, vivacious, compelling female characters for them to project.
Juliet Asante and Leila Djansi are other female creative minds worth getting excited about. Djansi is well seasoned and never misses an opportunity to serve up the female perspective. Asante‘s debut feature, Silver Rain, builds a unique on-screen version of Ghana grounded in some levels of realism though she eventually disappointingly strays from her world building to a more personal narratives. Silver Rain largely revolves around a female character and the better Ghanaian films this year have been cast in the same vein. Fifi Coleman’s Pieces of Me, Pascal Amanfo’s If Tomorrow Never Comes roll on with female protagonists in varying worlds. The former, written by Awo Ahiable, is driven by its two strong female leads (Akofa Asiedu/Edjeani and Napo Masheane) amidst a seemingly amusing petty corporate squabble. The latter sees Amanfo present a cynical world rigged against females and despite its glaring failings, we recognize an extremely compelling and earnest story of a woman’s struggle.
The female driven narratives highlight positive strides for our industry creatively and conscious attempts to serve compelling feminine perspectives. One of my more anticipated films this year is the Zissou feature, The Cursed Ones directed by Nana Obiri Yeboah. Like If Tomorrow Never Comes, The Cursed Ones looks to present a portrait of the more sexist and chauvinist sections of Ghanaian society spiced with levels of realism. Women again take centre stage with Ama K Abeberese and the promising Ophelia Dzidzornu. Lest I forget, Shirley herself has her 11th feature film, Rebecca, on the cards. Unless the eponymous character is a man we have another female driven narrative on our hands. I feel like a young girl can look at mainstream Ghanaian cinema and have legitimate aspirations given the women already blazing trails and setting up stepping stones. The least we can do is continue to build on with some soul and craft.
The somewhat bizarre absences of sexism in a society like ours has already been noted. My guess is women are thriving in film because it isn’t perceived as money machine so men haven’t seen the need to perch their clubs atop this budding industry. Let the money come and the men probably hone in like mosquitoes. I am by no means saying our film industry is free of sexism (I really need to break down my tier system) and some nasty elements do exist. I’ve heard the stories. Maybe the discriminatory elements in Ghanaian film largely revolve around class but that’s a blog post for another day. No griping today. Let’s just bask in the women projecting our films to the world.