African Women and Animation Cinema by Beti Ellerson (published 27 February 2010, updated 16 January 2018)
While animation cinema is not yet well developed in Africa, several African women have positioned themselves as important players in this domain, as animation filmmakers, creative producers and business partners. Cilia Sawadogo of German-Burkinabé descent, based in Montreal, draws from the rich oral tradition of Africa, and the everyday experiences of Quebec. Malian Kadiatou Konaté works both in documentary and animation. Her puppet animation film L’Enfant terrible (1993) traces the mischievous adventures of a little boy. Aïda Ndiaye co-directs Pictoon, the Dakar-based animation film company created in 1998. In 2000, Isabelle Rorke co-founded Anamazing Workshop, an animation production company in South Africa.
Moreover, Marguerite Abouet, Comfort Arthur, Ng’endo Mukii, Ebele Okoye, Adjaratou Ouedraogo, Diane Sanou, Bruktawit Tigabu, are among a growing cohort of women in the field of animation cinema in Africa and its ever-growing diaspora.
Pioneer Cilia Sawadogo who made her first film in 1992, had this to say about how she came to animation filmmaking:
At first, I wanted to work in television, but afterwards I found that it was much more interesting to work in animation because I draw quite a bit. I genuinely like drawing and I think that it is a way to express oneself and to be able to express universal ideas. There are many of my films that don't have dialogue and this allows me to touch a larger audience, such as… Le joueur de cora (The Cora Player). (1)
She elaborates on the traditional, drawn animation process that she uses to produce her films:
Animation requires a different approach to filmmaking. Initially we draw everything. It is not like conventional filmmaking where you tell an actor to cross the street, then the actor crosses and you shoot the action. In animation if I want my character to cross the street, I draw the action in twenty-four images per second to show him or her crossing the street.
It is a great deal of work, which means that the cost of filming is very expensive. It demands a lot of time and work and there are many people who work on it, and they must be paid. It is an artistic concept that is particularly thorough because one must envision the scene down to the smallest detail and create the costumes and the decor. Drawing the decor is not like composing images and then photographing them, or setting up a decor and then filming it. It must be entirely imagined and designed. It is a different approach. An animation film is visualized. The film is actually drawn. (2)
Kadiatou Konaté studied filmmaking in Senegal in the 1980s and developed her skills while working with her compatriot and renowned filmmaker Souleymane Cissé during the production of the award-winning film Yeelen. While documentary films have been a focus of her work, she is equally drawn to the storytelling nature of animation, which she finds to be an “excellent medium for children” to educate them “about the tales, customs, culture and realities of Africa.” (3)
Similarly, Adjaratou Ouedraogo draws from the riches of African storytelling: “Africa is full of resources, through its history, which has always been handed down from generation to generation by the guardian griots, the carriers of African wealth. For a first I bring out this traditional side of the African continent. And this explains the reasons why the realisation was done this way.”
Aïda Ndiaye, a businesswoman in Senegal, is equally passionate about telling African stories and thus the start of a partnership with French-Cameroonian animation filmmaker Pierre Sauvalle to create the Dakar-based animation studio Pictoon. The internationally acclaimed Kabongo (2002), a 13-part cartoon series target for youth, made entirely in Africa, is the shining star of Pictoon.
South African creative producer Isabelle Rorke was also driven by the need to tell African stories, and together with executive producer Dumisani Gumbi created the company Anamazing in 2000. Like Kadiatou Konaté, she had a desire to provide African children with positive images of Africa and its culture: “Kids are becoming increasingly detached from their various cultures; because it is both entertaining and educational, animation can help to incorporate our own local values and norms back into their live…” (4)
While there has been a burgeoning focus on animation filmmaking in Africa, it is important to recognize veteran filmmaker Mousapha Alassane of Niger, a pioneer in animation as early as 1966. As a result of the growing interest in this genre, several initiatives have been made to increase the efforts of continental-based production and exhibition of African animation films. The very promising trend of African animation film festivals attests to the success of this genre on the continent. Festival de cinéma d'animation africain de Ouagadougou (The African Animation Film Festival of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) was created in 2007. Senegal organized its first traveling festival of animation film, Festival Afrikabok, in 2009. Also in 2009, the African animation festival, Animafrik, was organized in Ghana.
The UNESCO project “Africa Animated” was launched to inspire local training and production with a specific focus on the creation of children’s animated cartoons in Africa. The interest in children-focused programming for African youth has been a long-standing objective, as indicated in the theme of the 15th edition of Fespaco in 1997, "Cinema, Childhood, and Youth." Florence Yameogo stresses the importance of presenting African images to African children:
I was very pleased with the choice of this year's theme, "Cinema, Childhood and Youth" because it was a theme in which I was already interested. Through this topic, I felt that we were given the opportunity to really think about the impact that images have on our children. I work for the television and we have very few national programs for children. We know that children like to imitate, and so everything that they see on television they try to imitate. We are realizing that if we make films that address their needs in particular, that treat themes and subjects that interest them, that, in fact, we will actually participate in their intellectual, cultural and physical development. (5)
These sentiments resonate directly with the objectives of the Association Burkinabé du Cinéma d’Animation, who launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the animated series Afrogames (2013). The Indiegogo site describes the project made in Burkina Faso : …[It] recounts tales of African society through the eyes of five children and their passion for the games and amusements of Africa. (6) Diane Sanou, co-writer and editor of the first episode of Afrogames led the crowdfunding campaign to raise the requisite budget for the implementation of the second episode of the series.
Similarly, Pokou the Ashanti Princess (2013) produced by Afrikatoon, has a targeted audience of children from 7 years old. The protagonist, Abla Pokou who is a young woman, is based on a real-life history of a princess who played an important role in the history of Côte d’Ivoire and particularly the Ashanti kingdom. Hence, she serves as an empowering figure in general and as a role model for girls.
Bruktawit Tigabu of Ethiopia has a similar objective for the animation project Tibeb Girls. As an elementary teacher, she works to improve literacy among her students, and finds it is even more urgent for young girls. Hence, the three young super heroines “take the audience on a fun, imaginative and educational journey”.
Ebele Okoye grew up in southeastern Nigeria where, like many African filmmakers, oral storytelling was the collective experience of the society. She yearned to share these stories, recounted around the fire, under the moonlight, and it was through the medium of animation filmmaking that she fulfilled that dream.
Because of the dearth of film schools in Nigeria at that time, she went to Germany to study 2D Cartoon Animation at the International Film School Cologne. After graduation, she worked as studio animator and director/producer of her own short films. For The Legacy of Rubies (2015) project she partnered with the Nigerian animation production studio Shrinkfish Ltd, the producers of the film.
Marguerite Abouet, who lived in Côte d’Ivoire until the age of 12 years old, had this to say at the preview screening of the film Aya de Yopougon (2011) during the Annecy Film Festival: When listening to the media, I do not recognise the Africa of my childhood, so I decided to show a version that is closer to the daily lives of Africans, which though indeed it does exist, does not focus on war or famine. (7)
Kenyan filmmaker/animator Ng’endo Mukii produced Yellow Fever (2012) because of her concern about the growing practice of skin bleaching in Africa. She had this to say about her purpose for making the film: I am interested in the concept of skin and race, and what they imply; in the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time. The idea of beauty has become globalised, creating homogenous aspirations, and distorting people’s self-image across the planet. In my film, I focus on African women’s self-image, through memories and interviews; using mixed media to describe this almost schizophrenic self-visualization that I and many others have grown up with. (8)
Similarly, British-Ghanaian Comfort Arthur attempts to tackle the phenomenon of skin bleaching with her film Black Barbie (2017), where she comes to terms with her own issues regarding the colour of her skin.
Cilia Sawadogo hopes that animation films will reach a universal audience, as she enjoys making films for both adults and children:
Yes, we are often the victims of a certain stereotype when doing animation films. Especially when they are presented in festivals where there are no animation films at all. Moreover, people often don't really know what animation is. Yet, many animation films are made for the general public or even for adults only. Oftentimes children don't really understand what is going on or they are not comfortable with what they are seeing. I think in the West there is not a large market for animation films for adults. However, we find in Asia that adults watch animation films just as much as they do other films. Personally, I like doing films for children. It does not bother me at all. I enjoy it very much and I find that I have much more freedom. Because for children we can do things very "fly" as we call it here in Montreal, with much fantasy and fun, where the filmmaker can really let herself go. One is not obliged to be too down-to-earth, and I like that, actually. (9)
Report by Beti Ellerson updated 16 January 2018.
(1) Conversation with Cilia Sawadogo by Beti Ellerson in 1997. Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa in Film, Video and Television, Africa World Press, 2000.
(2) Conversation with Cilia Sawadogo by Beti Ellerson in 1997. Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa in Film, Video and Television, Africa World Press, 2000.
(5) Conversation with Florentine Yameogo by Beti Ellerson in 1997. Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa in Film, Video and Television, Africa World Press, 2000.
(8) Ng’endo Mukii, Filmmaker’s notes of intention: on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/122574484
(9) Conversation with Cilia Sawadogo by Beti Ellerson in 1997. Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa in Film, Video and Television, Africa World Press, 2000.
An animation studio grows in Senegal : http://www.spike.com/video/africa-open-for/2832553 - No Longer Active
Animation History in Africa by Andy Wallace ; http://www.awphoto.biz/Animation%20history%20in%20Africa.pdf - No Longer Active
SEE AFRICAN WOMEN IN CINEMA BLOG POSTS ON ANIMATION:
Adjaratou Ouedraogo : Painting and animation, sharing one’s experiences through the message of art | La peinture et l’animation, de partager son vécu à travers les messages de l’art
Afrogames : Diane Sanou spearheads the crowdfunding campaign | Diane Sanou pilote la campagne de financement participatif