African Drama MOOLAADÉ 
is Powerful 

Special to FILMS FOR TWO®
by Alan Waldman

MOOLAADÉ, the outstanding 2004 drama written and directed by legendary Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, is a must-see movie that is touching, surprising, very believable, dramatic, beautifully crafted and rich in character. It deals intelligently, realistically and powerfully with the horrific issue of female “circumcision” (genital mutilation) in Africa, which the World Health Organization estimates now affects 140,000,000 girls in 34 of the 58 African Union nations. 

Making this movie was a courageous act for the 82-year-old Sembene. A few years ago, when Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was knifed and shot to death on an Amsterdam street, his assassin left a note on the body that threatened a Dutch parliamentarian who had criticized this heinous, despicable and barbaric type of female circumcision. 

MOOLAADÉ won six major awards (two at Cannes, two in the U.S. and one each in Morocco and The Philippines) and five other nominations. Of the 819 viewers who rated it at The Internet Movie Database (ratings) through May 29, 2008, fully 92.9% gave it positive ratings (averaging 7.8 out of 10). All demographics rated it at least 7.5 out of 10, and 15.5% rated it a perfect 10. Sixty-nine of the 70 American critics (a nearly unanimous 99%) who evaluated the film at RottenTomatoes.com praised it.

Osmene Sembene, widely regarded as the father of African cinema, has directed 16 films and written 10 over the past 42 years. He also produced MOOLAADÉ and GUELWAAR (a fine, 1992 Venice Film Fest award-winning film about the conflict created by the burial of a Christian political activist in a Muslim cemetery). His distributor, art-film pioneer Dan Talbot, has declared Sembene to be the greatest living director. Sembene has won 16 major world awards and five other nominations (in seven countries, as well as at the European Cinema Awards) for seven of his movies.

Writing in Britain’s Observer newspaper, critic Philip French stated, “The 82-year-old, self-taught, left-wing Senegalese novelist, newspaper founder and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene is Africa's greatest director. He is widely regarded as being a key player in bringing African cinema to an international audience. From BLACK GIRL (1966), which is thought to be the first feature film ever made by a director from sub-Saharan Africa, to FAAT KINE (2000), he has frequently explored the hardships facing African women and their capacity for resilience and heroism.”

Unlike most foreign-language fare, MOOLAADÉ (in Bambara, with English subtitles) ran in the U.S. for more than eight months, from Oct. 17, 2004 to July 24, 2005. The film is the second in a projected trilogy that Sembene had said is devoted to “heroism in daily life.”

In MOOLAADÉ (a word that means "protection" in the Wolof language), six young girls from the rural village of Djerisso in Burkina Faso (a country formerly called Upper Volta) escape from being forced to undergo a “purification” ceremony, during which the clitoris is removed by a red-clad woman wielding a crude knife (in unsanitary outdoor conditions). This is intended to reduce adultery by removing the pleasure of sex for women. 

Two of the children head for the city. The other four seek sanctuary from Collé, a village woman who, some years earlier, had prevented her own daughter from being cut. Collé is the second of three wives of a man whose brother is a figure in the town's power structure. 

To protect them, Collé pronounces a moolaadé, an unbreakable spell of sanctuary that can only be dissolved by her word, and which is marked simply by stretching some strands of colored yarn across the enclave's doorway. 

To discourage their woman from gaining information from outside the village (such as the fact that despite their claim that “purification” is required by Islamic law, it is actually forbidden), they ban radios and burn them in front of the astonishing-looking local mosque. Frustrated by their inability (and that of the red-clad woman who cut [and sometimes inadvertently kill] the young girls) to get Colle to call off the moolaadé, they goad her husband into publicly whipping her. 

When, finally, all the village women (except the mutilating witches) revolt against the men, the French-educated son of the chief lets it be known that not only is he willing to marry a woman who is “bilakoro” (uncircumcised), but he will also go beyond the ban against radios by having television. 

The film’s dramatic conclusion is moving and uplifting and is sure to have each audience member rejoicing. My wife didn’t want to see the film because she shied away from the horrific practice it depicts, but I coaxed her into the living room to see the finale, and she loved it as much as I did.

Because Burkina Fasan village life is so very different from ours, the film is fascinating from a documentary and cultural standpoint. The brightly-colored costumes are wonderful. There is only one cringe-inducing scene of a little girl crying as she is being cut by the harpies, and it, oddly enough, is intercut with a scene of conjugal relations.

I recommend this film to all for its warmth, detail, drama, unexpected flashes of humor, visual splendor, fine acting and brilliant direction. 

© Alan Waldman (5/29/08) 


Multiple award-winning Oregon journalist Alan Waldman has published more than 2000 articles for more than 70 newspapers, magazines and websites (in five countries) over the past 34 years. He has penned more than 25 articles and tributes here at FILMS FOR TWO during the past six years and was recently promoted to Contributing Editor. He served as International Editor/Special Issues at The Hollywood Reporter and covered the Cannes Film Festival, London Screenings, American Film Market and other entertainment events for the magazine. Waldman was also an editor at Honolulu Business and Energy International and Spirit of Aloha magazines. He has no arrests but deep convictions that the Iraq war was wrong and that 95% of all the statements George W. Bush has ever made in public have been pathological lies.