Forward by
            Mbye Cham

Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film, Video and Television, Africa World Press, 2000

The publication of this book is a most welcome development in the short history of studies on African cinema and screen practices. To date, scholarship, criticism and general commentaries on African cinema and video have focussed disproportionately on the films made by men and, among other topics, the various roles, images and portraitures of women in these works. Reasons advanced for this slant include the perennial lament about the general absence of women filmmakers and films by women in Africa, with the exception of pioneers like Safi Faye and Thérèse Sita Bella. Few, however, have bothered to probe beneath the surface of this absence to explore, explain and interrogate the complex of reasons and factors which account for this absence. Even fewer have actually made it a task and a priority to look for these female filmmakers and videographers, as well as other modes of female presence and practice in the arena of Africa cinema and visual media. Sisters of the Screen accomplishes these two seminal tasks. Enough of the cry and whining about absence.

Presence, albeit emergent, however, does not spell absence or disappearance of the structures, practices and factors that are responsible for the continuing imbalance between male and female screen practitioners in Africa. The responses and commentaries that Beti Ellerson’s questions and queries elicit from the female filmmakers, videographers, actresses, producers, writers, and film scholars whom she sought out and followed in numerous places in three continents over time, testify to the staying power of these structures and practices. More significantly, they reveal African female will and agency, for they speak to the challenges and need to dismantle those structures and practices that want to inhibit or retard a more forceful and equitable presence of women in all aspects of African cinema, media and society, in general.

Sisters of the Screen is a statement about the creative process for women screen artists in Africa, as well as the Diaspora. How and why African women screen artists create and work, their challenges, difficulties, traditional restrictions, their background, their aspirations and numerous other factors covering a wide spectrum of women’s experiences in domains – artistic as well as social – usually figured as male - these constitute the thread that runs through the conversations Ellerson assembles in this ground-breaking anthology. Equally pronounced in this anthology is the range of subject matter and concerns of the work of African female screen artists and practitioners, their conflation of the personal and the public, and the place of their work in African cinema and media, in general.

The women presented in Sisters of the Screen illustrate the range and variety of female involvement and practices in African cinema and visual media. The anthology is a bold assertion of presence and significance in the midst of laments of absence. Sisters of the Screen is a significant contribution to more wholesome and better descriptions and understandings of African screen practices.

         Mbye Cham

         Washington, DC

         June 2, 1999