Lucy Gebre-Egziabher

Originally published in Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film Video and Television. Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ,  2000.

Interviews were held on several occasions during 1997, in Washington, DC and at FESPACO, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  One of the conversations was transcribed from a televised interview, which is part of Reels of Colour, a talk show series aired locally in Washington, DC, produced and hosted by Beti Ellerson.

Lucy, could you talk about your journey from Ethiopia to the United States and perhaps in between?  You also have Egyptian heritage.  How do you identify yourself?

    When people ask me where I'm from I say Ethiopia.  Technically, I was born in Egypt, my mother is Egyptian, and my father is Ethiopian.  I moved from Egypt when I was six, I moved to Ethiopia during the Israeli-Egyptian War.  I stayed until I was almost eighteen.  I pretty much grew up in Ethiopia and I consider it my home: I am familiar with the language, the people.

Do you feel that you have a dual identity?

    Absolutely! I associate my Egyptian-ness with my mother and I hold on to that because I have a great love for my mother.  As for my identity, in recent years, when I started questioning myself—"Who am I? What is my mission in life?" and other numerous questions—the question of identity arose in the process, and its a very important question!

How about your identity as African in the West?

    That's part of it, my position as an African in the West is what began the questioning process.

Could you talk about your process and how you became interested in cinema?

    Let's talk about why I wanted to be a filmmaker, aside from having the passion for cinema as a visual art that came a long time ago when I was still in Ethiopia, though I dismissed it.  Maybe it was a manifestation of the mis-education of myself, my heritage, my history.  While I was in Ethiopia—and I am sure any African could tell you this story—on the screen all we saw were white faces.  The images that we saw on the screen made us want to come to America, to live the American dream, to wear the clothes and so on.
    Realizing how powerful this medium is and how destructive it could be, at first I jumped into it almost idealistically: "I want to educate my people!"  Why don't we show
our faces on the screen?  Why don't we show the wealth of our history?  Why don't we ever see a film about the Battle of Adwa? Why do we have to celebrate the British soldiers by the river battling the Japanese?  Why can't we see our own soldiers battling the Italians, defeating the Italians with spears and shields?

Read the entire interview