Aï Keita-Yara
             Burkina Faso

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

Interview held at FESPACO 1997, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, February 1997. Translated from French.

The place African actors hold in African cinema is increasingly visible in the context of film criticism and African film history.  There is a genuine interest to know their feelings about the characters they interpret, and their impressions of cinema in general.  What do you feel is your role as an African actor in African cinema?

In African cinema, I would say the role of all actors is to be a vehicle in which to convey a message on the screen to our society.  It is in this context that I, as an African woman actor, contribute in bringing a message to our people.  I want to make my contribution to the development of African cinema.

What has been your general impression of the image of African women in African cinema or in visual representation in general?

It has been very positive.  Of course, it was very difficult at the beginning because at that time our societies did not understand.  However, at the present there is beginning to be an acceptance.  In the past, to see a woman in the cinema was a problem in Africa.  Now it is changing, people have understood that it is art and they accept us.

In Med Hondo's film, Sarraounia, you played the role of the great queen Sarraounia.  The film was awarded the grand prize, the Etalon de Yennenga at FESPACO in 1987.  Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Princess Yennenga, after whom the prize is named, was also a formidable woman.  One may compare Sarraounia to the strength and courage of Yennenga.  Could you talk about your experience as Sarraounia, and how you felt in this character?

You know, the history of this woman fascinated me. I don't know if you have heard about the Central African Mission led by the Colonne Voulet-Chanoine. These men did a lot of damage to Africans.  Sarraounia, voluntarily celibate, decidedly celibate, had as her sole ambition to fight and liberate her people.  She refused to bow to the Colonne Voulet-Chanoine when they arrived in Niger.  She was a very brave woman.  I admired the history of Sarraounia and I also loved playing the role in the film.  I felt that I actually lived her character.

At the beginning, Med Hondo had chosen me for a minor part, the character of Amina in the film.  However, after the selection at the first casting, I was his choice for the role of Sarraounia.  I think this was because Med saw me in my family setting where he witnessed a brawl.  I was fighting with a young man.  I think this scene stayed with him.  When he returned later, in the context of his film, he asked my nephew Djim Mamadou Kola, who is a Burkinabé filmmaker, "By the way, your aunt, the tall, dark-skinned one, I saw her fighting here one day, what has become of her?"  "Ah" he stated, "she is around, she is married now."  Med Hondo declared "Anyway, I want her to play in my film."  My nephew replied "Well, okay, let's go see her husband."  They went to see my husband and he had no objections.  And that is how I passed the test.  Although he had chosen me for the minor role, after having done a preliminary filming, he stated "No, she is the one to play Sarraounia."  And I think that I was able to capture the personage that he had intended.

Read the entire interview