Sisters in Law & Women with Open Eyes
Please see the movies called Ayisi’s Sisters in Law and Folly’s Women with Open Eyes. Here are some questions to reflect on for that discussion. You are required to
discuss the film here. Be sure to read the copies of reviews of these films ( I will upload them). Then, answer any/some/all of the questions that follow. Be aware
that others may respond to your comments, as you might, theirs.
1. In their review of Sisters in Law, Maher and Moorman observe tensions between “husbands and wives” and between “young children and the adults”. What tensions are
they talking about? Please explain using the stories of Manka and Amina.
2. If you could summarize the story of Amina and Ladi or the story of Manka and Sonita in Sisters in Law, what would you say about them and the groups they represent?
Jugding from these cases, what challenges do the represented groups face?
3. In many African countries, “common law” marriages are allowed and in a customary law court, the children of such marriages would belong to both parents. Is it
realistic and fair that the statutory court in Sisters in Law takes the child away from the father without consulting the traditional court? Please explain.
4. What issues are addressed in Anne-Laure Folly’s Women with Open Eyes? And, what message about tradition does Folly want us to take away from the film? Please
5. Sheila Petty probably would identify several instances of oppression in Sisters in Law and Women with Open Eyes. What about you? Please identify and explain any two
instances of oppression you noted in the two films.
6. According to Anne-Laure Folly’s Women with Open Eyes, what is the best way to frame the issue of female circumcision? Please explain.
A Black Camera Movie Review: Sisters in Law Sisters in Law by Florence Ayisi; Kim Longinotto Review by: Jennifer Maher and Marissa Moorman Black Camera, Vol. 22/23,
Vol. 22, no. 2 – Vol. 23, no. 1 (Spring, 2008), pp. 120-122 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27761711 . Accessed:
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and Marissa Moorman
SISTERS IN LAW, Directed by Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto (2005), 104 minutes, distributedbyWomen Make Movies.
Sisters in Law (2005), directed by Kim Longinotto and Florence Ayisi, tells the story of
two women, Vera
Beatrice Ntuba, who
and preside over
in Kumba, Cameroon. Both of these women see themselves as advocates for thewomen in this
town, women who have
discriminated against by patriarchal views of women and family (as we learn toward the end of the film, there hasn’t been a domestic violence conviction inKumba for 17
years). It is no accident that theopening scene is of a family standing infrontofMadame Ngassa’s desk inorder to settle the following dispute: A mother is advocating
for the returnof her child who has been taken by her husband, without her knowledge and without her consent, with the blessings of her father.One child on her back,
thedistraughtwoman pleads her case despite the fact thatunder customary law she and theirchildren are the property of her husband (he had paid bridewealth to her
father formalizing the union under customary law). Ngassa orders the child to be returned immediately, chastises both the husband (“This iswhat you men do, you harvest
children everywhere.”) and the father (“This iswhat you do for 80,000 francs and a pig!?”) Within this one case a variety of subjects central to the film coalesce:
patriarchal culture as represented by themale “plaintiffs,” the imposition of a colonial system of rules and regulations as seen in Ngassa’s Western court attire and
her reliance on been a system based inBritish jurisprudence, individual identityand desire weighed against community imperatives. The documentary revisits these issues
via a variety of cases, including the physical abuse of a 6-year-old girl at the hands of her aunt, a woman tryingto gain a divorce and prosecute her husband after
years of marital rape and abuse and against the advice of a male-run family council, and the rape of a 9-year-old girl by a Nigerian immigrant residing in the townwho
to have been immersed inhis Bible when the alleged assault occurred. Clearly, this documentary’s force comes from the “characters” of Ngassa and Ntuba, Ngassa
especially. Both are strong, funny,and astute, naturals in court and in frontof the camera. Though the description on theDVD, distributed byWomen Make Movies, is
insulting in itspitch to
behavior. In this respect, the film is a welcome corrective to hegemonic representations of “Third World” women as indelibly victimized and helpless. When Amina
succeeds and returns to theHausa quarters in town and to thewomen who have supported her, their enthusiasm and optimism is infectious, their laughter triumphantand a
joy towatch. At the same time, though, thefilm, despite what are clearly the best of intentions, in some
make thefilm accessible by referringtoNgassa and Ntuba as “African Judge Judy’s,” thewomen’s charisma is undeniable. Speaking mainly inEnglish and pidgin (the film is
also subtitled), they take no prisoners as they create them, consistently reminding their charges that African women in the 21st century have and deserve equal rights,
thatuntil women likeAmina and Ladi (both seeking divorces from abusive husbands) stand up for themselves in a court of law,men will not change their
Wales, Newport, who originally hails fromKumba. Her other films, such as Divorce Iranian Style (1998) and Shinjuku Boys (1995), take care to avoid the sort of
ethnographic style oft-criticized by means forSisters inLaw (which has won numerous awards and post-colonial feminism.What this near universal critical approbation),
as a narrative, however, ismore problematic. The film provides
ways enacts the very rubrics it criticizes. To be sure, there is no male Nanook-esque narrative voiceover (in fact, the film has no external narrative at all).
Longinotto, a critically acclaimed feminist director who teaches at the International Film School in Wales, has a long feminist track record, collaborating with other
scholars, artists, and activists from the cultures within which she films. For instance, co-directorAyisi is both a filmmaker and a lecturer infilm at theUniversity of
system (British/German/French rule and colonialism more generally)? Further, does the “invisible” filmmaker refute the traditional ethnographic power dynamic or simply
reinforce it? In otherwords, does the erasure of voiceover or dialogue on the part of thefilmmaker reifya pre-supposed (white)
next to no context for the events taking place: What is the history of Cameroon? Where does it stand in relation to the rest ofWest Africa historically and
politically? How did Ntuba and Ngassa get into the positions they currently hold? Where and how did they go to school? Who are the see glimpses of?What about a
criticism of a structure otherwomen?police officers, guards?we that,while it clearly benefits thewomen involved here, still arose from an inherently repressive
we see Cameroonian women, differencewithout othering it.One of thefilm’s achievements is that in this case Ngassa and Ntuba, as well as otherwomen employed at the
court,working to educate bothwomen and men about Cameroonian law and theirrights.This is not aboutWestern heroics (no Madonna, Angelina Jolie, or even a well-meaning
Alice Walker and Prathiba Parmar here) righting the lives of victimized African women. Without acknowledging it (or perhaps even being aware of it), the film parallels
recent work by historians who study court cases in the early 20th century to understand the lives of men and women invariousWest African societies during colonial
rule. This historiography demonstrates that African women have long used the courts to contest abusive spouses, non-consensual marriages, paternity,and their right to
property and the fruitsof their labor.And itdebunks the over-simplified tradition/modernity dichotomy by showing that customary law (“tradition”) was produced at the
same time as statutory law (“modernity”) as colonial officials and male elders often collaborated to constrain the movements ofwomen and junior men. This work thus
overturns the preconception thatcastsAfrican women as helpless, centuries-old victims. Indeed, ithas helped to specify the ways inwhich conditions forwomen often took
a turnfor theworse with the institutionof colonial rule, despite its civilizing and liberating rhetoric. The film’s tightfocus on thepresentmay inadvertentlynurture
thenotion that Cameroonian
objectivity and “view from everywhere?” Longinotto and Ayisi do not address these concerns, opting instead to let the court cases and situations speak for
themselves.While, obviously, any filming or framing constitutesmediation, Sister inLaw’s lack of context, omniscient narration, or voice-over is not simply an argument
for humanism or universal feminism. Rather, it can be read as an anti-exoticist position that asserts
are age-old victims of patriarchal oppression. That said, its snapshot nature and the consistent lack of added historical or contextual informationdemand that the
viewer ask questions and refrain frommaking assumptions. At the same time, thismethod strives to assure the viewer that she can understand the situation these women
are in. Whether American viewers will do so is another question. But, at the very least, they are sure to find an “Africa” here that is refreshing in its
unfamiliarity, i.e., it is not theAfrica of disorder and disaster, but of everyday life, town streets, court offices with piles of papers, men dusting desks and
washing windows in the offices
of female professionals, family tensions, and people learning to stand up for themselves and face their limitations. The film’s most disturbingmoments have, in fact,
little to do with women per se and more to do with girl children. Both Sonita (the 9-year-old raped by a neighbor) andManka (the moments in court. 6-year-old abused by
her aunt) are subject towhat must have been very difficult Sonita is so near her accused as to be able to hear him mutter as she makes her formal accusation
and wives, but also between young children and the adults who ostensibly exist to protect and care for them complicates a film that could otherwise be read as a
parable of “traditional” African answer to to made Western and courts. feminism the masculinity Instead, Sisters inLaw asks us to empathize with a range of situations
and people. While Sonita’s rapist clearly deserves the punishment he receives forhis crime, he is less the imposingmonster rapist of our imaginations and more an
emotionally isolated (if vicious) man with sloped shoulders and no family. Similarly, when Ngassa visits Manka’s aunt in prison, she promises to bring the frailwoman
medicine, adding that prisoners are not “animals” and we “don’t hate you.” This combination of present-tense narrative and multiple identificationsmakes for a film
that universalizes experience without co-opting it, a fine line thatSisters inLaw manages towalk with itshead held high.
before the judge, andManka’s body is repeatedly, almost obsessively, exposed at various points in the legal process as evidence of her aunt’s cruelty.Even when courts
and judicial activists succeed in dispensing justice, the burdens of evidence are still borne by the victims. This choice on the part of thefilmmakers to highlight not
only tensions between husbands
To coincide withNelson Mandela’s visit toLondon and concertfor the fundraising Mandela Children’s Fund, the Museum ofLondon will be presentingan exhibition onMandela’s
firstvisit toLondon in 1962.At thattime, Mandela was wanted by theSouthAfrican authorities,and leftthecountry illegally tobuild supportfor the African National
Congress overseas. During his 10-day stay inLondon, he met a number ofLabour Partypoliticians. Shortlyafterhis return to SouthAfrica, hewas and would as a prisoner. 27
betrayed, arrested, years ultimately spend The Museum of London’s exhibition will use a number of photos and documentationfrom thePeterDavis Collection at theBFC/A.