Wednesday, March 14, 2007


A Cultural Heroine for Embattled Zimbabwe: Writer and Director Tsitsi Dangarembga

From the BBC: "African writer and director Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Mutoko in colonial Rhodesia, but at the age of two she moved with her parents to England. She returned to her homeland in 1980 just before it became Zimbabwe under black-majority rule.

Tsitsi's writing debut Nervous Conditions was the first novel to be published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman and won her the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989.

Some of her film credits include Neria, Zimbabwe's most successful movie of 1993 which received the International Black Cinema Award in Berlin, and Everyone's Child which was shown worldwide at various festivals and more recently Elephant People."

On this day when news out of Zimbabwe continues to astound and horrify - a vicious attack by Mugabe's goons' nearly kills a number of opposition leaders - I thought I'd focus on something a bit more hopeful. Amidst the strife and danger of this southern African nation terrorized by an insane dictator, a filmmaker, novelist and screenwriter continues to break new ground for Zimbabwean contemporary culture.

Tsitsi Dangarembga gained international acclaim for her debut novel 'Nervous Conditions' which has been translated into twelve languages and is now in its third edition.

The novel, loosely autobiographical is set in colonial Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia. The central character is Tambu, a young girl from a poor rural family who is determined to get an education despite living in the shadow of her older brother. When her brother dies, Tambu is allowed to attend the mission school in his place. There she teams up with her rebellious cousin Nyasha who is chafing under the tyrannical rule of her father - head of the mission school. Tambu's awakening comes as she learns that her elite education sets her apart from her compatriots and culture and is no cure for sexism and racism.

After the publication of her debut novel Dangarembga attended the German Film and Television Academy on scholarship. After graduating she returned to Zimbabwe, despite the well-known difficulties there to continue her work as a writer and filmmaker. 'Mother's Day' is her first feature film has been described as "an idiosyncratically offbeat, indelibly unique fusion of social satire, nursery rhyme, musical fantasy, and interpretive dance"

Dangarembga's 2005 feature Mother's Dayy, inspired by Lars Von Trier's 2002 musical Dancer In the Dark, is a musical re-telling of an ancient Shona folktale about a heroic mother and her impoverished family driven to famine by a lazy husband.

By her refusal to work in exile, despite the difficulties of life in Zimbabwe; by her determination to education herself at elite institutions despite the lack of apparent resources to succeed; by her extraordinary vision and capacity to meld the modern with the ancient in the art of film, Dangarembga provides an example of how Zimbabwe is not bowed by tyrrany; not cowered and dehumanized by violence; and gives us hope for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe that is celebrated for its unique and vibrant heritage. Right on for Sistah Dangarembga.

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