As the hours of Women’s Day drifted into the night early this month, a befitting film premiered at the Century Cinemax cinema, in Mlimani City mall in Dar es Salaam. The film, titled Binti (‘young woman’ in Kiswahili) will be aired to the public from April 9 in 10 cinemas across Tanzania.
The premier night was a star studded event — red carpet, evening gowns — with international and local Tanzanian celebrities present, some of whom are hard to spot in the city. They included international Tanzania supermodels Flaviana Matata and Millen Happiness Magese.
“It’s my first time attending a local film premier. I’m pleased to be attending a film by Tanzanians, but more so one that is directed and produced by women. This is a big deal and it gives me great pleasure to be here in support of it,” Magese said, sharing her reasons for showing up in support of Binti. Her sentiments were echoed by Flaviana Matata.
Binti is directed by Seko Shamte, and produced by Tanzanian company Black Unicorn Studios, which is co-owned by sisters Angela and Ailinda Ruhinda. The film has four leading female stars, including seasoned actresses Godliver Gordian (Siri ya Mtungi), Aisha, (Homecoming) and Magdalena Roy Munisi – the former Miss Redds Ilala 2012. The film also introduces us to new faces — Helen Hartman and Bertha Robert.
The film is poetic: It has four stories that are carried on like stanzas in a poem. The storyline captures critical events in the lives of four women who know each other in sequence, for we don’t get to see them all together. They live in a city in Tanzania, but it’s not clear which one. The film also has a few scenes in rural parts of the country.
“It was my first time to act and I actually enjoyed it. A lot of people have bad perceptions about the entertainment industry. We need to change that. I hope films like this can allow us to be proud to let our children go and act,” said Rita Paulsen, Tanzania’s famous media star.
She acts as a gynaecologist. Present at this premier with her daughter, she spoke about the importance of having the country’s public understand that film is a notable industry and business. She urged the Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports in Tanzania to support the sector by following up closely on efforts like the making of Binti.
More than 100 people from Tanzania worked on the film Paulsen added. She said that even though the government may not give direct funds to support such ventures, their endorsement could see local companies like Black Unicorn acquire favourable donors.
The film gives us several characters: Young entrepreneur Tumaini, running a mini supermarket making her own ‘chapati’ for sale as well riding a bicycle to distribute eggs. We also have Angel; she and Tumaini went to school together. Angel runs a bridal gown salon where Stella is one of her clients. Rose is a friend of Stella and her husband. The approach of this story is that we get to see these women totally in their individual lives. In essence, we the audience are their compassionate friends.
We witness them grappling with life challenges that range from gender based violence and poverty, to reproductive choices. I thought it really brave that the subject of abortion in Africa’s local context is tackled, albeit quickly in this film. The questions of self-worth when a woman is barren and how to deal with a child who has mental challenges are well addressed. There’s also a resounding modern theme as the central characters’ ages range from early 20s to late 30s.
“I didn’t know that the director and producers of this film were female until I went for the auditions. I was really impressed. We should support this film for it depicts different lives of women in Tanzania and their relationships,” Magdalena Roy Munisi, who acts as Stella, said.
Angela Ruhinda and Shamte both trained in film in the US.
“The making of the film took a little over two years since corona delayed the launch. We had a few collaborations with international figures, especially in post-production. The film had to go to India for colour correction then via Los Angeles, and the sound was done in Egypt.
“The cinematographer, Justin Aguirre, is from Los Angeles. We brought him down here; he had never been to Africa. We gave him ‘zege’ (a local fast food) took him to Coco Beach. He experienced culture shock,” Angela and Ailinda Ruhinda said, explaining what went on behind the cameras. Binti is wholly funded by their company that was registered in Tanzania in 2018.
Indeed, it is remarkable that these women have brought this film to the big screen in Tanga, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Arusha, Dodoma and Zanzibar, a feat that has hardly been attained by local films.
Tanzanians should come out to support the film, as the work is worthy of praise. However, although Binti is in two languages, with most of the actors speaking both Kiswahili and English, there is too much use of the English language. In a country where this is the third language for the majority, it’s wise if the production team considers providing Kiswahili subtitles.
The vivacity of the script and the chosen locations do not depict the true cultural context of Tanzanians; it is too Western. It’s true that a young Tanzanian girl watching this will be affirmed in her dream to live in an international modern loft apartment, run her own businesses and stand up and leave an abusive relationship.
However, we have to remind her too that not all that is development is western.
Shamte had clear intentions when making the movie. “I really enjoyed making this film, telling women stories. I think the most important thing is for us is to be kind to ourselves. Don’t think that you are in a state of unhappiness because of something external. There’s never going to be a man, there’s never going to be children, money there’s nothing external to you that’s going to bring you happiness. You can have everything, yet not be happy now, because you’re still waiting for something outside yourself to complete you.”
As an East African woman, watching it you will come off feeling validated. Binti has already been featured at the Pan African film festival and selected to be in two other international film festivals. Be sure to catch as it will also go international after its rounds in Tanzania.