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'Not even scared': Women at Africa's top film fest speak out against harassment

Issouf Sanogo, AFP | Nadège Beausson-Diagne, Azata Soro and director Pascale Obolo during an AFP interview at the FESPACO festival on February 28, 2019.

In Burkina Faso this week, the 2019 edition of FESPACO, Africa’s top film festival, has been marked by allegations of sexual abuse by the continent’s filmmakers in an initiative likened to – and inspired by -- Hollywood’s #MeToo movement.

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French actress Nadège Beausson-Diagne broke a taboo on Thursday when she told a round table at FESPACO, the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, that an African director had tried to rape her 18 years ago. “There was #MeToo in America, #Balancetonporc [#DenounceYourSwine] in France; in Africa, no one has spoken about it yet, but that is not because it doesn’t exist,” said Beausson-Diagne, who is of Ivorian descent.

‘Not even scared’

Known for her roles in the French television series “Plus belle la vie” and the French film “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (2008), the actress went on to launch a campaign aimed at getting African women to talk about sexual misconduct. The campaign was dubbed #Memepaspeur – “not even scared” – because, she says, “the fear must switch sides”.

Burkina Faso’s Azata Soro quickly signed on to the movement. The actress and director, who was assaulted in 2017 by the Burkinabé filmmaker Tahirou Tasséré Ouedraogo, tearfully recounted her story. “He assaulted me with a shard from a broken bottle. He ripped open my face,” said Soro, who still bears facial scars as a result. Her attacker admitted to the incident and was handed a suspended sentence. Soro alleges that, prior to that assault, the director had been sexually harassing her during multiple productions over six years.

Soro suffered the assault on the set of “Le Trône”, in competition at FESPACO. On Thursday evening, a petition posted online demanded the Ouedraogo-directed TV series be barred from consideration for a prize at the festival. “For ethical reasons, it is inadmissible that this film has been selected by FESPACO for the 50th anniversary of the festival,” reads the petition, launched by the “Cinéastes non-alignées” (Non-aligned filmmakers) and “Noire n’est pas mon métier” (Black is not my profession) women’s collectives.

FESPACO did not provide an official response, but the prize ceremony for television series, initially scheduled for Thursday afternoon, was moved to Saturday without explanation.

The international French-language television channel TV5 Monde, which had pre-purchased “Le Trône”, issued a communiqué on Saturday saying it would not air the show. The channel said it was ending its working relationship with Ouedraogo.

Call to end financing

Beausson-Diagne, for her part, called on “the institutions” to no longer provide subsidies for “these sexual predators, who only make films in order to sleep with young women”.

Women’s place in African cinema has been the subject of debate since the start of this edition of the bi-annual African audiovisual rendez-vous. Indeed, in its 50-year run, no woman has ever won the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, the festival’s grand prize.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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