Africa embraces the “queer movement” through film festivals

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Film Festivals devoted to the celebration and discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) productions, known as “queer movements” date back as far as 1977, with the Frameline Film Festival in the United States being the first and oldest such festival in the world.

While most parts of Africa are still battling to grasp and accept the idea of a heteronormative state; Tunisia has made headlines recently for its persistence in providing safe, public spaces for the promotion of queer material.

According to the Tunisian Penal Code under Article 230, being a homosexual is a crime, and sexual acts between two consenting adults of the same sex could lead to three years of imprisonment.

However this did not stop one Tunisia’s most vocal queer movement groups – the Mawjoudin (Arabic for “We Exist”) organisation, from hosting the very first queer festival in Tunisia.

The Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival ran from 15 to 18 January 2018, gaining attendance from over 400 LGBTQ individuals and supporters who proudly exist in various communities.

Festival director, Karam Aouini had this to say: “The purpose (of the festival) is to promote queer culture and to give space for alternative non-normative art expression. To raise awareness about the LGBTQI++ issues in our society as well as, to encourage youth filmmakers and producers to talk more and to better represent queer characters.”

Twelve short and medium-length films were showcased, with some works coming from Tunisia and North Africa making an appearance on the film line-up for viewing and discussion.

Strong points and views were expressed about the under-representation of the queer community, and the stereotyped and homonormative representation currently portrayed in the arts; which later formed part of the panel discussions suggesting new ways of artistic expression and improvement.

Khookha, Shrifa and some Mawjoudin members also took to the floor with artistic displays and performances as part of artistic activities offered during the festival.

The event ran smoothly without any police intimidation or threats except for some homophobic posts made on social media after the four-day event.

Aouini expressed gratitude for the news coverage and support from African countries, especially those who find themselves in the same predicament with the law but continue to exist. “It gave hope, happiness to people who came and those who couldn’t. I guess, seeing some articles from around the world talking about the festival made us feel like a team proud and willing to do more and better on the next editions,” said Aouini.

South Africa, which practices a more liberal law system in issues of homosexuality, however, bears some of the most horrendous gender-based crimes.

The story of Zoliswa Nkonyana is one prevalent crime story that shook the Khayelitsha community in 2006 when the lesbian victim was brutally murdered through a corrective rape and assault ordeal.

This year also marks the inaugural edition of Queer Feminist Film Festival at Khayelitsha, with the aim of collectively bringing the issues faced by black feminists and black queer people to the fore.

“We want to explore what it means for our feminist activism to be inclusive and to be queer and vice versa. For many of us, those two spaces and identities intersect, and it felt almost natural to bring the queer and the feminist together,” said the festival organisers.

The 2-day event took place from 19 to 20 January at the Cape Town township and was a collaborative project by the African Gender Institute, Triangle Project and Oxfam South Africa.

“We are very grateful that we could bring queer folk together in one space and enjoy one another’s company and celebrate one another in semi-safe spaces. We also saw the importance of discussing trans-continental solidarity because we need to be part of the solutions and part of seeing justices for all queer people,” said the organisers.

Films like Simon and I, provided talking points for the audience with one of the directors of the film present at the event for an interview.

“The film was very important in reflecting on the journey of queer activism in South African and where we are now. We have definitely progressed quite a bit, but the increasing numbers of acts of violence against queer people is an indication that we still have a long way to go,” remarked one of the organisers.

The films Winnie and Not a Bad Girl based on Brenda Fassie’s life were also some of the crowd favourites.

The organisers of the event are looking into bringing the festival to different communities and public spaces in the upcoming years.

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Gezzy S Sibisi
Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.

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