Holding up the Skies

Holding up the Skies

A Film Series on Feminist Realities from Africa and the African Diaspora

by Gabrielle Tesfaye

When I created my short animation film, The Water Will Carry Us Home, my mind was plugged into a magical world of fearless resilience and ancestral mermaids who transformed their deepest scars into a new generation of life. Set during the time of the transatlantic slave trade, I was pulled to show this history of African enslavement in a different way than it has ever been told on screen. I wanted to give my ancestors the commemoration they never received. I was motivated to reclaim the history that continues to paint us as helpless victims. Essentially, I wanted to tell the truth. To reclaim and reimagine our history and perspective, means to simultaneously heal our generational traumas that exist today. It is this important work that so many women through the African continent and the African diaspora are doing today, igniting our collective Feminist Realities. 

In the making of the film I researched religiously, and in what was written, I saw what was not. There were many times I felt I was hitting a wall trying to find something that was not there, and it was in those voided places that I realized the storytellers of today are filling the voids. I found the most useful stories in contemporary art, film, and African diaspora folklore. 

“... a truly unique, raw and representation of feminist power in action.”
    - Hers is Ours Collective, organizers of the Outsider Moving Art & Film Festival

The Water Will Carry Us Home carried itself around the world into the hearts of the Diaspora. It also led me here, as the curator of the African and Diaspora film screenings of AWID’s Co-Creating Feminist Realities initiative. Whilst curating this collection of films, I looked for stories that were completely unique, raw and representational of feminist power in action. Consisting of three shorts and one feature, they reveal stories through many communities in Africa and the diaspora, including Ethiopia, Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Kenya. These films reposition African women as what they truly are- self governing and empowered through the unfiltered lens of their work. 

“An incredibly beautiful, attentive, finely observed telling of the connection between Africa and its Diaspora formed form the trans Altantic slave trade. The visual universe it creates is just gorgeous… an echo of the fusion of spiritual traditions and non-linear time that speak to how we are still experiencing the moments of the past that formed 'new' worlds of diaspora blackness.”
    - Jessica Horn, PanAfrican feminst strategist, writer and co-creator of the temple of her skin

Our short documentary film, Women Hold Up the Sky, created by the WoMin African Alliance, tells the story of women activists in Uganda and the Democractic Republic of Congo who are actively reclaiming their land rights, threatened by mining and other extractives in their homes. The film not only exposes the corruption of extractivism, but finally shares what we have been missing on screen - how grassroots African women are actively organizing, strategizing, and analyzing within their communities to create women-centred and community-driven alternatives. Margaret Mapondera of WoMin explains it beautifully, that they are the “custodians of lands, forests, waters, rivers and territories; the ways in which women hold and transmit the stories / herstories of our past and our futures; the powerful and transformative ways of being that women embody in their relationships to each other, to the environment and in themselves.” 

“A refreshing and much-needed piece of cinema highlighting the many ways African women are coming together to create women-led and community-driven alternatives… The fight is on and
women hold the key.”
    - Hers is Ours Collective, organizers of the Outsider Moving Art & Film Festival

Pumzi, created by critically acclaimed director Wanuri Kahiu, bridges Africa and science fiction around climate and environmentalism. Pumzi imagines a futuristic world where humankind has been forced to settle on another planet. While Pumzi seems afro-futuristic and new for Africa on the surface, Kahiu reveals the truth that science fiction and fantasy is something that has always existed in African storytelling, but never recognized. Kahiu creates a world where women are truth seekers and heroes who pioneer us into a new world, the opposite of images that position Africans as victims of war and destruction. Instead, Pumzi writes the narrative of African women being their own saviors and problem solvers, who stop at no cost to follow the cryptic visions they channel in their dreams. 

“A pioneering African sci-fi film, situating women as scribes of the future and opening up our visions about other worlds, other universes we might occupy as Africans - always an important exercise as we imagine our way out of present crises.”
       - Jessica Horn, PanAfrican feminst strategist, writer and co-creator of the temple of her skin

Our feature film of the program, Finding Sally is set in 1970’s Ethiopia during the time of The Red Terror war, documenting the striking history of director Tamara Mariam Dawit’s activist aunt, Sally Dawit. Throughout the film we learn of Sally’s incredible journey as a young and courageous woman activist navigating one of the most violent times of Ethiopian history. Sally’s story not only reveals the gravity of this time, but the reflection of her own personal evolution as a young woman. Dawit was intentional to tell the film through the lens of women, untouched by male voices. Due to so much Ethiopian history being told by men, the making of this powerful story preserved its reality of honoring the feminist perspective. Dawit explains, “Women in revolution and war are often only included as someone's spouse or someone who did cooking or typing work. I wanted to look at the activism around the revolution only through the memories and voices of women.” Finding Sally demonstrates the reclamation of history sought by current filmmakers today. It is an igniting of feminist power and our connected realities throughout time.   

“The responsibility falls on us, to remember these women that came before us and their brilliant work so they are not forgotten like the thousands of women already forgotten while fighting the good fight. Sally is such a woman and may she never be forgotten.”

     - Hers is Ours Collective, organizers of the Outsider Moving Art & Film Festival

Register here to watch this film from June 18-22

These films have became a part of my own psyche, empowering me to continue building powerful alternatives towards justice from within. They affirm that I am a woman among a world of women, holding up the skies and actively building indestructible Feminist Realities. These films are more than stories of African women - they are globally relatable, inspiring and set the example of Feminist Realities for all of us around the world. 

Gabrielle Tesfaye:

Gabrielle Tesfaye is an interdisciplinary artist versed in painting, animation, film, puppetry and interactive installation. Her work is rooted in the African diaspora, Afro-futurism, ancient art practices and cultural storytelling.

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