Photograph — Ladima Foundation

Weeks ago, the Ladima Foundation, in partnership with DW Akademie, announced ten selected films in the African Women in the Time of COVID-19 Short Film Competition. The short film competition invited African women to share their stories about the personal, economic, and social impact of COVID-19 in Africa.

The brave and powerful films that were submitted sadly reflects the very difficult circumstances that many African women face currently. The stories show how the effects of the pandemic are harder on women than they are on men.

An overwhelming response saw just under 200 women from 18 African countries share honest, moving stories on diverse topics with dominant themes of domestic violence, altered access to opportunities, increased burden of care, but also themes of resilience and hope.

One of the shortlisted films is Love, Zawadi by Kenya’s Wambui Gathee. Gathee is an emerging producer and director rising steadily in the African film scene. She is a firm believer of artistic visual storytelling and her work voices and represents the true African narrator.

Her film Love, Zawadi tells the story of how the enforced COVID-19 lockdown in some countries puts vulnerable women and young girls in positions where the life-threatening situation outside is safer than being in their homes. In this interview with Ventures Africa, Gathee discusses film as a powerful tool to influence social change and the significant symbols and metaphors in Love, Zawadi.

Why this story? What is the intended message of the story?

Sexual assault has been a major issue facing women globally. For centuries, women constantly fall victims of sexual violence, a problem that needs to be addressed and obviate possible consequences. We do believe in using film as a powerful tool to influence social change. It is for this reason that we felt the importance of highlighting and advocating for the rights of women who are undergoing sexual harassment and assault especially in this period of COVID-19.

The statistics on the number of rape cases as a result of the lockdown has blown out of proportion. Through this film, we intend to address this issue and engage people in conversation. Love, Zawadi is a way of creating awareness on the injustices women face in this pandemic. 

Wambui Gathee – Filmmaker

What is the place of this film within your culture?

Love, Zawadi touches on a sensitive matter that needs to be addressed not only in Africa but globally. The film is a representation of the realities of many women, it depicts challenges that they can relate with. It is vital for such stories to be out there, especially as these issues are barely spoken of. We, therefore, felt the need to start the conversation and hope that the film will be used to create social and behavioural impact. 

How would you describe the main character(s) in your film?

Zawadi, the main character, played by Tracy Amadi, is a young 21-year-old who loses her innocence when a man begins to sexually abuse her in her own home. This puts her in an emotional rollercoaster and her confidence is reduced to the choice she has to make in order to stop the horror she’s experiencing. 

How did the sets, locations and props contribute to the meaning of the film?

In order to effectively portray the severity of the story, the setting of the film was very intimate. The entire film was shot indoors, in one location, to demonstrate a ‘lockdown experience’. The protagonist’s home which ought to be a haven, became unsafe, thereby depicting that women are not safe anywhere. 

Also, the blue and red lighting was used to depict dilemma, conflict, and choice. The props aided our main objective of letting the viewer decipher whether our protagonist was trying to end her life or that of her abuser.

Are there significant symbols and metaphors in the film? What are they?

The use of the letter, which in turn is the title of the film, symbolizes an end – a decision has been reached, irrespective of the outcome. The fact that the male figure is completely out of focus and anonymous is symbolic of how the abuser can be anyone in Zawadi’s life; a friend or a relative. Also, the use of the word, “monster”, is emblematic.

What were the challenges encountered in the production of this film and how did you address them?

The major challenge was shooting with limited resources. We had to hire a few equipment in addition to what we own because we did not want to compromise on the quality of the film. For sound, we used the inbuilt microphone on the camera and recorded the voice-over narration with the producer’s phone because we had no access to a studio, especially given the timeframe we had to complete the film, post-production. 

What are the film’s values — the attitudes toward truth, life, family, and community?

As mentioned earlier, the story of Zawadi is a reflection of the events and issues women are facing this period of the pandemic. Even in the supposed safe spaces, women and young girls often find themselves in horrendous situations that lead to sexual assault. This takes a toll on their mental health, resulting in dire consequences.

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