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In an African village this is the day when six 4-9-year-old girls are to be 'cut' (the act of female genital mutilation) All children know that the operation is horrible torture and sometimes lethal, and all adults know that some cut women can only give birth by Caesarean section. Two of the girls have drowned themselves in the well to escape the operation. The four other girls seek "magical protection" (moolaadé) by a woman (Colle) who seven years before refused to have her daughter circumcised. Moolaadé is indicated by a coloured rope. But no one would dare step over and fetch the children. Moolaadé can only be revoked by Colle herself. Her husband's relatives persuade him to whip her in public into revoking. Opposite groups of women shout to her to revoke or to be steadfast, but no woman interferes. When Colle is at the wedge of fainting, the merchant takes action and stops the maltreatment. Therefore he is hunted out of the village and, when out of sight, murdered. Written by
Max Scharnberg, Stockholm, Sweden
Moolaadé, a powerful and uncompromising film by 81-year old Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene, depicts the clash between entrenched cultural and religious tradition and modern secular society over the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) in a West African village. Practiced mainly on girls between the ages of four and eight, FGM refers to the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia as a means of reducing a woman's desire for sex and the chances that they will have sex outside of marriage. According to Amnesty International, an estimated 135 million women have undergone genital mutilation, and two million a year are at risk - approximately 6,000 per day. A procedure that has been performed for over 2000 years, it is normally done without the care of medically trained people and may lead to death, serious infection, HIV, depression, or gynecological complications.
In the film, six girls refuse to take part in the "purification" ritual. Two run away to an uncertain fate and the remaining four are sheltered by Colle Gallo Ardo Sy (Fatoumata Coulibaly), a woman who is known to have mystical powers and has given the four girls the "moolaade", the spell of protection. She ties a rope across the entrance of her home and all are forbidden to cross it until she releases the spell by uttering the correct words. Colle refused to have her daughter Amasatou (Salimata Traore) submit to the "cutting" seven years earlier and Amasatou is called a "bilakoro", a woman who is unclean and her chances for marriage are said to be slim. She is, however, planning on marrying the son of the tribal chief, Ibrahima (Moussa Theophile Sowie), a well off Westernized African who is due to return from Paris.
Colle's moolaadé stirs the anger of the Salidana, a group of women dressed in red gowns who perform the mutilation. She is also forced to stand up to the intimidation of her husband and his brother and the male elders in the village who see her as a threat to their values. As a gesture of control, the men confiscate the women's radios, their main source of news of outside life. Rigidly defending their traditions and what they questionably see as a practice sanctioned by Islam, they also turn against an itinerant merchant they call Mercenaire (Dominique Zeida) who comes to the aid of Colle in a shocking scene of public flogging. As the issue becomes crystallized, many women rally to Colle's support whose courage in the face of determined opposition is of heroic proportions.
While Moolaadé is political, it is not simply a polemic against injustice. The film is multi-layered and the characters are complex individuals who are much more than symbols of right and wrong. Shot in a profusion of brilliant colors, Moolaadé opens the door to a little known culture and, in the process, brings a brutal practice to the world's attention. According to Nahld Toubia, MD, a physician from Sudan, "It is only a matter of time before all forms of female circumcision in children will be made illegal in Western countries and, eventually, in Africa." Moolaadé shows us the way and few will leave the theater unmoved.
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