Women use movies to address gender issues

Sunday February 23 2020

Female cast. Some the crew of Eleanor Nabwiso’s

Female cast. Some the crew of Eleanor Nabwiso’s Bed of Thorns. The movie, with nearly an all-female crew, is Uganda’s first of a kind. Photo by Gabriel Buule. 

By Gabriel Buule

Sarah Nsigaye Kizza, the director of Celebrating Womanhood Film Festival Uganda, believes that the stereotypes against women that are portrayed in movies and other media are fueled by the absence of women in the film industry.

Nsigaye reveals that much as most films and televised series have women taking roles as characters, there is need for women to take up import roles in the process of film making to enable them tell women stories and change the narrative.

“In an industry where women are reduced to acting roles, it is hard for them to influence the process of storytelling and probably push for stories that speak right to themselves,” Nsigaye says.

She notes that much as there is still a few women directors and producers world over, in Uganda, it is worse since women only contribute less than 10 per cent of the technical participation in film-making.

Molly Nakamya, the production director of Kampala Film School, a subsidiary of Kampala University, says there is a need for women to take a lead in film-making processes so as to amplify their voices.

“At Kampala Film School, we have encouraged the girls to specialise in more technical areas to influence storytelling and what comes to the screen,” she says.


She adds that there is a stereotype in society that a woman will be a sex object in films and all the audience has is to appreciate their beauty.

“The way we see women in films directly determines how we see them in society and if a woman wakes up to portray a strong character in films, the narrative will change,” Nakamya says.

She notes that the characters people emulate and admire in film become so important to people who feel marginalised by class, race, gender identity, sexuality, or religion.

Women in film
We have all had of domestic violence in our localities where women tend to be silent victims. This is the story that Eleanor Nabwiso learnt from a friend and she chose to make a movie, Bed of Thorns, out of it.
Nabwiiso says her dream was to tell a woman’s story in a right way and the film was a success.

The movie, with nearly an all-female crew, is Uganda’s first of a kind and it seeks to tell the woes of domestic violence in marriage and how women happen to suffer in silence.

Nabwiiso, who has won a couple of awards courtesy of this film, says in a male-dominated film industry, it is more certain for women stories to be altered and have their voices silenced.

She points out that it takes a brave man to make a story on topics such as sexual harassment or gender based violence.

Irene Sseremba, the producer of The White Devil, says she was rejected by male film directors and she chose to make her own films. She adds that it will take women involvement for more women to thrive in the industry.
Moving forward, Josephine Kabahuma, the director of Demented, a short film, says she chose to make a group, Kyooto, at the Uganda National Cultural Centre (National Theatre) in Kampala where she mentors fellow girls in film.

“Every time a woman acts the chief executive officer of a top company in Uganda or elsewhere in the world, that image encourages more women and girls,” she says.
Currently in Uganda, there are only a handful of female movie producers and directors, who struggle to break through. Some of them include Nisha Kalema, Phiona Nabaggala, Eleanor Nabwiiso, Nana Kagga, Pamela Keryeko, among others.

The all-female film festival

In a five day-event, Uganda will celebrate the first ever all-female film awards and festival, which will climax on March 6 with an award giving ceremony dubbed Celebrating Womanhood Film Awards at Kampala Serena Hotel.

Nsigaye Kizza, the festival director, believes the inaugural awards competition will help Ugandan women filmmakers take charge of their narrative.
“While we shall continue celebrating womanhood, henceforth, we focus on stories, media and art by women for women,” she says.

She, however, adds that much as the festival is female-dominated, stories by men about phenomenal women that serve to elevate women’s gender profile have been accepted, but not for the competition, although next year, there will be a feminist filmmaker category introduced in the awards.

In the inaugural festival, Nsigaye says Ugandan women submitted only 19 feature films and only five were nominated majorly because several had technical challenges.

“It is a demonstration to us that as far as storytelling is concerned, women have great potential but the technical aspects need more nurturing. But seeing strong women in film resets the prevailing idea of a dutiful woman,” she says.

The 2020 Celebrating Womanhood Festival jury will comprise five highly reputable international filmmakers, including Makerere University Film lecturer Cindy Magara, and Dutch film producer Fluer Van Dissel.

Leilah Nakabira, an award-winning actress and screen writer, says there is need for government to support the women in film since film is an expensive trade.
She says Uganda has no film fund, unlike other countries where initiatives like the film fund help women to produce films and acquire the equipment.

Recently, Makerere University and Film 256 started Women in Film Initiative, an organisation that brings together women film practitioners in Uganda.


Women in film. The 2019 State of the World’s Girl’s report indicates that girls and women are not well represented in the media and film industry.

Titled ‘Rewrite Her Story’, the report shows that male leaders are much more visible overall compared to female characters shown on screen as leaders.

The World’s Girls report published by Plan International and Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 20 countries, including Uganda, reveals that only 24 per cent of females are represented in film and media.