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‘There Are Increasingly More and More Positive, Strong and Motivating Representations of Black Women’

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Beti Ellerson. Image courtesy of www.londonfeministfestival.com

Beti Ellerson is passionate about helping African women tell their stories through their cameras so they can talk about a different Africa than the one we are used to seeing in traditional media.

And who is Beti Ellerson? Well, she is an American filmmaker, scholar, and activist as well as the director of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema, work that she combines with editing the African Women in Cinema blog, teaching, and other film projects.

Beti produced a film entitled Sisters of Screen and the series Reels of Colour that aired from 1997 to 2000 in the United States. She also holds a doctorate in African Studies with a minor in African Film Studies and Women's Studies. She is a fervent feminist who has published and spoken widely on the subject of African women. In 2011, she was awarded the “Distinguished Woman of African Cinema Award” by Zimbabwean female filmmakers.

Without further ado, here I leave you with the interview I had the pleasure of conducting with Beti.

Global Voices (GV): Why are you interested in African cinema?

Beti Ellerson (BE): Porque encuentro en el cine africano una forma directa de conectar con los asuntos africanos de una forma más realista y profunda. Académicamente ha sido un instrumento de enseñanza y de aprendizaje que he sido capaz de emplear usando un enfoque interdisciplinario: estudios de la mujer, historia, lenguaje, literatura y cultura, sociología, antropología e incluso ciencia y filosofía.

Beti Ellerson (BE): Because in African cinema, I find a direct way of connecting with African affairs in a more realistic and profound way. Academically, it has been a teaching and learning tool that I’ve been able to employ using an interdisciplinary approach: women's studies, history, language, literature and culture, sociology, anthropology and even science and philosophy.

 GV: What is your definition of feminism?

BE: Hablando en general, veo el feminismo como una forma de pensar, una lógica a través del cual uno puede vivir y experimentar su vida en cuanto a como se relaciona con la igualdad de género y también veo el feminismo como concepto que puede ser empleado teóricamente para enmarcar cuestiones sobre género, posicionalidad e identidad. He sido feminista por mucho tiempo, así que ha sido un proceso político y personal para mi.

BE: Generally speaking, I see feminism as a way of thinking, a logic through which one can live and experience life in terms of how it relates to gender equality and I also see feminism as a concept that can be used theoretically to frame questions about gender, positionality and identity. I've been a feminist for a long time, so for me, it has been a political and personal process.

GV: Since the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women was founded in 2008, do you think that female African filmmakers have achieved greater visibility and recognition?

BE: Yo diría que sí, pero no por la fundación del Centro. He observado una una evolución en el discurso de la representación de la imagen de la mujer de color a nivel universal en la pasada década. Esto también es resultado de la ubicuidad de las nuevas tecnologías, especialmente de internet y las redes sociales, el trabajo de la mujer africana ha experimentado una mayor prominencia y apreciación. En términos de investigación y estudio, me gustaría pensar que el Centro y mi trabajo de la mujer africana en el cine ha supuesto un impacto en las becas, el discurso en los campos de los estudios del cine africano, del estudio de la mujer y de la crítica de cine feminista.

BE: I would say so, but not because of the Centre. Universally, I have seen an evolution in the discourse surrounding the representation of women of color in the past decade. This is also a result of the ubiquity of new technologies, and especially because of the internet and social networks, the work of African women has experienced greater prominence and appreciation. In terms of research and study, I would like to think that the Centre and my work on African women in film has had an impact on scholarships and discourse in the fields of African Cinema Studies, Women’s Studies, and Feminist Film Criticism.

GV: Is there enough support for African women to become filmmakers?

BE: Mientras que podría haber más, debo decir que hay un fenomenal incremento en el interés y en el apoyo de las prácticas cinematográficas de las mujeres africanas local, continental y globalmente. Vuelvo a señalar la emergencia de las nuevas tecnologías en el siglo XXI como el mayor factor en el brote de este apoyo. Ahora muchas mujeres tienen acceso a la promoción y a estrategias para alcanzar una amplia audiencia que permite que sus voces sean escuchadas alrededor de todo el globo. ¡Y de hecho la gente las está escuchando!

BE: While there could be more, I must say that there has been a phenomenal increase in the interest and support for the filmmaking endeavors of African women locally, continentally, and globally. Again I point out the emergence of new technologies in the 21st century as the major factor in the surge of this support. Now many women have access to advocacy platforms and strategies to reach a wide audience allowing their voices to be heard around the globe. And, in fact, people are listening to them!

GV: What advice would you give to an African woman or a woman of African descent who wants to start a career in the film industry?

BE: Con una cultura visual en constante evolución, extendería “la industria del cine” para que incluyera los nuevos medios que están redefiniendo el “cine”. Además, ya he declarado esto antes: es importante enfatizar el significado de aquéllos que han llegado antes, prestar atención a sus palabras y aprender las lecciones vitales de su camino. Al escuchar sus palabras, escuchamos muchas de las razones por las cuales llegaron al cine: contar historias, reflejar una imagen realista de África, dar la vuelta a la mirada que ha presentado a África de forma estereotipada y unidimensional.

BE: With an ever-evolving visual culture, I would extend “the film industry” to include the new media that are redefining “cinema.” Also, as I have stated before: it is important to emphasize the significance of those who have come before, to pay attention to their words and learn vital lessons from their paths. By listening to their words, we hear many of the reasons why they arrived at film: to tell stories, to show a realistic image of Africa, to turn the stereotypical and one-dimensional depiction of Africa upside down.

GV: Where do you get the motivation to carry out your projects?

BE: La motivación la saco de mi deseo de compartir el conocimiento, de dar apoyo y de promocionar historias, trabajos y experiencias de las mujeres africanas de la pantalla, de los ancianos y de las mujeres pioneras.

BE: I get motivation from my desire to share knowledge, to support and promote the stories, works and experiences of African women, the elderly, and female pioneers on the screen.

GV: Does the fact that more African women are involved in the film world change female body image and stereotypes that have been projected onto the black female body?

BE: Este ha sido el gran objetivo desde hace un tiempo aunque los resultados están un poco mezclados. Del lado positivo, hay un aumento de imágenes realistas que contrarrestan los estereotipos. Aunque por otro lado, con la proliferación de contenidos y medios para diseminar esa imagen, hay aún más trabajo que hacer para asegurarnos de que dichos estereotipos están siendo corregidos. Pero sí, de hecho cada vez hay más y más representaciones positivas, fuertes y motivadoras de mujeres negras.

BE: That has been the big goal for some time although the results are somewhat mixed. On the plus side, there’s been an increase in realistic images, which counter stereotypes. On the other hand, with the proliferation of content and media to disseminate that image, there is still more work to do to ensure that such stereotypes are being corrected. But yes, in fact, there are increasingly more and more positive, strong and motivating representations of black women.

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