In “Baobab Flowers,” African diaspora women challenge Education Inequality
June 2, 2016 § 1 Comment
In the ever changing world of filmmaking, from the technologies used in its creation to the way we view the end product, a few things remain constant. For artists of color the world over, especially those of African descent, one of these is the importance of telling our own stories. Brazilian filmmaker Gabriela Watson obviously takes this very seriously; in her new documentary film Baobab Flowers, she tackles the problem of education inequality from an African Diaspora perspective by following two women high school teachers in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Philadelphia, USA. It is a film that seeks to show the endemic problem of low quality education in underserved black communities worldwide by focusing on two unrelated women who are nonetheless similar in their approach to teaching and to their relationships with their students, and also in their struggle to overcome such abject inequality.
Gabriela Watson’s work in African diaspora issues and African descendant peoples came to Afrofusion’s attention when she presented her first documentary film at an event called “Intersections of Afrolatinidad” last year. The film, Nosotros, Afroperuanos (We, Afro-Peruvians (2012)), is a powerful exposé of the indignities and struggles that Peruvians of African descent go through in their quest for sometimes basic human rights. Being part Peruvian herself, she was surprised to discover how similar the problems faced by Afrodescendants in Brazil were to those of Afro-Peruvians. Now working to complete her MFA in Film at Temple University, Ms. Watson is delving further into the problems faced by African Diaspora peoples, but shifting the focus somewhat to women. It is always revealing to observe the similarities between various African Diaspora communities and peoples, but what Ms. Watson is doing with this film is a bit rare, on two fronts. First, although there has been a number of works studying these communities, stories such as this from a black woman’s perspective have been few and far between. Second, comparisons between black folk in the African diaspora have rarely included African Americans; indeed, the term “African Diaspora” has tended to connote only those black communities in the Caribbean, Latin America and the United Kingdom. The experiences of Africans subjected to the forced migration that was the slave trade obviously differed region to region, but the resulting economic and social conditions in many of these communities have been lamentably similar – ghettos, barrios, slums, and economic and educational inequality. This latter issue is what inspired Ms. Watson to make her new film.
She has launched a Kickstarter campaign, which took off last week, to raise production and postproduction funds for her thesis film, and you can watch the video to learn more about the film and donate to this important project by visiting the page here. From the various clips embedded within the Kickstarter video, it is easy to see the strength, dedication and power that the filmmaker’s subjects possess. An examination such as this, done from a woman’s perspective, and featuring two strong women is very vital to the continued study of African diaspora communities. It reminds me of Senegalese anthropologist Cheikh Anta Diop’s work The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, which argues that in classical antiquity, African societies were primarily matriarchal, with the woman in a significant and strong role as the “source of life.” Which makes the title of Ms. Watson’s new film – Baobab Flowers – quite apt, seeing that the Baobab tree, a fixture in Africa’s savannah regions, is revered as a “tree of life” (rather literally, too, for its ability to store hundreds of gallons of water in its trunk for months on end, among other attributes). Ms. Watson and her team are aiming for continued engagement once her film is complete, with outreach activities like screenings and discussions planned in the featured communities.
Supporting this film means supporting the uplifting of these communities, taking steps towards the eradication of systemic inequalities in education and strengthening connections between women and other groups in the African diaspora. I’m all for it, and so I’m proud to support this hugely important film. Ms. Watson has a crowdfunding goal of $4,500, and she has a little over a month to go in order to reach that goal. Any amount will do, of course, so don’t forget, check out the Kickstarter page and donate! For more information on Baobab Flowers and the work of Gabriela Watson, please visit the film’s website. Bless… (Photo at the top is a still image from Baobab Flowers, courtesy of the filmmaker.)