Monday, March 05, 2007

Excerpt: Reimagining Gender Spaces in Abbas Sadiq's and Zainab Idris's film Albashi

Below is an exerpt from a paper I have been working on for about a year now. I am exerpting the short summary of the film FYI, and then I skip ahead and exerpt the bit that talks about this video. As I read over it again, i realize it is a bit brief. I could probably go on and on about it some more... but I'll spare the blog audience for now... {-; Enjoy the video.

Albashi tells the story of the troublemaker Umar and his wife Binta, whose career as a doctor is complicated by Umar’s jealousy. The story takes us through their school days, through marriage, divorce, reconciliation, and on to an uncertain future. Aspects of the film also legitimize modern women’s recourse to Islam to explain their actions and defend their interests. The character Umar holds apparently “traditional” views on the role of women while still indulging in secret (and not-so-secret) vices. On the other hand, his modern wife Binta invokes Islamic justification for her behavior. In this way, while staying within acceptable structures of interpretation, Albashi complicates expectations about how men and women interact and what spaces they occupy, at the same time as it explores male anxieties about women’s shifting gender roles. [....] [Here I skip ahead about a page]

The assumption that women are merely spectators in the public debate of men is metaphorically deconstructed when, following a childish fight instigated by the main male characters Umar, the all-male basketball game morphs into a Bollywood style song and dance number. Here, the female students are transformed from spectators of the game to active participants as they dance alongside the men and join their voices to the song. In her explication of Zainab Alkali’s novel The Stillborn, Linda Hunter suggests that dance is a metaphor that runs throughout the novel in signaling the junctures in the framing metaphor of life as a journey. Similarly, this opening dance sequence provides a challenge from the women to the men: a contest to see who is the best dancer. “Hey boys, come and learn a dance step. When I dance this way, that way, you follow the steps.” When Binta, the powerful female protagonist of the film, dances across the screen, the female voice sings, “Let’s compete, and see who is the master. I am the best, therefore watch me.” [Figure 2] This opening provides a symbolic thesis statement for the rest of the film, in which women join the public world of men. The dueling call and response between male and female voices also indicates a balance that is achievable in the visual representation of a man and woman dancing together: A little later they sing, “we have something in common, so let’s dance together,” yet the challenge remains, couched between intimate stanzas about romantic love. Binta does, in fact, prove to be the master, in her subsequent marriage to Umar, who had interrupted the game with a senseless quarrel. The rest of the film heightens this conflict between Binta, as master, and Umar as spoilsport, always in conflict with his peers in the game and dance of life, perhaps a subtle comment on the critics always "quarreling" with "modern" ways of life.
If the dancing of the women alongside the men metaphorically re-enacts the new competition in the public sphere between men and women, the movement of the women’s bodies to “romantic” lyrics on an outside basketball court also openly acknowledges the sexuality of the female body, previously hidden in the enclosed domestic space. [Figure 3] Umar’s anxiety over his girlfriend’s public career manifests itself in a concern about her sexuality. [...] kazakazakaza

Comments/Critiques welcome. For more info, wait for the dissertation... (LOL)

Film clip from and analysis regarding:
Albashi (Salary). Dir. Abbas Sadiq, Prod. Zainab Idris. Kano: Crown Studio, 2005


Fred said...

You have the kernel of a nice treatise, C. I don't understand what connection exists between Umar's "traditional" views about women and his indulgence in secret vices though. Did you want me to make one up?

How exactly is it possible for a "modern" woman to use Islam for justification for "modern" behavior? Isn't that a contradiction in terms? ;-)

You know what I would have been impressed by more? If the all-male basketball game had morphed into an all-female game with the men on the sidelines. The fact the males are suddenly prancing around singing and dancing is not indicative of much beyond a certain latent femininity--which I'll expand on later--"framing" metaphor notwithstanding.

I'm approaching this from a western attitude, but the last thing I would be thinking of questioning is my wife's sexuality if I were flitting around a basketball court with my buddies clapping, singing, and dancing. The only way it could be worse is if I were wearing make-up and a tutu.

There are some disjointed, not easily followed lines of thinking in the last paragraph though, I had to work to make the connections and I'm a very lazy reader (and person).

Talatu-Carmen said...

Hi Fred,
thanks for the feedback. It IS helpful, and I will try to respond more later. I think what you are picking up on is the brevity which I noticed when rereading it. I need to expand it a great deal more. I agree with you that it would have been much more of a flipping of roles if the women had begun playing basketball with the men on the sidelines. And you are right that that last paragraph is not developed enough... It was not a part of the original paper, and I added it in at the last minute a few weeks ago. However, I do think the song and dance (which almost all Hausa films have, continuing in a tradition that draws both on Bollywood and older forms of Hausa performance) is significant both in signalling a space where men and women interact publically together, as well as signalling male anxieties about public sexuality and women. [The dancing and singing is one of the major things that critics pick on in Hausa film--ie. dancing and singing between men and women is not "proper"...] I actually cut that paragraph off right before it transitioned into another scene where Umar comes across Binta talking with a group of male students, while standing in the doorway [liminal space between inside and outside] of her hostel room. The boys are advising her about Umar's bad charachter, but Umar reads it as a sexually suggestive situation.

The dancing and singing also serve as transitional/developmental elements of the film--which can't be dismissed quite as easily as a mere "latent femininity" on the part of the men--although that might be an interesting idea to think about. Part of what the film does is flip gender roles so that we have Binta as a director of a hospital bringing home the salary, while Umar sits at home reading magazines.

As for the "modern" woman using Islam for justification for her behaviour over and against the corrupt behaviour of her husband... um, yes, that is quite possible.... And if you were to see the whole film and read my entire analysis of it, you might understand that more. But that is not a part of this specific section--and I don't necessarily want to get into in the comments section of this blog right now.

So, yeah, there's a lot there. These comments are very helpful in helping me see where I might be able to further develop/explain.


Texter said...

Drawing on my own knowledge (of my own specialization - which you know), Binta's adoption of a modern identity which is then articulated in terms of Islam makes a lot of sense. I am not totally familiar about what is published in Nigerian studies but I can refer you to works in that speak to this very issue: see much contemporary work by Sondra Hale (her book is Gender Politics in Sudan, but she has a few more recent articles that deal with elite Muslim Sudanese women's adoption of "Islamic" identity over and above an "Arab" identity (often embodied by men) perceived as "unmodern"/uncivilized etc etc.) Also see the book New Spaces and Old Frontiers: women, social space and Islamization in Sudan by Salma Ahmed Nageeb (2004). Perhaps this reading will not translate exactly for your work in northern Nigeria, but perhaps the cross-fertilization will be helpful... I'm enjoying the intellectual sharing - too bad we do not live closer, so as to have a reading group...
(p.s. - I was taken by the issue of money in the excerpts you shared - the title and then the small bit that ends the analysis)

Talatu-Carmen said...


Thank you so much for these references. They are especially helpful, because I don't feel like I am well enough acquainted with this specific area, which is crucial to my argument. (I have been working mostly with works by Connie Stephans, Ousseina Alidou, Novian Whitsitt, Brian Larkin, Abdalla Adamu, etc. But I was still feeling like I wasn't on very stable ground.) I will add these books to my prelims list ASAP! I currently have out of the library the volume edited by Kenneth Harrow, The Marabout and the Muse: New Approaches to Islam in African Literature, which I haven't started reading yet, but looks quite good. And I definitely think there is a lot of more pan-African cross-fertilization that goes on on the ground (the last film I saw, Sarmadan, has charachters from Somolia and Niger), so works that deal with the Sudan, will be very helpful in getting a wider perspective. It would be great to have a reading group, but I love how the blog makes physical distance a little less confining.

As for the monetary aspect, yes, that is at the heart of the film, and perhaps I'll post more of the paper where I discuss that. But the name of the film is Salary, and much of the conflict centres around Binta's role as provider of the household income. Her role is a more developed version of that of Umar's mother, who is also seen as the "head of the household." She is shown soley in the context of her office, seated behind a large desk.