Coming out in Africa

Anthony Orliange

Manga and Sori are youngsters about to finish school. In the evening they meet, “to revise for exams”, as they tell their parents. Actually, they share amorous moments of tenderness in Sori’s car, or outside cafs.

Tired of concealing their relationship, they try to come out. But under such dire circumstances they are forced to part. Sori continues his studies: his father wants him to be his successor, the head of the company. Meanwhile, Manga becomes a fisherman and meets a nice young lady who could, as his mother hopes, set him on the right track.

With Dakan, the first African movie about homosexuality, Guinean actor Mohamed Camara tells a touching and humble love story, his first feature as a director and scriptwriter.

“I wanted to get away from the usual clichs about homosexuality,” he says of the characters’ portrayals in the film. “I wanted to show that homosexuals are also capable of having relationships based on tenderness.”

In the film, however, the relationship is never consummated. For Camara this is a deliberate choice: “I’m not gay myself,” says the 39-year-old director, who is married with two children. “I just felt it was important for Africans to speak about homosexuality. Maybe it’ll help open the minds of the continent”.

But, after Dakan was first shown at Cannes, in May 1997, Camara faced an onslaught from African journalists. At home, in Guinea, he was cursed by a local imam after his appearance in a television debate on homosexuality. “I wasn’t surprised,” he says. “homosexuality is a dead-end in the African tradition, a taboo. Especially coming from a Muslim upbringing, like I do.”

Shooting the movie in Guinea, however, went without incident. Camara’s only problem was finding an actor fit for the leading role of Manga. Being too old for the part himself, he resolved to play Sori’s father, and asked his younger brother to play the leading role.

“At first he didn’t understand what the role was about. We talked about it over months, agreeing that people are free to do what they want, and eventually he took the part. He still hasn’t seen himself on the screen. It could provoke a kind of a shock - we Africans have a strong belief in pictures. We don’t always separate the actor from the role.”

While the issue of homosexuality remains controversial in African culture, Dakan owes a lot to its African context - whether it’s the presence of the supernatural, the intolerance of the black middle class, or the fears of the older generation for the continuation of the family. The film combines magic and social satire, dealing with homosexuality in a way that has not been seen before in Africa.

Dakan will be shown for the first time on the African continent at the fifth South African Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. This will be a decisive moment for Camara, who will visit the country for the screenings. His next step will be the pan-African film festival in February 1999 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where the after-show debate will undoubtedly be lively.

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