Magazine article Variety

Filmmakers Give African Women IMAGE BOOST

Magazine article Variety

Filmmakers Give African Women IMAGE BOOST

Article excerpt

Six years into a career that's seen her emerge as the queen of the Ghanaian box office, Shirley Frimpong-Manso still remembers the African movies she used to watch growing up in Accra - and the way African women were depicted onscreen.

Typically portrayed as weak and submissive, they bore no resemblance to the American stars - "women wielding guns," as the helmer says, with a laugh - who blazed their way through leading roles in Hollywood films.

More strikingly, they were nothing like the women she saw around her.

"I grew up in a totally different environment," says the 38-year-old filmmaker, who explains that she was raised in a household run by "strong African women." When Frimpong-Manso finally embarked on a career in cinema, she thought about how those portrayals were affecting young Ghanaian viewers, and made herself a promise. "It's about time we change that image of the (African) woman," she says.

Now, as Frimpong-Manso prepares for the upcoming release of her 11th feature, "Rebecca," she can reflect on her career as an award-winning writer, producer and director whose reputation for casting forceful female leads has inspired a growing number of Ghanaian women to stake a claim in this male-dominated industry.

In recent years, A-list stars like Yvonne Nelson, Kafui Danku, Yvonne Okoro and Lydia Forson have started taking on bigger roles as helmers and producers. For many, that evolution hasn't just meant giving women more power behind the scenes, but changing the way they're portrayed onscreen in this conservative West African nation. "Being an actress and being a celebrity is just a platform," says Forson, who last year released her first film, "A Letter From Adam," in which she stars as a woman who finds love in an unexpected way. "You need to do something positive with it, to give a voice (to) those who don't have a voice."

Forson notes how women in Ghanaian movies have largely been cast in one-dimensional roles in which an actress only had to be a pretty, light-skinned and tall to land a part. But with a greater number of women behind the camera, more pics are being made from a woman's point of view. According to Forson, "Female artists are being taken more seriously."

That shift is palpable in Frimpong-Manso's work, in which women aren't simply seen as wives and homemakers, or as silent, suffering foils for male protagonists. In "Scorned," the heroine is an abused housewife whose search for vengeance - and independence - turns the tables on more stereotypical plotlines. …

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