Vertigo Café: Fatwa against Woman Filmmaker

From a report in the Bulletin du CI-AF no. 18, December 1995, the journal of the Comité Inter-Africain sur les pratiques traditionnelles ayant effet sur la santé des femmes et des enfants.

Scenes portraying the circumcision of a young girl in the film Dilemme au feminin have provoked the Imam of the N’Djamena Grand Mosque in Chad to condemn the young woman filmmaker, Zara Yacoub.

Attempts to combat female genital mutilation in Chad have, until recently, been timid, but the national CI-AF committee is just in the early stages of launching an awareness campaign on the subject. So, Zara Yacoub’s film was extremely opportune. Her intention was to raise the curtain of silence surrounding the subject and open a national debate.

She was careful to seek advice from Christian and Muslim leaders and wrote a story, part documentary part fiction, which does not take a position. The controversial scene of the circumcision is constructed by cutting shots of a real operation together with the face of an actress.

Dilemme au feminin is the first film produced by a woman in Chad and the first film from Chad for a long time to receive international recognition. Zara Yacoub won the Prix du Sahel at FESPACO and her film won an award at the Festival of Creole and African film in Canada.

The film was finished in 1994 but it took a year of deliberation by a committee of Chad TV before it was shown. The circumcision scene elicited strong reactions from the public and religious authorities but nothing like the Imam’s fury, provoked more by the fact that a Muslim girl had been shown naked than by the mutilation itself.

On 13 October 1995, on the orders of Imam’s Council on Islamic Affairs, the 15 mosques in N’Djamena excommunicated Zara Yacoub and condemned her for having offended Islam and tarnished the image of Chad Muslims.

Zara has supporters in Chad and there have been many protests from abroad. Despite this, the Fatwa has not been lifted and Zara’s life is still in danger. Her career has been ruined; senior staff at the television are under threat and the girl who played in the film has been forced to leave school.