Representation of Women in Post-Colonial Movies

Contrary to common belief, the intentioned messages behind female figures in the movies of developing countries take no less significant than any message of the movie. Tendencies of using symbolic meanings were because of the need of create a national identity in that countries of Third World, and discourse of emancipation of women. “The Battle of Algiers” (1966), “Xala” (1975) and “The Silences of the Palace” (1994) can be considered as ideal examples of such movies that engross discourse of the improved social condition of women in society. In these movies, representation of women as wife, mother, daughter and object has to be examined separately.

First of all, it must be stated that women had different roles during the anti-colonialism war and rise of national identity. As Ella Shohat in her article1 argues Third-World feminists insist that colonialism and national resistance have impinged differently on men and women. For instance, in “The Battle of Algiers”, Algerian women are granted revolutionary agency. French soldiers’ sexism leads misperception of women; on the other hand, despite the fact that they are active members of the revolution, soldiers treating them as sex objects unconsciously. In addition, the women just become a tool that carry out orders of the men on the way to the salvation. Talking about exploitation of women, furthermore, sexism should also be stated. Seeing women as sex objects are also clearly seen in “Xala” and “The Silences of the Palace”. In the former one, El-Hadji, an elite businessman of newly emerged independent Senegal, marries to a third wife for reasons of sexism and evident consumption. In the bedroom scene of the movie, the nude image of this young wife in the photograph explicitly gives the message. In the latter movie, it is depicted that the servants of elites subjugated to sexual servitude at times. They have to be silent in order to have guarantee shelter and food.

“The Silences of the Palace”

In both of the movies, “Xala” and “The Silences of the Palace”, along with the revolution hope for change is placed in the young generations, in other words, daughters, who will continue the slow and difficult march of progress that was started by their mothers on the independence of their countries. The daughter of El-Hadji, in “Xala”, for example, resists post-colonial imperialism by speaking Wolof, their national language, instead of French, official language. The composition of one scene has strong message: in El-Hadji’s office the daughter in front of the map of Africa which symbolizes motherland, talks to her father. The map repeatedly is shown in the frame reflecting the same colors of girl’s traditional clothes. On the other hand, Alia as a young generation also represents progress in the future of the country in “The Silences of the Palace”. Khedija, Alia’s mother, is favorite servant of their master, Sidi Ali, who is served as sexual plaything. As it is indicated above, due to have better life condition at least compared to prostitution outside, staying inside is preferred by Khedija. However, parallel to national struggle in the country there is also progress to change this fate as Alia coming of age. Trying to keep Alia away from suffering her own fate, the mother struggles to destroy the tradition that will make Alia no more than an object that is singing, dancing and fulfill her masters’ sexual desire.

Taking all into consideration, along with nation awakening glorification of “the national” provides no criteria for distinguishing exactly what is worth retaining in the “national tradition”. For example, one of the strongest critics that “Xala” makes is polygamy which definitely undermines the social condition of women. Moreover, in “The Silences of the Palace” sexual slavery that has been part of long line of tradition is strongly criticized. Some of these traditions and correspondingly women’s search for their own identity and dimension still continues in Third-World countries. Such representation of women in films will continue as these societies evolve.

  1. Ella Shohat. “Post-Third-Worldist Culture: Gender, Nation, and the Cinema”
  2. Moufida Tlatli (1994). “Samt el qusur” (The Silences of the Palace)
  3. Ousmane Sembene (1975). “Xala”
  4. Gillo Pontecorvo (1966). “The Battle of Algiers”