Thoughts On: Khadija - Gambiwood?


Khadija - Gambiwood?

Thoughts On: Khadija (2016)

Made by Aisha Jobe, this is the Gambian film of the series.

The Gambia, The Smiling Coast of Africa, is a nation that has had a strong tourism industry since the 1960s. Tourism is in fact one of the most significant elements of The Gambia's economy. However, prostitution is entangled in tourism and the wider economy, which sees men, women and even children earn a living through sex work. Despite the illegalisation of prostitution and many schemes intended to prevent the spreading of sexual diseases and infection, sex working remains prevalent.

Khadija picks up on this social issue in following a girl seeking education that attempts to escape her rural village and find a better life for herself in The Gambia's capital, Banjul. With a focus on reflecting present day issues, an embraced amateur aesthetic and sound, highly melodramatic acting and a clearly limited budget and production schedule, Khadija is distinctly a commercial African film production that fits within a form of filmmaking that you can find across the continent. The centre of this form of cinema is, of course, Nigeria, and so there is a clear Nollywood influence on Khadija evident in the aesthetics, the plotting and even the acting styles and accents. However, whilst Khadija works within these acceptable conventions, it does not do so very well.

In low-end commercial African filmmaking, you can often sense that scenes are rushed. But, in Khadija, it seems that almost no effort was put into even loosely planning scenes. Just look at the blocking here:

If you look to the bottom of the frame, you can see the shoes of the woman that we are supposed to be listening to through the legs of the foregrounded character, and if you look to the centre, you can see her hand. It needn't be said, but there is no reason for the mise en scène to be this bad.

Unfortunately, there is this continual sense that the director just does not care about the technical details of this film - consider the soundtrack for instance. It is not uncommon to hear the same song played over and over again in low-budget African movies - the theme tune for Sakawa Boys still rings in my head. However, this is usually done to fill up the sound track so there aren't elongated sections of dead air. You will see this technique used a lot in Old Hollywood pictures - especially around the early 30s as filmmakers were still learning how to utilise sound. However, whilst you can find varying degrees of success with this bodge-job technique, Khadija uses its sound track in a uniquely careless manner. For example, the lyrics of this film's theme song are ridiculously direct.

As we push towards the third act, we get this flashback sequence that tells us a little about Khadija's (our main character's) aunt's background. By this point in the narrative, Khadija has left home with the hope that her aunt would ignore her father's wishes and send her to school in the city. Her hopes are never realised, however, as her aunt - who is a prostitute herself - forces her into sex work. In this flashback scene, we are then told that Aunty Angelica did go to university herself, but had to turn to prostitution because she couldn't find a job where she wouldn't be taken advantage of by her bosses. Whilst there is substance in this scene, and whilst it marks some of the better elements of this film that we will touch on soon, as we cut back to present...

... the theme tune kicks in with a segment we've not heard yet and with the lines: "Aunty 'gelica is regrettin'... that her life is full of mis'ry... ohhwwu-whoaaa-uh-whoaaa-uh-whoaaa...". You can't blame your audience for laughing at this.

The worst part of the sound track, however, is not its repetitious use of this theme song, but the fact that it uses a few songs that I'm not sure it acquired the copyright licences to use. I wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble over this, but, if you were to steal a Mariah Carey, at least put it to good use.

That said, looking past the technical downfalls of this film, there is some substance to be found in the narrative. In fact, the script is probably the strongest element of Khadija for the fact that it brings to light the issue of prostitution in The Gambia. However, whilst there is an undertone of poignant tragedy that supports the melodrama of this narrative, its commentary appears quite limited. For instance, there is a clear reference to Islamic texts and Khadījah bint Khuwaylid, Muhammad's first wife. However, this reference is confined to an implication that out main character, like Muhammad's first wife, had a strong faith. This faith for our main character is not just religious, but is bound to a belief in education. So, whilst there are allegorical parallels drawn between this narrative and stories of Khadījah bint Khuwaylid that certainly say something, they are quite weak and fail to build into something cohesive.

Nonetheless, the fact that this film attempts to be a social document that implores change - moreover, is seemingly a product of a newly emerging national cinema - is highly commendable. This social document does not reflect the complications of its subject matter by considering the economical pulls that lead to the manifestation of a sex industry. But, despite these limitations, I found this to be a watchable movie that is worth seeing if you have come this far in the post. You can then click here to see Khadija on Koollife Tv's YouTube channel, or you can watch below...

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