This gripping Tanzanian drama explores four distinct stories that smartly questions the social pressures placed on womanhood.
The new East African feature film Binti ー which translates to "Her Life" ー explores how contemporary Tanzanian women live their lives, along with the concept of what it means to be a family in an East African community. In the film, Tanzanian filmmaker Seko Shamte directs four interconnected women, navigating social pressures.
The need to succeed is a natural human desire, yet for the African woman the need for success is beyond simple bragging rights or a pat on the back, the success represents something much bigger than just victory because society expects women to be upright at all times. Through the plot of this project, a feminist perspective is expressed, as it captures the various challenges of womanhood, as well as the need for understanding, empathy, and change.
Divided into four parts, the film opens with Tumaini (Bertha Robert), a young woman who runs a regular grocery store in the city. Tumaini’s father dies and this leaves her family with a huge debt to pay off. Unaware of his death, the debtors relentlessly came for their money. In a bid to pay up, Tumaini convinces her mother to sell her wedding ring and they eventually let go of the store as well. However, before she can make a decision, Tumaini meets a wedding gown designer, Angela (Magdalena Munisi), who had a store just next to hers.
Angela is engaged to the love of her life and seems to have it all. However, Emma, her fiance, is jealous and violent and so the relationship is abusive. Her mother constantly tells her to leave the relationship as the physical violence could lead to death but Angel is adamant on remaining in the relationship.
Stella (Helen Hartmann), one of the four protagonists, has fertility issues as both natural conception and IVF procedures have failed to provide her with a child. Ben, her husband is willing to adopt but Stella will have none of that so she puts herself through a strict physical and dietary regimen. She gets pregnant but then suffers a miscarriage which spirals into depression, one that her husband can’t help her with, and threatens to break their marriage.
Rose(Godliver Gordian) is a working mother of two boys. Running her work and household is a herculean task and her husband James offers no help. Things get further complicated when her younger son is diagnosed with a developmental condition. Throughout the play, they are forced into near-impossible situations to fulfil societal expectations, and the play brilliantly exposes this conflict by questioning what happens when our heart’s desire conflicts with societal expectations?
The story structure also manages to explain that our material realities can have a big impact on how we live. Despite going to the same school, Tumaini and Angel end up in very different situations. Stella and Rose attend the same private clinic, but while Stella can afford the medical bills due to the lesser financial burden, Rose has to reckon with how expensive caring for her son is as her husband is not ready to step in.
Through the character’s interpretation, Director Seko Shamte shows first-hand how lonely this journey is. As the screenplay progresses, we relate to the stories of these characters as they mirror the realities of life. The character’s dialogue and actions especially Rose and Stella connect deeply into my emotions as their transitions in the film reveal the troubling truths about the struggles women go through daily. The story simply holds an uncomfortable mirror up to society’s deepest flaws and prejudices. It was evident that the director intended to break the barrier between the characters and the audience by making the actors relatable while highlighting motherhood as a shared responsibility.
To conclude, Binti presents an overarching message of equality. Among the four female protagonists in each story, societal pressures mirror a sexist society at large and the gender roles women are expected to seamlessly fit into and excel in. Binti is a good watch and it currently streams exclusively on Netflix.