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87 minutes, 1997, Guinea Director: Mohamed Camara in French and Mandikan with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
Dakan will inevitably be remembered as the first feature film on homosexuality from sub-Saharan Africa.
While "coming out" may have become primetime fare in the U.S., this film was met with angry protests when it was shot in the director's native Guinea and has generated heated debate among Africanists here as well. But beyond its controversial topic, Dakan is a contemporary African reinterpretation of the age-old Romeo and Juliet conflict between love and social convention. Director Mohamed Camara has written, "I made this film to pay tribute to those who express their love in whatever way they feel it, despite society's efforts to repress it."
Dakan begins with the most sexually explicit opening scene in African cinema. Rather than the usual rural landscape or urban panorama locating the characters in a recognizable social or geographical context, the camera focuses on an isolated couple locked in a clandestine embrace in a sports car at night. The shot becomes even more transgressive when we recognize the couple are two young men. When one of them later tells his mother he's attracted to another man, she replies: "Since time began, it's never happened. Boy's don't do that. That's all there is to it." Dakan thus becomes the story of two men who by "coming out" disappear, become invisible to their families and society, because their society has no language which recognizes their love.
In the first scene, Manga and Sori, two students in Conakry, argue and then part over whether to consumate their forbidden love; then each parent warns his son against the relationship; next each son "comes out" to his parent; they decide not to see each other again; both become ill; each family attempts to "cure" their son's homosexuality; each son tries, unsuccessfully, to form a lasting relationship with a woman; finally, they are reunited and accept their love as "destiny."
The two boys also share parallel psychological profiles; they are both only children of single parents who have invested their whole emotional lives in their sons. After the disappearance of his father, Manga's mother, Fanta, has lived only for her son. Sori's father, Bakary (played by director Camara), a successful, self-made businessman has prepared a brilliant future for his unambitious son. One can perhaps detect in these characterizations now suspect Freudian theories of the origins of homosexuality in an overly protective mother or an over-bearing father. Sori's father counsels "will power" and threatens to send him away to school. Manga's mother decides her son is crazy and forces him to go with her to a traditional healer. This provides a telling analogy to our own "witchdoctors" - psychotherapists, reprogrammers and "exodus" ministries convinced they can "cure" homosexuality. Fanta herself undergoes a dangerous "re-birthing" ritual in a newly dug grave.
Dakan does not try to present a realistic picture of Guinean society; rather it shows love taking many unexpected forms, often in defiance of social convention. Manga, for example, tells his future girlfriend, Oumou, he is married to his mother. He also tells Sori it's unfair he can't be the mother of his child. Oumou's African wet-nurse became her adopted mother after her parents were killed; Oumou in turn becomes her nurse's nurse when she falls ill. Manga doesn't hesitate to fall in love with Oumou, although she is a white woman, because they have so much else in common. Manga's mother asks him to give Sori a bracelet with the legend, "Take care of my child." In the very next scene, we see Manga taking care of Sori's son. For a moment an impossible hope flickers that, as Sori once dreamed, Manga, his child and he might all live together in rural obscurity. But no happy Hollywood ending is possible because there are no narratives available for the harmonious integraton of homosexual couples into traditional society.
In the final shot, Sori and Manga are again together in a car, this time speeding towards an uncertain future. The entire film has been, in effect, one long, anguished parenthesis between the necessary succession of the opening and closing shots. There is, however, little triumphalism and less sense that amor vincit omnia, "love conquers all." What remains is the tragic knowledge that Manga and Sori's love is both destined and destines them to lose family and social identity. As Manga and Sori disappear into the distance, all that remains is the echo of their and the viewer's loss.
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"'Coming out' and seeking acceptance is nothing new; but in this small but heartfelt film it is given fresh life...A trailblazer in the African context."
"One of the most original films showcased at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival."
"This fascinating film. . . . deals with homosexual love in contemporary Guinea. It allows us to see the dangers in supposing there can be a universal gay narrative and it is also a charming narrative."
K. Anthony Appiah, New York University
"Vibrant with a beautiful insousiance...A fresh look at a world yet to arrive, an ignored part of Africa, that only asks to be filmed so that it can breathe."