62 minutes, 1998, France / Ivory Coast Producer/Directors: Philip Brooks and Laurent Bocahut in French with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
"Shot through with laughter and festivities, tender-hearted words and uninhibited gestures."
"Woubi Cheri is one of those rare documentaries which explores souls and lives."
"Avoiding the trap of applying Western perspectives to a non-Western culture, this documentary skillfully spotlights a little-seen side of Africa, addressing serious issues while retaining a light and humorous air."
"A film about male-male sexualities in West Africa, whose categories-old, new, and constantly changing-belie the often-repeated reactionary claim that homosexuality did not exist in essentialist merry olde traditional Africa"
Woubi Chéri is the first film to give African homosexuals a chance to describe their world in their own words. Often funny, sometimes ribald, but always real, this documentary introduces us to gender pioneers demanding their right to construct a distinct African homosexuality.
One needs a new language to create a new world; therefore this film begins with a vocabulary lesson. The main characters explain for us that a woubi is a male who chooses to play the role of "wife" in a relationship with another man. A yossi, is a bisexual man, perhaps married, who accepts the role of a woubi's husband. A toussou bakari is a lesbian. Controus are homophobes who oppose the woubia lifestyle.
The film introduces us to a cross-section of Abidjan's woubi community. Vincent, an immigrant from Burkina Faso, is a traditional griot and sage. Laurent defied his father's wishes that he become an auto mechanic to open a patisserie in Abidjan. Bibiche and Tatiana are cross-dressing prostitutes. Barbara, a glamorous more mature transvestite, is the leader of the tight-knit group and President of the Ivory Coast Transvestites Association. Laurent recalls this community was like a new family. "Your real family was the one you created. Nobody had to hide anything."
The transvestites once called themselves "bats" because they hide together during the day and came out only at night. Even now, Tatiana says, "It's not easy for us to go out in the daytime. They throw stones at us. It's not easy for us here in Africa...But it's our right to be different. Without the right to be different, Africa is going nowhere." With the support of their emerging community, Abidjan's woubis are beginning to claim their place in a changing Africa. Barbara explains "I do battle each time I'm out and about. I spread my magic powder to turn controus into yossis. It's like cleaning a house that is constantly dirty. You just have to keep cleaning." Her outspokenness, we learn, is not just intended for the sympathetic European filmmakers; on a trip into the country she explains the mechanics of gay sex in graphic detail to two obviously fascinated local women.
It may be instructive to compare Woubi Chéri with the Library of African Cinema's earlier release, Dakan, the first African feature film on a gay theme. This film by a heterosexual Guinean director is a liberal's cry of protest against a society which refuses to see, let alone accept, homosexual relationships. In the absence of a supportive gay community, its heroes had no choice but to disappear. Woubi Chéri is the story of those who for economic or political reasons will not disappear but are creating an undeniable gay presence in the Ivory Coast. This is not to say that all homosexuals in the Ivory Coast are as flamboyant or "out" as the woubis in this film; there are no doubt as many homosexualities emerging in Africa as anywhere else.
The woubis' "We're here and we're queer" attitude may remind some of movements in this country. But the very untraditional djémé, or feast, which ends the film will convince anyone this is gay liberation African style. Dressed in luxurious boubous, the woubis perform customarily women's dances before an appreciative crowd, straight and gay. Barbara summarizes the moral for all of us: "The third millennium will be about a mix of modern and traditional, different ways of life and sex."