ZERESENAY BERHANE MEHARI
There is an old proverb that has long been heard, spoken and repeated, especially in reference to the African continent. In most of its iterations, it seems to suggest the tendency of colonialists to rewrite the history of Africa in whatever context is most accommodating to the current agenda at hand. The proverb says ?Until the Lion learns to speak (or gets its own historian in other adaptations), the tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”. ?Africa has indeed for a long time had its history modified and retold in ways that seem distasteful to the indigenous people, who see the stories in a different perspective. Recently, the continent?has been finding its voice in a variety of expressions including the arts, music, dance, and film interpretations. The continent can now begin to be its own historian.
For Africa to begin telling its stories to the world through film, writers and directors like?Zeresenay Berhane Mehari have been penning their own narratives from the genuine African perspective and directing them along the same lines. Mehari who was born and raised in Ethiopia eventually moved to the United States to attend film school and achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts. Mehari has stated that he felt a great responsibility to show and tell the Ethiopian story the right way. He is the founder of Haile Addis Pictures, with which he produced his first narrative feature film Difret.
Difret premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award. It tells the stories of millions of Ethiopian girls who are presently or have sometime in the very long history of the country been subjected to the old practice of bride abduction; a girl is captured and forced to be a wife to her abductor. In this narrative, the story is told of a fourteen year old girl who kills her would be abductor and of the lawyer who defends her. The movie is in Amharic with English subtitles and was shot on location in Ethiopia.
Prior to his premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Mehari has had a strong interest in the film business. Upon Mehari?s arrival in the U.S., he wrote a letter to his father back in Ethiopia about his interest in the film industry. The response he received from his father was disappointing, indicating in very clear terms a disapproval of his chosen career path. Fortunately, Mehari continued to pursue his dreams, and the rest has been history.
Writers and directors such as Mehari should be celebrated and supported by Africans since they are the scribes of the African culture, the Lions that tell their own stories. They present real African issues in ways that non-indigenes can easily get an unbiased glimpse into the practices that exist on the African continent and the various cultures and traditions, their origins, their merits and demerits.