Aborting in Chad is illegal. Any woman who has an abortion faces a prison sentence of between five and ten years. In addition, the pointing out of a macho community that crushes them. The doctors who help them are disqualified and can also go to jail. Obtaining an abortion is a risky mission in which the women who decide to do it put their lives in danger by doing it clandestinely.
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When the movie was released last year Lingui, sacred ties, at the Cannes Film Festival, no one expected that rights that seemed achieved and assured would be in danger in countries like the US. Now, after the Supreme Court ruling that opens the possibility for the most conservative states to ban abortion, the need for films like this one is clear, showing that one must never take a step back and that the difference between Africa and the Western countries, sometimes it is not as big as it seems from our vantage point of privileges.
The title of the film refers to “a concept of traditional culture that means living together.” “Do it with cohesion and in peace, and Lingui It speaks of that solidarity we have towards others, of taking care of ourselves in community. It is an idea of solidarity”, explains director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. His film was born from reading the newspapers in Chad, where there were always stories about “children strangled in latrines, in garbage, in a well…”. “That reminded me of something that traumatized me in my childhood, when I was seven years old and they found a newborn in my city and I remember women talking about it trying not to let me know. Years later I realized that this tragedy was still happening and I wanted to show it on film,” he says.
The film shows the sisterhood that arises among the women of the community, the only ones who will protect young María in her decision to abort. Women who for the director are “everyday heroines”. “They are women who struggle and who try to change their daily lives. In the topography of the houses in Chad we have a first patio that belongs to the men, and another one further back, which is the women’s. Until now I had been in that first courtyard telling stories of men. Now I have entered the women’s world and I am going to start telling their stories”.
Until now her cinema had belonged to men, but she believes that “it is important to tell what happens to them, because women have much more than the house”. “It is a tribute to all of them, also to those who took care of me, my mother, my grandmother. My grandmother divorced in 1941, she took her son and put him on a horse to go. They chased her and snatched the child from her. She never remarried, but she fought her whole life. They are women like her who exist and who fight for things to change and it is a tribute to these figures through this film”, says the director, one of the few filmmakers who shows the reality of women in Africa.
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun knows that Lingui is now “even more current”, because it is clear that “when it comes to women’s rights, the fight never ends, because there is always a tendency to regress, to go backwards”. “There will always be someone who takes away an acquired right. Patriarchy never dies, it’s like a weed, you pull it out and it grows back. It continues to take up space and will always go against the weakest. Unfortunately, if we take the example of abortion and what has happened in the US, we see that women have not won the battle.
Patriarchy never dies, it’s like a weed, you pull it out and it grows back. It continues to take up space and will always go against the weakest
Mahamat Saleh Haroun
— Film director
For the director there are two culprits in this situation, “the patriarchy and religion, which want to control the body of women and enjoy that body.” “Prevent women from having rights over it and being able to decide what they want to do with it. That is the tragedy. It is a kind of colonization of the body of women, who cannot have their own autonomy over themselves. That is a constant in history, since the dawn of time. That is why we must all be feminists, because feminism is a kind of humanism and that should be the primary value on this earth.”
Lingui has managed to premiere in Chad. Just a week ago it was screened thanks to an association that has shown it throughout the country and organized debates with women to talk about abortion in the country. A “formidable” welcome that has even led to the formation of assemblies to demand the right to abortion in the country. The leading actress has become a symbol of her and has even been asked “to be the spokesperson for the association.” Those who have not seen it are “the Islamists”: “If you ask me about the Islamists, well, I will tell you that they have not said anything because they have not seen it. The movie hasn’t been on TV and they don’t go to the movies, so they haven’t seen the movie and they haven’t messed with us.”