History of women in film, TV in Zim

Joyce Jenje Makwenda Inside Out
FILM, is one of the arts disciplines that women use as a way of communicating their artistic expressions and also as a tool for change. Nonetheless, there were certain sections in the discipline they were more comfortable or which they were made to feel comfortable with; these are acting and working as

production assistants.

There was a time when there were no women in producing, directing, set design, camera, editing — this is because of the technicalities which were involved in these sections, but with time women are also being involved in the varieties.

Some of the women who were champions in acting in different eras are Lina Mataka, Kubi Chaza Indi, Susan Chenjerayi, Jesesi Mungoshi, Margaret Indi-Mhlanga, Mary Ann Mandishona, Sitembeni Makawa, Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana and Marian Kunonga. Some later became producers or directors. Most of the women who became producers said they wanted to portray positive images of women.

Women who were/are involved in producing and directing are — Kubi Indi, Miriam Patsanza, Rhoda Mandaza, Tsitsi Dangarembgwa, Ingrid Sinclair, Dorothy Chidzawo, Marian Kunonga, Mary Ann Mandishona, Rumbi Katedza, Jack Cahi, Anne Holmes, Agnes Gwatiringa, Dorothy Meck, Angeline Dimingo, Sizakele Mkwedini, Tandiwe Jenje, Prudence Uriri and many others. Women have also been involved in set design, these are Bev Matherson, Teridah Sewera, Carine Tredgold and Heather Cameron.

Makeup artistry0 is also an area were women have decided to venture, some are Evelyn Gambe and Teridah Sewera who is also set designer. Women in film are also making their mark as editors and some of them are Cathline Tavagwisa, Sylvia Vassilatos who is also a videographer, Dorothy Meck is now a producer/director, but she started off as a production assistant then she became an editor.

While women in film have done well in a certain genre most of them at the end of the day wear many hats and there are some who can do almost everything; acting, production assistant, directing and producing.

Film is a way of telling stories in a dynamic and accessible way to a wider audience, it combines some visual arts with performance (cinematography and audio). It is a modern day way of ‘storytelling’, the ‘storytelling’ practise which was practiced pasichigare/emandulo —motion pictures would be created in one’s head by the way the storyteller told their story. The story would include narrative, performance, then she would mimic the characters of the animals, or the people she was talking about, by singing, dancing; and the character came to life.

Stephen Chigorimbo a filmmaker — known as the father of film in Zimbabwe, and has seen the development of film from the colonial to post colonial periods —says that he understood arts, because of the women who were in his life; his mother, grandmother and his aunts. He attributes the lack of participation of women in film, particularly by the time he got involved in film and theatre from the 1960’s to the late 1990’s, to the way the African family structure was confused by a number of dynamics. “Women were left mostly in the rural areas while their husbands, the fathers of the family had gone to work in the city.

“Women were seen as inferior and they had become irrelevant to social, political and economical structures of the society ,therefore, they could not become as important as they were during pasichigare/endulo (pre-colonial) days.” Chigorimbo explained.

Stephen Chigorimbo produced and directed the first movie by an independent black person in 1992 which he also acted in. The film was initially called “Nhaka Yedu” and then changed to “Gocha Nyama”. Some of the women actors featured were Nomsa Sibanda, Maria Nyakuseni, Anna Maponga, Florence Chinyati, Helen Mhlanga, Mrs Mathau, Susan Mapfumo (Musican in the film) and Margaret Indi-Mhlanga. While Stephen Chigorimbo’s film was not on women’s issues per se, but on environmental issues, which touched on a number of topics, thus, the representation of women artistes was balanced. This being one of the early independent films by a black person in Zimbabwe, it encouraged other women to realise that they could also be actors.

The film which was to follow the coming year was Neria and it addressed women’s issues and the main character was a woman, Neria, played by Jesesi Mungoshi. Women understood this new way of telling stories. One of the earliest women to be involved in film — advertising, which made an impact on the population was Lina Mattaka in the 1950s. Lina Mattaka was a supporting act to her husband who was the main actor. In musical films Lina Mattaka in the 1950s and in 1994 had a leading role as a vocalist just like her husband.

The musical films increased in the mid-50s to the 60s during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, while this was a way of keeping Africans entertained in their black areas, which were in the urban townships and rural areas where most of the black population lived, and making sure that they did not become part of the city centre entertainment. This heralded a new era of black people being featured in films and women being part of them.

Women were also filmed doing their work in women’s clubs, and this was also aired through mobile cinema as a way of teaching women how to look after their families, their husbands and their communities in line with modern values.

It was a joy for black people to see themselves in this new way of telling stories — film. Women who were involved in clubs and prominent women of the time were filmed and they were profiled when they had functions, or were going out of the country. Some of the women who were filmed in the 50s, 60s were Mrs Mutsvairo, Muriel Rosin, Tsitsi Munyati, Rachel Hlazo and other women who belonged to clubs and other social gatherings.

The end of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland saw this initiative of filming musical groups and advertising by black people slowing down. During UDI this kind of filming continued, but not at the scale that the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland had introduced it and had rolled it out.

The 60s saw the introduction of television in Rhodesia and focus was now put more on television production. There were very few black people who were featured on television and at some point they disappeared completely.

One of the few women who were featured on television in the 1970s was Tsitsi Munyati in the programme called “Bvukumbwe”. Tsitsi Munyati had conceptualised the programme and she became the compiler and presenter. Children from her area, Highfield where she lived were featured in the programme and they were happy to see themselves on television, and black viewers were also happy to see black faces on television. During that time not many black people owned television sets.

There were few film productions in the country then Rhodesia and a few black people were involved in the films in different capacities —from the 60s to the 70s. Women also featured in the films. Some of the black women who acted in the films were Marci Mushore, Charmaine Mangwende, Marci Chiweshe, Margaret Indi-Mhlanga. Women of coloured race (mixed race, black and white descent) were featured more as a way to represent black women to the international community.

The 70s saw the first Zimbabwean black woman Kubi Chaza who is now known as Kubi Chaza — Indi or Kubi Indi, acting in an international movie — “James Bond: Live and Let Die”, in 1973. She acted as a saleswoman picking up James Bond. It was an action packed movie. Those who used to go to bioscopes in the 70s know what I am talking about.

During the 80s and 90s, Susan Chenjerayi featured in one of the early post independent television series. She was called Amai Rwizi and her role was that of an obedient wife. The husband Mukadota was involved with several women and she accepted them and she would not complain, and as if it was not enough, the husband was also involved in shady deals, and as a “good wife” she would cover up for him.

Besides Susan Chenjerayi (Amai Rwizi) other female actors in the drama series Mukadota were Juliet Masunda who featured as Amai Phineas and Jane Chenjerayi, Susan Chenjerayi’s daughter and one of the most prominent musicians of our time Dorothy Masuka featured as a guest actor in the television series.

When Zimbabwe attained independence there was a need to tell Zimbabwean stories in a Zimbabwean — African way which the populace was starved of. More dramas were produced — “Inongova Njake Njake”, “Ndabve Zera”, and more.

Some of the early dramas to be produced during post independence were written, produced and directed by men among them were Chiundura Moyo. One of the books which was written by Charles Mungoshi — “Inongova Njake Njake” was produced by Ramious Musasa who produced various drama series in the 80s and 90s. Some of the women who were involved in the early post independence dramas were Jesesi Mungoshi, who became one of the women who championed television drama. She was featured in “Inongova Njake Njake” and “Ndabve Zera”, Jesesi’s husband Charles Mungoshi was also featured in “Ndabve Zera” drama series as Jesesi’s boyfriend and Aaron Chiwundura Moyo was Jesesi’s husband in the drama.

As the art of film and television drama progressed, it became apparent to use this form of art in order to address gender imbalances. Women’s issues had to be discussed through this medium. “Ndabve Zera” was a drama which discussed issues of majority age which enabled women to be independent human beings.

The drama got Jesesi into problems — a man was not amused when he met Jesesi and asked her what she was trying to do. Although it was a traumatic experience today Jesesi laughs about it, she explains the incident: “I started having problems moving in the streets when I was featured in Aaron Chiundura’s drama “Ndabve Zera”. I was having problems walking in the streets because the drama was gender-based. It talked about equal rights, encouraging men to wash napkins and that they should also cook”.

Women continue to use film and television as effective mediums of communication.

  • Joyce Jenje Makwenda is the Producer/Director of Zimbabwe Township Music Documentary (1992) and other documentaries. She can be contacted on [email protected]
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