I marvel at the number of Ethiopian movies that are out in cinemas and video stores these days. Ironically, the range of topics addressed in these movies is so limited that one wonders if nothing else of interest is happening or has happened in the country. Without exaggeration, the storyline of most of the movies out there goes like this. A rich girl comes to love a poor boy but without the approval of her friends and family. In the end, love wins and the two become one. Well, one might argue that the movie makers are at least proving a good point, which is that not all women are ‘gold-diggers’. On the other hand, these movies also imply that the majority of women in the real world are in fact ‘gold-diggers’, thereby justifying the need to make movies proving the contrary. As a woman myself, I find the latter view of women quite undignified. Women in our society are quite diverse and cannot the least bit be represented by such a lowly view.
One can observe dryness not only in the range of topics covered but also in the genre of the movies. Is romantic comedy or romance the only genres viewers are interested in? What happened to other movie genres we know of in American movies? One can think of a list that includes thriller, horror, biographies, science-fiction and historical genres. Maybe the fact that our film-making technologies are not that advanced can justify the lack of thriller, horror and science-fiction movies. But are we in short of Ethiopians with remarkable achievements whom we can celebrate through our movies? Why don’t we tell their stories so that people can learn from them? The honorable musician Tilahun Gessesse, the great runner Abebe Bikila, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, the international supermodel Liya Kebede, the renowned space scientist Kitaw Ejigu, the remarkable artist Afework Tekle and the economist Eleni Gabre-Medhin (PhD) are only the very few of the noteworthy individuals whose story we can tell.
Ethiopia has a rich history which our movie makers can bring back to life. Historical moments such as the suicide of Emperor Tewodros II, the ruling period of Emperess Zewditu, the battle of Adwa and the exile of the Emperor Haile Selassie I are few of the historical moments we can commemorate through our movies. Of course, one should acknowledge those movies that have been made about pressing societal issues, which include among others Ethiopians’ gruesome exiles through the deserts of Africa, the financial challenges of getting treatment for kidney disease in Ethiopia and the problem of girls’ abduction in rural areas of the country. But so much more can be done.
Sometimes I wonder if our movies really represent our diverse society. I never fail to be amazed by the huge and glamorous houses that are featured in the movies. Honestly, what percent of our population has seen (let alone lives in) such extravagant houses? Are these houses used as selling points of our movies? A recent World Bank report shows that around 80 percent of our population lives in rural areas. Most of our movies feature life in the city (mostly Addis Ababa) and leaves viewers almost ignorant of what life in other parts of the country might look like. Ethiopia is a nation with more than 80 ethnic groups with each having its own culture, language, custom and tradition. How many of these ethnic groups are represented in our movies? I leave the answers to the reader.
I am no expert in movie making but as a viewer I can tell when a person has no training or is not endowed with the gift of acting. When it comes to women actresses, I usually ask myself, do these women get a role as a result of their acting skills or their beautiful looks? I suspect the answer is the latter. But then again, movies are supposed to represent the women that we see in our everyday lives and the beautiful women featured in our movies account for an insignificant share of the pool. One a more positive note, the fast growth in the number of Ethiopian movies is something to be commended. An increase in the volume of movies induces competition which in turn acts as a positive driver of quality. I believe it is high time to revolutionize the film industry. In the process, let us not lose touch of our Ethiopian culture and tradition. Let us first dig, understand and capture the real Ethiopian way of life before attempting to reflect Western values.