Once I became aware of myself, it occurred to me that maybe I should add to the world’s store of stories.
-Ama Ata Aidoo
On 17th September, The African Women’s Development Fund launched The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo, a documentary on the life and work of critically acclaimed Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo, at the British Council in Accra. The documentary was directed and produced by Yaba Badoe and co-produced by Amina Mama for Fadoa Films. AWDF contributed 40% funding for the project with the remaining 60% accumulated through crowdsourcing on IndieGogo.
AWDF CEO, Theo Sowa, introduced the documentary and its protagonist with these words: “Here we celebrate one of our icons – an African leader who pushes for social justice and change. She has done so much for all of us. She’s marked by a love for her people today and forever. Using an evocative and magical medium, Yaba and Amina have helped us to understand this phenomenon in our world. She is representative of African women who are strong, agile, and flexible and have been leaders on our continent for ages. Her words will continue as a model for younger generations.”
Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo
Prof. Esi Sutherland-Addy, who served as a member of the film’s Advisory Committee, also offered opening remarks. She humored the audience with her personal insights of the writer, describing her ‘feisty’ character, praising her rare ability to reflect critical questions in her characters, and her adeptness at baking pineapple pie. As Sutherland-Addy mused, “This film plunges us deep into Ama Ata Aidoo’s world. She is a playwright, essayist, poet, novelist, short story writer, academic and politically conscious intellectual. What force caused such a person to emerge in our literary scene?” She highlighted the need for women’s stories to be told and encouraged events such as these to promote the visibility of African women.
Prof. Esi Sutherland Addy’s opening remarks
Kinna Likimani, Ama Ata Aidoo’s daughter, spoke on her mother’s behalf stating how “increasingly pensive and nervous she became as we were getting closer to this day. She kept saying, there’s so much exposure!” Kinna revealed that three books had been written about Aidoo’s life detailing that this was a great accomplishment preceding the documentary. Kinna shared, “She has labored to write while being an African woman – also mother, grandmother, daughter, caregiver, teacher and philanthropist. She struggles to be appreciative of what she’s done, mournful about the books she hasn’t written.”
Kinna explained that, “growing up, no one in her life discouraged her from writing.” In fact, Aidoo was supported by anchors from her early days in Abeadzi Kyiakor to her studies at Wesley Girls [where a teacher gave her a typewriter] and the University of Ghana-Legon, teaching at the University of Cape Coast and working within an evolving sisterhood of African women writers. Kinna continued, “her life is situated within a community of women writers, academics and filmmakers. In many ways, this documentary is a coming together of African women creators.”
Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo and Kinna Likimani
In the film, Aidoo’s writing journey is documented through snippets of her life history. She reads excerpts from a diverse archive including Dilemma of a Ghost (1965), Our Sister Killjoy (1977) and Changes: A Love Story (1991). This adds a serene pace to the tone of the documentary. The film portrays her relationship with mentor Efua Sutherland and fellow writers Mariama Ba and Buchi Emecheta, among others.
Aidoo’s story takes the audience on her journey from start to finish. The film also illustrates how Aidoo’s love of storytelling came from her mother who would share stories in the early hours of the morning. An insistence on showing her hometown gave the audience a better insight into the early days of her life there as daughter of a chief and part of the royal family. Aidoo explains the Fante folktale culture of her childhood, giving the audience an opportunity to witness a story being performed live with music and dance.
Her ability as a writer to develop complex characters that signal the demands of social life is matched by a close attention to the contradictions within relationships. As Aidoo muses in the film, “Ghanaians have always been nervous about the presence of people from the diaspora here. This is in part because they remind us of what we don’t want to deal with. In the wake of the slave trade, we ourselves were colonized. We were conquered and we have not really dealt with the implications of colonization…So the relationship between us and the African diaspora is charged.”
Her literary diversity is further highlighted in the range of stories she tells. The stories are timeless in the sense that the characters and attitudes portrayed are still very much relevant today as is evident in No Sweetness Here (1970). Aidoo is also a strong believer in the capacity of African communities to solve problems experienced. She uses literature to encourage her audience to consider social issues more seriously.
A Q+A followed with the filmmakers and Aidoo providing greater insights into her personality and range of work. As Ghana’s Minister of Education from 1983-84, she encouraged the recruitment and development of women teachers. Aidoo shared that this is the accomplishment she was most proud of during her tenure. Ultimately, the author left this position because writing is and has always been her calling. The scene that stood out most in the film was how speechless Aidoo was by the crowd’s reaction at the close of Anowa, performed by theater students from the University of California, Santa Barbara. The performance of Aidoo’s work by these students translates the vast impact of her work not only for Literature but also for Theater and Performance Studies. There is also a deep sense that Aidoo is impacted by the influence her work has achieved among fellow writers and admirers.
Open forum with Yaba Badoe, Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo, Prof. Esi Sutherland Addy and Amina Mama
Ama Ata Aidoo discussed her own struggle with publishers and the lack of support in the publishing world for African writers, particularly African women writers. She highlighted that this was now changing with the success of writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This conversation sparked a fundraising call to boost AWDF’s support of women organizations in Art, Culture and Sports. DVDs of the film were then auctioned and pledges were made by multiple audience members, totaling more than 11,000GHC.
Abigail Burgesson auctioning copies of the Documentary
The filmmakers also discussed the challenges experienced making The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo over the last three years. Yaba Badoe and Amina Mama gave greater perspective on the process of creating a documentary and encouraged more women to get into the filmmaking practice by portraying the affirming aspects of African cultures. Amina Mama detailed, “Many people outside of the continent are only interested in Africans suffering. We did experience difficulty in mobilizing resources for the film. But we can never let money detain us because we have great things to do. This film is a movement and it built its own community.”
By Shakira Chambas and Sionne Neely
Photos by Seth Adu-Amankwah