The art of Ama Ata Aidoo – A Review of the Documentary

The much awaited Yaba Badoe and Amina Mama documentary, The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo, was finally premiered last night, Wednesday, September 17th 2014 at the British Council.

Couched in an atmosphere of celebration, the event organized by the African Women’s Development Fund, hosted writers, academia, filmmakers, and lovers of the legacy that is Ama Ata Aidoo.

All present undertook the journey into the ‘mindscape’ of the author, poet, playwright, academic, activist, feminist, and beacon to writers the world over.

 

ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARY

The art of Ama Ata Aidoo is a very thrilling exploration of the vast universe that is Ama Ata Aidoo’s mind and it’s phenomenal expression in her literary works which have so shaken up the very foundations of literature in Ghana and Africa.

Traversing her life from the inception of her art to its explosion, the documentary gives quite a vivid insight into the cultural, societal, and familial influences that, in many ways, were the inception of the great literary mind that was Ama Ata Aidoo’s.

In the documentary, Ama Ata Aidoo remembers stories her mother used to tell her in the early mornings in the village (not the usual nighttime storytelling style), of a preacher-man/ evangelist who came by the village when she was young, of her royal birth and subsequent disregard for the institution of royalty.

In the nostalgia of black-and-white, sepia-tinted pictures, she also shares the fairly pivotal influence of a teacher in Wesley Girls High school who gave a young Ama Ata Aidoo her first typewriter after she expressed the ‘crazy’ desire to be a writer.

Her time in Takoradi was another pivotal moment in Ama’s life where she participated in a Christmas story competition running in the Daily Graphic at the time.

Her story was published, which turned out to be a milestone for her, being the very first of her work that got published. And she got paid!

With interviews of Prof. Carole Boyce Davies and Prof. Anne V. Adams from Cornell University, Prof Irwin Appel of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Prof. Nana Wilson-Tagoe (University of Missouri), the documentary encouraged intense contemplation, as well as self-introspection, into the very controversial issues Ama Ata Aidoo was fearless to raise in her works.

She says quite bluntly of controversy, “How can you call yourself a writer, if you’re running away from controversial issues?” And so controversial issues there were:

 

Yaba Badoe (right) and Ama Ata Aidoo in conversation at the AWDF African Women in Film Forum
Yaba Badoe (right) and Ama Ata Aidoo in conversation at the AWDF African Women in Film Forum

 

 

  1. The contemporary Ghanaian woman battling the stereotype. Talking about the character Esi in her novel Changes in the documentary, Ama Ata Aidoo shared the numerous accusations readers made of her, “She’s cold”, “She’s selfish”, “She’s not a good mother”, etc. and in her blunt and matter-of-fact way, Ama Ata Aidoo reminds all outraged sensibilities that this earth is not only for the warm, the unselfish, and good mothers.

 

  1. The dark business of slavery and the guilt-driven Ghanaian treatment of a past they would rather not deal with. Yaba and Amina’s documentary explored Theatre in telling the story of Ama Ata Aidoo’s words and their universal truth. In deliberate juxtaposition, Yaba Badoe and Amina Mama show scenes from the performance of ‘Anowa at the University of California , Santa Babara, in conjunction with Ama Ata Aidoo reading the words of the play. I find what this did for me as a viewer was a play on the very different ways in which her Ama’s words could be interpreted in the different voices that were employed.  Reading (and acting) a section of Anowa which recounted what her grandmother said to her about places she’d been to, Ama Ata Aidoo’s voice was motherly, and softly censorial, as is usual of a Ghanaian grandmother to her eager and curious grandchild. The African American actress, Erin Pettigrew, said those very same words with all the weight of a painful history of which she was a consequence of. Where ‘places’ was a thing of sad and painful wonder in an older Ama Ata Aidoo’s voice, ‘places’ in young Erin’s voice had a ring of desperation and an exuberant, tearful anger and indignation. Where Anowa would have been interpreted as a sad love story, excerpts from this play hinted a more heavy-handed focus on the issues of slavery which Ama Ata Aidoo raised in that timeless play. “Ghanaians have always been nervous of the presence of the Diaspora here,” Ama Ata Aidoo says.In interviews about the play included in the documentary, the many factors which might have influenced the mindscape of Ama Ata Aidoo as she wrote Anowa  are examined: She being a Ghanaian writer in the United States of America in the ‘sixties, a time of the Black Civil Rights movements, a time of burgeoning feminism, the hippie revolution and so much more. All of this played a huge part in the themes and allegory probed into in Anowa.

 

  1. Language. Speaking about the medium she writes in: English, Ama Ata Aidoo shared that since it was English she had chosen to write in, she would make sure all her characters were as authentically Ghanaian as possible which informs her very unique style of speech, using simple words in symbolic ways, very much like the proverbial speech of Ghanaian local languages.4. Her phenomenal work Our sister Killjoy and her hints on the topic of lesbianism in the piece. Ama Ata Aidoo shared how she was attacked from both sides; by Ghanaians who accused her of introducing something foreign to Ghana and lesbians who accused her of not thoroughly dealing with it because she  disapproved.5. Her work as the Minister of Education, the unapologetic chauvinism of parliament and how it interfered with her writing. She spoke very candidly, as is her style, of how in Cabinet, when the men spoke, everyone treated it as important, but when she began to speak, “suddenly, those who were smokers would light a cigarette, others would suddenly want to pass notes” and such in the typical, chauvinistic manner with which most Ghanaian men treat women, leaders or not. Even worse, was how her work as a writer was interfered with due to her ministerial duties, to which the very wise Ama reflected, “Writers, just write. Everything else is secondary.”

 

  1.  The Woman’s story that is never told. “Women’s biographies and stories are not told, women do not take the attribution that they ought to take and this is why we ought to be proud of this documentary, in this most provocative medium,” Prof.  Esi Sutherland said in her speech at the premiere of the documentary. And that was what we did last night, celebrate a phenomenal woman whose fearlessness and incredible gift has left a legacy that spans continents and cultures to become something universal.

 

My only qualm was that there was very little shown of the great impact of Ama Ata Aidoo on Ghanaian pupils and students.

I felt a holistic story of such a universal, and national, figure was not complete without this.

Though the scenes of Anowa, Dilemma of a Ghost, being treated in an American university was a powerful way of showing that the relevance of Ama Ata Aidoo’s work had gone beyond the Ghanaian shores, Ghanaian school children who read her work as prescribed literature, teachers of all levels who teach her work, were also scenes I felt needed to be included.

This would have added great perspective in telling about the national legend Ama Ata Aidoo is for us as Ghanaians.

On the whole however, the documentary  is outstanding in portraying how Ama Ata Aidoo has become not just a Ghanaian song of celebration, but a timeless tune that is sung across continents and cultures, across races and differences, to become a cosmic figure, not just in Ghanaian, African or African American literature, but Literature as a whole.

 

By: Nana Akosua Hanson/citifmonline.com/Ghana

 

 

 

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