Binti Movie Review: An intensely real feminist film that poses tough questions
A powerful film about four women that shines an uncomfortable light on the deeply sexist society we live in
This Tanzanian drama film by Seko Shamte is an ode to the feminist perspective. Seen through four loosely interconnected stories of women and their struggles, Binti, set in Dar-es-Salaam, captures the many challenges of womanhood, and more importantly, the need for understanding, empathy and change. The overwhelming message is one of equality. The sheer burden of societal pressure placed on the four women protagonists in each tale mirrors a sexist society at large, and the gender roles women are to seamlessly fit into and excel at. Binti is a short journey through the lives of Tumaini (Bertha Robert), Angel (Magdalena Munisi), Stella (Helen Hartmann), and Rose (Godliver Gordian).
Director – Seko Shamte
Cast – Bertha Robert, Magdalena Munisi, Helen Hartmann, Godliver Gordian
Streaming On – Netflix
Tumaini runs a small convenient store. She is struggling to pay off a significant debt, and is harassed periodically for it. She asks a man from her past for help, only to be turned down when she refuses to comply with his set of conditions. In an open letter to her absent father, she states that her mother and her are getting by fine, and aren’t in need of his presence. Angel is married to a successful man who adores her and supports her dreams (she runs an exclusive wedding dress boutique). Her independent mother’s advice is a telling reminder of the domestic abuse Angel attempts to brush under the carpet. “He almost broke your arm the last time. He’ll take your life next. We’ve survived without men for all these years. We don’t need them to live,” her mother says. Whatever she chooses to do will come with serious consequences. Stella and her husband have been trying for a child through IVF. It takes a toll on them both, but her more so. The doctor says that she needs a break from the treatment, and that it’s not impossible to get pregnant in between cycles, naturally. Stella chalks up a detailed daily regimen of healthy living for them to have the best chance of conceiving. The new lifestyle pays dividends, but their joy is short-lived when she suffers a miscarriage. Despite his empathy and understanding, her husband isn’t able to extricate her from her grieving, depressed state. Finally, there’s Rose - a working
mother of two. Her hectic schedule notwithstanding, she is tasked with running things at home. Rose’s significant other just takes the least line of resistance, letting her pick up the slack. Her young boy’s constant crying and failure to engage have her worried sick, but her husband believes the boy will grow out of it. When he is diagnosed with special needs, it rocks their world. Where will this complex road lead to and what decisions lie in store?
We witness in Shamte’s film an attempt on the part of the women to move past the many roadblocks in their path to a fulfilling existence – most of which, have been placed by the men in their lives. As Tumaini puts it, her mother and her are better off without the presence of a father-figure. The remaining men in that first narrative are bad enough to contend with – be it the loan shark and his goons or the seemingly manipulative man she seeks assistance from. Parental neglect, emotional and physical abuse, the gendered outlook towards roles at home and beyond, Binti explores them all in detailed fashion. The film holds an uncomfortable mirror up to society’s deepest flaws and prejudices. Another key theme is the unrealistic burden of expectation placed on the shoulders of every woman; it doesn’t matter whether she is privileged or not. A scene in Rose’s story shows the subtlety of the sexism at play. They are at the table discussing the financial implications of sending their son to a school for special needs. Rose mentions that one of them must quit work to manage things at home. Her husband flatly refuses to be that person, despite the fact that her salary pays most of their bills. Rose’s husband may not be an abuser like Angel’s, but he is most certainly entitled by his gender.
Through four loosely interconnected tales of women, Shamte and the writers weave a complex and important story of love, loss, motherhood, and pain. The film poses several uncomfortable questions to the viewer, making one introspect long after the final scene has ended. A powerful, rapidly recited poem in Swahili is featured as the credits roll. If the message of Binti were to be captured in under five minutes, the said long verse does a fine job. In the four independent narratives, Tumaini’s and Stella’s may not have been as strong as the other two, but it is a great effort, on the whole!