DER Documentary

The Al Hadji and His Wives


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by Jie Li
color, 50 min, 2006
subtitled in English and French




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The Al-Hadji and His Wives is a film portrait of a Mbororo Fulani patriarch, Al-Hadji Isa, his savvy wives, and their rebellious daughters. The documentary provides a glimpse into their everyday lives, religious and moral practices, as well as the political opinions the Al-Hadji has to offer from his particular corner of the world.

With a critical but sympathetic gaze, it also chronicles and investigates the process and rationale by which Amina, a 16-year-old daughter of the family, is forced into an unwanted marriage. While her attempted escape had been in vain, Amina has inscribed her silent protest on the walls of her mother's hut and onto the film, serving as a testimony of women's resistance and resilience under an oppressive patriarchy.

“Li puts us in that uncomfortable space between anthropologist and activist, but she doesn't let us channel our empathy into the industry of becoming a savior. Her film is honest about our role in the third world in ways that promotional videos are often not. As the closing credits roll by, I'm left with no easy way out. There's no call to action, no donation box to ease my guilt.”
— Rachel S. Wong, The Banality of Feeling: A Review of "The Al-Hadji and His Wives"
“...the patriarchy is clear, but the rebellion is a little less so. Unhappiness is not rebellion, nor is surrender—at least not successful rebellion or rebellion that leads to any kind of structural change. It is at most a Murphy-esque kind of resistance, the kind of resistance to, say, gangs achieved by staying indoors with your head down while they exchange gunfire outside. In the end, perhaps, rebellion starts small and slow, but the wives and daughters of al-Hadji have a long way to go before we can call them anything close to liberated.” — Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Second Prize, Debut Competition, Moscow International Visual Anthropology Festival, Russia, 2007
Maine African Film Festival, 2010
Festival of Visual Culture, Finland, 2009
African Studies Association Conference, New Orleans, LA, 2009
Bilan du Film Ethnographique at Musee de L'Homme, Paris, 2007
Parnu International Documentary and Anthropology Film Festival, Parnu, Estonia, 2007
Africa World Documentary Film Festival, St. Louis, MO, 2007
Mostra International Ethnographic Film Festival, Brazil, 2007
Africa World Documentary Film Festival, Lagos, Nigeria, 2007
American Anthropological Association / S.V.A. Film Festival, Washington D.C., 2007
Days of Ethnographic Film, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2007
Taiwan Public Television (rough cut), 2006


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