Wrapped in the multicolored flags of their home countries, students from the Yale African Students Association danced and embraced on Cross Campus, kicking Africa Week off with their traditional flash mob on Friday. But breaking away from traditional programming, this year’s Africa Week will also embrace a topic that remained untouched in the past years — Africa’s queer community.
This year, the theme of Africa Week is “My Africa Is: Mine.” According to YASA president Ruhi Manek ’20, the events of the week focus on “reclaiming ownership of the African narrative” by discussing topics usually held taboo — such as the African queer community. As part of that programming, YASA is hosting a Tuesday screening of the Kenyan movie Rafiki that was banned in Kenya this year due to its depiction of female homosexuality. A question and answer session with the film’s lead actress, Samantha Mugatsia, will follow the screening.
“People in our generation [in Africa] are still conservative, but a small percentage is very encouraging since they feel something emotional by going through the motions of the film from the love shown on screen,” Mugatsia told the News. “For me, it’s very important for people of color to see themselves on the TV screen — the first time I saw a woman of color on the TV screen was like poetic justice.”
Mugatsia said banning the film in Kenya drew attention to its contents and opened up dialogue about queerness in African communities.
According to YASA’s treasurer Michaellah Mapotaringa ’21, the conversation about queerness at the event is an opportunity to “shine the light on some aspects of identity that Africans shy away from.” She explained that this phenomenon happens because Africans have been raised in a culture that considers it immoral to talk about these issues.
Manek echoed this sentiment, saying that YASA wants to show that they are “allies to all communities in Africa” by discussing sensitive topics that students cannot openly talk about in their home countries.
Faith Chumo ’21 said that she hopes the movie screening will “alleviate some of the trauma” members of queer community in Africa have suffered due to intolerance.
“I’m heartened to see that this year’s iteration of the program addresses the queer African experience,” said history professor and historian of 20th-century Africa Daniel Magaziner. “Too often the queer experience on the continent — which is as complex and multifaceted — is reduced to caricatures suitable for political combat.”
Magaziner added that YASA events “demystify the continent” and promote the cultures and histories of its communities.
Mapotaringa said that this year’s theme is important because it counters both the single narrative of Africa coming from the West and the collective narrative that Africans present to counter the Western narrative.
“My Africa is going to meet you at the table as an equal partner,” said Mapotaringa. “My Africa is open for business — it’s open for trade not aid. My Africa is not going to be silent.”
The photoshoot for members of YASA in honor of Africa Week was held in the Yale Center for British Art to symbolise “taking back what was ours from the British empire,” Manek told the News.
YASA’s next event in honor of Africa Week will be the opening of an art exhibition at the Afro-American Cultural Center’s art gallery on Wednesday.