Review: mrs. F. (2020)

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Mrs. F. (2020)

Directed by: Chris van der Vorm | 77 minutes | documentary

‘Mrs. F.’ is about Ifeoma Fafunwa. She is a charismatic and ambitious woman who lives in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest economic center. She is a theater director by profession and she does so with heart and soul. Her current project is called Hear Word. This performance is based on true stories and is about the oppression and abuse of women. At the start of the documentary by Dutch-born Chris van der Vorm, named after her, Mrs. F. at the start of a new task. In the slum Makoko – the Venice of Africa – she wants to look for women who want to work with her to perform the play in their own neighbourhood.

After a short introduction, in which we see Mrs. F and some actresses at work on the street during one of their pop-up shows, we follow her in the Uber that takes her to Makoko. Although the driver is initially interested in exactly what she will be doing there, he expresses in no uncertain terms how he feels about the position of women and men in Nigeria. mrs. F. remains polite, but her face speaks volumes.

And that continues in the following excerpts. Before Mrs. F. can continue with her project, because she has to properly ask permission from the (obviously) male leaders of the community; the Bales (kings); pastors and priests. They listen patiently to her speech, seem to understand her intention, but the disinterest can actually be read in the faces. However, they say the opposite, but you immediately wonder whether it is sincere. The financial contribution and the schnapps that Mrs. F. as a compensation, that will make them sit a bit straighter.

And then the ladies: despite the language barrier – she only speaks a few words of Ganvie (the language spoken in Makoko), not all potential candidates for her play speak English – Mrs. F. managed to find eight women (the youngest not even an adult) who want to participate in the project. An intensive week-long workshop follows and we see how the insecure, timid women, led by Mrs. F. and with the help of her regular actresses, Joke Silva, Elvina Ibru and Bimbo Akintola, blossom into powerful women who dare to make their voices heard.

The special thing about this production is not only that there is a mix of amateurs and professional actresses and that there is personal input – it is precisely by basing the statements on personal experiences that this makes them effective – but the location is also remarkable. Especially for this performance, Mrs. F. build a podium floating on bamboo sticks, on which the names of the participants will be engraved. The intention is that after the performance this will become a permanent meeting place for the women of Makoko, who must learn to stand up for each other.

Of course the performance doesn’t have a huge impact; the documentary is real in that. There will still be men who abuse their wives, abuse their daughter or indecently grope their neighbor, men who actually think women are the lesser sex, fit only to bear children, but MiSetonu (Hear Word in Ganvie) does have something Caused: The participants have learned to stand up for themselves and speak out to the community. And girls and women will also have witnessed in the audience, who start to think about their role in society, what they can do themselves to improve their position. And there are also men who have indicated that they have adjusted their image of women. The ideal society does not exist, certainly not in Makoko, Nigeria, but the beginning is there. ‘Mrs. F.’ is a fascinating documentary, thanks in no small part to the charisma of the lead actress and some of the residents of Makoko, the sensational images of the slum and the hopeful message.

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