A Review of Sarah Vianney's Queens of Botswana
By Christina Schultz
When you think of Botswana, you probably wouldn’t associate the Southern African country with Heavy Metal music or rocker Kings and Queens clad in black leather. You might instead think of its independence from Britain in 1966, its vast desert landscapes (around 70% of Botswana is desert) and its peaceful stability compared to other African countries.
Yet female filmmaker Sarah Vianney took a crew to Botswana in 2017 to follow a group of such Heavy Metal rockers, known as the “Marok” in Setswana, for a week on their way to a festival in Gaborone near the border to South Africa. As we join them on their journey, we meet Queen Ludo, Queen Florah and Queen Gloria, as they call themselves in the scene, three hard working, amiable women, who happen to like the “wrong” kind of music and dress in a “non-Christian” way. It is important to note that in the mostly Christian country of Botswana, black leather is linked to Satanism.
Hearing this, you might think the Marok are a rowdy bunch of boozing, devil worshipping, trouble makers, but they are far from it. The group of young men and women tries to raise its profile in their community. They might headbang and listen to loud, unholy music but they also pick up garbage around town, they make their own creative outfits and some of them live with their parents and help out at home. So how bad can they really be? As it turns out, not at all.
In Queens of Botswana, Vianney reveals a beautiful story of women searching for freedom, liberation, excitement and even empowerment. However, it doesn’t get to their heads (as it might in the Western World, I might add). The Queens have found a tight-knit group of people who understand them and allow them an escape from their daily routines. The festival in Gaborone is the highlight of the Queens’ year and the 52-minute documentary closes with this happy occasion. We can’t help but smile as we watch the women enjoy themselves, but perhaps we also realize that we take such enjoyments for granted. It goes without saying that in a culture like the one in Botswana, women do not enjoy the same freedoms as we do, which is why Vianney telling this story is of the utmost importance. Not only could the positive exposure in Queens of Botswana potentially help the Marok’s reputation, the documentary reveals an ultimately feminist narrative. It is more than just an interesting story of heavy metal culture in an unlikely place, it is a story of women who love the music so much it becomes a driving force in their lives, which in turn empowers them to break out of their shells in a conservative culture and society.
Left: Sarah Vianney and her crew interviewing Queen Gloria. Right: Sarah Vianney talking to her crew.
I'd like to extend special thanks to Sarah Vianney for reaching out to us at Femfilmfans (we hope other filmmakers will do the same!) and for graciously sending us the images seen above.
RBG: Feminism, Activism and Jurisprudence
By Christian Berger
While The National Board of Review has chosen RBG as the Best Documentary Film of 2018, Ruth Bader Ginsburg proved once again that she actually is a real life hero. From her hospital bed, she participated in a recent U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision to prevent the Trump Administration from immediately enforcing its new policy of denying asylum to immigrants who illegally cross the Mexican border. The Justice is expected to make a full recovery and return to the bench “full steam.”
The documentary film RBG, directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, portrays Bader Ginsburg not only as a pop icon, but also as an iconic feminist legal scholar and activist. In a partisan yet – like Ginsburg herself – rather serious and dignified manner, the film tells Bader Ginsburg’s story through a collection of interviews, audio and archival material and recordings of public appearances, highlighting her quiet temperament, intellectual ambition and devotion to the law. It presents the ethos and idealism of first and second generation of Jewish immigrants, the many difficulties of being taken seriously as a woman in the academic and legal sphere and some of her more precious relationships. Especially to her late husband Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer who was the first boy she dated who cared that she “had a brain”; he supported and promoted her all her life.
Despite her public perception as a judge, the film not only chronicles her notorious dissents regarding voting, workers and reproductive rights, it also traces landmark cases like United States v. Virginia, where Ginsburg’s majority opinion struck down the last male-only admission policy of a university in the United States. Moreover, it throws light upon the legal reality of the 20th century, which reflected that men were meant to be breadwinners and were women meant to be caregivers. For example, women were not assigned to jury duty or not allowed to administer an estate and widowers who were caring for minors were denied special survivor benefits. In six such U.S. Supreme Court cases in the 1970s, Ginsburg successfully argued that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution applies to the status and rights of women (and men) and protects them from discrimination in situations where there is no rational basis for discrimination. The basic idea was that women are equal citizens. She won five of these six cases and laid the foundation for gender equality legislation.
For feminist activists, especially legal activists and feminist lawyers, RBG, as a tribute to Ginsberg’s life, shows that it does not have to be a contradiction to be politically engaged and a legal professional. Quite the opposite: the subsumption of social situations and facts under legal norms is always a political activity, because norms cannot be interpreted from an ahistorical and neutral point of view simply because there is no such thing as an ahistorical and neutral point of view. There will always be a critical need for self-reflection, well-argued partisanship in jurisprudence. The more dynamic and concrete one interprets and applies constitutional principles such as equality, the more probable it becomes that social relations, which are based on inequalities - sexism, racism, economic dependencies, etc. - will be influenced by the law and related exclusions must be changed. To this extent, even the law can be an instrument for social change.