A new local film due for release this May is promising to make a big contribution towards the fight against wife inheritance, a common practice in Uganda where widows are forcibly inherited by male in-laws.
Previously, president Museveni has joined other public figures and NGOs to publically lambast the practice, blaming it for increased HIV/Aids prevalence in his ancestral region of Ankole.
Now, filmmaker Hassan Mageye has taken a cue from other moral guardians and addressed the controversial subject matter on screen in the most honest and brutal tone possible.
Set in mid ‘80s Ankole, The Clan’s Wife tells a compelling story of how the practice of wife inheritance claimed many lives in Ankole back in the day when Aids was still a mystery. The storyline revolves around one tragic family that contracts the deadly disease through sharing a wife.
“It is a conflict between culture and modernization, and between human rights and societal norms during that period,” Mageye said of his film during a recent interview in which he shared with us the behind-the-scenes and a few clips from the shoot.
The film’s time and geographical settings indeed play an important part in understanding the history of Aids in Uganda. Though the first Aids case in the country was recorded in Buganda in 1983, majority of Ugandans only learnt of the disease in the late ‘80s, especially following pop star Phily Bongole Lutaya’s public confession he’s HIV positive.
During that era, it is presumed that thousands of Ugandans died in ignorance, particularly in Ankole where wife inheritance was revered. According to traditional Ankole culture, a father is entitled to sleeping with his daughters-in-law as a form of payback for the herds of cattle he paid to their families as bride price.
And in case a husband dies, the wife is automatically given away to a kinsman, usually a brother-in-law. It’s against this cultural arrangement that Mageye, a Muganda by tribe, decided to centre his movie.
“I first had about this practice from a Munyankore friend of mine while still in school. I found it quite fascinating and decided to investigate it more,” recalls the 31-year-old filmmaker famed for exploring African traditional themes.
Last year, his film The King’s Virgin took Pearl International Film Festival (Piff) by storm with its controversial message that seemed to question the moral life of a popular king. It won a whooping five awards at the festival awards and went on to compete at Uganda Film Festival (UFF).
And that is the sort of controversy and straight-forwardness audiences should expect once The Clan’s Wife premieres at this year’s Piff in May. The idea of a Muganda artiste questioning Ankole culture aside, the film also contains a few explicit scenes.
It was also shot minus a budget, and the production team had to replace the original setting – the alluring hills of Kabale – with bushy Entebbe villages in order to cut down costs.
But above all, Mageye reckons, the film’s underlying moral tale against loose sexual behavior should overcome budget limitations and tribal innuendos to create an impact on society.
The film is also looking to bank on its strong cast, led by the beautiful Faridah Kutesa, alias DJ Farshee, and veteran Yasin Lubowa, to draw fans to the cinema.
A pioneer of female dancehall/rap music in Uganda, Farshee puts on a heartbreaking performance as the radiant young wife (Vera) and victim of widow inheritance. Mzee Lubowa on the other hand is the lead villain, a radical traditionalist with a penchant for young girls.
“They were so passionate about the project that they chose to volunteer without any initial pay,” Mageye said of the star duo with whom he has collaborated on over five films, adding he had to endure the rapper’s occasional absenteeism on set accruing from her wedding preps – Farshee will tie the knot with her long-time boyfriend this weekend.
Other key actors to look out for include Prince Joel Nakibinge who plays Maaro, a flashy pipe-smoking graduate who returns to his village to decampaign bad traditions. Edwardo Mubiru, Bonny Kasujja and Ahabsalam Khuzeo also make an appearance, and so does Tania Kayinda Shakira.
And as somebody who has trained at elite film schools in Nairobi and South Africa and worked in the UK, Mageye knows better than to use stolen music in his movies as is the norm with most local filmmakers.
The Clan’s Wife will be illuminated by a daunting Runyankore song from a nascent musician named Arkhis, while up-and-coming makeup artiste Shakira Kibirigye also worked magic designing fresh wounds to look like herpes.
“I want to first see how it is received at Piff before taking it to foreign festivals,” Mageye said of his plan for the film’s distribution, adding he also intends to sell it to DStv and Zuku, just like he’s always done with his other movies.