The world is saddened by the death of Sarah Maldoror, the pioneering filmmaker from French-Guadeloupe whose contribution to the story of African cinema has been described as provoking “the complex notions of community.” Maldoror died aged 91 in Paris on Monday after complications with COVID-19.
She was born Sarah Durados in the French commune of Condom to immigrant parents from Guadeloupe. But Maldoror’s modest beginnings held nothing for the woman she would become.
After graduating from drama school in Paris, Maldoror left for the Soviet Union in the 1960s on a scholarship. In Moscow, some of Maldoror’s mates included Ousmane Sembène, the director from Senegal nicknamed “the father of African film” and Mark Donskoi, the prolific Soviet filmmaker.
Maldoror’s entrance into filmmaking was kicked off with apprenticeships to directors such as the Italian Gillo Pontecorvo who directed The Battle of Algiers, a cinematic depiction of a true story during Algeria’s war of independence.
In 1968, Maldoror directed her own short feature titled Monangambee. The film’s subject was the perception held by Portuguese towards traditional Angolan culture. This was the foundation upon which Maldoror built her historic significance in African film history.
Hers was what has come to be known as “militant cinema” – filmmaking that centers the struggle of the disenfranchised and the explicit ways through which they demand their dignity.
Basla Lewandoska Cummings, writing for africasacountry.com, described the philosophy of Maldoror’s films in these words:
“…Maldoror is concerned with community, action and politics. Her scripting of a powerful, stubborn and loving woman as the central character of her feature film both embodies and provokes the complex notions of community during struggle, and what political struggle really is.”
Maldoror’s 1972 feature Sambizanga, a film that chronicled Angola’s fight for liberation from Portugal, typifies all of what Maldoror wished to see in a film. She did not simply wish to just tell a story. Maldoror looked to instruct according to a communalist ethic through her cinematic explanations.
Maldoror’s husband was Mário Pinto de Andrade, the Angolan poet and politician. This meant that Maldoror had a front-row seat to the activities of the revolutionary Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) founded by Andrade.
With regards to her affinity with African women and what she felt was their due in filmmaking, Maldoror once said in an interview:
“African women must be everywhere. They must be in the images, behind the camera, in the editing room and involved in every stage of the making of a film. They must be the ones to talk about their problems.
Maldoror made films well into her late 60s, amassing a repertoire of over 20 films.