In Search of an Audience in Zimbabwe

by: Kimani Gecau


In August 1997, we set out to do a field assessment of audience responses to the film Mwanasikana. The film, officially launched in November 1995, was intended for viewers in the rural areas. The assessment therefore entailed visiting venues in the rural areas where the film was being shown by the government’s mobile film units (which is the major way that the film is disseminated).

The purpose of the film was to help change the attitudes of the majority of Zimbabwe’s population toward the education of the girl-child. Our objectives were therefore to assess the film’s ability to deliver themes and messages in a way which is easy for the target group to understand; to establish the feelings and emotions stirred by the film; assess its relevance to Zimbabwe and its entertainment value and to determine the film’s ability to influence and/or effect changes in sociocultural values, norms, practices and attitudes.

It was decided that the assessment should be done in rural areas in Manicaland (Makoni District), Mashonaland Central (Guruve District) and Matebeleland North (Tsholotsho District) provinces which were regarded as fairly representative of the whole country. We visited two or three venues in each province.

Theoretical and conceptual background

The search for an audience is linked to what has been called reception studies. These arose from attempts to answer the question: just how does the media affect us? Later another question was to be added to this: just how do we appropriate media “products’ and make meaning and use of them in our day to day lives? In fact the question of media effects has dominated media research with notable developments in the research to-date. Research has for example has developed from a concern with whether the media does have the effect it is expected to, to include investigations on whether there are specific circumstances or social and cultural factors which may affect the media’s effect on people. This has been accompanied by a shift away from a tendency to understand the media as having an all powerful and unmediated “effect” on people.

Reception studies then simply draws attention to the fact that a reader of a book, listener of a radio programme or someone watching a movie or TV programme do play a role in making what they are reading, listening to or watching “mean” something. This includes their decodings, interpretations, perceptions and comprehension and, hence, making sense of what they are reading, listening to or watching. How this happens in specific social and cultural contexts is what reception or “audience” research is concerned with. Clearly the background of the people concerned, their previous experiences, their values, beliefs, expectations, predispositions and even psychological attributes which a member of the audience may bring into the reception activity have an influence in the process of “making” meaning.

Also very important is to look at the context of reception (home, movie house, or open spaces as in the case of the reception of Mwnasikana), and consider how this may affect reception. Such an approach is useful because it takes the commonsense position that before a book, programme, film or any other “text” can satisfy a need, be used in a certain way or generally have some kind of “effect” (as indeed most “texts” are expected to), it must first of all be meaningfully decoded and appropriated into meaningful discourses and practices by the receivers. Hopefully after this, it shall also influence attitudes, practices and behaviour.

However, media audiences while sometimes negotiating and contesting the meaning implicit in the media frameworks, often lack ready access to alternative meaning systems that would enable them to reject the definitions offered by the media in favour of consistently oppositional definitions.


Reception analysis is a meeting between humanist and social science traditions. It favours qualitative methods including consideration of the structure of the content of the book, radio programme or film and the meanings “proposed” by the author and structure. However it focusses on empirical (i.e actually existing) audiences, not imaginary ones.

The requirement is to get at the audiences own formulations and perceptions; to describe their own process of reception. However it is also recognized that it is not easy to analyze the meanings which they make out of the reception activities. In other words it was important to conduct research precisely from the point of view of the film’s audience. The following methods have been found to be of use and were used for data collection in the field in this study: participant observation, interviews and focus group discussions. Those targeted for individual interviews included key personnel in the production and showing of the film. The total number of respondents was about 140.

Field research was conducted from 4 -15 August 1997 with the assistance of Dr Rino Zhuwarara.

Constraints of the assessment process

It had been planned to hold discussions with audiences after the film shows each night. This proved to be difficult due to the specific conditions of viewing. The films are screened at night and shows lasted till after 9.30 p.m. This was late and most people were eager to get back home (which often entailed long walks). For security, especially in lower Guruve where there are wild animals, people preferred to walk back to their homes in groups. However in all cases the film operators explained to audiences the importance of the film and drew their attention to the importance of the theme(s) which the film dealt with.

During the interviews and focus group discussions on the morning after the respondents were generally very co-operative and forthcoming. However we could have had a larger sample of male respondents – more so in Matabeleland where the language question may have been a negative factor (the film is in the Shona language). However those younger people in this province who came forward did give important insights not least on the language question.

Nonetheless, in spite of these difficulties, we consider that we were able to gather enough and rich data. Further, the consistently similar responses in all the areas and among the different audience subgroups would indicate the representativeness of the findings. This is also strengthened by the observations, comments and daily reports of the mobile film unit crews and also by the monthly reports of the provincial information officers

The film Mwanasikana

The film was produced, through joint efforts by Ministry of Education, CIDA and UNICEF, in response to the problem of girl-child education in Zimbabwe. It was specifically produced with the rural population in mind because:

  • The vast majority of Zimbabweans (about 80 percent) live in the rural areas and therefore the greatest impact nationally would be made by targeting this majority.
  • Targeting rural areas is consistent with Zimbabwe’s developmental strategy of focusing on rural areas which were ignored by successive colonial governments.
  • Rural communities generally do not get information as quickly as their urban counterparts. They have limited access to the mass media. This was to be addressed by distributing the film through the MOIP&T mobile film units which when operating in full strength, can be in 24 different locations in the rural areas at the same time.
  • It is here that the problem of the girl-child education is more visible because change is slower in rural as compared to urban areas.

The film was made after research in the rural areas and wide consolations with interested groups and individuals. This research also helped to establish, for the film, the situations, everyday experiences, discourses and language used by the people in the rural areas. It was also important in establishing the right ‘tone’ for the intended audience in order to achieve the right attitude, elicit attention and attain credibility that what the audiences were watching (and hearing) did actually happen in their communities.

The film was thus expected to capture reality and represent it as accurately as possible, stimulate thinking and debate and promote a fuller understanding of issues. It was also recognised that the film medium also communicates at the emotive and affective levels which does influence attitudes and perceptions. These factors were important if the film was to lead to audiences responding to it in a certain way.

“…there are some fathers who do not want to part with their money. The fathers who drink are the ones who normally don’t want their children to go to school. The children grow up facing many problems with nothing to help them in life”. 

(Rumbidzai, a grade 7 female pupil at Karai Primary school)

The film’s realism hence helps its didactic intentions. The setting is recognizable to rural audiences and in it rural audiences also see images of their own lives and lifestyles. It is, however, important to note that the main characters’ home is within walking distance from a shopping centre and the two are more or less juxtaposed. The shopping centre on a regular bus route from the city (which deliver mail and other goods); with post office, shops, bar and other peri-urban leisure amenities is a symbol of the existence of a new world – just as the father is a symbol of a passing world. However there is also a contradictory aspect in this new world in the image of the shopkeeper. What values are going to operate in this new world which the girl-child is also aspiring to enter? Is the real antagonist of the female in the future not the shopkeeper rather than the naive father?. Does not the shopkeeper also represent a figure which, if given a chance, shall be there in the ‘new’ world of the future to exploit women in order to satisfy his own lust and material advancement?

Another important aspect in the film is its cultural sensitivity. This is to be seen in the use of the actual language used by the people. It also incorporates their aesthetics, values and beliefs (even when questioning these); their world-view and perceptions. However, at the same time, the film does belong to a tradition in African film making which interrogates “tradition” in the name of positive change.

It has a simple (but not simplistic) linear plot with events following each other in a chronological order. The form is thus conventional narrative of a domestic situation. It has a single or dominant thematic (or message) treatment without too many sub-themes and sub-texts, It thus positions audiences to focus on the problems of education faced by the girlchild in our times of change and social transformation. It draws their attention (and thought) to the usefulness of education in empowering the girl-child to achieve more material independence (from men); be able to have more choices of what to become and hope for self-respect and less abuse and humiliation.

The characters are “types”, embodying familiar collective images and values and representing typical and recognisable attitudes and positions. However the film also manages to avoid a kind of male-female reductionism by, at the same time, representing the characters as individuals (this is to be seen, for example, in how audiences understand the father Jumbe as both embodying existing attitudes among some fathers and yet he is also understood as not a ‘normal’ man – he also represents individual idiosyncrasies. His drinking frequently cited as an example of this.

However the problem of girl-child education is discussed in a context of gender roles and beliefs and the film therefore addresses the sociocultural context influencing the education of the girl-child and her role and identity in society. Within the overall context of gender relations and domination of women in these relations the film offers related subthemes by exploring the processes of decision-making at home, the unequal division of roles for boys and girls, men and women, leading to inequalities in privileges and responsibilities at home. At the same time the film does also indicate the possibilities of genuine love and warmth existing in a home.

“I enjoyed it because it taught that we shouldn’t have a thought that a daughter should not go to school. We saw that when Precious was divorced she could not find a job since she was not educated. Education should help every child irrespective of his or her sex.”

(Elderly, Vidco chairman, Karai Village)

Observed audience reactions when viewing

Generally, in all the venues visited, children were in the majority, followed by youth, women and then adult males in that order. This pattern was more or less repeated in the venues and provinces visited and is confirmed by mobile film operators’ and Provincial Information Officers’ reports. The film was shown as one of about five or six development or educational oriented films. These were films giving different messages but which audiences were able to understand appreciatively as providing pleasure in education.

The researchers were quick to recognise that the film assumed new significance and ‘meaning’ and their own understanding of it changed when they saw it, in its intended context, as part of a rural audience. In the moon washed August nights of rural Zimbabwe, in the grounds of a small school miles away from tarred roads and with the raptness of the audiences, the film took on new meaning. In many ways the researchers also ‘re-understood’ the film and reassessed its significance.

As is expected of such audiences, comments and laughter were the norm though the manner and nature of commenting varied according to audience composition. In Matabeleland however, the fact that Mwanasikana was in the Shona language drew a more muted response than was accorded other films.

A good part of the audiences were seeing the film for the first time. Indeed there were some who were also seeing a film at all for their first time. For example, many of the grade 7 boys at Karai primary school said that this was their first time to see a film. This was also the first time the film was shown at the school. However there were a few in the audience who had seen the film at other venues and these tended to provide running commentaries and interpretations for those near them who had not seen the film before. A good example is a woman viewer at Karai primary who was quite vocal in her contempt of Jumbe (the father character), his drinking and his “selling his daughter” for drink.

However it was noticed that in spite of the commentaries and laughter – which is itself an indication of audience interest in, and understanding of, the film – the audiences became more silent and paid more attention where there were serious or tense moments as the Story unfolded. Indeed we were struck by the rapt attention given by audiences to the films as a whole.

Women (mothers) were the most rapt and intent in their attention, and did not make as many comments as the other segments of the audiences. When they did make comments these were directed at understanding or explaining the film to others. Adult males also tended to make few comments. Interestingly some of their comments showed disapproval of the father for not supporting his daughter, Tariro’s, diligent efforts at schooling. They were not comfortable with his character and one sensed a desire to distance themselves from him. As it turned out during discussions and interviews, the older men thought the father irresponsible. Some of the older men commented on the appearance of the mother (who obviously has a warm and charming personality). When she smiles at her husband, some man was heard to remark that “with that kind of smile the man is not going to win”.

Young men commented on the physical appearance (and beauty) of the two daughters, Tariro and Precious. For example, when Tariro first appears some said that she is “a real mwanasikana”. They laughed at what they considered the folly of ‘mudhala’ Jumbe – their father. The attempted rape of Precious by the shopkeeper, Mudiwa, raised comments from children and the young men but the women were more subdued. Obviously this was a painful scene to watch for a woman with some understanding of the world.

Commentaries are the norm among rural audiences and it is easy to tell which parts of a film excite the audience and those which do not. Though we should be careful about the meaning of exclamations, laughter and other responses it was nonetheless easy to tell from observing audiences that the film was well received. This was true even in Matabeleland North where there was a language problem.

A few comments were made which indicated disagreement with the film’s intended message. One or two said they did not find it exciting. These negative comments, however, were in the minority. One observation which was borne out by discussions and interviews was that the audiences are very hungry for entertainment and that the mobile film unit provides for them perhaps the only entertainment of its kind. At Tsholotsho advertisements, which at other places came before each film, had been put together to make their own film reel. It was interesting to see audiences watching this separate reel of advertisements as entertainment and paying rapt attention to it.

Audiences’ understanding of the film

A film or any text is to be understood and interpreted in the audience’s own terms and context if it is to impart the intended message and thus generate knowledge. As most of the data was gathered at least the morning after audiences had seen the film (and in one instance a few days after), a major objective was to find out how well audiences were able to recall and retell the story with short summaries of what they had seen and learnt from the film. This was also a test to see whether audiences could recall and retell specific incidents and, indeed, the whole film and also provide their own understandings and interpretations. In almost all cases they were able to do this.

Most striking was the way that school children were able to retell the story and in the process to include their own understanding of the main themes and messages of the film and also their own opinion of the behaviour and attitudes of the various characters. This was also a good indication of audience comprehension of the implications of the film’s message and ability to link this with their own experiences and observations.

“People who watched this film said that the story in the film was touching. The film is a good motivation for the parents to change their attitudes from not educating to educating female children”.

(Report of the mobile cinema unit’s operators, Mashonaland Central Province, May 1997)

The main and new ideas which people learnt from the film could be summarised as follows:

Girls (of grade 7 age):

  1. The need to be disciplined if one is a school child.
  2. The value of working hard: (‘I learnt that we should work hard so that we can do a variety of jobs and look after our parents who did not want to send us to school’, and ‘we learn that if we work hard and persevere in our studies then we will lead a better life’).
  3. ‘That once you succeed in education you will also marry an educated husband’.
  4. It was emphasised that girls should communicate with their mothers about their desire to go on with school and to seek help wherever it could be obtained to make this possible. One girl said that she had learnt that if the father does not want a girl to go to school but the mother wants her to, the girl should tell the mother that she wants to go on with school ‘so she should send you to your relatives and send money to you so that you would succeed and get a job’.
  5. ‘Some parents are jealous of their children’s success’.
  6. ‘Parents were taught that money should not be wasted in beer-halls and in pleasure’.

Boys (of grade 7 age):

  1. ‘I learnt that it is bad to rape a child’.
  2. All children should go to school ‘and I should not show that I want this child to go to school and not that one’.
  3. ‘I learnt that businessmen rape people’.
  4. One boy also learnt about exploitation: ‘Yes, because if you work for a black person you work for nothing getting half of the monthly wage yet you are working for the whole week’.
  5. ‘The film taught us that we should go to school in order to be successful’.

“Even if they (Men) have the money what they do not want is to educate the girl child. Because they say she will not listen to her husband. The mother was against this, but the father is powerful. Precious decided to educate her sister because she knows without education, there is no job and no marriage as well. So she also hopes to be supported by the sister again.”

(Female respondent, Maqe primary school, Matebeleland North, province)

Older men and women:

  1. Woman at Takaruza village, lower Guruve: ‘It taught us to educate the girl–child and not only the boy, since even the girl if married somewhere will lead a comfortable life as compared to one who is not educated’.
  2. Man at Takaruza village said that he learnt that both boys and girls need to be educated and be given equal opportunity since the one who did not get this opportunity would be seriously disadvantaged.
  3. Woman at Domborembizi: ‘It’s a good thing that you came and taught us such a good lesson. I can go and teach children about rape’.
  4. Young man at Tamaruru business centre: ‘Yes, I liked the film. What impressed me the most is that there are still some people who don’t know the importance of education. I wished there had been more elderly people when such a lesson is taught’.

The film’s relevance

Comments made by the audiences indicated that they regarded the film as relevant to what is happening in Zimbabwe. Though the idea of discriminating against the girl-child was felt to be old-fashioned and unfair, many, including both boys and girls, said that the film showed what happens in their homes and in real life and what was already a known problem. Respondents indicated that there are still some, mainly men, who did not like the idea of educating their girl-child. For example Chief Madziwa at Domborembizi primary school emphatically said: “This film is exposing what is happening. It is happening, let’s try to mend this”.

Also cited as resistant to educating girl-children are some Apostolic religious sects. According to the deputy headmaster at Domborembizi primary school, Makoni district, some of these will even prevent their daughters from doing sports at school. He further added that ‘our community is full of Apostles so they don’t want to see children going to school especially when we teach science they say it’s not right’. Agreeing that the film shows what is happening in real life, Eusebia, a grade 7 female pupil at Karai primary school, lower Guruve, also observed that ‘some parents refuse to send girls to school so these girls move around looking for men in beer-halls’. This consequence of not sending the girlchild to school was also echoed by Chief Madziwa at Domborembizi primary school who, while agreeing that the film shows what is happening also added that ‘even in towns, when a girl is looking for a job she is told “a kiss first” she complies because she is in poverty’.

A lot of comments thus linked what was happening in the film to the social and cultural situation in Zimbabwe. This aspect of the film again helps audiences to recognise their realities and lives and this self recognition deepens the film’s impact on audiences.

The economic factors

The cost of schooling is one that was bound to come up though the film is rather silent on this. It was remarkable that in spite of the film not explicitly raising this concern, a lot of the audience were well aware of the importance of the economic demands of schooling and were quick to read this into the film.

 “I think the father stops the girls from going to school. He wants the boys to go to school because they are the ones who make the family rich. That is why a lot of girls do not go to school”

(Rumbidzai, a grade 7 female pupil at Karai primary school)

Respondents at Magama secondary school linked the problem of girl child education and indeed the education of young people in general, to the lack of industries and employment opportunities in Tsholotsho. Twenty seven year old Thebekile Shabalala, who dropped out of school at form 2single, and is now a single parent and mother of a two year old child, was very articulate on this point. She told the researchers about the problems of female-headed homes in the area because the men go to the city and even further afield in search of employment and send help to their families. But they stay away for long periods ranging from one to five years and this leads to strains in the family.

The depth of insight brought by audiences into this film and the issues it raises is reflected in the fact that the issue of the inequalities in access to ideas and learning between rural and urban children was raised in all the three provinces. The discussion at Domborembizi primary school, for example, linked behaviour, as shown in the film and as it exists in real life, to poverty, to the changing times which bring with them crises of rising expectations and to inequalities in access to information and entertainment between rural and urban areas. Chief Madziwa’s of Makoni for example, was to observe that rural life has been continuously changing as there is always interaction between rural and city people. The latter make the rural people feel their relative poverty and their tastes and expectations get influenced by those in the city – they desire the same things and same lifestyle as those in the city. Hence ‘even bride price is different’.

In fact seeing the film was seen as a good in itself, irrespective of the film’s message. According to the chief, whereas those in the city are exposed to and learn from films, the rural people do not have such exposure. As far as children are concerned, the rural people are obviously disadvantaged since they write the same grade 7 examination as those in the urban areas who have been exposed to films and other learning environments.

 “They write the same grade 7 examination. There is the film on wild life, one person knows all about elephants from watching this film whilst the other don’t know a thing, he has to guess what an elephant looks like because he has never seen one. So those who see films pass and we fail . It’s not fair. Here in Domborembizi films started to be shown only in 1995, and there was only one show – only one time. Some see films daily while many here missed it in 1995. But they all write the same grade 7 examination. Who do you think will pass?

We are here at Domborembizi far from schools, others are in Highfield [a Harare city suburb] near good schools. Tariro walked many kilometres to school. It’s not fair.”

(Chief Madziwa at Domborembidzi)

Emotive impact of the film

Film is a work of art and, through its specific ‘language’, it works on the emotions (as well as on the cognitive side) of audiences. This aspect is important in influencing the attitudes and behaviour of people. Significantly primary school boys reacted strongly towards the father’s behaviour. One boy at Karai primary said that if his own father behaved as the father in the film does, he would be very angry with him for trying to ‘stop me from going to school’. Another boy was emphatic in his hatred of drinking “I hate alcohol” he said. He had always hated it since childhood and did not like the behaviour of people who are drunk and their ‘talking nonsense’.

Another emotive issue was the perception that, as one boy at Hambe primary put it, ‘the father sold the child for beer … The father was bad for selling the child for beer’.

Most noticeable then is that the enjoyment of the film is tied to the unfolding of the story: to what the characters do and what happens to them. This is a new concept of ‘enjoyment’ and emotive response and is, indeed, a reference to the emotions which are aroused in the viewer by the characters’ actions and their fate. Many, especially both male and female children, were moved to anger by the father not wanting Tariro to go to school and by his drinking: They said they ‘do not like the film’ when the father is saying this and that they “enjoyed” it ‘because Precious was able to pay school fees for Tariro” or because, at the end, Tariro is to continue with her schooling.

A grade 7 boy at Hambe primary, for example said: ‘I didn’t like the part when Tariro was told not to go to school’ while a grade 7 girl at the same school said: ‘I enjoyed a lot because Tariro at least was encouraged to go to school by her sister’ . At Takaruza village, lower Guruve, on the other hand, an adult female said: ‘I did not enjoy the film because of the sensitive issue of preferring to send boys to school than girls’. Another at the same village said: ‘It did not please me because we must be treated equally and if one is not educated nowadays life is tough’.

We enjoy films which are educative in their content. I say so because if you visit the beer hall and talk to the men there they do not want to believe that AIDS is prevalent until they suffer from it and are about to die.

(Middle aged man, Karai Village)

As earlier mentioned, the attempted rape scene obviously aroused deep emotions. Both boys and girls said they felt sorry for Precious and hatred for Mudiwa. One boy also said he was moved when Precious comes back home “because I thought , with all her property and belongings, where would she go”. Another indicator to the emotions and thoughts raised by the film may be seen from the remarks by Chief Madziwa about inequalities in access to ideas and learning between rural and urban children. ‘Children here are different from city children because city children see more films. If it was possible you should come and teach our children that life today is different from long ago. There are some greedy parents who eat out , but take nothing home to the wife and children. Teach them that fire is dangerous. It destroys a lot of wealth. Animals, grass and beasts of the wild are important. If you bring these films we parents can learn something’.

The film as entertainment

Entertainment value is important for the effect of artistic (“edutainment” or “infotainment”) works lie in the way that through entertainment they are also emotionally involving and moving Through this they also excite audiences and create interest and engagement in them about the message being promoted. As we have said above the film was found to be ‘enjoyable’ because of its educative message. Further, during the viewing of the film it was noted that those who had seen the film before would, by their comments, guide others through the story.

This was evidence of both the ability of audiences to recall the film and also their willingness to see the film for yet another time. In fact the majority of those who were asked whether they would like to see the film for a second time (including those in Matebeleland) responded positively. The few who said they would not were mainly young males who had been exposed to different genres and types of film and had therefore their entertainment needs well catered for.

However it seems that some of the audience made a distinction between ‘enjoying’ the film and regarding it as ‘entertaining’. A middle aged male respondent at Karai village went further than others in making this distinction between ‘entertainment’ and ‘education’ films. According to him Mwanasikana ‘is not for entertainment but for education. The ones that are entertaining are the ones with [music] bands’. Nonetheless this same man said that he enjoyed Mwanasikana.

The entertainment value of the film should therefore be understood in a context where there is great hunger for entertainment in the rural areas; where there is therefore a great demand for films. It should also be understood that in the context of this hunger, ‘entertainment’ may carry different meanings. For example elders in the rural areas see educational material whether from radio or film as ‘entertainment’ maybe the proper word here is ‘edifying’.

A good illustration may be seen from the reactions to the (nondescript) musical film shown alongside Mwanasikana. It made the young male (obviously married) adults speak positively of the value of musical entertainment (or “pure” entertainment). The older members of the audience were however disapproving of this film (because of the kwasa kwasa dancing in it). It was noticeable too that a good many of the older members of the audience left during the musical. Fortunately it was the last film to be shown. One woman at Domborembizi in fact expressed her hostility to this film and stated her desire for religious material to help bring up children in a moral manner.

Factors affecting the overall impact of the film

The entertainment value of the film

Audiences clearly regard Mwanasikana as an educative film – one that is expected to lead to their understanding of issues that concern their lives. What is important is that they accept this fact and have come to expect Mwanasikana and other films to play this role. In fact even the reports from the mobile film unit crews speak in the same breath of its “goodness” and educative function. For example a daily report by the Manicaland mobile film unit crew describes the film as “a very good educational film” and “it gives good lessons to people who do not want to send girls to school”.

Related to the above point about enjoying films which are educative, one mother at Domborembizi said that they want “films about thieves and rapists and how they are punished so that children can see what will happen to them if they steal”. A woman at Domborembizi perhaps expressed the opinion of most parents that they would like their children to watch films frequently – at least once a month. However she did not like the musical film ‘I didn’t like it, I like films that teach children so that they know’.

Social learning from the film’s characters

“I was disappointed. I felt the mother’s anger and frustration as if l were the one. It’s not good because l would be thinking of my own child not going to school, while the father who is drinking at Mushonga (bar) is selling her for beer. Impossible.. . Jumbe is a greedy man who can’t look after himself because if a father cannot work on a farm he should be a carpenter. It’s better to sell cow harnesses to get money for beer than to sell your child.”

(Woman at Domborembizi)

The comments by the woman at Domborembizi gives us a cue on an important aspect of how a film works. Following social learning theory, identification or not with characters is one way that audiences are persuaded to change behaviour. The ability of audiences to identify (and to feel) with characters is caught in this woman’s strong identification with the mother in the film.

Characterisation is therefore an important aspect and it was useful to find out how the various segments and subgroups of audiences responded to the different characters and how they understood the positive and negative values and attributes associated with each character. It is important to identify those characters who serve as role models for the viewers and those who are derided and laughed at because of their perceived anti-social behaviour. In fact a man at Karai village saw in Precious a very desirable role model: ‘Precious didn’t succumb to bad influence and she was very hard working. She is very good influence if only other children would follow suit … I felt pity for her because the man had spoilt her whole life’.

Tariro: Impresses because of her seriousness with schooling. Grade 7 girls at Karai primary school expressed identification with her because she likes school, works hard and is determined to go on with schooling. She is thus regarded as intelligent, diligent and as a positive role model.

Grade 7 boys were also impressed by her liking for schooling which they identified. One boy at Karai primary school, for example, said: ” I was impressed that in the evening instead of wasting time talking she went to study”.

Precious:impresses both boys and girls because of the support she gave Tariro and her going out to get a job so that her sister can continue with school. She is also admired for exposing her father’s plan to marry off Tariro to Mudiwa and in helping to make the father to change at the end.

In terms of helping to promote the message in the film, the grade 7 girls understand that Precious’ problems are related to her not having gone on with schooling beyond grade 7. Hence she cannot find a suitable job to make her independent. Her husband also rejects her because of her low education. They hold her parents responsible for this: ‘because they did not send her to school like other parents do’.

 “I liked the fact that she looked for a job after being rejected by her husband, she wanted to look after her sister.”

(Grade 7 boy pupil, Karai primary school)

“What I liked most was that Tariro’s sister said she wanted Tariro to go to school so she went to work for the money to send her to school.”

(Memory, a grade 7 girl pupil at Karai primary school)

The women in their twenties at Maqe primary school saw her as a good example of an independent woman. They do not regard her as rude to her father. Instead the father is accused of getting angry with her and of not knowing the family protocol of talking with his daughters through their mother (“who would then talk to Precious nicely”). In any case, it is Precious who makes the father see that he is wrong. Significantly a young man at Tamaruru business centre also did not blame Precious for the way she speaks to her father at the end: “She was right because she had seen her father was wrong from the beginning until she was raped”.

Mother: Girls and boys saw the mother as good and “responsible” because she encourages Tariro to continue with school. She cares about her family and she also does most of the work of sustaining the home as mothers do in real life. As primary school pupils noted: “Mothers cook for us when we come back from school. collect water and even wash our uniforms”. Female respondents at Takaruza village, Lower Guruve, also pointed at this aspect of her life: ‘The mother works and is submissive because the father brags about being the owner of the child’s. The old Karai village VIDCO chairman said: “she handled the situation well. She did not agree with the father. She was very good”. This was linked to the domination of women by men: “It is true that African customs give the husband absolute authority”.

W: When a woman is under the (man’s) law she has to obey what she is told, she can only say, ‘father this not possible’ so the girl-child is the one who came and used more power.

Q: In your homes, if you see that your husband is wrong don’ t you get angry?

W: You get angry, but don’t show it.

(Women at Domborembizi)

Significantly a good number of male respondents were also ready to discuss the oppression of women by men. A young man at Tamaruru business centre said: ‘I cannot despise her because as a woman she is under her husband’s law. But she tried. She couldn’t continue trying to force things because it would cause problems’. One primary school boy was impressed by the way the mother talks to her husband when trying to convince him about Tariro continuing with school. ‘If she had shouted she would have failed’. Chief Madziwa’s commenting on the oppression of women said: ‘The mother may be good but she has no say because there is oppression. There was oppression when Precious was almost raped openly. The businessman was bad because he may have had AIDS and given it to the girl’.

The father, Jumbe: His not wanting Tariro to continue with school, what is perceived as his “heavy” drinking, his intention to “sell” off his daughter for this drink which is taken on credit, and his apparent not caring for the future, were heavily criticised by most of the film’s audiences, including (most vocally) the grade 7 primary school boys. This indicates that even boys at this young age are already sensitive to these issues. People in all age groups saw him as “bad” because he does not want Tariro to continue with school and in his attempt to foist her on Mudiwa as “payment” for his drink. This last aspect aroused a lot of negative comment. It is understood as selfish. “He is only concerned about himself he does not care about the child” One girl was critical of the father for wanting to marry her off “to an old man” instead of letting her go on with school. Thus neither boys nor girls identify with him. Significantly the boys support the education of the girl-child.

Boy: … he was enjoying himself whilst the children did not have money for school …

The father was drinking a ‘scud’ but the children were not going to school.

Interv: Is the father daft or what?

Boy: The father has a disease of alcohol not money.

(Grade 7 boys at Karai primary school)

He remains a figure of ridicule by women. However from comments made by women during viewing and discussions, a lot of them seemed to accept that he represents a dominant male behaviour. Women in their twenties at Maqe primary school observed that ‘fathers are like that. Because of them we always remain behind things’. He was ridiculed by women for (as the Maqe female interviewees put it) ‘giving his child to the storekeeper and grocery becomes the bride price’. At Takaruza village he is described as greedy, a hopeless beer drinker and ‘a bad man because he did not want to educate the girl-child and because he has misconceived ideas that the girl-child would become a prostitute’. . . ‘For one to go to the extent of selling his child who is still in primary school is ridiculous’.

‘The father was a person who wanted material things to such an extent that he would sell his daughter for beer. He believed that if a child went to school and studied to higher levels she would become a prostitute, so grade 7 was enough for her. Things became difficult for the father because his daughter had been divorced because she was uneducated’.

( Woman at Takaruza village, Guruve)

Male viewers generally distance themselves from Jumbe and do not accept that he is representing typical male behaviour. He is regarded by men (as well as by women) as acting irresponsibly. Most men pointed out that drink in itself is not bad. It is the individual who drinks irresponsibly who is to blame. It was claimed by the men that most of them had come to recognise the value of educating both male and female children. Those who carried this view varied in age, education and geographical location from the elderly VIDCO chairman at Karai village, Lower Guruve to a 21 year old teacher trainee, Bongani Mabhena interviewed at Magama primary school in Matebeleland.

I think he is a bad character. He is not good at all. …He orders the child to put out the light yet she wanted to study. It is not good for a father to do that to his child.

(Elderly Vidco chairman, Karai village)

Bongani Mabhena, an articulate 21 year old teacher said that most men act responsibly: “They should be responsible for bringing up their kids so that the kids will say this is where my father left me”. But he was quick to point out that some parents do not support their children through secondary school. “After primary school some parents say I have done enough and now you can look after yourself”. The children will then wait till they are mature enough to go to South Africa and hence the same cycle is reproduced where those working in South Africa but without enough education serve as role models for young people.

Mudiwa: Instead of identifying with him, boys did not like Mudiwa because of the way he treated Precious capped by his attempt to rape her. In fact some boys said they hated him for the attempted rape. One boy at Karai primary school said : “I saw the businessman as a thief who wanted to rape an employee”. It is significant that the girls regard Mudiwa as “old’ – the fact that he is a shopkeeper and apparently one of the better off people in the neighbourhood does not seem to impress them. Further, the girls more or less state that they would resist their fathers imposing a marriage on them to a man not of their choice.

Teacher: So Mudiwa was an old man?

Children: Yes!!

Teacher: Isn’t it said that old men are responsible? Tariro’s father drank a lot of beer from Mudiwa, so he knew Tariro would be looked after just as well. So if you were Tariro would you not want an old man, who owns a store and a lot of money? You would just get into the store and get lotion, bread, and biscuits whenever you wanted?

Reason: I would not want because Mudiwa would be older than me and l would just be a child, so it’s impossible. What l would want to do is embarrass my father over what he would have done.

Teacher: So you would be getting married to someone who is younger than you?

Reason: I want someone of the same age as me.

Child: I say l would want to look for my own husband.

Teacher: You don’t want anyone to look for a husband for you, Tsitsi?

Tsitsi: I would not want anyone to look for a husband for me. I want to finish school and then work getting a lot more money than the man with his store. 

(Grade 7 female pupils, Karai primary school)

Another version of his being an old man is the view expressed by a young woman at Domborembidzi primary school that ” Tariro was too young to be his wife. They would not live together for long. He would send her away because she was uneducated”. These young women also said that he is heartless.

Assessing the film’s impact on audiences

In summary, the main finding of the researchers was that the film Mwanasikana had reached a lot of people and captured the attention of the audience leading to discussions and re-thinking on the issue of girlchild education. It is easy to understand and is relevant to the audience because the situation depicted is close to their lives and it shows what is actually happening in regard to girl-child education. The audience has come to accept that films should be educative and expect to learn through character and situation. Nonetheless as ‘edutainment’ the film is entertaining and emotionally moving. Thus it’s impact has been both at the emotive and mental levels.

Q: So does Mudiwa have constructive ideas?

W.- No, he does not, he is a murderer because he is one of those men you leave with children and they rape them. The father and the businessman worked together.

(Women at Domborembizi)

However, it is important to re-emphasise that audiences are hungry for films and are positively oriented to, and enjoy, the films shown by the mobile film units. Further from what we saw, the mobile cinema operators are resourceful people who, in spite of the difficult conditions in which they have to work, make the shows as interesting as is possible. They explain the films to the audiences and invite some discussion while changing the film reels. There was evidence from those whom we interviewed and who discussed the film that people do retain and recall the film and that it does trigger thought and discussion on the issues raised after people have seen it. Such peer discussion is of course important in attitude and behaviour change.

M: I want to tell the truth because this is the first time since settling here from 1989 to watch a film. 

W.- All the children have not seen one since 1989.

Q: OK, so how often do you want to watch films with your children?

W. Annually. depending with the year.

M: We want our children to watch educative films like this one, also about this new disease and the ones which teach them about how people live and also ones which teach us parents how to bring up children”.

(Male discussion group at Takaruza village)

The social-economic factors affecting the film’s impact

In a significant way, the question of girl-child education is placed within wider considerations of future security in material terms. In other words, the child’s education, like a life insurance, is expected to give material support to the parents in their old age. This is clearly linked to material insecurity (if not poverty). It is in this context that the ‘traditional’ aspect becomes significant in considerations over who to prefer in education – the boy or girl-child. However we found that this is not a problem that is solely decided according to gender and sex.

Among the grade seven girls there was agreement that fathers are generally the ones who resist girl-child education because of narrow and selfish material motives. The grade 7 girls disagreed that it is boys who make the family rich. They expressed their ambition to go on to secondary school, get jobs and support themselves, their children and their parents by buying things for them and building them homes ‘so that they can live well’. Interestingly the grade 7 boys made more or less the same observations. They identified with the positive attributes in the female characters and were very critical of what is regarded as a “male habit” of drinking when there is no money and not wanting to send their children to school. Like the girls they also support the education of the girl-child.

Also significant from the boy’s responses were those who did not seem to see any differences between boys and girls when it came to their supporting their parents in the future. One boy, for example said he did not like the father ‘because he refused the daughter to go to school yet she would later get a good job and support them in old age’. Another boy provided an interesting and pertinent response. Looking ahead to the girlchild as a future wife and companion he said ‘women should be educated so as to make good wives’.

However interviews and discussions with more adult people showed that reactions to this issue do not easily follow predictable indicators such as age, gender, social and geographical locale. Our general conclusions is that if parents have money they will equally send both boys and girls to school. The real test is when there is a need to make a choice. This real dilemma was raised during discussions and interviews, of the situation where parents have only enough money to send only one child to school and they had to choose between a son and a daughter. Debate over this mainly centred on who would be the most likely to take care of the parent in old age- the boy or the girl? In this debate, support for the girl-child was not as straight forward as it may have been expected from people who had seen the film and had said very positive things about the need to send the girl-child to school.

There were four major responses 1) many said that they would choose the boy, 2) a few said that they would choose the girl, 3) about an equal number said that they would send the brightest and most able regardless of sex and 4) a fewer number still said that they would look, by all means, for ways of making money to make sure that both go to school.

These responses could be placed in three categories based on what was the apparent material consideration 1) concern over the parent’s future (with the educated child viewed as a kind of insurance) or 2) concern over both the parents’ and their children’s future 3) there are those (admittedly a few) who were mainly thinking and worrying about the future of their children; whether the children would be able to fend for themselves and to stand on their own feet?

These responses were not dependent on age, sex or education. A good number of women, for example, said that they would give boys preference. During the discussion at Hambe primary school a more mature female teacher supported giving the boy preference while a younger female teacher felt that she would rather support the girl-child. On the other hand, the elderly village VIDCO chairman at Karai said that he would give preference to the child that showed the higher aptitude and most promise to succeed in school. Equally both the male and female respondents at Takaruza village indicated that they would hate to have to make a choice between male and female children as all deserved to be educated. Many female respondents said that they would do all they could to earn the money to send both children to school.

There is thus a widespread recognition of the changing role of the girl-child. Bongani Mabhena, for example, also pointed out at a change that had come in the attitude towards girl-child education which was influencing parents. This is the fact that “now some parents realise that schooling is a basic necessity and they don’t want their kids to blame them for not providing them with schooling”. This means that more and more parents are tending to think of the education of their children not only in terms of their own security but also in terms of the security of their children in their own right regardless of sex. They expressed concern about the inequalities in exposure that rural children experience when compared to the city children also belongs within this broad concern.

This is obviously an attitude that is based on taking recognition of the future interests of all children including the girl child. Implied in it is also a recognition of changed times and the increasingly vocal way in which women generally and girls in particular will press for their rights.

Q: You feel that if they themselves can send their daughters to secondary school they will?

A: Yes especially here in rural areas because before we didn’t have a chance to get money to take our children to secondary school or boarding school but now we have cotton and you say as soon as you get your cheque then pay the school fees one time then wait for next year.

(Mashonaland central mobile film unit operator)

However it was disappointing that few discussed fully the fact of Precious actually supports her father who does say that she is the ‘man’ of the house, that is, she provides security for the family even when she is married by sending the father money and ‘parcels’. The significance of this should have been recognised by audiences who were otherwise very perceptive about the film. The suspicion is that they do not note this significance because of being engrossed in negotiating the dominant concept that the boy is the provider. They more or less did not see that there is an important message here which the film is giving us.

Recognition and identification

Another factor that would play a part in the film’s effect on audiences is what we refer to as the recognition and identification process (which is related to the social learning theory we have referred to above). The recognisable setting, characterisation and depiction of familiar everyday life and characters, rhythms of life makes the audiences ‘see’ or recognise themselves and their lives in the film. This ‘recognition’, in the film, was observed in members of the audience during the viewing of the film when many would exclaim and make remarks on such otherwise ‘mundane’ aspects as the appearance of the family’s homestead – which one member of the audience was heard to familiarly label as ‘imba ya munda”- a peasant’s home – and such other aspects as Tariro letting the chicken free from their coop, before going to fetch water and then to school, while the mother sweeps the yard. These inevitably raised comments indicating recognition and familiarity.

This is important because past experience and familiarity of a situation or events depicted in a story elicit from audiences attention and feelings of belonging in the events depicted. Hence there is more attention and emotional response to the values that are being criticised or promoted in a film. It is as if the film is holding the actual experiences and lives of the audiences up for scrutiny by themselves and it makes them not only to re-live this life but also to look into it critically and to interrogate their beliefs and attitudes.

Audience ability to analyse and make meaning

With this recognition and identification, and as the film is based on the life of people, there is already knowledge in the audience about the issues it raises and this also helps in the audience’s understanding of the intended message. Audiences also feel confident to respond to it and to discuss its contents. This also helps in audience attention and retention which are important in assessing the film’s impact. However the more important question is whether they agreed with the intended ‘meanings’ and whether this would lead to behaviour change.

As we have indicated, generally the audiences understood the film’s intended message. Their ability to critically analyse and add on to this is reflected in the fact that they were able to explain and understand aspects of the film within the wider cultural, social and economic context. This indicates their ability to make their own interpretations and meanings which in turn could have an effect on their attitude and behaviour. A few examples of such “readings” are:

Audiences interpreted the father Jumbe, not as a poor man but one who is mean. From their observation of how he looks (well fed and clothed) they concluded that he has money but does not want to use it on his children’s education. In other words the audiences are able to provide an ‘explanation’ of an area in which the film is not clear if not silent. In fact the person who has been cast as the father in the film does not look poor.

As rural residents, audiences pointed out the rural and urban inequalities in access and exposure to ideas and learning environments. This, they strongly felt, negatively affects the education of children in the rural areas. Exposure to films and TV was understood as helping their children to know their world and to perform better in the national examinations which were perceived as favouring urban children. There was also the feeling that the adults are denied forms of entertainment and knowledge and hence they have a great hunger for educational films. The implications were also that an adult who did not have an understanding of the world could not help his or her children in their schooling – and perhaps that it is such an adult – like Jumbe – who refuses to send daughters to school.

There is recognition of poverty and how it affects access to schooling. ‘A lot of us are poor. Only planting and selling vegetables. We cannot afford urban life’. Hence lack of money for secondary school fees is a major problem. This problem is made worse by the lack of employment opportunities. In Matebeleland North, for example, the question of the unemployment of secondary school leavers was a central concern in discussions. Significantly a majority of those who agreed to be interviewed or to hold discussions had been to high school and had dropped out due to lack of money for school fees (such as Nomaqhave Ncube who dropped out at form 3 and wants to finish form 4 and become a nurse). Thebekile Shabalala, mentioned above, is another such case. At Maqe primary school among those who came for interviews and discussions were form 4 school leavers who have entered into an income generating project. As well as being a member of this project, Phuthani Mabhena , has also organised a theatre group which tours the area performing plays on AIDS and other ‘developmental’ and social issues. He served as a god example of the ongoing quest for meaningful occupation.

Q: Do people change after seeing the film?

W. Some change because they understand but others think it’s just a film.

(Young woman at Doborembidzi)

Audiences were also astute enough to recognise that lack of money was not the whole story. The example of Jumbe, the father, helped to underline the fact that there are social-cultural prejudices against educating the girl-child which some blamed on ignorance and a failure to change with the times. It has been recognised that there are still fathers who force their daughters to marry the man of their choice. As one teacher at Hambe primary school said ‘it is cultural. Some fathers still do it yekuzvarira iya iya’ (‘the custom of pledging a young girl to a man).

Responses to characters

Of equal importance is the audiences recognition and identification with characters who are, after all, only acting out familiar events, predicaments and experiences. The characters are thus embodiments of the audiences hopes, aspirations, frustrations, enlightenment and ignorance. As it were, when viewers comment on character and situation they are also commenting on themselves and their own lives, beliefs and attitudes. It is because of this identification and of the audiences seeing themselves as participants in the drama that they come to have their various reactions to aspects of the film and its characters (positive or negative, rarely indifferent).

An example of the role a character could play in influencing people as a positive or negative model may be illustrated by reminding ourselves of audience reactions to Precious on the one hand and to the father on the other. Clearly Precious and her predicament aroused a lot of emotional responses which also force us to look at our moral and cultural values. On the other hand her character is a source of pride for both male and female viewers. However the father is depicted negatively – as a figure of derision. Male viewers from boys to elders do not want to be seen to be like him and seek to distance themselves from the values which he practices. He was condemned for ‘selling’ his daughter by all audience segments. Chief Madziwa at Domborembizi primary school, summed up this disapproval when he said: “A child is told to go to the businessman because I drank a ‘scud’ The child gets married because of a ‘scud”‘.

It is also interesting that his attitude and behaviour are dismissed as ignorant and stupid and as indications of his not being ‘educated’ and of therefore not knowing “what life is”. In other words he does not understand the times he is living in. A woman observed that “the father is not educated so he does not realise the value of education”. Even his drinking is associated to his not being “educated”. Equally a male respondent at Takaruza village said, “I did not appreciate the way the father was drinking ‘scud’. He did not know that he was being irresponsible, he also didn’t know the importance of education because he was not educated”. He receives money from Precious but instead of using this to pay for his beer he takes the drinks on credit hoping to trade in his daughter for it (a fact that was thoroughly criticised all round). This was also seen to be bad as it is an underhanded and conspiratorial way of dealing with one’s children. As a man said in Takaruza village “It is bad because the father is keeping a secret which he does not want to tell the child”.

Thus Jumbe does help to make people to understand an implicit message in the film that people should change with the times.

Desire for a sequel

From their awareness of the centrality of obtaining employment after schooling audiences have demanded a sequel to Mwanasikana for audiences to learn what happens to the family.

Constance. It should have ended when Tariro had been successful and was on a high job, looking after her parents, and her parents realising that they did send a talented child to school.

Reason: I feel that the film was not finished, it should have ended with Tariro working and as a successful person. Her father would be shocked and embarrassed that he did not send his intelligent child to school.

(Grade 7 female pupil Karai primary school)

They want to see how Tariro and Precious ‘make it’ to serve as a lesson for audiences who will follow closely lessons learnt from films. Will Precious’ husband want her back after she presumably does well? The feeling of many to want to know what happens to the two girls is reflected in the words of a respondent at Domborembizi who said that the film “ended in the middle because we were left with questions of what happened next, what later became of the child?” Respondents at Takaruza village wondered whether someone (for example, Precious)would have to pay for the sins of the father (for example there is still the outstanding debt to be settled). This is a point that was also succinctly raised by Chief Madziwa at Domborembizi. As for Tariro, since she is ‘so determined and she spends sleepless nights, maybe she might become a doctor or an air hostess. Even the father admitted that education is good, he identified his weakness’.

The film ended in the middle because it didn’t show us what should be done, we should have seen the father embarrassed by the success of the children. Precious should have gone back to school since we are saying education is for all. The mother should have looked for a job to do. The film was not complete because the teaching was not complete. The father should have been punished and forced to see that education for girls is essential.

(Chief Madziwa, Domborembizi primary school)

An indication of what the sequel should look like is further provided by the young female respondents at Domborembizi who said that girls who finish school ‘get married to educated men and look after their parents” and “even if she doesn’t get married she can still look after her parents showing that education is important and parents will not regret spending money on her’.

Need for role models

Another strongly hinted at need in the follow-up film is for Tariro and Precious (in their success) to act as role models for their audiences. This issue was explicitly raised by the twenty one year old teacher trainee, Bongani Mabhena, at Magama primary school who said that the problem of young people in the area is lack of positive role models. He said that the only people who serve as role models for children in that part are a policeman, teacher, and nurse. But these days children are more aware and want to rise higher than these role models. According to Mabhena the tendency is for young men and women from Tsholotsho to go to South Africa in search of employment and to get married. When they do get jobs they buy conspicuous luxury items such as cars which mark them out as ‘successful’ and thus they become role models to other young men and women in spite of the fact that they are not highly educated. This then makes young people not to recognise the value of higher education and to tend to drop out of school early.

‘I was once down in Tsholotsho in Bubi 30 kilometres from here, a young boy stood up and said there in no use to learn because I have brothers of mine who work in South Africa but you teachers who are well learned hitch hike in his car’ 

(21 year old, teacher trainee Bongani Mabhena)

However the film operator, Ndiweni, thinks this is a temporary problem because these young men are being sent back from South Africa as illegal immigrants. In any case the jobs they get are not exemplary since they do not have enough education and other qualifications to earn them enviable positions.

The value of discussion in attitude and behaviour change

It was clear from the responses of the audiences that, alongside the film being well understood and arousing emotion and feeling, it also aroused discussion around issues connected with girl-child education which are also linked to sociocultural values, norms, practices and attitudes. This is very significant as discussion among peer groups is a very effective way of increasing knowledge and awareness of an issue and of influencing behaviour change. The film made it clear that girl-child education touches on basic aspects of social relations, such as moral norms and values. Jumbe and Mudiwa are judged from a set of these norms and values. These aspects were also clearly highlighted during these discussions. Hence the film was understood within a broad social and cultural context.

The film, for example, raises the question of relations at home, the need for love and dialogue in the family and the way that women work hard. In many ways, the film thus makes men to think of their relationships with their wives and of their role in creating an equitable and loving atmosphere at home. At Karai village, male respondents agreed that women do much more work than men: ‘women go to the fields, after that they cook meals, look after the children, go back to the fields – so I think they work very hard’. Another respondent said that ‘women have more working period than men because when a man is resting a woman will be dealing with household chores. So I support the previous speaker’. After some discussion some men agreed that it is good to give wives ‘a helping hand’ : ‘If there is plenty of work for my wife, for example, collecting water from the bore hole it is unfair to sit when we could share a lot of time after taking care of the work’.

It is important to notice how, alongside its concern with girl-child education the film, through Jumbe, also makes us to question the lifestyle of men in rural areas. Central in Jumbe’s life are meals, drink and sleep. He is fed from big basins (which audiences – notably young men – notice and laugh at and at one time it seems as if he is washing his hands with fire). His life seems aimless and unproductive. He is indeed a superfluous unproductive man who leaves audiences asking whether there is any reason why he should be in existence.

Conclusion: overall impact of the film

Our discussion above shows that the film had a discernible impact on its audiences. However there is need to remember that behaviour change is a long term process and as chief Madizwa said of this ‘awareness alone changes nothing’. There was a lingering feeling that hitherto held attitudes and forms of behaviour would continue to exert negative influence. Awareness of this was to lead Chief Madziwa to suggest a drastic way of bringing about behaviour change – that of using legal force. He recommended that ‘the government should impose laws on chiefs that children, both boys and girls, should go to school”.

Nonetheless some people felt that the film has led to behaviour changes. For example, one girl at Karai primary, Naomi, said that her parents had seen the film and had “said girls should not be stopped from going to school”. This is an indication too of the fact that the film was discussed after viewing. The children said that none of their parents were upset by the film.

‘People who watched on this film said that the story in the film was touching. The film is a good motivation for the parents to change their attitudes from not educating to educating female children’.

(Report of the mobile cinema film unit’s operators, Mashonaland Central Province, May 1997)

In summary, those factors which support the finding that the film has had, and shall continue having, an impact are:

  1. There was a widely accepted perception that, after seeing the film, that parents should give a chance to whoever of their child showed an aptitude for doing well in school whether this was a girl or a boy.

  2. Those factors discussed above which are considered important in social learning theory such as recognition and identification of situation and events, audience ability to analyse and make meaning, need for role models and responses to the various characters.

  3. As we have said above the film shows the audience what happens in their own homes and in real life, and what the audience knows to be an existing problem. In Jumbe therefore those men who do not support girl-child education ‘see’ themselves. In the way that Jumbe is depicted and the fact that what he stands for comes in for strong censure and criticism by all segments of the population makes these men come to recognise that they are acting in an unfair and immoral way by not supporting their daughters’ schooling.

Most of these things are already common in our day to day life. It taught parents that they should send children to school and that children should work hard when they go to school. If only that girl was educated she could have helped her parents.

(Middle aged man at Karai village)

The film is therefore asking parents to be critical of existing values (which are loudly criticised in the figure of Jumbe). In fact Jumbe is depicted in a way that makes him appear to be irresponsible and inhuman. His willingness to use his need for beer to deprive his daughter of continued schooling is understood as leading to the destruction of the life of this daughter (as may have happened to Precious) and to future unhappiness. In other words, he is anti-social. Thus the film “demonises” those fathers who do not want to send their daughters to school making these objects of public ridicule and laughter. Indeed the film helps to make it appear unfashionable to discriminate against girls.

On the other hand the film makes those who do not send their girlchildren appear to be like Jumbe as well. In many ways, therefore, the film is subverting existing notions of what is ‘normal’ among parents and proposing another set of norms, values and forms of behaviour toward girl-child education. Significantly, as we have previously said, the film’s representation of Jumbe’s irresponsibility and its wider consequences for the girl-child and the family have been clearly accepted by the audience. The audience has therefore accepted the film’s implied message that people should change with the present times. As a male teacher at Hambe primary school said, “the father is old fashioned and his behaviour is not appropriate for today”.

Given the above, we are of the opinion that the film’s does have, and shall continue to have, an impact. It arouses strong emotions among all segments of the audience and appeals for justice, love and morality on the treatment of daughters. It was heartening, for example, to note that even young boys could see and discuss the importance of girl-child education. The film thus has a lasting value because it can be shown in a variety of audiences in different situations. It can, for example continue to be shown to both young boys and girls when they are still forming their values and perceptions. Further it has a long life because of its quality of provoking discussion and thought in situations in which inter-personal discussions and peer pressure are important.

In this way the film shall also continue to strengthening changes in attitudes and behaviour towards the girl child education which are also influenced by social and economic changes which create new demands. Undoubtedly then the film Mwanasikana has made and shall continue to make an important intervention in the process of attitude and behaviour change in the education of the girl-child.

Q: So this film is not teaching you something new, You already knew this?

W. What’s new is that there are still some people who don’t want to send girls to school because they want them to get married so as to get money not knowing that you spend the money and it gets finished. Some just have children and stay at home for good. She may get a job as a maid and the father there may want her and make her his lover. So where is the bringing up of the child?

(Mother at Domborembizi)


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