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Tisa Chigaga: Zambian Filmmaker Projects Women’s Stories with ‘Bride of Zambia’

Tisa Chigaga: Zambian Filmmaker Projects Women’s Stories with ‘Bride of Zambia’ 

Tisa Chigaga

Tisa Chigaga, a Zambian screenwriter and filmmaker, is challenging deep-seated gender norms and empowering women by igniting important conversations across her home country and abroad.

When she set out to make her new independent short film, she was warned to expect a lot of criticism because the film ‘Bride of Zambia’ is the first short film to openly talk about gender roles in the country.

Growing up in a conservative home where films were a rare weekend treat, Chigaga’s love of films was sparked by an enthusiastic friend who exposed her to arthouse films when she was a college student in the UK.

“I joined the Filmmaking Society and Cinema Club in university, even though it was something my parents didn’t really take seriously.” Chigaga said this in an interview with OkayAfrica.

Chigaga was always developing scripts while in college and had even finished a few full-length features, but she was eager to take her stories to new heights.

Chigaga moved back to Zambia after studying in the UK and opened a boutique specialising in lingerie for full-figured and plus-sized women.

She lightheartedly applied to some film programmes in the US and got in but at some point, she could not afford the necessary funds for the programme she had been accepted into.

Eventually, she got into a more affordable teaching college in the US, where she trained with digital cameras and learned about sound and production. The experience helped her build the confidence to make movies on her own and to tell the stories she wanted to share.

‘Bride of Zambia was originally titled ‘Kitchen Party’ which is a ceremony preparing the bride-to-be for marriage as seen as a type of ‘fattening room’.

Chigaga’s aim was to capture how older women often hand down harmful traditions and narratives and recycle values to keep women subdued in marriage.

She deliberately did not include visible male characters in the film. She did this to avoid framing the issues as solely a conflict between men and women. The only male character that was present in the film was shown only from behind the scenes as a secondary role.

“The focus in Bride of Zambia is on women because it is often women who pass down advice and uphold these norms, despite their own pain and difficulties in marriage. We bully one another, and we judge when we see other women who don’t adhere to these unrealistic standards. So, before interrogating the role of men, we need to also interrogate one another. That’s where the work lies.”

“The positive feedback, people saying how much it means to them, how deeply they relate to the struggles the film sheds light on, and the organised outdoor screenings and follow-up discussions in Lusaka show that media can indeed challenge harmful norms and spark meaningful dialogue.” Chigaga added.

Chigaga wishes to continue storytelling and filmmaking that will highlight cultural and social issues affecting women in Zambia and Africa, with the hope of changing the narrative and empowering women.

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