Director Rahmatou Keïta has made it clear that one of her motivations in making The Wedding Ring is to show that there is more to Africa than the negative stereotypes that dominate Western media: poverty, war and disease.
Keïta’s daughter, Magaajyia Silberfeld, stars as Tiyaa, a member of an aristocratic family, who has returned to her village in Niger after completing her studies in Paris. While in France, she fell in love with a fellow Nigerien, and the two engaged in some activities that are counter to their tradition, such as pre-marital sex. Now the two want to marry. This should not be a problem because Tiyaa’s fiancé also comes from a noble family. By tradition, his family should visit her family to seal the deal. But, in a region without cell phones or internet, as time passes without word from his family, Tiyaa becomes unsettled.
While waiting, Tiyaa encounters a variety of women and learns of their stories of love and marriage. She also feels somewhat caught between the traditional culture, which she respects, and the modern, more open culture she has experienced in France. As a bonus, we are exposed to beautiful, colorful cinematography, both exterior and interior.
Keïta told me that it was important to her to emphasize that the people of Niger are overwhelmingly reserved, polite and even shy. In the film, for example, a woman seeks sanctuary in Tiyaa’s family’s compound because she is fleeing her husband. Did he commit violence against her? No. His offense is that he spoke to her in a disrespectful manner. The male members of the woman’s family appear, not to threaten, but to calmly negotiate her return. (She refuses, and her decision is accepted.)
Keïta is a former TV journalist with a long history of promoting African causes. During the 1990s, she produced a 26-part television series profiling African women, and in 2004 she wrote and directed a documentary, Al’lèèssi…An African Actress, about pioneers of African cinema. She also wrote a book, SDF, Sans Domicile Fixe, about homelessness in France, a reminder that poverty is not limited to Africa. Because of the difficulty in finding funding, it took Keïta ten years from the time she wrote the script until The Wedding Ring premiered.
It is worth noting that although The Wedding Ring presents a society of a benevolent and cultured nobility with contented servants, Niger remains an impoverished country, ranking in last place (out of 189 nations) in the United Nations’ Human Development Index, which is based on life expectancy, per capita income and education.