In the same way as everyone is a fan of Beyonce I am a fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so I watched her TED talk on the single story. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, if you can’t be bothered the basic premise is there is there are no single stories in the world, no single story of childhood, no single story of Nigeria, or no single story of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania. Moreover if we reduce issues or stories to the single story then we reduce ourselves to a dominant narrative thus shutting out other voices and allowing stereotypes to proliferate. I’m not sure I’m doing her argument justice, but hopefully you get the idea.
The single story trap is one of the biggest traps this project could fall into. This film is not about representing the blameless female victim and castigating the promiscuous African male – both rest on heavily racialised stereotypes that often underpin what has been labelled behavioural understandings of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa – it is also not about Africa-as-a-poor-country so effectively pastiched by rustyradiators.com and their video Let’s Save Africa! The film also cannot fall into the associated trap of the international development community’s Lego mantra of everything is awesome! All is working, keep supporting us! The great thing about this film is it is already paid for and the future of everyone working on it does not depend on us painting everything in a rosy, successful light. We can focus on getting beyond what Sisonke Msimang calls the same old stories on HIV/AIDS and tell no lies. Well that’s the plan anyway.
The other problem with the single story is who tells the story of Tanzania (now of course if you’ve been paying attention you’ll note there is no single story of Tanzania – top marks for getting this far on the blog). This big ole trap is imbued with issues of representation and power relations between the producer and consumer of knowledge, who tells the stories and who edits them, and let’s face it, between me (the white British woman with money) and the Tanzanian women whose stories are being told. Now I am back from Tanzania and reflecting on all of the stories I heard, the weight of co-producing a film about the lives of these women feels heavier. When in Tanzania and sitting with people to hear their stories I concentrate on listening and engaging with the person who is telling the story. When not listening to the stories or meeting with women I was thinking about budgets, logistics and the very question of how to pull this ambitious project off. It is now that I am home that the weight of what I heard is hitting me and the importance of not presenting our film as the single or definitive story, but another story, told by new storytellers that is honest about everything not being awesome.