By Jen Thorpe
The Cut: Directed by Beryl Magoko, Uganda, 2012.
In western Kenya female circumcision practices amongst the Kuria ethnic group are centuries old. In The Cut, filmmaker and director Beryl Magoko investigates the current embodiment of this practice, as well as the social forces that keep it alive. The film’s world premiere takes place at the 14th Encounters Documentary Film Festival in Johannesburg and Cape Town in June.
In The Cut we follow the story of Maggie, a young Kuria girl, who will undergo circumcision along with about 300 young girls. The Kuria circumcision involves the cutting or pricking of the clitoral hood with a razor blade. Every even year, Kuria girls are expected to undergo the ritual. Normally this occurs when they are about 13 years old. The World Health Organisation defines female circumcision as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and estimates that around 92 million girls in Africa have undergone some form of FGM. Using Maggie’s story as the backdrop to her investigation, Magoko explores public and personal perceptions around FGM from girls and women, men, FGM practitioners, and doctors. The Cut makes clear that female circumcision is an over-determined practice about which community members’ feelings are ambivalent at best and divided at worst.
Women and men advocating FGM are interviewed. A FGM practitioner says that circumcision is no longer as violent as it was before and that girls who are not circumcised are more regularly abused in their marriages. A very old woman says that the practice has been around for so long, and was meant to happen. She thinks that it will continue for many years to come.
There is also a strong anti-FGM movement in Kenya that educates young girls in classrooms, families in churches, and via public community dialogue. Doctors interviewed in the film describe the health risks and dangers of the practice, and argue that it should be stopped because of the damage to their genitals, risk of fistula, and complications it can cause in childbirth.
Pressure on girls to undergo circumcision arises from community elders who hold onto the practice as a symbol of culture, and from young girls who encourage one another to undergo the practice. A young woman interviewed chose to undergo circumcision, because ‘98% of the girls in her school were circumcised’ and she faced verbal abuse at school for being uncircumcised. She says she regrets being circumcised, and hopes that FGM will end soon.
Another interview with a very young girl reveals that most girls have no idea what will happen to them at circumcision. After being circumcised they are considered culturally ready for marriage. Young girls are often taken out of schools, and sometimes are not allowed to return. She wishes the practice was stopped so that girls can continue with schooling.
The film shows the actual circumcision of both boys and girls, and will unnerve many viewers. After the circumcision, initiates are required to wear ‘shukas’ which are large coloured sheets so that their blood can drip freely. Watching their eyes as they walked the long distance home in obvious pain, blood dripping on their shoes, was for me the most difficult thing to watch.
In 2011 a law was passed making FGM illegal within Kenya, and also made it illegal to take young girls outside of Kenya to undergo the practice. It also made it illegal to make derogatory remarks about those who had not undergone the practice. FGM is a topic around which powerful feelings emerge across generations and genders. The Cut is beautifully filmed and the individual interviews allow the viewer to begin to understand the personal politics of the practice in Kenya.
Watch it TONIGHT at the Fugard in Cape Town. http://www.encounters.co.za/films/the-cut/ book!!