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Conversation with Pascale G. Serra

  1. Can you share with us a bit about your journey?

I am a filmmaker from The Central African Republic and the CEO of my company named Illustro Productions. After I graduated from university in Paris, I went back to my country and realized that many things had to be done within the audio-visual sector. Alongside a weak cinema production, we only have one national TV, which also needs more content and technicians.  When you type the name of my country into Google, you will mostly find violent images, blood, machetes, guns…etc. And this is what The Central African Republic is only known for in the international media – conflict and war. As a result of this extremely dangerous narrative,  people were convinced that their images would be used for the negative portrayal of themselves and their nation. One cannot also blame them because for a long time, they were used to seeing cameras only when violence erupted.  What makes it even worse, is that we also do not have archives related to our own history and identity that we, especially young people can draw from.

I also equally found out that people needed to speak out on what they were going through, as well as testify what they actually witnessed during the crucial period of the war. It is somehow a tradition that speaking out your trauma is like exercising weakness, which is very wrong. I believe speaking out is a form of therapy as you are able to share what you are going through. It can help with healing and in some cases, you also find that you are not the only one suffering. People who identify your pain with theirs can reach out to offer a helping hand. 

Finally, my work was to not only make documentaries or video reports, but to also use them as a tool for personal development and for the reconstruction of a country like mine. This perspective changed from what was a passion to  a necessity. 

2. How do you think your work is currently perceived in CAR?

When I came back to The Central African Republic, I worked on a documentary titled ZONE 3. It centers on internally displaced people and refugees and how they managed to survive in their camp. I mostly met women in this camp, which led to my decision of making the main character a woman. Her name was Gisele.  She was a mother of 5 children, with 3 that she had adopted. Despite the fact that she had lost her husband in a violent way (he was killed and cut into pieces and thrown to pigs), Gisele raised her kids away from revenge and hate speech. She was the perfect example of resilience and courage.

As you know, during conflicts and wars, women are the most vulnerable persons. While shooting the documentary, I heard stories which moved me, making it impossible for me to just take my camera and tell their story with no purpose. What was extremely important to me was carving out something from their journey. To mainly show how important these women were and to also persuade the world to help them through their stories.  I wanted to show how hardworking these refugees were, and that they were in fact the real heroes of their own stories.

Today, ZONE 3 has received 4 international awards and it is the first documentary from Central African Republic to have received awards overseas. On the national level, it is currently used as a tool to discuss resilience and courage. We succeeded to find houses for some of them, and also helped others in activities that improved their standards of living.

  1. What is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?

In one sentence I will say without hesitation: to use my few privileges in order to lift up the have-nots.  I am conscious that the work I do is profound and tough, but during my training at the Mandela Washington Fellowship from the Young Africans Leadership Initiative program (YALI) in Kenya and the United States of America, I learned that helping one person is also helping a whole community.

  1. What challenges have you faced or continue to face?

The lack of stability as a result of insecurity in my country is the biggest challenge. Due to fear, it is easy for people to also spread fake news or a propaganda. For example, one day, when going to conduct an interview with someone whose brother had been shot, an unknown woman randomly started spreading word that I had come to supply guns. In few seconds, my assistant and I found ourselves surrounded because we were being seen as threats. We were, fortunately, able to leave unharmed but this makes one constantly remain in fear and sometimes question themselves, even when they have not committed a crime. 

The other challenge is that I am a woman who happens to work in a male dominated field. In  various places, people have never even seen women holding cameras. The fact that my name, Pascale is also a male name confuses people even more. They keep asking questions such as “Why do you have a male name? Do you want to become a man?” Once in a while I find this funny and laugh about it. However if you think about these comments profoundly, you see that I am being insulted because of my gender.

  1. What tools of factors do you think have helped shift the ways in which the media industry functions in relation to women?

With the help of some partners such as Alliance Française de Bangui and US embassy in CAR, we have put training as a priority. People are afraid of things they don’t know or know less of. But, if we go into a dynamic where more women will be trained and seen in the media, then stereotypes towards them would change. And today, many young women are getting trained with men. For instance, Leila Thaim, one of the trained women had a documentary screened during a prestigious festival in Switzerland, which is a big achievement. 

I also have the conviction that valorising the work of our people will bring about recognition, and also make us proud of our country. Our young people also need better role models in media. Our children don’t have to think that the only thing one can become is a president, minister, military officer or even rebels.

6. At any point in your career, have you been at a disadvantage because of your gender?

In some situations, yes. A few years ago, I was given indecent proposals with the promise to get a better position at work. This is the reality that many women face. Sometimes, you can feel that your work is not the most important thing to such people. Looking back now, I see that I am happier and I feel proud to be my own boss, and I am grateful to both men and women that have helped me attain this goal. Being in this position protects me and gives to me the power to choose people I want to work with.

I have also heard people who think that I owe my success to the fact that I am a woman and according to them, all I have is thanks to men. Sometimes, people are persuaded that being a woman is the only criteria to be successful. I find it wrong because it is the opposite. Being a successful woman is actually tougher. In our cultures, girls are taught different things to boys, which in most cases disempowers the girl and destroys her dreams. 

On the bright side, being aware of all of these cultural and work dynamics has also helped make better choices. I focus on what I do, the impact I make, and most importantly, allow my work to speak  for itself. And if being a feminist is to ask for respect and rights as a human being, then yes I am a proud feminist who will continue to fight for myself and other women. 

  1. What would you want to see come out of a conference and festival attended by women from different countries, working in various media fields?

This is going to be such a great opportunity to share and learn from different experiences and different cultures. Each country is dealing with different issues, and a few have succeeded to put in place some mechanisms to effect proper change in order to build capacity for sustainable development. Women in my country need training in all fields of media.This meeting is going to be a good forum for networking and collaboration. For me this will be an opportunity to present the problems of my country and also suggest possible solutions to these pertinent problems.

United we stand, divided we fall.

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C.E.O & Co-founder, AWiM

Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is an award-winning journalist, academic, consultant and co-founder of African Women in Media (AWiM). AWiM’s vision is that one-day African women will have equal access to representation in media. Joint winner of the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting), Yemisi ran her news website IQ4News between 2010-14.
Yemisi holds a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Birmingham City University, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She has published scholarly research on women’s rights, African feminism, and journalism and digital public spheres. She was Editorial Consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 commemorative book titled “She Stands for Peace: 20 Years, 20 Journeys”, and currently hosts the book’s podcast.
She speaks regularly on issues relating to gender and media. In 2021 she was recognized as one of 100 Most Influential African Women.