FILM REVIEW + VIDEO: “Dakan” – The First West African Gay Film
Since the early days of this website, we’ve been most surprised by the numerous page views and emails we get from young men either from a country in Africa now living in America and the UK or men currently still living there. This fact brings us both joy and distress. On one hand we find it great that the reach of this website extends beyond our borders. On the other hand, we acknowledge that our opinions are based on North American cultural norms, so any advice we attempt to give homosexual African men may not be the best given their home country’s laws and tolerance of gays; as well as the effect being gay would have on an immediate and extended African family with heavily traditional religious views.
Which brings us to the odd yet touching 1997 Guinean film, Dakan (aka Destiny). Written and Directed by Mohamed Camara, Dakan is the first West African feature film to deal with the subject of homosexuality, let alone feature a full fledged African gay couple. In all honesty, my knowledge about the obstacles African gay men face on the continent is limited to documentaries and the numerous depressing stories of homophobia and discrimination on websites like Sebaspace and Rod 2.0 Beta.
Viewing this film on face value seemed to counter everything I thought I knew about the African gay experience. In Dakan, homosexuality is simultaneously viewed as shameful as well as common place. This caused a lot of head-scratching on my part. Then I realized that the film is meant to be BOTH fantasy and an exposé into the lives of two Guinean homosexual men in love.
So we have the foundation for a Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers type story. On face value one as cynical as myself might think: Here we go again, even African gays only tell stories about looking for love. The difference here, these men seem to have fleshed out lives and families that extend beyond “being gay.” The tale of two men facing the odds to be together is still a pivotal part of the story, but the journey to get there is an epic one.
This is also where some of Dakan started to fall apart for me. As students in school, Sori and Manga seem to be known lovers by their fellow male and female classmates. Even other boys outright flirt with Sori in the hallways and parking lot, given that he’s both wealthy and handsome, which causes Manga to grow increasingly jealous. This is obviously where fantasy is woven into the film, which is fun to watch but momentarily takes you out of the realism the film effectively creates with the characters’ pressure to keep their affair under wraps. If the parents continually stress the negative implications that could come with the young men becoming known homosexuals, why is it heavily implied that everyone already knows and its no big deal?
Believe it or not, this point is only halfway through the film. There’s so much layered into this story that, at its foundation is about homosexual love, but is also about the expectations of men in a given family and society. I won’t spoil the ending but it is as touching as it is surprising. It leaves open the question: At what point do the individual’s dreams and aspirations equal or supersede those of others?
This question brings me back to emails we get from men in Africa or those with direct African family ties, the majority of them deal with this dilemma. Discreet masculine gay men all over the world (with the “burden” of blending in) face this problem, but it seems most evident for first and second generation Africans, given their extremely close family bonds. These men deeply worry about the reputation of their family, how it would hurt their family or the disappointment they think it would cause in them.
That dynamic is threaded all throughout this film as Manga and Sori try to resist and bury the innate love they have for each other, not for fear of how society will view them, but for the benefit of their family, the ones close to them. At one point Sori’s father exclaims that his sexuality could literally erase all of the progress he’s made as an entrepreneur since it would blacklist him with customers. That’s an extremely heavy burden to bear for a young man struggling with his sexuality.
Dakan is by no means a perfect film nor is it the best acted at times. However there is a complex story told with the use of some very artistic cinematography. Mohamed Camera, even with the budgetary limitations and protests, managed to create a very much needed addition to the VERY small pool of films dealing with black homosexuality in a non-salacious and raunchy manner. Unlike American gay black films, in Dakan there are no long discussions on anal sex preparation or scenes of gay clubbing or shirtless muscled tattooed men casually posing for the camera while not seeing the camera. This film is merely about love not sex, proving that some gay men thankfully know the difference between the two.
Dakan is currently available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video as well as on DVD for purchase.
See a preview of the first few minutes of the film below:
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