Sembene's main character, Colle, is the middle wife of a middling villager. Like most women, she underwent the Purification as tradition dictates, but it didn't go well. The botched ritual operation by the Salimbana made pregnancies difficult for Colle, who lost two babies before a daughter was saved by caesarian section. That daughter, now a teenager, is a Bilakoro. Never having been cut, she's considered unfit to be a bride. Because Colle got away with sparing her daughter the ordeal, a group of four girls seek her protection when their cutting time comes. She grants them "Protection" by invoking the Moolaade tradition. Whoever crosses the sacred thread to seize the girls will be cursed. The great irony of the film is that Colle's traditionalist enemies are kept at bay by tradition, even while they try to stomp out other incursions of modernity.
They cut girls terribly young in Moolaade's African village, but not if Colle (Fatoumata Coulibaly) can help it.
Moolaade is mainly about female empowerment and it has a bit of an agitprop quality to it. I have to admit that the genital-mutilation question is pretty one-sided one for most American observers, but I can't help feeling that making that the battleground between tradition and modernity kind of stacks the deck in favor of the latter. I'm not saying that I'd be receptive to the case against modernity (what would that be anyway? Powaqqatsi?), but I think a deeper film would give that case more of a fair hearing than Sembene did this time out. I'd also concede that there are times and places when Sembene's approach is the appropriate, even necessary one.
I suspect my mild reservations about Moolaade's agitprop qualities won't trouble most people who give it a try. It's a strong crowd-pleasing story that should have any viewer on its side from the start and a good indicator of what African cinema can do. If someone wants to try a film from the continent, I'd have no problem recommending this one.
The English-language trailer was uploaded to YouTube by k364: