A remarkable shift that has received less media attention among the many stories about Ethiopia’s long, diverse past and present is the giant leap forward in its film industry. Before 2004, Ethiopia only produced a few films on a sporadic basis. However, by 2015, Addis Ababa was seeing around 100 locally produced films each year.
Behind the emergence of Ethiopian cinema is an even more astounding tale of the women who led this transformation as writers, directors, producers, and scholars. Ethiopia may set itself apart from most other countries due to the substantial presence of women in the sector.
Ethiopia, too, is hardly a woman’s paradise. Despite the country’s constitution forbidding discrimination, sexism and gender, discrepancies in financing and lending to entrepreneurs persist. Moreover, while no Ethiopian organisation has looked into gender in the media industry, an informal review of the Addis Ababa Bureau of Culture and Tourism’s list of films licensed shows that the gender ratios are similar to those in the United States.
Women’s influence and achievement in the film industry are unique in Ethiopia. Women-directed films have a higher box office success rate and have won more honours at the nation’s annual Gumma film awards.
Local cinema culture exploded with the transition from celluloid to VHS and then to digital filmmaking, as the number and diversity of films increased. Many women took advantage of the new opportunities, and a handful of them rose to the top of the film industry.
Ethiopia’s many civic and academic arenas contribute to the reforms by encouraging gender representation discussions. The Alatinos Filmmakers Association, for example, has created a space for budding filmmakers to gather, debate, and share their work. Sandscribe, another organisation, has offered free film classes to the general public. In addition, Addis Ababa University started a new master’s degree film program in 2014.