Maimouna Elle: Portraying African Countries Through Her Lens.

Can you share a bit about your background and how you got started in videography?

My father was born and raised in Senegal, but we are Bambara from Mali. My mother is Black American. I was born and raised in the Washington DC area with frequent vacations with my father’s family in Dakar. I attended Howard University for my undergraduate degree, then the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine for Medical School, and thereafter I completed one year as a categorical general surgery resident at the University of Alabama in Birmingham before deciding to take a step back and reassess my career in medicine. 

I originally took videos of weddings and family events, then graduated to prproducey own small-scale webseries in medical school that discussed how race, gender, and ethnicity played a role in individual career decisions and self perceptions. 

What motivated you to focus on Romanticizing African countries through your videos?

Mass media does not often portray the everyday lives that exist in African Countries beyond poverty and corruption. However, these are aspects that exist in countries around the world, particularly in western countries. However, western countries continue to be romanticized. Why shouldn’t our countries be romanticized as well, why shouldn’t the worth of our everyday lives be seen as well?

Are there any particular filmmakers or artists who have inspired your approach to videography?

One of my major inspirations is Issa Rae. I imagine like many young Black women, I see myself in her. She is a Senegalese American, who grew up to cherish her Black American culture while also valuing her African culture. Additionally, she cultivated a career in tv and film while portraying authentic and common experiences by Black people in America. I admire Donald Glover who is a multi talented artist. I was especially inspired by the TV show Atlanta, that used satire to discuss present day issues concerning the Black Community. I was recently exposed to the work of Khady Sylla. She was a Senegalese director who used film to expose the hardship and complexities of people whose identity is often neglected by society; maids, bus attendants, etc. I think I have particularly used that concept to guide some of the videos I have featured on Romanticizing African Countries. Finally, I am inspired by Quinta Brunson, who essentially started in content creation, though eventually earned the opportunity to create a TV series based on the experiences of her mother and the Black community. 

How has your Senegalese heritage influenced your creative vision?

Similar to many non western cultures, Senegal at its original base is a communal society, where I was taught to be polite to others, look out for my neighbors, and look to improve the conditions of our people. I always try to express gratitude to my audience for supporting my vision, I try to give visibility to African or Diasporan businesses and organizations, and finally I am trying to build and strengthen a community of Africans and African Descendants. 

 

What aspects of African countries do you find most captivating and wish to highlight in your work?

I try to emphasize the existence and value of human experiences that are common to people throughout the world; family, food, fashion, love, music, swimming, sports, and various forms of employment. This is not a radical concept, it is only humanizing African people to remind us of how we are connected as a people within the continent and beyond. 

What challenges have you faced in your journey as a videographer, especially when focusing on African countries?

The journey between even neighboring African countries can be excessively long, and the cost of flights and visas can be incredibly high. Fortunately, I do think we are in an era where travel to and between African countries will be increasing, so hopefully we will see an improvement in the ease of travel. Furthermore, I am limited to only French and English, therefore I have to find a local translator in areas that predominantly speak local languages, Arabic, Portuguese, Creole, etc. 

On the flip side, what are the most rewarding aspects of your work in showcasing the beauty of African nations?

The most gratifying aspect of my work is having the opportunity to learn about the differences and similarities of our countries. Although we have been separated, so many of our countries have variations of the same ethnic groups, belief systems, main dishes, languages, music, etc. For example, the Boubou worn in Senegal is typically very colorful and starched, whereas it is blue and white in Mauritania, and typically worn with the sleeves rolled up as a compliment to other clothing. 

What are your future goals and aspirations as a videographer focusing on African countries?

I hope to continue to produce work that is captivating enough to continue building our community and attract sponsors for my project. As it is expensive, and will only become more so as I start to travel outside of West Africa, I am hoping to work with sponsors who value being a part of a new and valuable community. I want to visit as many countries as possible because there is nothing more heartwarming than a comment from a community member saying “Thank you Maïmouna for showing my country, I feel seen”. 

I have many features that I plan to gradually roll out for the platform. Although taking it step by step, I want to continue developing our online store that features products designed exclusively by African and diasporan artists. Finally, in the future I would like to write and direct a short film and series that features themes that are common to the African Community, so once again we can all feel seen, prideful, and connected. 

 

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