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Our story to tell: Senegalese youth address early marriage through film

In the struggle to end early marriage, it’s the teenagers and pre-teens who are on the front lines. Their generation’s voice is the most important – but often, it’s the least heard.

When I first travelled to the village of Sinthiou Mbadane, Senegal in the autumn of 2008, I met a small group of teenagers – only a few years younger than me – who turned out to be the first kids from their village to ever go to school.

We became friends, and soon collaborated on a short video project about their everyday lives. I had no idea that the stories they’d share would open a window into the world of forced early marriage, revealing their deeply conflicting emotions behind this important global issue.

Five years later, our small video project has grown into an internationally acclaimed, award-winning feature film called Tall as the Baobab Tree (Grand comme le Baobab). Hailed by Development in Action as “effectively unpicking the complexity of cultural change,” the film has emerged as a powerful voice from rural Africa’s young generation.

Poster of Tall as the Baobab Tree, movie about child marriage in Senegal

Based on the actors’ own experiences, Tall as the Baobab Tree tells the story of child marriage in rural Senegal.

Tall as the Baobab Tree is now available to download and stream:

Tall as the Baobab Tree has grown into something more than an advocacy film — the Sundance Institute included Tall as the Baobab Tree among their “favorite modern work” this year, while the New York Times compared the film to the likes of Satyajit Ray.

People around the world who have little to no knowledge about international development are watching Tall as the Baobab Tree and learning about early marriage. Even those who do have advocacy experience are coming away with a deeper understanding of the issue.

For those of us who have spent time in small villages, we know that stopping early marriage isn’t as easy as passing a law or holding a seminar. But why, when the proof is so clear, do villages persist in this harmful practice?

This is the key conflict at the core of Tall as the Baobab Tree. Through the course of the film’s story, we follow Coumba, a rebellious teenager, as she attempts to thwart her younger sister’s upcoming marriage. The film’s story is inspired by real experiences from the village students’ lives. The students and their families act in the film, playing fiction versions of themselves, and the entire movie was shot in and around their homes.


Coumba and Amady in Tall as The Baobab Tree

Rather than approaching our early marriage story with a solution in mind, Tall as the Baobab Tree portrays the reality of village life from all perspectives, without any judgment. Ultimately, of course, the realities speak for themselves.

The film does not feel like human rights piece – it simply captures the emotions of the traditional and modern worlds colliding.

Tall as the Baobab Tree has screened in nearly 60 villages across Senegal – time and time again, the film has proven to be an extremely effective conversation starter with young people and elders alike.  It is a novel prospect for many locals, who often feel as if they are being lectured to and “corrected”.

Abroad, from Doha to London to Brasilia, kids and adults leave the film with a new understanding of why early marriages happen, along with the cultural challenges facing villages at the outer edge of the modern world.

To us, the small group of young people who made the film, Tall as the Baobab Tree is about standing up for your beliefs and doing what you feel is right, no matter what. Tall as the Baobab Tree channels the energy and idealism of youth while portraying a very stark and realistic world where change is two steps forward and one step back… where the invincibility of youth bends beneath the harsh realities of life – but is never broken.

Tall as the Baobab Tree is now available to download and stream: