Pushing Boundaries

Masters and Slaves

Bernard Debord
France 2001 | 84 Min. | BetaSP, OmeU

Although the gov­ern­ment denies it, slav­ery still exists today in Niger. The feudal soci­ety of nomadic tribes recog­nis­es two class­es: the mas­ters who own the ani­mals and tents, and the slaves who carry out the work. Chil­dren can be sold just like that. Legal pros­e­cu­tion of slave owners is impos­si­ble. MAÎTRES ET ESCLAVES fol­lows a camel trail through the Sahel, to the 20-year-old Boul­boulou, who has escaped with her baby. She lays claim to com­pen­sa­tion for the work she per­formed under slav­ery, but fears her former mas­ters’ lethal revenge. The second story is that of the 26-year-old Tuma­jet, who wants to take away her teenage daugh­ter from her former owner. The women are assist­ed by staff mem­bers of Timidria, an organ­i­sa­tion who wants to put a stop to slav­ery. When both par­ties meet, their body lan­guage is telling: cast down eyes and fright­ened looks from the slaves versus arro­gant orders and angry reproach­es from the mas­ters. ‘So much trou­ble for a slave’, one mis­tress says scorn­ful­ly. Debord refrains from spoken com­ment. The images of the arid desert and the omi­nous roars of drom­e­daries pro­vide suf­fi­cient commentary.


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