Taking Back The Narrative: The Gravedigger's Wife

Youth Board member, Leyla, reflects on why it's important to have films like The Gravedigger's Wife at Glasgow Film Festival and why this matters to her.

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When you search up Somalia on the internet, you will most likely come across disheartening news stories about conflicts, wars and radical pirates. This, however, is not the Somalia or the Somalis I am familiar with, or was thought about. I know it as a warm and vibrant country that has rich artistic traditions, with a diligent and conscientious people. The Gravedigger's wife, Somalia’s first ever Oscar submission, directed by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed depicts just, and is breaking the imposed narrative that Somalia and its people has.

As someone who grew up in the West with Somali heritage I would rarely see any films with proper imagery or authentic representation of my culture. So when I saw that a film made by Somalis, for Somalis, in Somali, would be in cinemas, specifically the Glasgow Film Theatre, I was thrilled.

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Ahmed’s critically acclaimed tells the tail of the gravedigger Guled, as he tries to cope with his wife Nasra’s illness and the need for money to pay for her medical treatment. Guled is no stranger to death and disease, due to his job. This is paradoxical given that he needs others to die in order to save his wife’s life. Whereas most films with any form of Somali representation jumps on the bandwagon of portraying stereotypes, The Gravedigger's Wife avoids this trap by telling a story of love, humanity and community.

This film was inspired by an actual episode in the director's life, in which one of his family members died suddenly, and how quickly burials were held in Somalia. Ahmed returned to his memories of seeing the gravediggers outside the hospitals when he was writing his script. He said "At that movement, I wanted to write about this gravedigger character, I wanted to show people that they exist," Ahmed said, and I think this is a fantastic choice of the director to highlight lesser-known stories because it might give people a whole different perspective on how and why people are the way they are. Furthermore, this way of storytelling reminds people who don not have a wide range of representation in film and media that there people who look like them, have similar stories and backgrounds, especially if they are growing up in a society distinct to what they would consider as their home country.

The themes portrayed in The Gravedigger's Wife can also be seen in the short film Fardosa, directed by Rukia Mahamed, Iqlaas Osman, and Anton Tammi, which is a coming-of-age story about Fardousa balancing her in Somali identity whilst growing up in Helsinki. The film, like The Gravedigger's Wife, is in Somali and deals with issues like friendships and identity. It does, however also, highlight generational distinctions between people who are second-generation immigrants and their parents .

I can relate to Fardousa as I grew up in Norway and see the same patterns between Fardousa and her mum’s relationship in my own family relationships. As a ‘third culture kid’ I also recognise Fardousa's subtle code-switching in her behaviour between her family, friends, and when she is alone.

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I think why it was easy for me to embrace the story, specifically of The Gravedigger's Wife because I recognised its nuances and saw people in the film who looked and act like me and my family. Women wearing ‘baatis’ and ‘garbasaar’, men wearing macawiss and the satirical humour we use in everyday life. The honest portrayal of Glued and Nasra’s lives through artistic media, alludes to stories I would hear about my family’s past and present, hearing the sounds of Xasan Aadan Samatar through out my home and seeing Saado Ali Warsame perfom in ‘riwaayads’ on my parents’s old cassettes during my childhood. Khadar beautifully depicted the reality of many Somalis into moving images for others to see.

I am immensely proud to see that The Gravedigger's Wife was screening in this years Glasgow Film Festival.

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