Maitresse d’un homme marié (Mistress of a Married Man), a wildly popular Senegalese TV soap, sparked controversy and made national news here in March when there were there were calls by some religious clerics to ban the show.
It was mostly driven by one scene in which the lead character, a mistress called Marème Dial, points to her crotch proclaiming in Wolof, “Sama lii ma ko moom, ku ma neex laa ko’y jox [“My thing is mine, I give it to whomever I want.”]. While the series weathered the storm and continues to air with more episodes coming, it continues to stir debate not just in Senegalese society, but in its wider Francophone world viewership particularly in Africa.
Thematically, in addition to adultery and polygamy, Maitresse d’un homme marié tackles many issues ranging from sexual abuse, domestic violence, child abduction, parental irresponsibility, substance abuse among others. While such issues are not necessarily new to Senegalese TV dramas, what endears it to the audience is how it addresses them.
The women’s voices are first and foremost in telling their stories. Diversity of looks and characters is also embraced by the series with Kalista Sy, the show’s producer emphasizing, “We were not going to follow the norm of Senegalese shows that primarily feature women who have lightened their skin. We want to show women in a way that audiences have not gotten used to seeing them on screen – focusing on natural beauty of all shapes, shades and sizes.”
Sy and her team also wanted to show these working women as strong characters in spite of all the issues in their private lives. “This is about women as we see ourselves rather than the male gaze in our cinema industry where men have usually decided who a female character should be,” she says.
The show revolves around the lives of four modern urban women based in Dakar. First there is Marème, the unapologetic mistress of Cheikh. Cheikh is married to Lalla—another key character. She’s his devoted wife but is in the dark about his other life. Then there is the reclusive Racky, with a managerial position in the male-dominated construction industry. Lastly there is Dialika a successful professional who is married to Birame, an abusive, narcissistic alcoholic. Other strong female characters include Mamy, a go-getter career woman who still struggles to get over being made fun of as a child for her weight and Dior, a single independent-minded woman.
With a female producer and scriptwriter, telling women’s stories from their own perspective seems to be paying off. Audiences are clamoring for more—new episodes are averaging 1.2 million views on YouTube with the first episode having being viewed 2.4 million times.Comments on the page are from a variety of French-speaking people, mostly Africans.
There are numerous requests in the comments for French subtitles to come out faster so they can watch at the same time as their Wolof-speaking counterparts. Reaction videos to each episode are gaining a following as are the lead characters real Instagram pages.
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