The Hidden World: Adele and Child Brides in Australia

Interview with filmmaker Mirene Igwabi by Sonja Hammer

In the face of an African family tradition imposed on her in Australia, fourteen-year-old Adele is torn between high school and home where she is a wife from an arranged marriage and a mother-to-be.

Mirene Igwabi is the creative force behind Adele, a short film that brings something so new and challenging to Australian cinema. It’s the story of a pregnant child bride, told from an African diaspora. Depicting this hidden subject with honesty and beauty, the film has received much attention and awards in the past year including Best Director and Best Actress at St Kilda Film Festival and Best Live Action Short film at the Sydney Film Festival 2017. I spoke to the director of Adele, Mirene Igwabi, about the inspiration for the film, the situation of child brides in Australia, and the importance of African representation in Australian cinema.

Sonja Hammer: Greetings Mirene, thanks so much for speaking to me today about your short film Adele which is screening at this year’s MWFF in the Shorts Session number One. What was your reason for picking the topic of teen pregnancy for your film?

Mirene Igwabi: It’s very silent in Australia about this issue, they don’t know about it. Child marriage is very common in Africa, but here it is hidden and very rarely is reported and I wanted to raise awareness of the girls suffering. A friend in High School had this happen to her when she was in year 9 and I was inspired also by the cases of up to 300 girls sent back to Africa from Australia for marriage. Child marriage is an issue and I wanted to share their innocence.

SH: The lead, Princess Mariama Andrews who plays Adele is incredible , her silence and her body language and facial expressions speak volumes then any words did you find her?

MI: It’s interesting actually. I put up an ad in Brisbane (where film is based) for an actress and I just couldn’t find the right girl, but then I remembered a cousin of someone I knew, who knew of a girl Princess Mariama, and she did the audition. She had never acted before, but she had Adele just come to life, I was in tears.

SH:  Clothing and fabrics and sewing machines, the sound of which is prevalent in the film, what were the reasons for that kind of environment?

MI: I wanted African elements and African culture in the film and it gives it an authentic flavour. Clothing is so important and showing the livelihood of migrants from Africa and the skills they use to survive was important. It’s vital we don’t lose our culture.

SH: The relationship of Adele and the ‘Aunty’ is interesting, as she says to Adele: “Love at first site killed your mother,” when she is talking about Peter the man who is wed to Adele, and it almost feels like no one is really on her side, what are you saying about families like Adele’s?

MI: Most of the times our mother’s mother was not a marriage for love, but it’s for money and security and love grows, that is what they use to say. In some families they still think that and in the film the Aunty is trying to manipulate Adele into accepting that what they do for her is best for her.

SH: It’s such a beautiful looking film, the pace of it and the spaces between characters gives a feeling of isolation too, something Adele must be experiencing, is that what you wanted to achieve?

MI: The look of the film was important to get across the colours of Africa as I love colour and African films and I still wanted it to have beautiful tones and rich colours, which isn’t what you always see in an Australian film.

SH: What do you think are the next steps for representation for Women of Colour and in particular African women in Australian cinema?

MI: A lot of Africans right now are put in a poor light, [there is a stereotype] that we are all in gangs. I think it is very important that we have stories to share and they are shown to represent us in film in this country. Women still need support in the film industry, still there is not enough support.

SH: Your dreams, aspirations as a film maker, where to next?

MI: I’m doing my second film right now called Cold Freedom. It’s about and ex-child soldier from Africa and there is a lot of post traumatic stress for Africans who have lived the experience of trauma, I will be tackling this issue in my next film.

Thanks so much once again for speaking to me for MWFF 2018, Mirene Igwabi, writer and director of Adele.

Adele screens this weekend at MWFF in Shorts Session #1 on Saturday 24th of Feb at 4pm at the RMIT cinema.

Note: According to Plan International 15 millions girls get married before the age of 18 every year which is the equivalent of 1 girl every 2 seconds. At that rate they estimate 140 million girls will become child brides by 2020.

Whitney Monaghan