A young film company is taking over the scene in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé: Gurl Boss Production, as the name implies, is a production company for women, by women.
Gurl Boss Production, the creation of Tatapong Beyala, a 28-year-old former model, music video vixen and now certified cinematographer, launched over two years ago with a couple of collaborators.
Today the team counts fifteen young women as members, who handle all technical positions in the company, from directors, to scriptwriters, sound technicians, camera persons, video editors and light technicians.
Cameroon has dozens of video and film production companies, primarily all-male, until the arrival of Gurl Boss.
"The aim of Gurl Boss Production is to bring more women in the domain of film production not just as models or actors, as we see them every day, but mostly as the technical crew themselves," says Beyala.
Running a female production company and training women is not just about putting women in the spotlight but giving them the chance to shine from behind the camera, in a way they never have before.
She says she decided to venture into the technical side of film production after bad experiences working as a model in front of the camera.
When she realised other women had suffered as well, she wanted to change the industry from the ground up by putting women in control.
"I noticed a lot of females in the entertainment industry have experienced sexual harassment directly or indirectly," says Beyala, adding that discrimination is also evident in their pay packets at the end of a shoot. "Women are not always paid. Or if we are paid, we are paid a lot less."
That frustration, coupled with regular harassment, fuelled her determination to set up a safe and creative space on film sets.
"I began to see that what these men are doing, we can do it, so why aren't we doing it? Why are we always the ones to complain we're exploited, we're the ones to go naked, we're the ones to get... raped," she adds.
Not taken seriously
On set in Yaoundé, Gurl Boss line producer Vanessa Bimai is in charge of general supervision and ensuring a smooth pre- and post-production. Bimai spoke to the Africa Calling podcast on the sidelines of the video shoot, a two-minute film on the streets of Yaoundé, calling for peace in Cameroon.
"People are always surprised, even astonished, to see women this engaged in a domain that, for us here in Cameroon, is still reserved for men," she says.
"We are getting used to it with time, and people are also getting used to seeing us and trusting us. It's difficult but we are getting there," she adds.
Fellow crew member Camila Ntieuch, makeup artist and sound technician at Gurl Boss, agrees with Bimai.
"The field of video production is not one in which you really find women, so we are not often taken seriously. It's when they actually see us on-set that they realise we can really do it," she says.
But the difficulties don't stop there - there's also mistrust in women and a lack of consideration for their efforts, especially from male colleagues who are considered authorities in the local film industry, according to Beyala.
"I face a lot of challenges, first, just because I'm a woman. A lot of people don't trust your work, a lot of people don't want to trust you with their big money," she says.
Part of the reality is going unrecognised for their work - Gurl Boss has produced more than 50 videos produced so far.
"In Cameroon, girls are trying to encourage others to step up but we are not even encouraged by our male colleagues. We have work that can compete but we are hardly ever nominated for awards," she says.
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Women working with women
Another major challenge in running an all-female production company is simply working with other women, according to line producer Bimai.
While the team was on set for the production of a TV commercial for a local bank, the ambiance was the usual professional and results-oriented one, but also quite relaxed and casual.
This works most of the time, except when it comes to exercising some authority to achieve particular results. This, says Bimai, is a difficult situation to handle.
"That's the first difficulty in working with women, especially as we are like a family and create a friendly ambiance - you need to command some respect," she says.
"It's neither a joke nor friendship. I have to work because the final goal is our image," she says with a smile.
Check out the kick-ass #women of Gurl Boss TV/video productions in #Yaoundé! Reporter @CNgwemoh talks to Vanessa, Camilla & @tatapongbeyala (l to r) for @Africa__Calling #podcast--sick of the abuse on sets & opened their own company #Ichoosetochallenge https://t.co/cmLGg8awXb pic.twitter.com/vxchWNXyPg
- Africa Calling (@Africa__Calling) March 7, 2021
Despite all odds, Beyala, who also works as a music video director, scriptwriter, and video editor, is convinced that Gurl Boss' all-female perspective is an unexpected advantage - which they fully exploit to make their work even more outstanding from the usual male-produced projects.
"Women are very precise with details. We have a very special gift when it comes to colouring. We are emotional, we have seen things that a man has not seen, that he would not be able to visualise life like a woman," she notes.
It's an advantage that Beyala believes will be vital for women to tell their own stories on the small and big screen.
"I'm imagining a world where we can see things with the eye of a woman - and the only way is through cinematography," says the head of Cameroon's only all-female production company.