Screen grabs: how religious sects seized Madagascar’s cinema district

Source: The Guardian

Isabelle Mayault in Antananarivo

It’s Sunday afternoon on Rue Dussac, a dusty cobbled street in downtown Antananarivo, and a relaxed crowd of young, elegantly dressed Malagasy women has gathered in the shade outside the Rex cinema. Among them is Kantou, 20, who has come with her mother to see today’s “show”: a service of the Evangelical Messenger of Awakening (MRE) church.


“I first started coming when I was 14. I was going through some serious emotional problems back then,” says Kantou. Her mother had stopped believing in God after her divorce. They heard about the MRE church through a friend and have been coming every Sunday since.

Inside, the giant dusty screen and rows of folding seats are remnants of a bygone era of cinema-going. On a raised stage, a woman in her 40s energetically leads a band equipped with electric guitars and what looks like pricey sound equipment. She implores the arriving attendees to sing.

The Rex was one of many classically named cinemas built in the 1920s and 30s, when Madagascar was a French colony. Cinema-going peaked in the 1960s and 70s, and now the ageing picturehouses are rented out year-round to the booming “sister churches”, evangelical sects whose desire to entertain has earned them a keen following, particularly among the young.

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