The Ants and the Grasshopper focuses on two women, Anita and Esther. Anita is a Malawian farmer and a community activist. Esther is Anita’s friend, mentor and a nurse. Both are active in Bwabwa. They run a women’s local network, focusing on tackling gender inequality, improving children’s health, and ensuring food stability.
Anita is one of those people who you are in awe of. The strength of her spirit touches everyone she meets. The first act of the film focuses on her and her life in Bwabwa. Her story reminds me of The Color Purple, because it is not only a story about triumph over adversity, but a triumph of her spirit. Anita’s father had two wives and favoured one over the other, so her mother and her often went hungry. Anita wanted to be a nun, was devout and studied the Bible to achieve her goal. But at a friend’s wedding, a man decided her would have her as his wife, so he got a group of 15 of his friends to kidnap, beat and imprison her, until she agreed to the marriage. Since she would have been considered “spoiled”, ie. raped, because she had been gone from home alone with the man over many nights, Anita felt she had no option but to proceed with the marriage than bring shame upon her mother and family. As traumatic as the violence was, what was worse was that it forever derailed her life’s plan of being a nun.
But here’s where you see what kind of spirit Anita has. Because when we meet her, her husband works in the field with her, washes clothes, and cooks. He speaks so highly of her, of how she changed his mind about men and women’s work, and how he has learned so much from her. He says he regrets how he married her, and will not let his sons get married in such a way. He understands now it was wrong.
Her husband’s mate Winston, who participated in her abduction, is now their next-door-neighbour. Every other day, Anita visit’s his wife and gets on at him for not helping her out. She has not been cowed by him, it is him who is cowed by her. He talks boldly to the camera about how ludicrous it is for men to do women’s work, bah! But when Anita is speaking to him, he just lets her talk and looks at the ground.
Anita’s my hero.
Esther – who studied to become a nurse right here in Scotland! – is the community nurse who helped Anita overcome her first child’s malnutrition, opening up her horizons to so much knowledge, and who helped change how she farmed, how she thought about the world, and how she lived. Together they are trying to find new ways to deal with the biggest threat facing their community – climate change. The nearby river has completely dried up, it has become a snake of sand through the landscape. Water must be dug for, and even then is but a puddle. The rains and seasons which had been so predictable, are now giving way to successive droughts and floods. For Esther and Anita, climate change is here.
The filmmakers note what passionate and moving speakers Esther and Anita are, and ask them if they would like to come to America to let people know how climate change is effecting their community. What follows is almost like a missionary, Esther and Anita are both devout, and see this a calling to spread the word to stop the destruction over the earth which it is our responsibility to protect.
Weirdly, the people in America least convinced about climate change are the farmers. I’ve always found stuff like this difficult to wrap my head around, like farmers not believing in evolution, it’s like, mate, you actually practice selective breeding, you are literally doing it! You’d think farmers would be the first to see the evidence of climate change, it should be city-dwellers like me, who think food comes wrapped in plastic and couldn’t tell you which direction the sun rises in, that should be denying climate change.
The first folk they meet are from Iowa. The differences between Anita and them are so slight. They are both devout Christians. They are both farmers. They both struggle with constantly being in debt. They both have families and kids they are trying to give a better life. And yet, when the subject of climate change comes up, the conversation falls to immediate awkward halt. The American farmers, even the organic farmers, don’t concede the existence of climate change, chalking it up to cyclical change or God’s will. You can see the frustration on Anita’s face as she tries to convey that this is happening *right now*, this is the reason children in her community go hungry *right now*, this is a reality.
Privately Esther and Anita console each other that seeds that are planted take time to grow, and you can never know what impact you might be having on another.
Unexpectedly, Anita finds more hope in the cities than the countryside. The inner city projects run by Black communities and people of colour – primarily women of colour – are much more realistic about climate change. As they’re told in Oakland, in urban Black communities, this was where all the polluting industries were based, because white and prosperous neighbourhoods didn’t want them in their backyards. So despite a lack of cultivatable land, these city communities were well aware of how industry was impacting the environment. In fact, the colour line is quite visible among Americans who are and are not in denial about climate change. From community kitchens inspired by the Black Panthers, to neighbourhood cultivation of the Detroit urban prairie, consciousness of climate change was at the forefront where the growers were Black.
What’s interesting about this film is how many issues it pings off, despite being ostensibly about climate change. This film is as much about gender, about race, about the effects of slavery and colonialism that are still being felt, about health, about exploitation, about capitalism, about food and the food industry.
It touches upon how a lot of different problems with the food industry has led to it being attacked on many different fronts, without it really changing. For example, the organic farmers see the need to remove pesticides from the ecosystem, but are still part of this bulk exploit and export cycle which perpetuates the notion of food as a commodity, a product, as opposed to the thing you need to live. It is still very much about growing for profit within a capitalist system. At one point Anita also points out that the grain that is being grown on these thousand-acre farms are all going to feed livestock, whereas this would be considered food that could be feeding people in Malawi. Despite Anita not being a vegetarian, the global industrial production of meat is obvious in its impact on food availability.
The film finishes with a coda that takes place two years after the rest of the film, revisiting some of the people Anita met. Some have not changed their minds, but some have. They are more conscious of their practices, even if they are struggling with how to put that into practice, they are actively trying to find a way. And back home Winston has begun learning to cook. He even teaches classes alongside Anita.
How do things change? One person at a time.