Mama Benz & The Touch of Money


They are rich drive a Mercedes Benz. They sell genuine African textiles manufactured in Holland and now a young upstart is trying to take them for a ride. A humorous story about the fashion business in West Africa.

In West Africa wealthy women prefer to dress in ‘genuine African’ textiles associated with a special status. Few people know that the only manufacturer of these materials is a company not based in Africa but in The Netherlands. ‘Vlisco wax’ is made according to a highly secret formula. Once shipped to Africa, the material becomes an important status symbol and African women wear it inside out to display prominently the label ‘Guaranteed Dutch Vlisco Wax’.

From the early 20th century onwards Vlisco has controlled the West African market using the smart marketing strategy of presenting their materials as a genuine African symbol of power, beauty and wealth and by cleverly using local market-women some of whom became exorbitantly rich by selling the Dutch Wax. Because they can afford to be driven around in a Mercedes Benz, the women are locally known as ‘Mama Benz’. They are extremely influential because they have formed unions and are involved in the political and social life of their own countries. Without their support Vlisco could have never gained control of the African textile market; nor could the Mamas have achieved their status without the firm.

This film follows managing director Henk Bremer – young, ambitious and typically North European – and an equally young and ambitious West African Mama Benz, called Alice Gouba as the firm expands into new territories. Vlisco does not have an outlet in Burkina Faso yet and the firm’s contacts are new and delicate. Alice is eager to capture the market and wants to set up her own store. Henk Bremer encourages her, eager to bring it under his own control. But he is walking on a knife-edge, as other Mamas are also trying to influence Alice. Vlisco’s proven strategy over the years has been to divide and rule, but the Mamas know that their power lies in staying united. Alice, of course, feels manipulated and wants to do it her own way, but she needs Vlisco as well as the Mamas. The film follows the unfolding story; a tough game of power, respect and influence.

Set against the background of the manufacturing and sale of the colourful Vlisco wax, Mama Benz and The Taste of Money shows the great differences in business attitudes between Europe and Africa. The ambition of Henk Bremer to conquer Burkina Faso and the struggle of Alice Boudo to run her business show us the struggle for life between two worlds, very different from each other but also mutually dependent. A subtle and witty film about a region in development; a colourful documentary with a personal touch.


Original title: Mama Benz & de Smaak van Geld



Credits: Photography Adri Schrover / Sound Albert Grooters / Editor Maaik Krijgsman

A Ryninks Films production in co-production with IKON Television and RNTV.

Made with the participation of The Dutch Film Fund, CoBO Fund, NCDO and VSB Fund.

Sales Agent: RNTV

Sold to: YLE Finland, Televisió de Catalunya, Arte France, Studio Hamburg Germany, Filmmakers Library USA, TV Ontario

Versions: French with Dutch and English subtitles, colour, 52 or 78 minutes

Copyright: Ryninks Holding BV/IKON/RNTV 2002



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