The Fighter and the Pimp tells the extraordinary story of Shaki—a woman who started life as a street child, who grew up to compete as one of Congo’s first professional female wrestlers, and whose home has now become a refuge for street girls who have escaped the rapists, pimps, and thugs of Kinshasa’s most violent neighbourhoods.
Shot with real intimacy in the slums and brothels of the city, this film follows Shaki as she fights to raise her daughter, to give strength and confidence to the girls through sport, and to protect them from other women who have very different ideas about how to treat teenage girls.
Shaki is one of the only women who will fight men in the wrestling rings of Kinshasa. And it’s at these wrestling matches, more often than not, that street girls first see Shaki and follow her home to the slum district of Ngaba. The film takes us inside that home, and into the lives of the girls who have taken refuge here.
Some are orphans from Congo’s wars. Others were thrown out by their own families. Almost all are survivors of sexual violence—raped by Kinshasa’s streets gangs, or pimped out by the madames who recruit homeless kids into sex work. Shaki takes the girls training at Kinshasa’s legendary Tata Rafael stadium, where Muhammed Ali fought George Forman back in the days of Mobutu’s Zaire. This was where Shaki herself trained as a child, and she’s hoping that the girls will discover, as she did, how sport can transform your body and your self-esteem.
Among the girls is Shaki’s own daughter, Phenomene. Conceived through rape and born on the streets when Shaki was just 14 or 15 years old, Phenomene has grown up to become a beautiful, confident, happy teenager. Her story, set among the desperation of these young lives, is a testament to Shaki’s fierce determination to protect her child, and to the power of maternal love.
The other girls, though, are not easy. They fight. They steal. They sneak out at night, defying Shaki’s orders, heading back to the nightclubs and brothels where they can make enough money to buy a phone or some body lotion.
Despite these problems, Shaki’s house is better than the alternative. And the alternative becomes clear when we meet a woman called Chimène.
Chimène grew up with Shaki as part of the same gang of street girls. But where Shaki used sport to escape life on the streets, Chimène took the well-trodden path from prostitution to pimping. Today she is a madame in charge of her own small gang of teenage girls, pimping them out at night and taking a cut of the money in return for food, shelter, and cigarettes. One of these girls, Sister Dada, now 15, has been pimped out since she was 10 years old.
“We are asking for Congo to change,” she says.
Filmed over 12 months, this documentary takes us into a Kinshasa underworld that has never been captured on film before. It introduces us to a set of characters who are struggling to make meaningful lives in a state that has failed to provide even the most basic protections or opportunities. The film makes painfully clear that sexual violence is not just an issue facing women in the war-torn provinces of Eastern Congo—it is endemic on the streets of DRC’s capital city.
Most of all, the film spotlights the remarkable bravery, resilience, and determination of one woman, Shaki, to raise herself above the violent streets on which she grew up, to give her daughter a fighting chance in life, and to extend her protection to some of the city’s most vulnerable children.