Decolonization of African Cinema
African cinema is a rich and diverse field of artistic expression that has been shaped by colonialism, independence, and postcolonial struggles. In this blog post, I will explore the history of decolonizing African cinema, from its origins in the 1960s to its current challenges and opportunities.
The 1960s: The Birth of African Cinema
The 1960s was a decade of political and social upheaval in Africa, as many countries gained their independence from European powers. This also marked the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers who sought to create a cinema that reflected their own realities and aspirations. These filmmakers were influenced by various sources, such as the French New Wave, Soviet montage, Third Cinema, and African oral traditions. They also faced many obstacles, such as lack of funding, equipment, training, distribution, and censorship.
Some of the pioneers of African cinema in this period include Ousmane Sembène (Senegal), Souleymane Cissé (Mali), Med Hondo (Mauritania), Djibril Diop Mambéty (Senegal), and Ola Balogun (Nigeria). Their films tackled themes such as colonialism, neocolonialism, nationalism, identity, culture, religion, gender, and class. They also experimented with different genres, styles, and forms, such as realism, allegory, satire, documentary, musical, and animation.
The 1970s and 1980s: The Consolidation of African Cinema
The 1970s and 1980s saw the consolidation of African cinema as a distinct and recognized field of artistic expression. This was facilitated by the establishment of various institutions and initiatives that supported the production, promotion, and dissemination of African films. These include the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), founded in 1969; the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), founded in 1969; the Carthage Film Festival (JCC), founded in 1966; and the National Film Institutes and Schools in various countries.
These decades also witnessed the emergence of new filmmakers who continued to explore and expand the possibilities of African cinema. Some of them include Haile Gerima (Ethiopia), Gaston Kaboré (Burkina Faso), Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso), Safi Faye (Senegal), Sarah Maldoror (Guadeloupe), Abderrahmane Sissako (Mauritania), Flora Gomes (Guinea-Bissau), and Moustapha Alassane (Niger). Their films addressed issues such as history, memory, diaspora, resistance, violence, trauma, spirituality, ecology, and globalization.
The 1990s and 2000s: The Diversification of African Cinema
The 1990s and 2000s marked a period of diversification and transformation of African cinema. This was driven by various factors, such as the end of the Cold War, the rise of democracy and civil society movements, the impact of neoliberalism and structural adjustment programs, the emergence of new technologies and media platforms, and the increased mobility and migration of filmmakers and audiences.
These factors led to the emergence of new trends and tendencies in African cinema. Some of them include:
- The rise of women filmmakers who challenged patriarchal norms and stereotypes and gave voice to women’s experiences and perspectives. Some examples are Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Ngozi Onwurah (Nigeria), Fanta Régina Nacro (Burkina Faso), Zara Mahamat Yacoub (Chad), Rama Thiaw (Senegal), Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya), Judy Kibinge (Kenya), Nadia El Fani (Tunisia), Jihan El-Tahri (Egypt), and Rungano Nyoni (Zambia).
- The emergence of popular genres such as comedy, horror, thriller, action, romance,
and musical that appealed to mass audiences and reflected their tastes and aspirations. Some examples are Nollywood (Nigeria), Riverwood (Kenya), Bongowood (Tanzania), Ghallywood (Ghana), Kannywood (Nigeria), Cine Guimbi (Burkina Faso), Cinecitta Kinshasa (DR Congo), Cinecitta Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), and Cinecitta Dakar (Senegal).
- The development of alternative modes of production and distribution such as video,
digital, mobile phone, internet streaming that enabled filmmakers to bypass traditional gatekeepers and reach wider and diverse audiences. Some examples are Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda (DR Congo), Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Cameroon), Newton Aduaka (Nigeria),
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad), Abdellatif Kechiche (Tunisia/France),
and Tunde Kelani
The Present: The Future of African Cinema
African cinema today is a vibrant and dynamic field that continues to evolve and innovate in response to changing contexts and challenges. It is also a field that is increasingly recognized
and celebrated by global audiences and critics, as evidenced by the success of films such as
Black Panther (2018), Atlantics (2019), Les Misérables (2019), and You Will Die at Twenty (2019).
However, African cinema also faces many difficulties and threats, such as the lack of funding,
infrastructure, training, distribution, and exhibition; the dominance of foreign films and markets; the censorship and repression of political and artistic expression; the piracy and exploitation of intellectual property; and the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, it is crucial to support and sustain African cinema as a vital form of cultural production
and social transformation.
One way to do so is to engage with the work of The Africa Institute program on Decolonizing African Cinema, which aims to promote research, education, dialogue, and collaboration on African cinema among scholars, filmmakers, students, and audiences.The program also organizes events, screenings, workshops, publications, and exhibitions that showcase the diversity,
creativity, and relevance of African cinema.
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