Africa South of the Sahara


The French ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch began making films in sub-Saharan Africa as early as 1946, employing Africans as technicians and actors. Les maîtres fous ( The Mad Masters , 1955), arguably his most famous film, depicts a ritual of possession among the Hauka sect in Ghana. The Nigerian filmmaker Oumarou Ganda (1935–1981) acted in Rouch's Moi, un noir ( I, a Black Man , 1958) before going on to direct Cabascabo ( Tough Guy , 1968), Saitane (1972) and L'Exilé ( The Exiled , 1980). Rouch's influence on Africans has been controversial: some credit him with advancing the careers of many African filmmakers and exposing them to the techniques of cinéma direct, while others condemn him for exoticizing Africa. Other ethnographic-based films include the Vietnam-born Trinh T. Minh-ha's Reassemblage (1982) and Naked Spaces: Living Is Round (1985), in which she challenges Western anthropological views of Africans.

Filmmaking in Africa south of the Sahara has been marked by several major trends over the past fifty years. Following independence, many films of the 1960s and early 1970s emphasized the notion of rehabilitation and reaffirmation of the validity of African traditions and institutions, which had been devalued during colonialism. Furthermore, filmmakers attempted to rebut negatively marked representations of Africans in Hollywood films like King Solomon's Mines (1950), Mogambo (1953), and Roots of Heaven (1958), or the portrayal of Africans as naturally subservient and therefore deserving of the West's protection and benevolence in films like the British production Sanders of the River (1935).

Not surprisingly, there has been much debate among African filmmakers concerning appropriate modes of representing African cultural identity. In the 1970s, films such as Le bracelet de bronze ( The Bronze Bracelet , Cheikh Tidiane Aw, 1974, Senegal) and Pousse-pousse ( Pedicab , Daniel Kamwa, 1975, Cameroon) were condemned by members of FEPACI for being too openly commercial and less committed to an overt critique of neocolonialism. Others, such as the films of Sembène, Mahama Johnson Traoré (Senegal), and Med Hondo (Mauritania), were praised for following a pattern that veered away from Western traditions: their primary audiences were deemed to be in Africa, the language of their dialogues was African, the location of their shooting often a typically rural African setting, and their intent didactic. The refusal of a Western aesthetic model led to the emergence of a style known as African cinematic realism, featuring cinematic grammar that emphasized social space and narratives focused on episodic plot structures.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, other styles began to emerge that were more experimental or that blended genres. Med Hondo's groundbreaking Soleil O ( O Sun , 1969, Mauritania) draws on Brechtian theater, while Djibril Diop-Mambéty's surrealist Touki Bouki laid the ground for subsequent hybrid narratives such as La vie Traore sur terre ( Life on Earth , Abderrahmane Sissako, 1998, Mali) and Heremakono ( Waiting for Happiness , 2002, Mauritania), in which dialogue is minimal and the images themselves tell the story.

Censorship has been an issue of concern for African filmmakers since the early days. As early as 1934, the French colonial authorities instituted the Laval Decree, which prohibited the production of any anticolonial films in the African colonies. Some early cases of censorship include the French filmmaker René Vautier's condemnation of French colonialism in Afrique 50 ( Africa 50 , 1950), which earned him a year in prison, and Alain Resnais and Chris Marker's Les statues meurent aussi ( Even Statues Die , 1953). Many other filmmakers have endured forms of censorship for a variety of reasons ranging from political (Ousmane Sembène's La noire de … and Pierre Yameogo's Silmandé [ Whirlwind ], 1998) to religious ( Karmen Geï , Joseph Gaï Ramaka, 2001) to sexual ( Visages de Femmes [ Faces of Women ], Désiré Ecaré, 1985), which was the first film to be prohibited in Ivory Coast for its sexual content (Ukadike, p. 213).

By the 1990s, filmmakers began crossing borders, forming more production partnerships between Africans and striking north-south partnerships or coproductions. African cinema south of the Sahara is now marked by a diversity of approaches, including nonchronological storytelling, as in Diop Mambety's Hyènes ( Hyenas , 1992, Senegal); popular culture forms, as in Twiste à Poponguine ( Rocking Poponguine , MoussaSeneAbsa, 1993, Senegal); and fragmented dream structures or memory constructions, as in Asientos (François Woukoache, 1995, Cameroon), and Abouna ( Our Father , Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2002, Chad). The Burkinabé filmmaker Idrissa Ouédraogo (b. 1954) insists that "it's the diversity of ideas, of opinions that will lead to the creation …of thriving African cinemas" (Thackway, p. 28).

From the mid-1990s onward, filmmakers south of the Sahara have been developing new aesthetic and narrative strategies best suited to communicating increasingly complex sociopolitical cultural contexts. Films such as Dakan (1997) by the Guinean Mohamed Camara, Woubi Chéri (1998) by Philip Brooks and Laurent Bocahut (France/Ivory Coast), and Nice to Meet You, Please Don't Rape Me (Ian Kerkhof, 1995, South Africa) explore issues of homosexuality in urban African settings, whereas Clando (Jean-Marie Teno, 1996, Cameroon), Keita! L'heritage du griot ( Keita: Voice of the Griot , Dani Kouyaté, 1995, Burkina Faso), Sissoko's Guimba the Tyrant (1995, Mali), and La nuit de la vérité ( The Night of Truth , Fanta Régina Nacro, 2004, Burkina Faso) challenge issues of political tyranny, abuse of power and privilege, and the resistance to these excesses in contemporary African societies. The new millennium is also witnessing a surge of musicals, including Ramaka's Karmen Geï (2001, Senegal), Madame Brouette (Moussa Sene-Absa, 2002, Senegal), Nha Fala (Flora Gomes, 2002, Guinea-Bissau), and Les habits neufs du gouverneur ( The Governor's New Clothes , Ngangura Mweze, 2004, Congo/Belgium) that serve as a platform for interrogating social and political issues affecting postcolonial

b. Famleng, Cameroon, 14 May 1954

The Paris-based Cameroonian director Jean-Marie Teno is known for his provocative interrogations of political and social issues in postcolonial Cameroon. Using narrative and aesthetic strategies that combine elements of fiction and documentary to create innovative new structures, he belongs to the "new" generation of African filmmakers who are experimenting with new forms and styles.

Teno studied filmmaking at the University of Valenciennes in France. After graduating in 1981, he worked as a film critic for Buana Magazine , then as an editor for France's FR3 network. Teno claims to have been inspired by Pousse-pousse ( Pedicab , Daniel Kamwa, 1975), which demonstrated to him that cinema was an important medium for illuminating social issues in Africa. Teno moved from short films to features in 1988 with the fictional documentary L'eau de misère ( Bikutsi Water Blues ), which deals with the social issue of polluted water supplies in Cameroon.

Teno continued his socially conscious filmmaking with his next feature, Afrique, je te plumerai ( Africa, I Will Fleece You , 1992), by probing the continuing legacies of colonial oppression. Teno's original goal was to explore the world of publishing in Cameroon, but this soon evolved into an indictment of press censorship, his own Eurocentric education in Cameroon during the 1960s, French colonialism, and the destruction of traditional cultures by neocolonial societies. Teno advanced these themes in the subsequent documentaries La tête dans les nuages ( Head in the Clouds , 1994) and Chef (Chief, 1999), in which he locates the roots of current woes as existing in kleptocracy, authoritarian regimes, and government irresponsibility. Teno's 2004 film, Le malentendu colonial ( The Colonial Misunderstanding ) is a searing commentary on the paradoxical relationship of European Christian missionaries to colonization in Africa, and how their "noble deeds" actually served to further the interests of their own nation states, rather than those of Africa.

Clando (1996), Teno's only fiction feature to date, explores issues of migration, violence, and imprisonment from the point of view of Sobgui, an unlicensed taxi driver, or clando , in Douala. In serious political trouble, Sobgui accepts the offer of an elder to travel to Germany to buy cars and search for the elder's son. Discontinuous events are juxtaposed in a way that presents the clashing of private memory and political events. In 1996 Clando was nominated for Best Film at the International Festival of French-speaking Films at Namur. In the documentary Vacances au pays ( A Trip to the Country , 2000), Teno advances the stylistic use of geography and landscape introduced in Clando by creating a travelogue structure in which he documents his return to Cameroon after an extended absence. He taps into the past by retracing his childhood vacations in order to examine the concept of modern development in Africa.


Fièvre Jaune taximan ( Yellow Fever Taximan , 1986), L'eau de misère ( Bikutsi Water Blues , 1988), Afrique, je te plumerai ( Africa, I Will Fleece You , 1992), La tête dans les nuages ( Head in the Clouds , 1994), Clando (1996), Chef (Chief, 1999), Vacances au pays ( A Trip to the Country , 2000), Le malentendu colonial ( The Colonial Misunderstanding , 2004)


Akudinobi, Jude G. "Reco(r)ding Reality: Representation and Paradigms in Nonfiction African Cinema." Social Identities 6, no. 3 (2000): 345–367.

Petty, Sheila. "Postcolonial Geographies: Landscape and Alienation in Clando ." French Literature Series XXX (2003): 167–178.

Ukadike, Nwachukwu. Frank. Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Sheila Petty

cultures. By incorporating new visions, ideologies, and aesthetic expressions, these filmmakers are interrogating not only the territoriality of sub-Saharan African identities, but are also staking places for African cultures in the global flow of ideas and peoples.

SEE ALSO Colonialism and Postcolonialism ; National Cinema ; Third Cinema

Balseiro, Isabel, and Ntongela Masilela, eds. To Change Reels: Film and Film Culture in South Africa . Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

Barlet, Olivier. African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze . Translated by Chris Turner. London and New York: Zed Books, 2000.

Diawara, Manthia. African Cinema: Politics and Culture . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Gugler, Josef. African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Pfaff, Françoise, ed. Focus on African Films . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Thackway, Melissa. Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan Francophone African Film . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Tomaselli, Keyan. The Cinema of Apartheid: Race and Class in South African Film . New York: Smyrna/Lake View, 1988.

Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank. Black African Cinema . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Sheila Petty

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