Africa: Hollywood’s invisible continent

I saw this article in The Guardian and thought it summed up pretty much why we created the Galway African Film Festival! The article was printed on 3rd November 2011 and was written by Hannah Pool.

“Viva Riva!, the award-winning film by Congolese director Djo Tunda Wa Munga, a ‘gloriously trashy, fast-paced gangster flick’.

I’m a big fan of North American cinema, and I think it’s important to show their film industry plenty of support. My only problem is that once you’ve seen one or two North American films, you’ve pretty much seen them all. As a diaspora African I’d much rather watch other Africans on the big screen.

Sound odd? A tad racist, even? Of course it does, and yet that’s how many non-Africans think of African cinema.

How is it that stories produced by Africans, be it film, music, or literature, are still considered niche, worthy, or somehow “less” than art created by non-Africans? At best, African cinema is considered “art house”, African art is labelled “craft”, and African literature must focus on the big three (famine, war or poverty) to be deemed authentic.

Author Chimamanda Adichie called this the danger of the “single story” of Africa: a story of catastrophe in which there was “no possibility of feelings more complex than pity; no possibility of a connection as human equals”. If Africa is only ever viewed through a western prism, how can you expect to have anything other than a deeply unbalanced view of a continent of more than 50 countries and 2,000 languages?

Binyavanga Wainaina, whose satirical Granta essay How to Write about Africa went viral a few years ago, says of western films: “Africa is an object, rather than a subject. We are suffering objects or empowering objects or sustainable objects or some kind of objects but we are objects. We don’t have anything to say for ourselves.”

Today sees the launch of the Film Africa festival, which features 50 films over 10 days and highlights the significance of Africans telling their own stories, and how important it is for others to consume them. “The festival aims to bring alternative Africas and visions of Africa to audiences, to compel viewers to reflect on their own assumptions about this vast, fascinating continent,” says its co-director Lindiwe Dovey.

Last year Unesco finally recognised Nigerian cinema, which produces more than 2,000 films a year, as the world’s second largest film industry. “Nollywood”, worth about $250m, is not as productive as Bollywood, but is making more movies than Hollywood. Bombay Dreams and Slumdog were both considered “crossover” Indian films: isn’t it about time African cinema had its own crossover moment?

One of my favourite films of this year is Viva Riva!, a gloriously trashy, fast-paced gangster flick by Congolese director Djo Tunda Wa Munga. It’s great entertainment, and a world away from the stereotype of worthy African cinema. It won six African Movie Academy Awards (including best film and best director) and was named best African movie at the MTV movie awards, so why aren’t more cinemas showing it? I had to wait years before I saw the beautiful Ethiopian film 13 Months of Sunshine (about a marriage of convenience that goes wrong), and only saw it then because a friend lent me her cherished DVD.

Film Africa will see the UK premier of Koundi And National Thursday, by Cameroonian director Ariane Astrid Atodji, which won best documentary at the African film festival of Tarifa. It looks at a village’s attempt to maintain independence. Contrary to the Hollywood version of Africa, this film is about Africans addressing their own poverty without the help of outsiders.

Why do film distributors never come under fire for failing to adequately distribute African cinema? And why is it assumed that white audiences prefer Africa to come with a thinly veiled colonial backdrop, which usually involves a white hero saving a poor downtrodden country from itself? Blood Diamond, anyone?

Africans are now telling their own stories. It’s time the rest of the world started consuming them.”


Rise – Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti is the youngst son of the late Fela Kuti, musician (and person) extraordinare  – though he’s probably quite tired of being introduced thus …

” … we must rise up against the petroleum companies that use our oil to destroy our land …”

Yes please.

“From Africa with Fury” – album now out.


The African Che Guevara

Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (December 21, 1949 – October 15, 1987) was a Burkinabé military captain, Marxist revolutionary, Pan-Africanist theorist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Viewed as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, he is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara.”

Sankara seized power in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. He immediately launched the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. To symbolize this new autonomy and rebirth, he even renamed the country from the French colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Men”). His foreign policies were centered around anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalizing all land and mineral wealth, and averting the power and influence of the IMF and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nation-wide literacy campaign, and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles. Other components of his national agenda included planting over ten million trees to halt the growing desertification of the Sahel, doubling wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents, and establishing an ambitious road and rail construction program to “tie the nation together.” Moreover, his commitment to women’s rights led him to outlawfemale genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy; while appointing females to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant.

In order to achieve this radical transformation of society, he increasingly exerted authoritarian control over the nation, eventually banning unions and a free press, which he believed could stand in the way of his plans and be manipulated by powerful outside influences. To counter his opposition in towns and workplaces around the country, he also tried corrupt officials, counter-revolutionaries and “lazy workers” in peoples revolutionary tribunals. Additionally, as an admirer of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, Sankara set up Cuban-style Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).

His revolutionary programs for African self-reliance as a defiant alternative to the neo-liberal development strategies imposed by the West, made him an icon to many of Africa’s poor. Sankara remained popular with most of his country’s impoverished citizens. However his policies alienated and antagonised the vested interests of an array of groups, which included the small but powerful Burkinabé middle class, the tribal leaders whom he stripped of the long-held traditional right to forced labour and tribute payments, and the foreign financial interests in France and their ally the Ivory Coast. As a result, he was overthrown and assassinated in a coup d’état led by the French-backed Blaise Compaoré on October 15, 1987. A week before his execution, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”

Blaise Compaoré has been President ever since.

Burkinabe reggae singer Sams’K Le Jah has gotten into trouble in Burkina Faso about a recent song of his calling on Compaoré to resign. In that song he compared Compaoré to Ban Ali and Hosni Mubarak which didn’t go down too well with the authorities … Recently Compaoré has had to cope with widespread resistance to his rule.

Mali to Mongolia

here’s a new track from Malian band Tamikrest which – for some strange reason – reminds me of Mongolia …

Tamikrest are a group of young Touareg musicians from the far north of Mali, where the parched landscape forms part of the Sahara desert. Their name means the knot, junction or coalition, a reference to the fact that the members hail from different regions, and Adagh is another name for the Touareg, who are also referred to by their language, Tamashek.