Colonial and post-colonial African cinema : a theoretical and critical analysis of discursive practices
This study attempts to provide a theoretical framework for the criticism of colonial and post-colonial African cinema. Emphasis is placed on the extent to which the nature of colonial cinematic policies and practices have influenced post-colonial African cinema, especially with regards to forms of subjectivities constructed through cinematic representation. The study begins by examining some of the methodological problems in the criticism of African cinema. It relates the concept of African cinema to debates dealing with Third Cinema theories, cine-structuralism and psychoanalytic critical theories, and argues that any of these theories can be applied to the criticism of African cinema so long as it is moderated to suit the specific nature of the African condition. It also defines the nature of African cinema by relating it to the notions of national cinema, the question of African personality and identity, emergent genres and film styles, and proposes a general cinematic reading hypothesis, anchored on the concept of subjectivity, for the criticism of African cinema. With respect to the colonial period, the main argument which I pursue is that two divergent cinematic practices existed side by side in Africa. First, there was a governmental and non-governmental agencies sponsored, non-commercial cinema, which treats the medium as a vehicle for popular instruction. Throughout this study, I refer to this cinematic practice as colonial African instructional cinema, and argue that it represents Africans as knowing and knowledgeable people, able and willing to acquire modem methods of social planning and development for the benefit of their communities. Second, there was the commercial cinematic practice which chose, and still chooses, to recycle popular images of people of African descent in the European imagination, as projected through literature, history, anthropological and scientific discourses, etc., in the representation of Africans. I refer to this cinematic practice throughout this study as colonialist African cinema. The main argument which I pursue with respect to this practice is that the images of Africans projected in it have a genealogical history stretching as far back in time as the classical era. In the modem period, the contact between Europe and Africa, and the subsequent slave trade, colonialism and their popular literatures, and the nineteenth century racial theories, are some of the factors which have reinforced the canonical authority of these images. I argue that this cinematic practice represents Africans by employing various metaphors which draw associations between Africans and animals, to suggest African savagery and barbarity, and that by drawing on such associations, they devalue African humanity, legitimise the colonial enterprise and all its attendant cruelties, and absolve Europeans of any moral responsiblities over actions supposedly carried out in the name of spreading civilisation. Though post-colonial African historical texts located in the colonial period respond to the whole colonial enterprise, my argument is that they are inspired, first and foremost, by the desire to refute the images of Africans identifiable with the discursive tradition of colonialist African CInema.