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African Cinema

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Title: African Cinema  
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African Cinema

For the African-American cinema genre, see blaxploitation.

The term African cinema refers to the film production in Africa, following formal independence. Some of the countries in North Africa (such as the cinema of Egypt, for example) developed a national film industry much earlier and are related to West Asian cinema. Often, African Cinema also includes directors from among the African diaspora.


Film during the colonial era

During the colonial era, Africa was represented exclusively by Western filmmakers. The continent was portrayed as an exotic land without history or culture. Examples of this kind of cinema abound and include jungle epics based on the Tarzan character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the adventure film The African Queen (1951), and various adaptations of H. Rider Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines (1885).[1] In the mid-1930s, the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment was carried out in order to educate the Bantu peoples.[2]

In the French colonies Africans were, by law, not permitted to make films of their own. This ban was known as the "Laval Decree".[3] The ban stunted the growth of film as a means for Africans to express themselves politically, culturally, and artistically.[4] In 1955, however, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra – originally from Benin, but educated in Senegal – along with his colleagues from Le Group Africain du Cinema, shot a short film in Paris by the name of Afrique Sur Seine (1955). Vieyra was trained in filmmaking at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris, and in spite of the ban on filmmaking in Africa, was granted permission to make a film in France.[5] Afrique Sur Seine explores the difficulties of being an African in France during the 1950s and is considered to be the first film directed by a black African.[6]

Before independence, only a few anti-colonial films were produced. Examples include Les statues meurent aussi by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais about European robbery of African art (which was banned by the French for 10 years[7]) and Afrique 50 by René Vauthier about anti-colonial riots in Côte d'Ivoire and in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).[8]

Also doing film work in Africa during this time was the French Ethnographic filmmaker,

Because most of the films prior to independence were egregiously racist in nature, African filmmakers of the independence era – like Ousmane Sembene and Oumarou Ganda, amongst others – saw filmmaking as an important political tool for rectifying the erroneous image of Africans put forward by Western filmmakers and for reclaiming the image of Africa for Africans.[12]

1960s and 1970s

The first African film to win international recognition was Ousmane Sembène's La Noire de... also known as Black Girl. It showed the despair of an African woman who has to work as a maid in France. The writer Sembène had turned to cinema to reach a wider audience. He is still considered to be the "father" of African Cinema. Sembène's native country Senegal continued to be the most important place of African film production for more than a decade.

With the of the African film festival FESPACO in Burkina Faso in 1969, African film created its own forum. FESPACO now takes place every two years in alternation with the film festival Carthago in (Tunisia).

The Federation of African Filmmakers (FEPACI) was formed in 1969 in order to focus attention on the promotion of African film industries in terms of production, distribution and exhibition. From its inception, FEPACI was seen as a critical partner organization to the OAU, now the AU. FEPACI looks at the role of film in the politico-economic and cultural development of African states and the continent as a whole.

Med Hondo's Soleil O, shot in 1969, was immediately recognized. No less politically engaged than Sembène, he chose a more controversial filmic language to show what it means to be a stranger in France with the 'wrong' skin colour.

1980s and beyond

Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen (Mali 1987) and Cheick Oumar Sissoko's Guimba (Mali 1995) were well received in the west. Some critics criticized the filmmakers for adapting to the exotic tastes of western audiences

Many films of the 1990s, e.g. Quartier Mozart by Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Cameroon 1992), are situated in the globalized African metropolis.

A first African Film Summit took place in South Africa in 2006. It was followed by FEPACI 9th Congress.

Nollywood, a colloquial term for Nigerian Cinema, is a growing and commercially viable industry.


African cinema focuses on social and political themes rather than any commercial interests, and is an exploration of the conflicts between the traditional past and modern times. The political approach of African film makers is clearly evident in the Charte du cinéaste africain (Charta of the African cinéaste) which the union of African film makers FEPACI adopted in Algiers in 1975.

The filmmakers start by recalling the neocolonial condition of African societies. "The situation contemporary African societies live in is one in which they are dominated on several levels: politically, economically and culturally." African filmmakers stressed their solidarity with progressive filmmakers in other parts of the world. African cinema is often seen a part of Third Cinema.

Some African filmmakers, for example Ousmane Sembène, try to give back African history to African people by remembering the resistance to European and Islamic domination.

The role of the African filmmaker is often compared to traditional Griots. Like them their task is to express and reflect communal experiences. Patterns of African oral literature often recur in African films. African film has also been influenced by traditions from other continents such as Italian neorealism, Brazilian Cinema Novo and the theatre of the Bertolt Brecht.

Women directors

Ethnologist and filmmaker Safi Faye was the first African woman film director to gain international recognition.

In 1972, Sarah Maldoror had shot her film Sambizanga about the 1961–1974 war in Angola. Surviving African women of this war are the subject of the Documentary Les oubliées (The forgotten), made by Anne-Laure Folly twenty years later. In 1995, Wanjiru Kinyanjui made the feature film The Battle of the Sacred Tree in Kenya.

In 2008, Manouchka Kelly Labouba became the first woman to direct a fictional film in the history of Gabon. Her short film, Le Divorce, addresses the clash between modern and traditional values and its impact on a young Gabonese couple's attempt to divorce.

Directors by country

Films about African cinema

  • Caméra d'Afrique, Director: Férid Boughedir, Tunisia/France 1983
  • Les Fespakistes, Directors: François Kotlarski, Eric Münch, Burkina Faso/France 2001
  • This Is Nollywood, Director: Franco Sacchi 2007


  • Mahir Şaul and Ralph Austen, eds. Viewing African Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Art Films and the Nollywood Video Revolution, Ohio University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8214-1931-1
  • Roy Armes: Dictionary of African Filmmakers, Indiana University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-253-35116-2
  • Olivier Barlet, African Cinemas : decolonizing the gaze, London: Zed Books, 2001
  • Fernando E. Solanas, Octavio Getino, "Towards a Third Cinema" in: Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods. An Anthology, University of California Press 1976, pp. 44–64
  • Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Black African Cinema, University of California Press 1994
  • Africultures: see (French and English)
  • Samuel Lelievre (ed.),Cinémas africains, une oasis dans le désert ?, CinémAction no 106, Paris, Télérama/Corlet, 1st trimester 2003
  • Écrans d'Afriques (1992–1998) – French and English – to read on or
  • Khalid Halhoul, Utne Reader, June/July 2012 Edition –

See also

Africa portal
Film portal


External links

  • The Heavy Flag of Pan-African Cinema
  • Harvard Film Archive
  • African Cinema in the 1990s
  • African Media Program – comprehensive database of African media
  • Library of African Cinema in California
  • Panafrican Film and TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO)
  • Wiki of the African Film Festival of Tarifa
  • Utne Reader – Using African Cinema to Shift Cultural Perceptions

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