Screening Perception – Limiting Expectations for African cinema


There are certain things to be expected from African cinema. You will see exploitation by foreign forces, and poverty as a result, and you will see people afflicted by HIV/AIDS. It is Africa afterall. 

This is the impression a martian may have sitting in on a Q&A that I experienced during a film I saw that was part of the ongoing Film Africa festival.

More than 50 films shown across several London arthouse cinemas, many of them critically acclaimed, the festival aims to project a different view of the continent. One where Africans themselves determine how they will be represented. In such a liberal context, I was somewhat surprised to encounter such closed-minded views as the ones mentioned above.

It made me think about how ingrained perception can be, and how we each so easily neglect being self-reflexive. We can be vehicles for destructive agendas without even realising it and worse, believe ourselves to be proponents of more constructive intentions.

A limited lens
From these conditioned viewpoints, a reference of adultery in a Western film is naughty, but in an African film, it is deadly and the issue of HIV/AIDS must be addressed. In an African film, the inhabitants of a small, remote, trading village, must be suffering at the hands of the European export industry.

Why is it so hard to just accept things for what they are? Why can't Africans go on about their lives without being victims, whether of the West or a nebulous disease? Why is it so hard to appreciate that Africans, like other human beings, have a multitude of experiences and stories to be told?

Maybe every African film needs to throw in a good foreigner (even a machine-gun preacher will do). One who can save the Africans from their inevitable fate. Perhaps having someone to relate to will give foreign audiences the reassurance that their perceptions of our continent are indeed spot-on. 

Or maybe these audiences need to sit down with part one, two and three of a Nollywood film. To experience drama that is far removed from what's reported on mainstream media. To remind them that even Africans, in Africa, are complex individuals with a wealth of human experience.

Nobody likes to live in the dark but sometimes the light can trick you.

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