Theoretical perspectives on cinema in Africa: Culture, identity and diaspora

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The study of African cinema is often assumed to be the study of black film. This paper examines this notion with respect to definitions of Africa, questions of identity, and different historical discourses of resistance. Western psychocentric approaches to film criticism are criticized. The issue of authorship is revisited with the question: Can a white director make a film reflecting the “black” experience? This question is explored with reference to debates about Spike Lee's Malcolm X and South African director Oliver Schmitz's Mapantsula. In the process, J examine how meanings are articulated and rearticulated in specific contexts by both those who define them and audiences which interpret them. The articulations of “race wars” in the USA and South Africa respectively are discussed, as is the relationship between race and class in the anti-apartheid struggle. The disarticulation of Black Consciousness in South Africa from its popularizer, Steve Biko, by film activists in the Mass Democratic Movement during the 1980s, provides a background for the emergence of “non-racial” cinema. Reception is suggested as a more subtle means of film categorisation. Mapantsula, for example, though made by a mainly white crew, is understood by black audiences to be a film accurately reflecting the experience of the black oppressed in South Africa. Though reception is a dynamic response, shifting and responding to historical trajectories and new discourses, with interpretations fragmenting between different classes and class fractions at different times, such a strategy for area and cultural classification of films avoids the pitfalls of categories based on ideology, myth, race and language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-329
Number of pages33
JournalVisual Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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