Africa South of the Sahara

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Africa South of the Sahara


Africa south of the Sahara is one of the most destitute regions of the world. In 2002 its gross national income per capita was US$450, one-tenth that of Latin America. Not surprisingly, the promotion of economic development, especially through initiatives by groups such as New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), is the most pressing issue for this area and indeed for all of Africa, which is the only continent in the world that has grown poorer in the last twenty-five years.

Film production is tenuous at most, and concentrated mostly in Nigeria and South Africa. Problems of financing remain part of a vicious circle that continues to hinder the full development of African film industries. One of the key challenges is the struggle to control modes of production, exhibition, and distribution. The continuing dominance of foreign interests in these areas has, in part, spurred an ongoing debate throughout the decades concerning the appropriate filmic modes of representing African cultural identity.


Cinema first came to the French-colonized territories of Africa south of the Sahara in 1900 when a French circus group projected the Lumière brothers' L'arroseur arrosé (Watering the Gardener, 1895) in a Dakar marketplace. The early European films were admired and even feared for their potential to capture people in real-life situations. Distribution and exhibition expanded accordingly in major cities to meet the demands of this novelty. There was no question, however, of sub-Saharan Africans producing or directing films, even though their continent became a "fashionable" subject for ethnologists, researchers, missionaries, and colonial administrators eager to document Europe's "Other."

In South Africa, newsreels of the Anglo-Boer War were filmed between 1898 and 1902. During the 1910s and 1920s, the Boer and British tensions were overlooked as whites stood together against indigenous peoples in films such as Die Voortrekkers (Winning a Continent, 1916) and Symbol of Sacrifice (1918). Die Voortrekkers provided inspiration for the American-produced The Covered Wagon (1923).

Most sources claim the 1955 Senegalese production Afrique-sur-Seine (Africa on the Seine) as the first film shot by a black African. This short film by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (1925–1987) focuses on the lives of several African students and artists living in Paris as they contemplate Africa's civilization, culture, and future. However, other early productions include two Congolese short films, La leçonducinema (The Cinema Lesson, Albert Mongita, 1951), and Les pneus gonflés (Inflated Tires, Emmanuel Lubalu, 1953). In 1953 Mamadou Touré of Guinea shot a twenty-three–minute short called Mouramani in which he glorifies the friendship between a man and his dog. Ousmane Sembène (b. 1923) of Senegal produced his famous first short, Borom Sarret (1963), which deals with a day in the life of a Dakar cart driver. By 1966, Sembène had produced Lanoirede… (Black Girl), the first feature in Africa south of the Sahara. Ghana's first feature, No Tears for Ananse (Sam Aryeetey, 1968), was inspired by a traditional folktale. The first black South African film was How Long Must We Suffer? (Gibsen Kente, 1976).

b. Ziguinchor, Senegal, 1 January 1923

Senegalese writer and director Ousmane Sembène is a pioneer of African cinema south of the Sahara. He has been highly influential in shaping the evolution of African film practices over forty years, including a style of filmmaking known as African cinematic realism.

After working as an apprentice mechanic and bricklayer in Dakar and as a dockworker in Marseille, Sembène published three novels: Le docker noir (translated as The Black Docker, 1987, 1956), Ôpays, mon beau people! (O my country, my beautiful people, 1957), and Les bouts de bois de Dieu (translated as God's Bits of Wood, 1962, 1960). He realized that because of literacy issues few Africans south of the Sahara had access to the literature of their own languages, so he turned to cinema to reach a larger African audience. Sembène trained in Moscow's Gorki Studio in the early 1960s and returned to Senegal in 1962 to work on his first short, Borom Sarret (1963). This watershed film, for which he founded his own production company, Filmi Domireew, won first film prize at the 1963 Tours International Film Festival, and set the stage for many of the themes and political concerns that inform his later work.

In 1966 Sembène's first feature (also the first feature film in sub-Saharan Africa), La noire de … (Black Girl) explored one of his major themes: the crucial role of women in Africa's development. The film probes the suicidal despair of a young Senegalese maid who encounters racism in France, thus denouncing the consequences of embracing neocolonialism. In Xala (Impotence, 1974), multiple female points of view depict the splintered nature of postcolonial Africa. Faat Kiné (2000) and Moolaadé (2004), which focuses on the controversial subject of female genital mutilation, also explore women's issues. Sembène also has undertaken the task of rewriting Senegalese history in Emitaï (God of Thunder, 1971), Camp de Thiaroye (Camp Thiaroye, 1988), and Ceddo (1976).

Throughout his film career, Sembène has been a socially committed activist, regarding film as a tool for political change. Although all his films provide commentaries on the political and social contradictions of a changing society, Guelwaar (Guelwaar: An African Legend for the 21st Century, 1992) most compellingly argues that change in Africa can only occur if it is initiated by Africans from within. The film attacks foreign aid as an impediment to true African economic and political independence; and Sembène's narrative strategy of presenting a multiplicity of spectator positions forces the viewer to actively participate in the debate. This is ultimately Sembène's major contribution to African cinema: the forging of a truly indigenous African cinema aesthetic that speaks to a unique vision of what Africa might become.


La noire de … (Black Girl, 1966), Mandabi (The Money Order, 1968), Emitaï (God of Thunder, 1971), Xala (Impotence, 1974), Ceddo (Outsiders, 1976), Camp de Thiaroye (Camp Thiaroye, 1988), Guelwaar (Guelwaar: an African Legend for the 21st Century, 1992), Faat Kiné (2000), Moolaadé 2004)


Gadjigo, Samba. "Ousmane Sembene and History on the Screen: A Look Back to the Future." In Focus on African Films, edited by Françoise Pfaff, 33–47. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Gadjigo, Samba, et al., eds. Ousmane Sembène: Dialogues with Critics and Writers. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.

Murphy, David. Sembene: Imagining Alternatives in Film and Fiction. Oxford, UK, and Trenton, NJ: James Currey and Africa World Press, 2000.

Petty, Sheila, ed. A Call to Action: The Films of Ousmane Sembene. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.

Sheila Petty


By the early 1960s, many countries south of the Sahara had gained independence from the nations that had colonized them. However, political independence did not mean that Africans suddenly possessed the infrastructure to produce films. Furthermore, the exhibition and distribution of films south of the Sahara continued to be controlled by foreign companies, a practice that had begun as early as 1926 with the establishment of the Compagnie Africaine Cinématographique Industrielleet

Commerciale (COMACICO) and in 1934, with the establishment of the Société d'Exploitation Cinématographique Africaine (SECMA). These two French film distribution companies circulated copies of B-grade European, American, and Indian films in the countries of the former French Western and Equatorial Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo).

In the anglophone region, the film business was dominated by the United States as early as World War I, through arrangements with such affiliates as Rank (UK) and Gaumont (France) (Ukadike, Black African Cinema, p. 62). By 1961 the America Motion Picture Export Company (AMPEC-Africa) was gaining control over the market previously dominated by the British Colonial Film Unit. In 1969 Afro-American Films Inc. (AFRAM), representing the Hollywood majors, was created specifically to fight the monopoly enjoyed by SECMA and COMACICO in the francophone zone (Ukadike, p. 63).

Cine In 1963 the French Ministry of Cooperation set up a Bureau of Cinema in Paris in an attempt to provide Africans with the opportunity to create independent productions. However, while financial and technical assistance was offered, a portion of the financing was automatically directed toward French postproduction services and technical support. Different forms of subsidies have evolved over the years, but France remains one of the main financiers of African film" (Thackway, p. 8).

In 1966 Tahar Cheriaa, then director of the Tunisian Cinema Service, founded the Journématographique de Carthage (JCC), in which African productions could compete for the "Tanit d'or." Before this, African films could be launched only through European festivals, such as the Berlin Film Festival, where Blaise Senghor (Senegal) won the Silver Bear in 1962 for his short film Grand Magal à Touba, and the Tours International Film Festival, where Ousmane Sembène won the first film prize in 1963 for Borom Sarret.

A decision was made in 1969 at the Algiers Festival Panafricain de la Culture to create an organization of African filmmakers known as the Fédération Panafricainéastes (FEPACI). The federation was officially inaugurated in 1970 at Carthage, Tunisia, with the mandate of promoting film as a tool for liberation and decolonization. The same year saw the establishment of the biennial Festival Panafricain du Cinéma de Ouagadougou (FESPACO), where African filmmakers could compete for the prestigious Etalon de Yennenga prize. Festival goals included the promotion and dissemination of African films, encouraging dialogue among filmmakers, and the fostering of African film as a means of consciousness-raising. It was anticipated that an African film industry would grow and flourish from that point onward and would contribute to the cultural development of the continent. This goal provided the focus for the meeting of FEPACI in Algiers in 1975, which set the stage for the "Algiers Charter on African Cinema," stipulating that African film should reject commercialism and imperialism, instead promoting its pedagogical potential. The members of FEPACI did not assemble again until 1982 in Niamey, where they assessed the state of production, distribution, and exhibition of African films. This meeting resulted in the "Niamey Manifesto," which focused more on the economic conditions of film production and distribution in Africa, while declaring the importance of the art form's role in the assertion of an African cultural identity.

The 1980s and 1990s saw increased Western pressure for African images as well as a thrust toward professionalization of African film. This set the stage for "Écrans du Sud" in 1992, the goal of which was to "put filmmakers from the south in contact with professionals from the north and to promote the emergence of an African cinema which could meet the demands of the hour" (Barlet, 267). The declared goals of this association included the development of genuine coproductions between nations in the Southern Hemisphere, in order to spur local film industries. The organization was intended to operate on joint private and public funding, but closed down after one year due to a lack of private funds. In 1999 the French Ministry of Cooperation merged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, marking the end of the Ministry of Cooperation's direct financial aid to both short and feature films of directors from francophone African nations. Subsidies are now available from ADCSud (Appui au développement des cinémas du Sud) for feature films alone by filmmakers from the South, and competition for funding has intensified.

Alternative funding sources outside Africa include TeleFilm Canada, Channel 4 (UK), ZDF (Germany), Canal + (France), and the European Union. Funding sources south of the Sahara remain limited, forcing filmmakers to piece together resources in order to complete their projects, a process referred to by Ousmane Sembènégotage," the piecing together of little bits to create a whole. Directors must often also act as their own producers and distributors. This situation is further complicated by the lack of trained African technicians, and filmmakers often must resort to using Western technicians. In addition, a lack of postproduction infrastructure in Africa south of the Sahara means continued reliance on expensive European laboratories, although some filmmakers are now accessing Zimbabwean or South African facilities.

Market development is also a crucial concern. Currently, outside the regions south of the Sahara, the African film market is often limited to international festivals and art house cinemas. Even films selected for Cannes and other prestigious festivals often cannot find commercial distribution; attempts are made by some venues to promote African films, most notably by the US media distributors Artmattan Productions in New York, California Newsreel in San Francisco, and Mypheduh Films in Washington, as well as Vues d'Afrique in Montreal. In addition, filmmakers are also proactive in foregrounding these concerns. For example, in 1999 a group of filmmakers living in France established the African Guild of Directors and Producers in an effort to promote shared experiences and collective issues.


Although Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) is one of the poorest countries south of the Sahara, its authorities made an early decision to support their national cinema. Cinema houses were nationalized in 1970 and the as "me Burkinabé distribution company SONACIB (Société Nationale du Cinéma Burkinabé) was established with the goal of supporting national filmmakers by taxing foreign films shown locally and then redirecting those funds into local production. This system paved the way for the first Burkinabé fiction feature, Le sang des parias (The Blood of the Pariahs, Mamadou Djim Kola, 1971). Several other initiatives make this country one of the most dynamic on the continent in terms of filmmaking activity. The INAFEC (Institut Africain d'Education Cinématographique), founded in 1976 and in operation until 1986, helped foster film production in the nation. The capital, Ouagadougou, hosts the biannual festival, FESPACO, along with its parallel international television and film market. In 1995, Burkina Faso created the African Cinémathèque of Ouagadougou, which collects and preserves African films. Gaston Kaboré (b. 1952) is considered the leading filmmaker in Burkina Faso and made his debut as a feature filmmaker in 1982 with Wend Kuuni (God's Gift). His films draw very heavily on African oral tradition, as evidenced by his other key features, Zan Boko (Homeland, 1988) and Buud Yam (1997). Kaboré is deeply committed to the development of African film industries and was secretary general of FEPACI from 1985 to 1997. Other key filmmakers include Dani Kouyaté (b. 1961), Idrissa Ouédraogo (b. 1954), Fanta Régina Nacro (b. 1962), and Pierre Yameogo (b. 1955), the latter three residing in Paris.

In Ivory Coast (Cô te d'Ivoire), fiction features for television preceded feature filmmaking. From 1962 to 1979, the Société Ivoirienne de Cinéma (S.I.C) acted as the umbrella organization for all national film production. Timité Bassori directed Ivory Coast's first fiction feature, La femme au couteau (Woman with a Knife), in 1969. This psychological thriller was followed by other films focusing on social and cultural issues such as inheritance woes, polygamy, and clashes between tradition and modernity. By 1979 S.I.C. had disappeared, leaving in its place a system more focused on private interests. In 1993 the Audiovisual and Cinema Company of Ivory Coast was established with the aim of renationalizing the film industry. Private production companies suffered greatly from the 1994 devaluation of the franc CFA, as did all the rest of the "zone franc" in West Africa. Ivorian cinema is known for its comedies, such as Comédie exotique (Exotic Comedy, Kitia Touré, 1984), and Bal poussière (Dancing in the Dust, Henri Duparc, 1988) and Le sixième doigt (Sixth Finger, 1990). Key Ivorian filmmakers include Désiré Ecaré (b. 1939), Kramo Lanciné Fadika and Roger Ngoan M'bala (b. 1943). M'bala's ambitious project Andanggaman (2000) deals with the role played by indigenous African rulers in the slave trade. Ivory Coast has produced two noted film actors, Hanny Tchelley and Sidiki Bakaba, who is also a film director and producer. In 1998 the audiovisual production company African Queen Productions inaugurated the Abidjan International Festival of Short Films with Hanny Tchelley as the secretary-general.

Many of the African films that reach Western audiences are produced in Senegal. In fact, Senegalese cinema enjoys a renown and longevity unknown in other countries south of the Sahara, due, in part, to the pioneering efforts of Ousmane Sembène and Paulin Soumanou Vieyra. Senegal gained independence from France on 4 April 1960, but it was not until the early 1970s that the newly independent state created a national infrastructure for the development and promotion of Senegalese cinema: in 1974 the Société d'Importation, Distribution, et Exploitation Cinématographique (SIDEC) and the now defunct Société Nationale du Cinéma (SNC); and finally in 1984, the Société Nationale de Promotion du Cinéma (SNPC), whose goal was to take over all functions of the SNC and to assist the initiatives of SIDEC.

Senegal has produced three prominent African filmmakers: Ousmane Sembène, who directed La noire de … (Black Girl), Senegal's first feature in 1966; Djibril Diop-Mambéty (1945–1998), known for his experimental use of symbolism in Touki Bouki (Journey of the Hyena, 1973); and Safi Faye (b. 1943), one of sub-Saharan Africa's foremost woman filmmakers. Faye studied ethnography in Paris with Jean Rouch (1917–2004) and acted in his film Petit à petit ou les lettres Persanes (Little by Little or the Persian Letters, 1968). She began her directing career with the short La passante (The Passerby) in 1972. Her first feature, Kaddu Beykat (Letter from My Village, 1975), shows the influence of Rouch with its use of nonprofessional actors and improvisation. She departs from this school of filmmaking, however, by positioning herself within the community she films, as in her 1979 feature, Fad'jal, screened that same year in the "Un Certain Regard" section at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1990 the Senegalese writer and activist Annette Mbaye d'Erneville (b. 1926) founded RECIDAK (Rencontres Cinématographiques de Dakar), an annual festival in Dakar with an extension to certain regional capitals of Senegal.

In Mali, many directors and technicians who were trained in Russia and the Eastern bloc worked in documentary before turning to fiction filmmaking. Mali gained independence from France in 1960 and nationalized its cinema sector as early as 1962 with the creation of OCINAM, the Office Cinématographique National du Mali. This company controlled distribution and exhibition of African films in the region until the early 1990s, due to a shortfall of resources. Many theaters were forced to close. The CNPC, or Centre National de la Production Cinématographique, has attempted a Cine renaissance. Film professionals founded the Union des Créateurs et Entrepreneurs du Cinéma et de L'Audiovisuel de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (UCECAO) in 1996 in an attempt to promote more effective advocacy for African cinema issues. This initiative was spearheaded by the veteran filmmaker Souleymane Cissé (b. 1940), one of the first generation of filmmakers south of the Sahara. A contemporary of Ousmane Sembène, Cissé studied directing at VGIK, the State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. He produced Mali's first fiction feature, Den Muso (The Young Girl) in 1975. His later films, such as Baara (Work, 1978), Finyé (The Wind, 1982) and Yeelen (Brightness, 1987), deal with themes of abuse of power and exploitation. Yeelen was awarded the Jury Prize at Cannes that same year as well as the British Film Institute's prize for most innovative film of the year. Other key Malian directors include Cheick Oumar Sissoko (b. 1945), with Finzan (A Dance for the Heroes, 1989), Guimba un tyrant une époque (Guimba the Tyrant, 1995), and La genèse (Genesis, 1999); and Adama Drabo (b. 1948), with Ta Dona (Fire, 1991) and Taafe Fanga (Skirt Power, 1997).

Ghana (the former Gold Coast) had the potential to become a strong film-producing nation. In 1935, long before independence, the British colonial authorities established the Gold Coast Film Unit. After independence in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), the first president of the Ghanaian Republic, nationalized the film industry. Thus, the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) was established, taking over from the Gold Coast Film Unit, and production facilities were relatively sophisticated. However, these facilities deteriorated after the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966, and feature filmmaking suffered a decline. During this period, No Tears for Ananse (Sam Aryeetey, 1968), I Told You So (Egbert Adjesu, 1970), and Do Your Own Thing (Bernard Odidja, 1971) were produced. The 1980s saw a brief revival with the production of six features. Among these are the three most well-known Ghanaian films in Africa and abroad: Love Brewed in the African Pot (Kwaw Ansah, 1981), which took ten years to complete due to insufficient resources; Ansah's very popular Heritage … Africa (1988), which won the Grand Prize (Etalon de Yennenga) at FESPACO 1989; and Juju (King Ampaw, 1986). It has since become much more economically viable to produce video films, which are taking on increasing importance in the local film industry.

Nigeria, with 120 million inhabitants, is the most populous country on the continent, and shares with Ghana the phenomenon of a burgeoning video economy. Although Nigeria gained independence in 1960, indigenous feature filmmaking did not begin until 1970 with the Lebanese coproduction Son of Africa, directed by Segun Olusola (b. 1935), and Kongi's Harvest, directed by the African American Ossie Davis (1917–2005). During the early 1970s, three or four features were produced every year, and until the early 1980s there was a trend toward higher quality films, including 35 mm production. The Nigerian Film Corporation was established in 1979 with the mandate of encouraging local film production. Ola Balogun (b. 1945), a novelist and playwright who was trained in cinematography at L'Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris, is Nigeria's most prominent filmmaker, known for directing comedies and musicals. He has produced or directed at least one feature every year since 1972, the year he directed Alpha, which some credit as the first truly indigenous Nigerian feature film. His Ajani-Ogun (1975) is sub-Saharan Africa's first musical; it spurred a series of films incorporating Yoruba popular theater on film. Other notable films include A Deusa negra (Black Goddess, 1978), Cry Freedom (1981) and Money Power (Owo L'agba, 1982). Another prominent filmmaker is Eddie Ugbomah, whose films such as The Rise and Fall of Dr. Onyenusi (1977), The Mask (1979) and The Death of a Black President (1983) were largely inspired by current events. By the end of the 1970s, and as Lagos became more dangerous at night, many middle-class homeowners turned to videocassette players so they could watch video movies in the safety of their homes. Video film production is an important industry in Nigeria and is practiced as a solution to film distribution bureaucracy. Although some criticize their technical shortcomings, the impact of video films as an expression of cultural identity cannot be denied.

The history and development of Angolan cinema is directly linked to the country's liberation struggle. During the 1960s, three liberation movements were born, with the common goal of gaining independence from Portugal: the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). Angola gained independence on 11 November 1975, but fighting among the groups continued, fueled by ethnic differences. It was during the 1970s that Angolan cinema really began, with politically engaged films about the battle for independence (Sambizanga, Sarah Maldoror, 1971) and consisting mainly of documentaries and videos that were cheaper to produce than feature-length films. In an attempt to encourage and foster the development of Angolan film production, the government established the Angolan Film Institute (IACAM) following independence. It fell into disrepair during the civil war, but the Institute and the Angolan film industry began to thrive at the end of the war in 2002. Three films were released in 2004: Comboio da Cañhoca (The Train of Canhoca, Orlando Fortunato de Oliveira); Na Cidade Vazia (In the Empty City, Maria João Ganga); and O Herói (The Hero, Zeze Gamboa). The Hero's main character attempts to build a new life in Luanda after losing his leg to a land mine. Gamboa wrote the script in 1992, but a new episode of war caused a decade-long delay. The film was awarded the Grand Prize in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance in 2005.

The history of film in South Africa is one of the longest south of the Sahara. Film was born in this country at virtually the same time as in Europe, and the country produced African Mirror (1913–1984), the world's longest-running weekly newsreel. Until the 1920s, films were mainly adaptations of British novels. During the 1930s and 1940s, Afrikaner forces were building South Africa's apartheid system, which was legislated with the 1948 election victory of the National Party. This period marks the beginning of treason trials, the Freedom Charter, and the Sharpeville Massacre. It was also the period during which Jamie Uys (1921–1996), considered to be South Africa's most commercially successful director, established independent production using Afrikaner-controlled capital. His 1980 feature, The Gods Must Be Crazy, which upholds a proapartheid worldview, is considered the most commercially successful African film worldwide, shattering all box office records in South Africa. Anti-apartheid filmmaking began during the 1950s, with films like Cry the Beloved Country (Zoltan Korda, 1951), based on Alan Paton's novel of the same title, and documentaries such as Come Back Africa (1959) by the American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin (1924–2000). A noted filmmaker during the 1960s was the exiled Lionel N'Gakane (1928–2003), with short films such as Vukani Awake (1965) and Jemima and Johnny (1966). After Sharpeville, many artists and activists went into exile, and resistance movements emerged. Benchmark films during the 1970s and early 1980s include the documentary Last Grave at Dimbaza (Nana Mahomo, 1973) and The White Laager (Peter Davis, 1977) and Generations of Resistance (1980). In 1988 Olivier Schmitz and Thomas Mogotlane codirected Mapantsula, South Africa's first "militant anti-apartheid feature film," winning seven AALife/M-Net Vita Awards (Gugler, African Film, p. 91). All-black productions took off in the 1990s, following the official demise of apartheid. Ramadan Suleman (b. 1955) directed Fools in 1997, and the American-trained Ntshavheni Wa Luruli (b. 1955) directed Chikin Biznis (1998) and The Wooden Camera (2003), which garnered a Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004.


The French ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch began making films in sub-Saharan Africa as early as 1946, employing Africans as technicians and actors. Les maîtres fous (The Mad Masters, 1955), arguably his most famous film, depicts a ritual of possession among the Hauka sect in Ghana. The Nigerian filmmaker Oumarou Ganda (1935–1981) acted in Rouch's Moi, un noir (I, a Black Man, 1958) before going on to direct Cabascabo (Tough Guy, 1968), Saitane (1972) and L'Exilé (The Exiled, 1980). Rouch's influence on Africans has been controversial: some credit him with advancing the careers of many African filmmakers and exposing them to the techniques of cinéma direct, while others condemn him for exoticizing Africa. Other ethnographic-based films include the Vietnam-born Trinh T. Minh-ha's Reassemblage (1982) and Naked Spaces: Living Is Round (1985), in which she challenges Western anthropological views of Africans.

Filmmaking in Africa south of the Sahara has been marked by several major trends over the past fifty years. Following independence, many films of the 1960s and early 1970s emphasized the notion of rehabilitation and reaffirmation of the validity of African traditions and institutions, which had been devalued during colonialism. Furthermore, filmmakers attempted to rebut negatively marked representations of Africans in Hollywood films like King Solomon's Mines (1950), Mogambo (1953), and Roots of Heaven (1958), or the portrayal of Africans as naturally subservient and therefore deserving of the West's protection and benevolence in films like the British production Sanders of the River (1935).

Not surprisingly, there has been much debate among African filmmakers concerning appropriate modes of representing African cultural identity. In the 1970s, films such as Le bracelet de bronze (The Bronze Bracelet, Cheikh Tidiane Aw, 1974, Senegal) and Pousse-pousse (Pedicab, Daniel Kamwa, 1975, Cameroon) were condemned by members of FEPACI for being too openly commercial and less committed to an overt critique of neocolonialism. Others, such as the films of Sembène, Mahama Johnson Traoré (Senegal), and Med Hondo (Mauritania), were praised for following a pattern that veered away from Western traditions: their primary audiences were deemed to be in Africa, the language of their dialogues was African, the location of their shooting often a typically rural African setting, and their intent didactic. The refusal of a Western aesthetic model led to the emergence of a style known as African cinematic realism, featuring cinematic grammar that emphasized social space and narratives focused on episodic plot structures.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, other styles began to emerge that were more experimental or that blended genres. Med Hondo's groundbreaking Soleil O (O Sun, 1969, Mauritania) draws on Brechtian theater, while Djibril Diop-Mambéty's surrealist Touki Bouki laid the ground for subsequent hybrid narratives such as La vie Traore sur terre (Life on Earth, Abderrahmane Sissako, 1998, Mali) and Heremakono (Waiting for Happiness, 2002, Mauritania), in which dialogue is minimal and the images themselves tell the story.

Censorship has been an issue of concern for African filmmakers since the early days. As early as 1934, the French colonial authorities instituted the Laval Decree, which prohibited the production of any anticolonial films in the African colonies. Some early cases of censorship include the French filmmaker René Vautier's condemnation of French colonialism in Afrique 50 (Africa 50, 1950), which earned him a year in prison, and Alain Resnais and Chris Marker's Les statues meurent aussi (Even Statues Die, 1953). Many other filmmakers have endured forms of censorship for a variety of reasons ranging from political (Ousmane Sembène's La noire de … and Pierre Yameogo's Silmandé [Whirlwind], 1998) to religious (Karmen Geï, Joseph Gaï Ramaka, 2001) to sexual (Visages de Femmes [Faces of Women], Désiré Ecaré, 1985), which was the first film to be prohibited in Ivory Coast for its sexual content (Ukadike, p. 213).

By the 1990s, filmmakers began crossing borders, forming more production partnerships between Africans and striking north-south partnerships or coproductions. African cinema south of the Sahara is now marked by a diversity of approaches, including nonchronological storytelling, as in Diop Mambety's Hyènes (Hyenas, 1992, Senegal); popular culture forms, as in Twiste à Poponguine (Rocking Poponguine, MoussaSeneAbsa, 1993, Senegal); and fragmented dream structures or memory constructions, as in Asientos (François Woukoache, 1995, Cameroon), and Abouna (Our Father, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2002, Chad). The Burkinabé filmmaker Idrissa Ouédraogo (b. 1954) insists that "it's the diversity of ideas, of opinions that will lead to the creation …of thriving African cinemas" (Thackway, p. 28).

From the mid-1990s onward, filmmakers south of the Sahara have been developing new aesthetic and narrative strategies best suited to communicating increasingly complex sociopolitical cultural contexts. Films such as Dakan (1997) by the Guinean Mohamed Camara, Woubi Chéri (1998) by Philip Brooks and Laurent Bocahut (France/Ivory Coast), and Nice to Meet You, Please Don't Rape Me (Ian Kerkhof, 1995, South Africa) explore issues of homosexuality in urban African settings, whereas Clando (Jean-Marie Teno, 1996, Cameroon), Keita! L'heritage du griot (Keita: Voice of the Griot, Dani Kouyaté, 1995, Burkina Faso), Sissoko's Guimba the Tyrant (1995, Mali), and La nuit de la vérité (The Night of Truth, Fanta Régina Nacro, 2004, Burkina Faso) challenge issues of political tyranny, abuse of power and privilege, and the resistance to these excesses in contemporary African societies. The new millennium is also witnessing a surge of musicals, including Ramaka's Karmen Geï (2001, Senegal), Madame Brouette (Moussa Sene-Absa, 2002, Senegal), Nha Fala (Flora Gomes, 2002, Guinea-Bissau), and Les habits neufs du gouverneur (The Governor's New Clothes, Ngangura Mweze, 2004, Congo/Belgium) that serve as a platform for interrogating social and political issues affecting postcolonial

b. Famleng, Cameroon, 14 May 1954

The Paris-based Cameroonian director Jean-Marie Teno is known for his provocative interrogations of political and social issues in postcolonial Cameroon. Using narrative and aesthetic strategies that combine elements of fiction and documentary to create innovative new structures, he belongs to the "new" generation of African filmmakers who are experimenting with new forms and styles.

Teno studied filmmaking at the University of Valenciennes in France. After graduating in 1981, he worked as a film critic for Buana Magazine, then as an editor for France's FR3 network. Teno claims to have been inspired by Pousse-pousse (Pedicab, Daniel Kamwa, 1975), which demonstrated to him that cinema was an important medium for illuminating social issues in Africa. Teno moved from short films to features in 1988 with the fictional documentary L'eau de misère (Bikutsi Water Blues), which deals with the social issue of polluted water supplies in Cameroon.

Teno continued his socially conscious filmmaking with his next feature, Afrique, je te plumerai (Africa, I Will Fleece You, 1992), by probing the continuing legacies of colonial oppression. Teno's original goal was to explore the world of publishing in Cameroon, but this soon evolved into an indictment of press censorship, his own Eurocentric education in Cameroon during the 1960s, French colonialism, and the destruction of traditional cultures by neocolonial societies. Teno advanced these themes in the subsequent documentaries La tête dans les nuages (Head in the Clouds, 1994) and Chef (Chief, 1999), in which he locates the roots of current woes as existing in kleptocracy, authoritarian regimes, and government irresponsibility. Teno's 2004 film, Le malentendu colonial (The Colonial Misunderstanding) is a searing commentary on the paradoxical relationship of European Christian missionaries to colonization in Africa, and how their "noble deeds" actually served to further the interests of their own nation states, rather than those of Africa.

Clando (1996), Teno's only fiction feature to date, explores issues of migration, violence, and imprisonment from the point of view of Sobgui, an unlicensed taxi driver, or clando, in Douala. In serious political trouble, Sobgui accepts the offer of an elder to travel to Germany to buy cars and search for the elder's son. Discontinuous events are juxtaposed in a way that presents the clashing of private memory and political events. In 1996 Clando was nominated for Best Film at the International Festival of French-speaking Films at Namur. In the documentary Vacances au pays (A Trip to the Country, 2000), Teno advances the stylistic use of geography and landscape introduced in Clando by creating a travelogue structure in which he documents his return to Cameroon after an extended absence. He taps into the past by retracing his childhood vacations in order to examine the concept of modern development in Africa.


Fièvre Jaune taximan (Yellow Fever Taximan, 1986), L'eau de misère (Bikutsi Water Blues, 1988), Afrique, je te plumerai (Africa, I Will Fleece You, 1992), La tête dans les nuages (Head in the Clouds, 1994), Clando (1996), Chef (Chief, 1999), Vacances au pays (A Trip to the Country, 2000), Le malentendu colonial (The Colonial Misunderstanding, 2004)


Akudinobi, Jude G. "Reco(r)ding Reality: Representation and Paradigms in Nonfiction African Cinema." Social Identities 6, no. 3 (2000): 345–367.

Petty, Sheila. "Postcolonial Geographies: Landscape and Alienation in Clando." French Literature Series XXX (2003): 167–178.

Ukadike, Nwachukwu. Frank. Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Sheila Petty

cultures. By incorporating new visions, ideologies, and aesthetic expressions, these filmmakers are interrogating not only the territoriality of sub-Saharan African identities, but are also staking places for African cultures in the global flow of ideas and peoples.

SEE ALSO Colonialism and Postcolonialism;National Cinema;Third Cinema


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Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank. Black African Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Sheila Petty