London Film Festival: BFI’s New African Cinema? Or The Same Old?

Went to see the African New Cinema showing at the London Film Festival on Thursday night. The BFI as always, is totally wonderful. First film: ‘Tinye So’ was an interesting artistic venture with very little straightforward narrative and a lot of marionettes, unusual angles and traditional dancing. The Second Film: ‘Umkhungo’ seemed to be South Africa’s answer to Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’, ‘Inception’ and Channel 5’s ‘The Tribe’, too many special affects, too much narrative condensed into 23 minutes. The Last Film and by all means the best was directed by Rungano Nyoni, who I had the pleasure of meeting after the showing. ‘Mwanza the Great’ had the magic and humour of a simple, well-thought through narrative with universal themes of loss, play and tragedy.

Now the real point is, ‘Focus Feature’s’ Africa First Program seems pretty philanthropic from the outside. However, stereotypical archetypes remain prevalent in all the narratives they chose: ‘the spiritual negro’ whose intuition and spiritualism guides where a lack of knowledge, reason and logic (dare I say it, civilisation and education) prevails. This was coupled with the idea of the poor African, destitute, forlorn and in rags in every single film.

It seems that the gatekeepers to filmic artistry are still holding back the reins on any portrayal of Africans as affluent, educated and middle class. Why is this? Perhaps they give us what we, as a Western audience believe Africans to be. Just as Shakespeare gave us Othello the Moor. However, these stereotypes are doing a great disservice to a land where 57 countries are vying to be recognised in a new way, a post-modern way. The Africa First Program should acknowledge that.

The African representations of the past are just not good enough, and I hope that their choice of scripts next year reflects this fact. Africa is no longer the Third World, but made up of Emerging Markets, with emerging ideals.

© 2011 Elizabeth Amisu