‘An-Other’-Centred Film Curricula: Decolonising Film Studies in Africa

  • Beschara Karam


African films have long since engaged with colonisation, post-colonisation, decolonisation and independence. Leading African film makers, such as Ousmane Sembène (CeddoThe Outsiders’, 1977; Haile Gerima, Teza, 2008; Idrissa Ouedraogo, TilaïA Question of Honour’, 1990; and Darrell Roodt (Sarafina!, 1992; Place of Weeping, 1986; Cry, the Beloved Country, 1995) have made films that have explored and raised critical questions about issues of racism, coloniality and exploitation. African films have also documented the struggles of various liberation movements (e.g. Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, 2007, a film about the Namibian struggle against South African occupation); and the (still) ongoing effects of colonialism (e.g. Contras City by Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1969, made in the aftermath of the Dakar riots against French influence and colonial rule). These films have raised consciousness (e.g. Afrique sur Seine, by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and Mamadou Sarr, 1955, wherein they reverse the colonial gaze by ‘ethnographically’ filming the French in France), and even function as a form forms of historical ‘accounting’ (e.g. Forgiveness, 2004, by director Ian Gabriel deals with perpetrator Tertius Coetzee, and the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation in a post-colonial South Africa); and include bearing witness to the traumas of colonisation (e.g. The Bang Bang Club, 2010, and Otelo Burning, 2011; both feature the civil war between the United Democratic Front and Inkatha; and William Kentridge’s films from his Black Box/Chambre Noir, 2005, and Ubu and the Truth Commission, 1996. The former deals with the genocide of the Herero peoples and the latter deals with the Truth and Reconciliation Committee); and the trauma of disentanglement from decolonisation (cf. Man on Ground, 2011, by Nigerian director Akin Omotoso centres on two brothers who bear witness (through the use of flashbacks) to violence in Nigeria and are then targets of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa). Despite this, film theory itself, as taught in the majority of tertiary institutions in Africa, still relies on Western and European concepts and theoretical paradigms—semiotics and social semiotics; gender; gay and lesbian film theory; postmodernism; narrative; psychoanalysis; and philosophy of film. Post-colonialism and African cinema are generally part of this curriculum (Sembène, 1968; Cabral, 2016; Tomaselli, 1988; Botha, 2007; Mboti, 2010). Some departments have even dewesternised or ‘Africanised’ their courses; in other words, they have used Western cinematic theoretical constructs (and philosophy) to deconstruct and analyse African films (Karam, 2013). As yet (c. 2017), no complete decolonisation of film syllabi has taken place. As far as I am concerned, the dewesternisation and ‘Africanisation’ of film theory is nothing more than a makeshift or ‘conciliatory’ affect. The underlining ideology remains the same: ‘West is best’; with Hollywood being its established signifier. It is therefore time to decolonise film curricula and produce an ‘an-Other’-centred film course. This chapter, which is more of a position paper, will explore what that could entail.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beschara Karam
    • 1
  1. 1.University of South AfricaPretoriaSouth Africa

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