African Cinema Critical Essay

African cinema is inaccurate to be tagged as a “national cinema” for Africa has more than 50 states. The interaction of these nations with European countries, with the exception of some parts of the South Africa and other Mediterranean countries like Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia, paved for the development of film-making (Abrams, Bell, and Udris, 2001).

In fact, not until 1980s, the government of the African nations failed to show compassion for the film-making which resulted to the inability to produce film that is indigenous to their own culture. This reluctance for film making was largely attributed to the prevalence of socio-political problems including drought, famine, peace and order, and the foreign debts to western countries.

Consequently, the commonly referred as “Black African Cinema” was actually dominated by the European and American firms in its early period. On the other hand, as rituals and spiritual beliefs are typical to African societies, the film directors used this aspect to convey socio-political messages to the African viewers.
Brief History
The first initiative for the development of the Black African film-making was realized in 1966 through the creation of Film Festivals in Carthage, Tunisia and in 1969 during the Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso (Abrams, Bell, and Udris, 2001).
These events farmed out for funds necessary for the indigenous film-making which eventually called for the Black African film-making pioneers like Paulin Vieyra, Oumarou Ganda, Med Hondo, Desire Ecare, and Ousmane Sembene, the father of African film.
This group of film-makers was influenced by the European liberal movements like Italian neorealism and Soviet Montage Theory in producing thematic films on colonialism in African nations. Further, in 1970s-1980s, as these film-makers continue to explore the past of African nations, they progressively tackled the imperialism and colonialism themes in their film production (Abrams, Bell, and Udris, 2001).
However, not only the inadequate film production has impeded the growth of film-making but also the lack of distributing networks for the local film produced. Thus, the public has continuously patronized the foreign films supplied mainly by the North American and European countries.
Meanwhile, despite the influx of European and American influences, the thriller and comedy genres along with the western influences like Cameroun and Nigeria have slowly sprouted in several African regions. As such, the thematic creation of time and space like magical works of the characters in “Sarraounia” and “Emitai”, and narration or oral story-telling techniques like in “Ceddo” were employed and integrated in film production (Abrams, Bell, and Udris, 2001).
These techniques specifically the time and space narration were absorbed by the succeeding generation of Black African Directors including Souleymane Cisse for “Finye” and “Yeelen”, and Indrisaa Ouedraogo for “Yaaba” and “Tila’i” (Abrams, Bell, and Udris, 2001).
In addition, while the nationality of other film-makers such as Sarah Maldoror and Haile Gerima was questioned, they were called as diaspora figures for they were able to integrate the world problems on slavery in the African films.
The aforementioned films signified the progress of photographic quality brought by the Burkina Faso’s modern technical facilities. As well, the universality of the themes like in “Tilai” projected the culture where it was patterned after. The theme of “Tilai” was an exploration of Burkina Faso’s cultural inquiries.
That is, as traveler returns to his town, his father has taken the woman of his affection which eventually leads an affair between the traveler and his stepmother. The cultural questions, adaptation, and its relevance to fast-changing society are the crucial themes in the African Cinema.
For instance, a South African film concerning homosexuality was presented in the 1995 Ouagadougou Festival and received a mass walkout from the African viewers (Abrams, Bell, and Udris, 2001).
Hence, the most formidable dilemma faces by the African film-maker is the cultural and moral issues in the cinema. This menace could be alleviated through a continuous cooperation with the diaspora and other black film-makers abroad.
Yeelen Synopsis and Analysis
In the “Yeelen”, which means brightness, of Souleymane Cisse, Niankoro who is a native Bambara leaved his mother’s custody and went for a spiritual enlightenment quest. On his way, his father who abandoned them for a long period of time was in incessant chase after him for his sexuality and magical powers.
Then, an ancient cosmos in the verge of death was reborn and hindered Niankoro’s will in putting off the spiritual contrivances of his father. The malicious Soma, as expecting the final battle between him and his son and to several patriarchal conflicts, said that in order to ensure success, one must learn betrayal.
Meanwhile, King Rouma Boll wanted Attou, his wife, to bear a child through the magical powers of Niankoro. But Niankoro’s penis deceived him and impregnated Attou. Instead of taking vengeance against Niankoro and Attou, the king gave freely his wife to the magician.
On the other hand, the mother-son relationship in the movie was portrayed by the bathing of Niankoro’s mother while praying for his safety. This scene evoked an African mother who is self-abnegation dependent (Diwara, 1988).
The film started with a rising sun scene with the appearance of the burning of a live chicken. Then, a boy came into the scene that brought a wooden statue with a goat. In another setting, Soma performed a ritual with a chicken and set it on fire.
The scene with the sacred objects, the wooden statue, and the pan over the Wing of Kore, foreshadowed the various secrets in the movie. The repeated appearance of these objects in the scenes denoted their crucial roles in decoding the secrets in the whole movie. With these, Cisse encouraged the viewer to take an active role in the interpretation, analysis, and discovery of each symbolic thing.
In line with this, the scene of confronting two groups of warriors with a close-up scene of a knife positioned the midst of the three parallel lines on the ground and ended with the two bodies of opposing warriors implied the holiness of the men as well as the ritual objects.
As similar to the spectator warriors, the viewers tend focus on the event to decode it. As the opposing warriors push one another towards the outer lines, the meaning of the ritual remained in secrecy. In addition, the trouble of one spectator warrior in controlling his horse showed his overwhelming interest for the outcome of the duel while the viewers’ anxiety to decode the mystery of the ritual rises.
When one of the warriors became victorious, his group chased the loser’s flock. This denoted the African sense of collectivism; a single individual fight for the entire group (Diwara, 1988). After losing, the warrior took the knife on the ground and committed suicide.
At this point, the mystery of the ritual is revealed; the duel is a matter of life and death and the loser warrior must take responsibility for the shame and failure.
As the ritual was demystified, the scene then has incited the emotion of the viewer on the consequences of the duel. In these scenes, Cisse tried to persuade every African to look deeply into the root of their culture and avoid comparison with the western culture.
Although “Yeelen” is an African film, the movie tackled universal themes such as spiritual struggles and other premises of native religion. As well, the film has Oedipal and Eden-like overtones. Further, Cisse depicted the film’s Bambara natives and magical powers by means of an Albino and a dog walking backward (Diwara, 1988).
Moreover, a Hollywood movie with a character similar to Yeelen can hardly be found. Cisse tried to reveal the non-linearity of the Bambara’s belief; their religious belief is always moving back to the initial “brightness” that created the world. As the film begun with the scene of the red-shining sun, it ended with Attou with her son lifting the buried two egg-like objects in the desert.
Hence, the director of Yeelen showed the cosmos’ rise, fall, and rebirth in parallel with deep respect and understanding on the shape of things.
As both Soma and Niankoro were perished in the end, Attou’s son denoted the hope for renewal. The film also addressed the corruption and oppression in the African nations and portrayed the psychological aspects by means of the social experiences of the African society.
Furthermore, Cisse has shown the political solutions to tyranny and oppression in Africa not through the Western tenets of democratic ideals but by means of a political inspiration from the past political experiences of Africans. Also, Cisse equqted his magical realism in the movie to the Western’s scientific realism in their science-fiction movies.

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