Zimbabwe's Cinematic Arts: Language, Power, Identity

Zimbabwe's Cinematic Arts: Language, Power, Identity

Zimbabwe's Cinematic Arts: Language, Power, Identity

Zimbabwe's Cinematic Arts: Language, Power, Identity


This timely book reflects on discourses of identity that pervade local talk and texts in Zimbabwe, a nation beset by political and economic crisis. As she explores questions of culture that play out in broadly accessible local and foreign film and television, Katrina Daly Thompson shows how viewers interpret these media and how they impact everyday life, language use, and thinking about community. She offers a unique understanding of how media reflect and contribute to Zimbabwean culture, language, and ethnicity.


This book offers a critical discussion about cultural identity in Zimbabwe by analyzing talk and texts about the cinematic arts. Zimbabwe’s economic and political crises have been well documented by scholars and the Western media; I argue that a related cultural crisis is also under way. With a dual focus on cinematic texts and on discourse about them, this book shows that a reductive framework of foreign and local identities assigned to cultural products, as well as to those who produce and consume them, not only builds on a history of exclusion from Zimbabwe’s national resources but also helps perpetuate current inequalities and consolidate an authoritarian state. Attention to marginalized discourse, however—talk produced by viewers and filmmakers—opens up possibilities for less polarized identities and more democratic futures.

Becoming Zimbabwean:
Understanding Identity as Socially Constructed

When we use talk or writing to communicate with others, we present ourselves in ways that construct our own and others’ identities and produce meanings that may come to be shared. Cultural studies theorist Stuart Hall outlines two ways of understanding identity, the first of which focuses on the shared meanings that can develop through talk about national or cultural concerns. “The first position defines ‘cultural identity’ in terms of one shared culture, a sort of collective ‘one true self,’ hiding inside the many other, more superficial or artificially imposed ‘selves,’ which people with a shared history and ancestry hold in common.” Hall argues that, although such a position ultimately offers only imagined identities, it remains important because of the critical role it played in struggles against colonialism. Moreover, “it continues to be a very powerful and creative force in emergent forms of representation among hitherto marginalized peoples” such as the cinema of black Caribbean filmmakers that Hall examines.

The second view of cultural identity Hall offers is more complex and is the one on which this book is premised. Among people of shared ancestry or experience, “as well as the many points of similarity, there are also critical points of deep and significant difference which constitute ‘what we really are’; or rather—since history has intervened—‘what we have become.’ … Cultural identity, in this . . .

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