Academic journal article African Studies Review

African Films in the Classroom

Academic journal article African Studies Review

African Films in the Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract:

A wealth of excellent films from Africa is readily available for classroom use, even if much of Anglophone Africa remains poorly represented. African films can serve to challenge students' assumptions and to foster a critical examination of Western films set in Africa. Extending the scope of conventional "African" courses to North Africa adds a substantial body of notable productions, some of which address current concerns such as Islamic fundamentalism. African films have to be contextualized; even when they are examined as works of art and as examples of world cinema, full appreciation requires that they be considered in their historical and cultural contexts. When films are used to introduce students to Africa, critical examination is imperative-audiences that have little factual information about Africa all too readily assume that fiction and fact coincide.

Résumé: On peut noter qu'il y a pléthore d'excellents films africains disponibles pour les études en classe, même si le cinéma de l'Afrique anglophone est encore très peu représenté. Les films africains peuvent servir à mettre en question les préjugés des étudiants et à encourager un examen critique des films occidentaux utilisant un cadre africain. Pour les cours sur l'Afrique, l'inclusion de l'Afrique du Nord ajoute un nombre important de productions notables, dont certaines abordent des sujets d'actualité tel le fondamentalisme islamique. Les films africains doivent être situés dans leur contexte; même lorsqu'ils sont présentés strictement en tant qu'oeuvres artistiques, une appréciation véritable demande qu'ils soient examinés dans leur contexte historique et culturel. Pour les étudiants introduits à l'Afrique par le moyen du cinéma, il est impératif de les diriger vers une analyse critique-un public qui a peu d'information sur l'Afrique prend trop facilement la fiction pour la réalité.

Much of this essay is pertinent to the teaching of African cinema, but my focus is on teaching with African films. Many academics look askance at the study of fiction film in the classroom; they see entertainment taking the place of serious study and assume that the instructor is having an easy time of it to boot. A number of historians, however, have been engaged for quite some time in a serious debate about the relation of historical film to history. Robert Rosenstone (1995), for one, has developed a perspective that moves beyond the traditional critique of historical films. He argues that while film is different from written discourse, and necessarily so, this very difference constitutes an important contribution; he posits historical film as a history sui generis. Thus it may be argued that the transmission of history is undergoing a profound change, entering an age in which the history of the film stands alongside the history of the book and providing a more comprehensive view of the past. There is, of course, precedent for such a major change in the transmission of history, since the history of the book was preceded by the history of orature.

The argument may be extended beyond history to African studies in its many facets. Films can play a unique role in introducing Westerners to the continent and its people and in engaging them in African experiences. Films illuminate with images what text can barely convey, and they bring foreign settings alive in images, sound, characters, and story. They integrate in individual characters multiple aspects of politics, society, and culture that tend to be compartmentalized in academic writing, and they endow abstract concepts with readily accessible meaning. Their dramatic stories elicit emotional responses and their individual characters inspire empathy for people living in distant lands. Such intimate portraits of people who belong to another culture, who have experienced a different history, and who live in quite different economic and political circumstances today, are particularly important with audiences that start out with negative views of the "Other. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.