Magazine article New Internationalist

Where Is the Real Cinema?

Magazine article New Internationalist

Where Is the Real Cinema?

Article excerpt

Out of the 500 top-grossing films* just six are set in Africa, but none arc about Africans. Two are cartoons from Disney and Dreamworks - The Lion King and Madagascar. Then there's The Prince of Egypt, about Moses, two Mummy films, and Black Hawk Down, about an American army raid in Mogadishu. Apart from there being a few lions and lemurs about, you wouldn't learn much about Africa from any of them.

The experience of a person in an African village or township doesn't figure high in filmmakers' priorities. It's not just Africa that misses out. The four top-grossing films set in South and Central America are one Indiana Jones adventure and three trips with Pirates of the Caribbean. You get the picture - we don't actually get pictures which are about the place.

In mainstream film, the world's poorest regions are simply a setting, with all sorts of threats that someone like 'us' has to escape from. The highest-profile 'African' film of recent years, The Last King of Scotland, is a little more serious, but, as is the norm, it's about The White Man abroad. Forest Whitaker as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin won the Leading Actor Oscar yet there's little interest in what motivated Amin or in post-colonial Uganda.

Is this excessively gloomy? Slumdojj Millionaire was a massive hit last year and 'The White Man' is not centre stage. That's a huge step forward. But where are the others?

The children's film Africa United, now on release, is about Africans in Africa. Sadly, like much of the mainstream (and TV) it patronizes its audience and takes any stings out of the tale. It probably wouldn't have been made without Slumdog - producers and distributors tend to take their lead from the market.

The recent London Film Festival (LFF) showed more than 50 films from Africa, Asia and South and Central America, and over 100 shorts. Running alongside it, The Native Spirit Festival, 'promoting the cultures of indigenous people', showed 45 films. …

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