The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone

By Iyunolu Folayan Osagie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Hollywood Images, African Memories:
Spielberg’s Amistad and Sierra Leone
Culture and Politics

The American mainstream motion picture industry has impacted society politically, economically, and socially. As a powerful social institution, Hollywood’s cultural elite influences society through its creation of cultural symbols and its authoritative control of the dissemination of those symbols. From its beginnings in the 1900s through the 1960s, the movie colony, as Leo Rosten labeled Hollywood in his 1941 publication, was not only ruthlessly capitalistic but also ideologically conservative.1 Hollywood film producers shared the social values of the dominant society. Their representations of Africans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other non-European groups generally reflected their uncritical acceptance of dominant ideological views of the “other.” In America, African Americans were either completely absent from movies or were given marginal roles such as mammies, chauffeurs, porters, or shoeshine boys. “Indians” were practice targets for trigger-happy whites, and in “Africa” movies, barely clothed or exotic-looking Africans were displayed as background props.

As part of a Third World attempt to revise the oppressive ideological dominance of Euro-American film culture, African cinema has been concerned with using film to revise the history of “mis-recognition” inscribed by a colonial legacy of misrepresentation.2 This alternative medium has chiefly focused on “de-colonizing” African minds, raising consciousness, instilling racial and cultural pride, and articulating the potential for a

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