Framing Africa: Portrayals of a Continent in Contemporary Mainstream

By Power, Joey | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, May 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Framing Africa: Portrayals of a Continent in Contemporary Mainstream


Power, Joey, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Framing Africa: Portrayals of a Continent in Contemporary Mainstream Cinema. Edited by Nigel Eltringham. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013. Pp. 183. $70.00/£44.

This book, edited by Nigel Eltringham, attempts to do two things: to explore the perceptions of Africa as envisioned in recent mainstream western cinema, and to ask if the films under review challenge rather than reproduce, a single script for "Africa" which is ultimately negative (p. 4). The films chosen for examination and reviewed in seven essays are all contemporary (post-2000). They are: Black Hawk Down (2001), Constant Gardener (2005), Invictus (2009), Blood Diamond (2006), Last King of Scotland (2006), Hotel Rwanda (2004), Shooting Dogs (2005), and Red Dust (2004). All but one of the films have white protagonists and the one non-white lead is played by Don Cheadle. Nelson Mandela and Idi Amin are of course played by Morgan Freeman and Forest Whitaker, also African Americans. The authors note this and attribute it to the films' "western" target audiences. A more curious question about the choice of films is begged by the book's subtitle, which is "portrayals of a continent." Indeed, the films chosen have a very limited geographic reach. The countries of Southern (and ex-settler) Africa (and their toxic race politics) and the Great Lakes region dominate. Even Leonardo de Caprio's character in Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, is a Rhodesian-born mercenary. Constant Gardener is set in postcolonial

"settler" Kenya, and the Last King's Nicholas Garrigan only comes to Uganda as a random destination during his post-MD "gap year." Eltringham notes this in his introduction, but still one wonders at the omission of films made at about the same time for international audiences (which include those of "mainstream western cinema") that treat Africa rather differently. These include Moolaadé (2004), London River (2009), Days of Glory aka Indigènes (2006), Des Hommes et des Dieux (2010), Hors-laLoi (2010), Disgrace (2008), and the stand-out omission, the controversial District 9 (2009). Whether set in Africa or outside, these films all address themes including Africa's fraught relationships with "the west," post-coloniality, modernity, and the legacy of apartheid in new and interesting ways. …

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