Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Movies - Africans in the Media

Once in a while, I enjoy watching old time movies made in Africa like King Solomon’s Mines (Haggard Rider), She, Mogambo and others, which were made before we could complain about the negative portrayal of Africans. It is somewhat amusing to see the wierd and tactless ideas moviemakers and writers had of Africa and Africans. We were portrayed as ignorant, lazy and cowardly and that we desperately needed western civilisation to save us from chaos.

What I strongly protest is the modern remakes of those same old stereotypes like King Solomon’s Mine being shown by Hallmark TV and staring Patrick Swayze, - you know the Ghost guy. I was irritated by Hallmark and this movie and so I watched a few scenes so that I could register my objections. Some of the ideas about the “Dark Continent” that still persist include:

Africa as one great lump of land
The people, languages, cultures and countries are interchangeable
Africans are superstitious and under the power of witchdoctors
white people are still smart and come to our rescue – we need them to survive
Africans are uncivilised, ignoring proof of our ancestors’ civilisations
Africans are naïve and are easily duped
Africans do nothing all day but sit outside their thatched huts – who does the cooking, farming or even build the huts? Who makes the clothes, takes care of the animals and fetches water?
The natives will spontaneously start singing and dancing to entertain the white man or the chief (king, headman etc)
The movie makers do not differentiate between regional dressing, hairstyles or dances

The list is endless, the faults and stereotypes are the same – even in this day and age.
The most annoying fact was that the movie makers did not bother to recruit Africans who speak the same language. There were several languages spoken by a number of people, who understood each other!!! Wonder of wonders. People who spoke Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa and others could all understand each other. Here is an example of a narrative

Speaker one in Swahili: I am the rightful ruler, not Twala
Speaker two in Zulu: How can I believe you are the king?
Speaker one Swahili: Look at my markings
Speaker three in another language: Yes those are the markings of the King
Chorus of Africans in a Babel of languages; Hail to the King

Swahili is my second language and I know a few Zulu words so it was apparent to me that the actors were separated not only by language but by a several thousands of miles. The cultures and customs are as different as Germany is to England. But did the movie makers take this into consideration?

I suppose the movie makers’ primary audience are non-Africans so it would not matter if such things as African languages, cultures and customs were rather hazy. The primary audience would not be the wiser and would thus not affect them.

It is incredible that these famous stars and reputable movie companies can make such movies that are insult to Africans without a second thought. I suppose the fact that there were Africans acting in the movie did nothing to ensure that the movie was not an insult to Africans.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear you on the language thing! That put a smile on my face. But then they all think we speak a language called AFRICAN anyway ama ...

12/02/2004 10:11:00 pm  
Blogger UARIDI said...

You are so right - and they think we are all one large blob. I remember a young African American boy asking me to say some words in "African"!!!

12/03/2004 11:31:00 pm  
Blogger Mshairi said...

I think the one that makes me most mad is the African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. In one scene, the Africans sing in the most cacophonic manner you can ever imagine, heads lolling, out of sync and tune and all that. It makes my blood boil!

12/07/2004 09:41:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uaridi: I see you have stepped on a wholesale carton box of Rexona :) Welcome back to blog land.

You have to watch Ashanti starring Michael Caine. He is meant to be in West Africa as a doctor working with Ashanti people lakini this Ashanti people were fluent in Kiswahili and I am sure a few of them were wearing khangas!

To make matters worse there were no subtitles to translate the conversation between Caine and and the Ashanti, instead we had to rely on Caine's translation as he relayed messages to a black American woman.

I know my swa is not 100% but Caine did not translate what the were saying correctly.

p.s missing you!

12/11/2004 10:44:00 pm  
Blogger Nyakehu said...

Have you seen what they do to the women, all we hear and see them is screaming in the background and they never have one intelligent thing to say about themselves. The women are shrouded in shukas and when they see white man they have fear of God in their eyes and when they see white woman they just want to touch her flesh and hair and sigh aghh!!!!

12/14/2004 02:56:00 pm  
Blogger Black River Eagle said...

African-Americans and other ethnic groups including Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, and on and on have suffered the same type of indignities from the major film studios since the beginning of filmmaking in the U.S.A. and Europe.

One way that we have overcome some of this ignorance and blatant racism in my country (the U.S.A.) is to become deeply involved in the industry both in front of and behind the camera (including management positions). The affects of these efforts over the past decades is evident today in much of the TV programming and films we all enjoy worldwide. The U.K. has made some headway in this area as well, at least with television programming.

It is important that we who are members of these various ethnic groups DO MORE to support filmmakers and other media professionals who present our histories and cultures with respect and accuracy and are still able to entertain a wide viewing audience without using insulting characterizations or supporting damaging and negative stereotypes.

In order to get better visual media about Africa and her peoples and cultures, the viewing audiences must support the media companies and professionals who are producing good products, particularly productions which are "Made in Africa" by Africans & Friends.

1/02/2005 01:25:00 pm  

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