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Africans Filming Africa: Questioning Theories of an Authentic African Cinema

David Murphy
Journal of African Cultural Studies
Vol. 13, No. 2 (Dec., 2000), pp. 239-249
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1771833
Page Count: 11
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Africans Filming Africa: Questioning Theories of an Authentic African Cinema
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Abstract

The question of 'authenticity' has been at the heart of much critical thinking about African cinema. During the colonial era, cinematic images of Africa effectively served to reinforce the Western vision of the 'dark continent,' viewing Africa as a wild and savage place, existing outside of history. When African filmmakers began to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s, they set out to counter these demeaning Western representations of their continent. However, although there was widespread agreement that colonial representations were distorted and 'inauthentic,' the definition of an 'authentic' African cinema has remained deeply problematic. What should an African film look like? How should it differ from Western cinema? This debate about the 'authenticity' of African cinema has not been limited to filmmakers. Both African and Western critics have readily applied themselves to the task of defining the nature of a truly African cinema. At the forefront of these debates are questions of cultural identity and critical subjectivity. Does the African critic understand African films in a way that is simply closed off to the Western critic? Is it possible for a Western critic to give a 'true' reading of an African film? This article will examine the notion of 'authenticity' in relation to a number of African films - Mambety's Touki-Bouki (1973), Sembene's Xala (1974) and Cissé's Yeelen (1987) - examining the attitudes of both directors and critics. The article will also investigate the role of postcolonial theory in the analysis of not only African cinema, but contemporary African culture in general.

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