Cinema of Africa

Cinematic poster in Tunis for the film An-nasir Salah ad-Din (1963).

African cinema is film production in Africa. It dates back to the early 20th century, when film reels were the primary cinematic technology in use. The Nigerian film industry is the largest in Africa in terms of value, number of annual films, revenue and popularity.[1][2] It is also the second and third largest national film industry in the world, based on the number of annual films[2] and revenue respectively.[3]


The colonial era

During the colonial era, Africa was represented exclusively by Western filmmakers. The continent was portrayed as an exotic land without history or culture. Examples of this kind of cinema abound and include jungle epics based on the Tarzan character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the adventure film The African Queen (1951), and various adaptations of H. Rider Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines (1885).[4] In the mid-1930s, the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment was conducted in order to educate the Bantu.[5]

Egyptian actor Emad Hamdy in a scene from Faten Hamama (1962).

In the French colonies Africans were legally prohibited ("Laval Decree") from making films of their own.[6] The ban stunted the growth of film as a means for Africans to express themselves politically, culturally, and artistically.[7] In 1955, however, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra  originally from Benin, but educated in Senegal  along with his colleagues from Le Group Africain du Cinema, shot a short film in Paris by the name of Afrique Sur Seine (1955). Vieyra was trained in filmmaking at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris, and in spite of the ban on filmmaking in Africa, was granted permission to make a film in France.[8] Afrique Sur Seine explores the difficulties of being an African in France during the 1950s and is considered to be the first film directed by a black African.[9]

Before independence, only a few anti-colonial films were produced. Examples include Les statues meurent aussi by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais about European robbery of African art (which for 10 years was banned by the French[10]) and Afrique 50 by René Vautier about anti-colonial riots in Côte d'Ivoire and in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).[11]

Also doing film work in Africa during this time was the French ethnographic filmmaker, Jean Rouch, his work was controversial with French and African audiences. With films such as Jaguar (1955), Les maitres fous (1955), Moi, un noir (1958) and La pyramide humaine (1959), Rouch made documentaries that were not explicitly anti-colonial, but challenged perceptions about colonial Africa and gave a new voice to Africans through film.[12] Although Rouch has been accused by Ousmane Sembene  and others[13]  of being someone who looks at Africans "as if they are insects," Rouch was an important figure in the developing field of African film and was the first person to work with Africans who would have important careers in African cinema (Oumarou Ganda, Safi Faye and Moustapha Alassane, and others).[14]

Because most of the films prior to independence were egregiously racist in nature, African filmmakers of the independence era  such as Ousmane Sembene and Oumarou Ganda, among others  saw filmmaking as an important political tool for rectifying the erroneous image of Africans put forward by Western filmmakers and for reclaiming the image of Africa for Africans.[15]

Post-independence and 1970s

The Ghana Broadcasting Puppet Show developed by Beattie Casely-Hayford (1968).

The first African film to win international recognition was Sembène Ousmane's La Noire de... also known as Black Girl. It showed the despair of an African woman who has to work as a maid in France. The writer Sembène had turned to cinema to reach a wider audience. He is still considered to be the "father of African cinema".[16] Sembène's native country Senegal continued to be the most important place of African film production for more than a decade.

With the creation of the African film festival FESPACO in Burkina Faso in 1969, African film created its own forum. FESPACO now takes place every two years in alternation with the film festival Carthago in (Tunisia).

The Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes, or FEPACI)[17] was formed in 1969 in order to focus attention on the promotion of African film industries in terms of production, distribution and exhibition. From its inception, FEPACI was seen as a critical partner organization to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union. FEPACI looks at the role of film in the politico-economic and cultural development of African states and the continent as a whole.

Med Hondo's Soleil O, shot in 1969, was immediately recognized. No less politically engaged than Sembène, he chose a more controversial filmic language to show what it means to be a stranger in France with the "wrong" skin colour.

1980s and 1990s

Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen (Mali, 1987) and Cheick Oumar Sissoko's Guimba (Mali, 1995) were well received in the west. Some critics criticized the filmmakers for adapting to the exotic tastes of western audiences.

Many films of the 1990s, including Quartier Mozart by Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Cameroon, 1992), are situated in the globalized African metropolis.

Nigerian cinema experienced a large growth in the 1990s with the increasing availability of home video cameras in Nigeria, and soon centered Nollywood as the nexus for West African English-language films.

2000s to present

A first African Film Summit took place in South Africa in 2006. It was followed by FEPACI 9th Congress.

The African Movie Academy Awards were launched in 2004, marking the growth of local film industries like that of Nigeria as well as the development and spread of the film industry culture in sub-Saharan Africa.


An Open-Air-Cinema in Johannesburg with an inflatable movie screen (2010).

African cinema focuses on social and political themes rather than any commercial interests, and is an exploration of the conflicts between the traditional past and modern times. The political approach of African filmmakers is clearly evident in the Charte du cinéaste africain (Charter of the African cinéaste), which the union of African filmmakers FEPACI adopted in Algiers in 1975.

The filmmakers start by recalling the neocolonial condition of African societies. "The situation contemporary African societies live in is one in which they are dominated on several levels: politically, economically and culturally." African filmmakers stressed their solidarity with progressive filmmakers in other parts of the world. African cinema is often seen a part of Third Cinema.

Some African filmmakers, for example Ousmane Sembène, try to give back African history to African people by remembering the resistance to European and Islamic domination.

The role of the African filmmaker is often compared to traditional griots. Like them, the filmmakers' task is to express and reflect communal experiences. Patterns of African oral literature often recur in African films. African film has also been influenced by traditions from other continents, such as Italian neorealism, Brazilian Cinema Novo and the theatre of Bertolt Brecht.

Women directors

Ethnologist and filmmaker Safi Faye was the first African woman film director to gain international recognition.

In 1972, Sarah Maldoror shot her film Sambizanga about the 1961–74 war in Angola. Surviving African women of this war are the subject of the documentary Les Oubliées (The forgotten women), made by Anne-Laure Folly 20 years later. In 1995, Wanjiru Kinyanjui made the feature film The Battle of the Sacred Tree in Kenya.

In 2008, Manouchka Kelly Labouba became the first woman in Gabon cinema history to direct a fictional film. Her short film Le Divorce addresses the impact of modern and traditional values on the divorce of a young Gabonese couple.

Directors by country

Films about African cinema

See also


  1. "Nigeria surpasses Hollywood as world's second largest film producer – UN". United Nations. 2009-05-05. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  2. 1 2 "Nigeria's Nollywood eclipsing Hollywood in Africa". The Independent. May 15, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-24.
  3. "Crumbling Cinema Culture". This Day Newspaper. This Day Live. 3 March 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  4. Murphy, David (2000). "Africans Filming Africa: Questioning Theories of an Authentic African Cinema". Journal of African Cultural Studies. 13 (2): 239–249. doi:10.1080/713674315. JSTOR 1771833.
  5. Notcutt, L. A., and G. C. Latham, The African and the Cinema: An Account of the Work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment during the Period March 1935 to May 1937, London: Edinburgh House Press, 1937.
  6. Diawara, Manthia (1992). African Cinema: Politics and Culture. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, pp. 22–23.
  7. Halhoul, Khalid (2012). "Using African Cinema to Shift Cultural Perceptions." Utne Reader (June/July 2012 edition). Mixed Media Section, pp. 78–79.
  8. Diawara (1992), African Cinema, p. 23.
  9. Gugler, Josef (2003). African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, p. 3.
  10. Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994), Black African Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 49.
  11. Melissa Thackway (2003). Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan Francophone African Film. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0-253-34349-9, pp. 7 and 32.
  12. For more on Rouch's work, see Steven Feld (ed.), Cine-Ethnography (1994), and Paul Henley, The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema (2010).
  13. See, for example, Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Black African Cinema (1994), pp. 48–58.
  14. Diawara (1992). African Cinema, pp. 23–24. See also Henley, Paul (2010), The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 310–337.
  15. Thackway (2003). Africa Shoots Back, pp. 1–6.
  16. Dennis McLellan, "Ousmane Sembene, 84; Sengalese hailed as 'the father of African film'" (obituary), Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2007.
  17. FEPACI.
  18. Biography, African Film Festival, New York.
  19. Thackway (2003). Africa Shoots Back. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  20. "Salem Mekuria", Women Make movies.
  21. Maureen Abotsi, "Nii Kwate Owoo", GhanaNation, 13 September 2013.


  • Mahir Şaul and Ralph Austen (eds), Viewing African Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Art Films and the Nollywood Video Revolution, Ohio University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8214-1931-1
  • Roy Armes: Dictionary of African Filmmakers, Indiana University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-253-35116-2
  • Barlet, Olivier (2000). African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze. London; New York: Zed Books. ISBN 1856497429. 
  • Pfaff, Françoise (2004). Focus on African Films. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253216687. 
  • Fernando E. Solanas, Octavio Getino, "Towards a Third Cinema" in: Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods. An Anthology, University of California Press, 1976, pp. 44–64
  • Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994). Black African cinema. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520077474. 
  • Africultures: see (French and English)
  • Samuel Lelievre (ed.), "Cinémas africains, une oasis dans le désert?", CinémAction, no. 106, Paris, Télérama/Corlet, 1st trimester 2003
  • Écrans d'Afriques (1992–1998)  French and English  to read on or
  • Halhoul, Khalid (2012-07-03). "Using African Cinema to Shift Cultural Perceptions". Utne Reader. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 

External links

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