The Black Man's Land Trilogy

The Black Man's Land Trilogy is a series of documentary films on colonialism, nationalism and revolution in Africa, filmed in Kenya in 1970 and released in 1973, and still widely used in African studies programs internationally. The three titles are White Man's Country, Mau Mau, and Kenyatta.

History of the Trilogy

The rise of powerful nationalist movements and the collapse of colonial regimes across much of Africa in the 1950s and 60s did little to alter the dominant cinematic images of the continent. They remained what they had always been: exotic animals, big game hunters, dashing white settlers, and colorful if not incomprehensible “natives.”

In 1969, Anthony Howarth, David Koff and Msindo Mwinyipembe set out to address the imbalance. They had first met in Kenya in the mid-1960s when Howarth, a professional magazine photographer, was assembling a photographic biography of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. Koff, then in the PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley, was an editor at the East African Publishing House, which published the Kenyatta book. Mwinyipembe was a well-known Ugandan-Tanzanian broadcaster who had worked for the BBC World Service and then had her own programs on Voice of Kenya Radio and Television.

With a wealth of still photographic material on hand from the Kenyatta biography and a wide range of personal contacts in Kenya, Howarth, Koff and Mwinyipembe spent the first six months of 1970 filming on the ground and from the air. Their timing was auspicious, for there were many Kenyans still living who not only recalled the early stages of colonial rule in the 1890s and 1900s, but had taken part in the local and national resistance to it. Among those interviewed were underground leaders of the “Mau Mau” movement, European settlers and former colonial officials, and members of Kenyatta’s family. Kenyatta himself declined to be interviewed.

Upon returning to the UK to edit the material, the filmmakers scoured the photographic and film archives of Rhodes House at Oxford University, the Imperial War Museum, the British Museum, Pathe and Movietone newsreels, the BBC and other sources, uncovering and incorporating many previously unseen images of Africa’s history into the Trilogy. They recruited a young Peter Frampton to compose and perform the score for White Man’s Country, and Keefe West, a versatile London-based actor, to provide the voice of Kenyatta in the Kenyatta film. Msindo Mwinyipembe did the narration and voice-overs for the entire Trilogy.

Most of those interviewed for the Trilogy have died since the films were completed in 1973. But their testimony, their experience, and their knowledge is just as stirring and authentic today. That’s why, more than 40 years later, The Black Man’s Land Trilogy is still watched in theaters and on television, in classrooms and in libraries, all over the world. Filmed originally in 16mm Ektachrome Reversal, the Trilogy is now available only as a boxed set of three DVDs.

Part 1: White Man's Country


In the late 19th century, Britain, France, Germany and other European states agreed on the division of Africa into a patchwork of colonies, and set about exploring and exploiting their new possessions. Violence was endemic to the process, for how else could the Africans already living there be persuaded to cede their land, labor, property and freedom to foreigners? Colonialism’s brutal dialectic of repression and resistance was set in motion, as Africans fought to defend their lives and, eventually, organized national political movements and underground military ones to win their rights and freedom. White Man's Country combines period photographs and contemporary location footage with the testimony of African and European witnesses, to examine both sides of Europe's "civilizing mission" in Africa.

PARTICIPANTS (in order of appearance): Rev Musa Gitau, Miss Margaret Elkington, H. “Pop” Binks, Sir Michael Blundell, Joseph Kang’ethe, Ng’ang’a Ngoro, Harry Thuku

Part 2: Mau Mau


In October 1952 the British government declared a State of Emergency in Kenya. Its object: the defeat of "Mau Mau." In the war that followed, fewer than 40 of Kenya’s 40,000 white settlers were killed while more than 15,000 Africans lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands more were arrested and subjected to a humiliating and often brutal process of "rehabilitation." But what was Mau Mau? A movement based, according to the British Colonial Secretary, on a "perverted nationalism and a sort of nostalgia for barbarism"? Or the Land Freedom Army, an organized political and military response to repression and armed aggression? Using newsreel and previously inaccessible archive footage, and drawing on interviews with participants on both sides, Mau Mau examines the myth and the reality of Africa's first modern guerrilla war.

PARTICIPANTS (in order of appearance): Joseph Murumbi, Eliud Mathu, Solomon Memia, Eliud Mutonyi, James Cameron, John Nottingham, Karari Njama

Part 3: Kenyatta


Jomo Kenyatta's death in 1978 brought to an end a political career that encompassed more than 50 years of African history. Kenyatta entered politics in the mid-1920s and then spent 17 years in exile in Europe. He returned to Kenya in 1946, and was elected president of the nationalist movement, the Kenya African Union. Arrested and imprisoned in 1952 for allegedly leading ‘Mau Mau’, he was released in 1961 and two years later became Kenya's first Prime Minister. In power, the man whom European settlers had once reviled as "the leader to darkness and death" was eulogized by them as a pillar of stability, while former allies challenged him by creating a left-leaning political opposition. Kenyatta weaves archival and contemporary images with interviews with friends and relatives, comrades and opponents, to create a biographical portrait of a key figure in 20th century politics, and a case study of what Frantz Fanon called the pitfalls of nationalism as a political force in Africa.

PARTICIPANTS (in order of appearance): Rev. Musa Gitau, Rev. Misheck Murage, James Muigai, Peter Muigai Kenyatta, Grace Wahu, Ng’ang’a Goro, Joseph Kang’ethe, Josephat Karanja, Rebecca Njeri, Dinah Stock, T. Ras Makonnen, Eliud Mathu, Sir Michael Blundell, Joseph Murumbi, Waruhiu Itote (General China), Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya, Dr. Njoroge Mungai, Achieng Oneko


Critical Acclaim

"A treasure store of old stills, buried newsreels and contemporary interviews, supported by meticulous research and synthesized with the most sensitive acumen. A unique record of what colonialism means in human terms."—Judy Stone, San Francisco Chronicle

"A rare, penetrating and yet sympathetic look at African nationalism."—Peter Mwaura, The Standard (Nairobi)

"A solid historical document skewed, valuably, to a distinctive African point of view. By affording a forum for black leaders, past and present, it conveys the sense of an enduring dignity that no colonialist rationalizations can eliminate."—John J. O'Connor, The New York Times


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