Monday, 2 July 2012

Africa through Hollywood's Stained Eyes

Last week Friday, I had the opportunity to go watch the premier of MUVI TV’s production ‘Street Circles'. The Henry Joe Sakala written film was shown on the big screen at Freshview Cinemas by Levy Junction Mall.  As I watched the movie, it felt different from the ones I am constantly fed. Above all what was most impressive was that this was a Zambian story told by a Zambian lens, it is about time. This is because the rest of the world has been forced to see Africa through Hollywood’s lens and the picture is often distorted.

            It is no secret that Hollywood is the movie-making capital of the world. The movies produced are worth a hundreds of millions of dollars. It is an actor’s dream to work in a Hollywood production. Hollywood is known for putting out movies in diverse genres from the comic book heroes such as Spiderman and X-men to romantic movies such as Titantic and Notebook it is never short of variety. However, when it comes to Hollywood’s portrayal of Africa, it has one simple formula for that. Showing Africa in its worst light and only the Western world can rescue it from itself.
            If you are going to watch a Hollywood movie about Africa, be rest assured that you will see one of the following, stick thin people, brutes massacring each other, impoverished humans, the vast savannahs or little civilization. Do not believe me? Just watch these movies and you will see what I mean, Tears of the Sun, Hotel Rwanda, The Interpreter, Sahara, Beyond Borders, Blood Diamond or The Constant Gardener need I mention more. This week I watched another film about Africa that I can add to the list and it is Machine Gun Preacher. All these movies seem to follow a very familiar script- African people are suffering probably being slaughtered by some despot, and then lo and behold a white man comes to the rescue. Like a messiah to save the lost, so are the American or European characters depicted in these films. It is never African people finding solutions to their issues. It is rarely an African coming to the rescue, and hardly do you see urban African unless it has been gutted by war.             These releases by Hollywood have been very stereotypical and have often been bad publicity for the continent. Africa has been viewed as a continent that is refusing to move with time, amplifying its colonial label as the Dark Continent. The power of the media should not be underestimated in this day and age. If all someone a thousand miles away is constantly viewing Africans hacking each other’s limbs carelessly, skeletal children with outstretched arms or a lion walking in the savannah that is the picture that will be developed of the continent. They cannot be blamed for drawing the wrong conclusion about the continent. It is only people who have actually stepped foot on the continent who may appreciate that Africa is not all about what Hollywood shows.

            This blog by no means attempts to dispute that Africa does not have its share of issues. Indeed, there are wars, dictators who refuse to give up power, children somewhere are going hungry and we do have wildlife. Nonetheless, Africa is so much more than this; there are good stories to be told about this continent. We do have love stories brewing, selfless politicians other than Nelson Mandela. We have cities bursting with life and promise, individuals who are making a difference in their communities, heartwarming sports stories (I specifically have the Chipolopolo’s victory in mind) or the rhythm of our drums. There are so many untold stories that need to be heard and seen.
            The solution to this perhaps is not convincing Hollywood to start telling Africa’s other stories. We need to tell our own stories to the rest of the world. The film industry needs to be supported and allowed to flourish. This means going to watch the African movies that are released in order to encourage the industry. Policies should be in place that makes movie-making equipment cheaper to import by providing tax breaks. Develop the capacity of actors, producers, script writers and directors by setting up film schools.  The more movies we begin to make the faster the rest of the world will begin to see these beautiful tales of Africa. Nigeria is already leading the way and rest must follow in line. 

            When the credits for Street Circles rolled up, everyone in the cinema applauded. We were perhaps applauding for different reasons.  I was clapping not because the performances were Oscar winning, or it was an incredible big-budget production, rather it was a step towards the world seeing us through our eyes. A Zambian story was not being told by someone looking through a Hollywood lens but through a Zambian one. So instead of me waiting for Hollywood to make the Chipolopolo film probably starring Will Smith’s son as Mayuka, it is about time I get started on that script.


  1. very interesting piece of writing and you are right in all aspects of the issue at hand. Unfortunately for many of our Zambian brothers and sisters, foreign stuff are better than local stuff. For many that came to watch the movie 'street circles' had already put it off as 'one of those' but they were greatly surprised when they watched the movie. We have the potential to grow the film industry but the film makers need the movie goers to go and pay at the cinema. Sometimes you may get disappointed but hey, the zambian industry is still a child. I'm optimistic however that if we maintain quality like street circles, ten years from now, we'll be a force to reckon with.

  2. The Writer, I think just like the way we supported the music industry in the same manner so we should support the film industry. It will definitely grow and improve.However, film producers should not take it for granted and make it like we owe them to watch. They need to be dedicated and put up good production and story lines

  3. Dear Frustrated Brotha,
    I found your thoughts very interesting. I'd like to see this Street Circles movie. As an African-American woman who has never been to Africa, the only idea I have of what Africa is like is from the movies Hollywood puts out. I'd like to see it through the eyes of the people that actually live there. Or better yet, I need to come to Zambia.

  4. Hi Katie, I really appreciate the time you took to read my blog. I hope you do get the opportunity to see Street Circle. I totally understand that your view of Africa arises from what is show through the media. You are most welcome to come to Zambia and experience Africa for yourself:-)