“African Film in the Classroom”

So, this weekend I went to the African Studies Conference during a two-hour roundtable titled “African Film in the Classroom”. The panelists were Dale Hudson (Amherst College), Demetria Shabazz (Umass), Sonia Lee (Trinity), Patrick Mensah (Umass), Jim Ault (Documentary film producer) and Josef Gugler (UConn).

Jim Ault presented a documentary he had directed/produced about Christianity in Ghana. I didn’t understand his place at the panel, and I don’t think anyone else did either. Gugler, the coordinator, hurried Ault along throughout his presentation and it was impossible to figure out what the man was trying to say about his film. Demetria Shabazz didn’t seem to talk much either, but she did discuss her courses on black women (African and African-American) in film. If anybody is working on a topic related to this, she handed out a syllabus that has many many movies and readings (even some about Mama Africa!).

There was a (minor) controversy, I think, after Patrick Mensah spoke. It seemed like the rests of the panelists were in two camps:

a) Sonia Lee and Josef Gugler, the older, traditional European professors who teach either 60’s or 80’s African Cinema; the stuff that went to European festivals or that was really oppositional, near the end of colonialism. (Sembene, Mambety, Ouedraogo, Sissoko) and…

b) Dale Hudson and Patrick Mensah, who basically argued that the idea of an African cinema was reductionism. Hudson discussed contemporary African film and how people neglect to include African films in classes on genre film, sci-fi, or experimental, sticking instead to the “return to the source” or colonial opposition narratives. Mensah gave a super awesome speech on how more traditional scholars (and everyone, really)  need to give up the idea that representations of “Africa by Africans for Africans” represent truth or authenticity about the African experience; that we need to “dismantle the myth of African film as unmitigated truth” and judge films more “on how well they are able to account for their ideological assumptions.” 

I thought Mensah brought up many points that pertain to the class so I wanted to share it with you. I also got lists of genre films, experimental films and documentaries on media and technology in Africa, in case this would help anyone.

P.S. Prof. Parham got a shout-out at the conference. Somebody asked the panel what to do when students asked if films like Blood Diamond were a realistic portrayal of Africa and Prof. Hudson mentioned that Prof. Parham taught how to view  these films critically in her course.

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