African Performance–Review

I like the front image of Africa that leads to the different links, it was clever and it emphasizes the idea of how cultural forms can differ so widely from region to region. Just on a technical note, the group used the Tumblr engine but didn’t really take advantage of what it had to offer in terms of picture blogging.

The section on West Africa contained many videos which is awesome because, as the author mentions, it is important to see these things live. This section showed a variety of dances but lacked any analysis. What do these dances tell us? What do these videos of dances tell us?

In the Moroccan section, I like the discussion on dance as performance—I think it is an interesting addition to Screening Africa—is a dance performance always a screening of “Africa” or “African culture”? When tourists visit, for example, these dances are one of the few aspects of Africa that they get to see and they are shown as an “authentic” dance, a “true” Africa. I also like how the author positioned themselves to the dances; it’s important to understand our role as American viewers coming to these materials. The revelation that these dances were not meant as entertainment was particularly poignant. I wonder when some of these dances do become “entertainment”, when certain towns are forced to create tourist attractions out of their cultural traditions. I do think this section could be improved by separating it into shorter, separate sections. Apart from that, it was fantastic and brought up a lot of questions. I’m amazed that they found all these videos!

The section on South African Theater was very interesting as well, but it would have been great to see some videos since theater is meant to be performed and viewed. What would our relationship be to a “real-life” enactment of the issues presented in these plays? I understand these videos would be really hard to find, though. I think this section also needed a discussion on what makes theater distinct from other forms of performance and why it’s important to look at it.Focusing on Fugard was a good choice, it gives the reader an in-depth portrayal of what South African theater can look like. The discussion of Fugard’s race in terms of the accessibility and dissemination of his work was given due importance. It makes me think about Dave Egger’s authorship of What is the What. Was Fugard trying to speak for the experiences of others as well?

 The Ghanian short film was great and brought up many questions. I wondered what makes a Ghanian dance a “Ghanian dance”? There have to be drums apparently, sometimes costumes as well. But what if a Ghanian is dancing to Soulja Boy? Where does that fit? Another thing I thought about was that most videos on Youtube don’t have any sort of context, whether they are from Ghana or anywhere else. It’s interesting that these videos are also added as part of this new media repository, showing that Africa is part of this whole technological revolution as some of these videos (though not the majority) were uploaded by Ghanians themselves. It also made me think of Youtube as an all-consuming eye. Youtube always needs more, newer videos; it has to explore every recess of the world. The interview with Kwadwo was interesting, but I think it needed more justification than “he’s Ghanian”.

Overall, I think it was a great project on materials that are hard to find and hard to show. I think the project as a whole could have used a little more analysis (except for the Morocco section), but I enjoyed it a lot. I also think they had a good conversation among the sections about the materials, how to find them and what was at stake in their availability on Youtube or other video networks.

John Ryle: Wrap Up

John Ryle’s “The Many Voices of Africa” shows how music has helped to create a “modern” Africa. He uses Jal, a Sudanese ex-child soldier to illustrate how music has transformed into a form of activism for African youth. Ryle also discusses how the music’s language influences the international community and draws attention to Africa. Many musicians from Africa fuse their native languages with colonial languages such as French, and also Arabic. These artists have the advantage of communicating with wide audiences and spreading awareness abroad. Thus, Rhyle states that the best mechanism for creating a modern, progressive Africa is through music. He even states that music is Africa’s most valuable export. In addition to being Africa’s most valuable export, music is also where Africa and Europe are on “equal footing”. This is a valid statement. Collaborations between artists such as MIA and Afrikan Boy are evidence to Ryle’s point.

Blood Diamond: Leonardo DiCaprio

Blood Diamond would have been a successful if it wasn’t for Leonardo DiCaprio’s accent. I watched the movie when it first came out, and I absolutely loved it. I felt that the movie was informative and very conscious of a current crisis. I first took interest in conflict diamonds when I read an article in a magazine, then I heard Kanye West’s song “Diamonds are Forever”. Both of these media forms shaped my knowledge. Therefore, when I watched Blood Diamond for the first time, the movie appeared authentic. Watching Blood Diamond for the second time was difficult. The visuals worked for me. The scenes of people running, dust, smoke, and the entire landscape made the movie appear genuine. When I heard Di Caprio’s accent, the visuals no longer worked. His accent seemed forced and lacked connection to the place in which he lived. Perhaps his status as a star made him seem less authentic. Needless to say, I was not convinced by his role.

Global Shadows: Culture and Political Economy

  1. I really enjoyed reading the “Letter to America” included in James Ferguson’s piece titled Global Shadows.  The letter discussed global racism and demanded African membership in a new world order. The letter was written by a Zambian journalist who stated that global racism limited Africans’ access to quality education, healthcare, and inclusion in international affairs. According to the author, Africa has been left behind while the international community continues to develop. Unlike the first letter that Ferguson discusses, the Letter to America demands inclusion and compensation from the west. He demands global citizenship. Relating his letter to our discussion on culture and political economy, the author sheds light on the absence of global citizenship for African nations. As we know, many African nations are economically handicapped due to organizations such as IMF and World Bank, (ironically, two institutions that are supposed to help develop African nations). The Zambian journalist articulates why African nations have been neglected.               

Forest Whitaker:Jason’s Lyric/Last King of Scotland

  1. Forest Whitaker portrayed Idi Amin very well in the Last King of Scotland. I doubt that any other actor could have executed the role any better than he did. However, I remember a role that Forest Whitaker played in the film Jason’s lyric. Whitaker played an alcoholic and abusive husband in Jason’s lyric. Like Idi Amin, he had crazed tendencies. As I watched Last King of Scotland, I realized that Whitaker’s earlier role as a drunken father influenced my reading of his portrayal of Idi Amin. I actually began to critique him according to his role in Jason’s Lyric. Still, I believe that Whitaker’s earlier role helped him earn his role as Idi Amin. Concerning reading representation, I struggled with the cliché representation of the African dictator. I think that showing movies such as Last King of Scotland, has conditioned people to believe that dictatorships are the only forms of leadership in Africa. This notion furthers the stereotype of a lack of civilization in Africa. In spite of how inaccurate it may be, Idi Amin’s character is a permanent representation of African government.               

Lumumba:Death of a Prophet

  1. The first film about Lumumba, “Lumumba: Death of a Prophet”, did not help me frame a clear definition of Lumumba as a leader. I learned about Lumumba in high school, but I have never seen a documentary about his life. Lumumba: Death of a Prophet was awkward. The narrator spoke about Lumumba but the camera showed random people on the street. The narrator’s tone seemed prosaic, and throughout the film I was inclined to sleep. Still, I finished the film and concluded that it did not give me a clear definition of Lumumba. The style of the film did not compliment the content of the film. The second film entitled “Lumumba”, did a better job of framing my knowledge and connecting both the visual and oral. Unlike the first film, this film appeared more structured and centered. Although the first film showed clips of the real Lumumba, it did not appear real because of the random clips of people perusing the streets. Even though Lumumba: Death of a Prophet was a documentary, it felt like I was watching a fictional film. The film’s style made the line between fiction and non-fiction less distinguishable.         

Frantz Fanon: The Fact of Blackness

  1. Frantz Fanon’s piece entitled “The Fact of Blackness” describes the realization of otherness for a Black male. Fanon states that a Black man among his own will not know what moment his inferiority comes into being through the other. Fanon recalls how he realized his inferiority through the gaze of the white man. He describes this experience as traumatic. The bodily schema of a Black man is unfamiliar and signifies a ‘third body consciousness’. According to Fanon, a Black man is responsible for his body, race, and ancestors. I agree with Fanon’s claims. As a female, I have been instructed to conduct myself a certain way at all times. I am instructed to have my legs closed, my shoulders high, my back straight, my head up, and an appropriate stride at all times. As a Black female, I am also expected to behave a certain way. These standards are similar to Fanon’s claims about Black men. If a Black male does not carry himself in a manner that is deemed socially acceptable, he is stereotyped. He also shames his race. I believe that Fanon described this experience as traumatic because it places a burden upon Black males which is sometimes unbearable.       

Abouna: Ocular Introjection

Abouna is a prime example of Fenichel’s discussion of scoptophilic instinct and identification. The film consists of multiple gazes, pauses, and ‘stretching of the eyeballs’. The characters stare into the distance. They stare at each other. More importantly, they stare at us as an audience. The power of the gaze is undeniable in Abouna. Abouna’s eyes, his mother’s eyes, his brother’s eyes, etc., devour us, forcing us to enact what Fenichel calls “ocular introjections”. We internalize the characters, their attributes, their fears, their weaknesses, and their strengths. Essentially, we become the characters. I found this to be quite disturbing. I struggled to observe Abouna because I felt that I was walking through the film with the characters. I was mesmerized by each character who stared at me, especially the mother. Her experience became my own, and it wasn’t until she looked away that I regained a sense of my own being. She had complete control over me. The film also left me with the question of exactly what was I supposed to be internalizing. Should the gaze make me feel the characters’ sufferings? Should I be more conscious of the world around me? Or did the gaze intend to overwhelm me? I continue to struggle with these questions. Abouna is the first film which I felt an uncontrollable interaction with a character.

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

I remember talking in class about how many countries view Africa as this place that needs help because it is a “genocide inside a failed state, inside a dictatorship.” However, this view is completely wrong and in fact infuriates many Africans. One book that aims to showcase all that is positive with Africa is one by Robert Dowden titled, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. His main motive is to correct the negative stereotypes many have about Africa.He believes that the media only covers the disasters that occur in Africa and none of the positives, creating this negative stereotype of Africa. He believes that “persistent images of starving children and men with guns have accumulated into our narrative of the continent,” and because of continuous reinforcement, a very hard stereotype to extinguish. No matter how much aid industries want to help Africa, they are in fact making the situation look even worse by playing off of the media and vice versa. The main belief that Dowden holds is that “aid agencies, Western celebrities, rock stars and politicians cannot save Africa. Only Africans can develop Africa. Outsiders can help, but only if they understand it, work with it.” He believes we can do other things rather than increasing the number of aid industries that will be more helpful. For example, if the West ends agricultural subsidies, this would benefit the many African farmers who have to compete. Specifically West African cotton farmers suffer severely from America’s cotton subsidies.

Amistad: Meaning

The first time I watched Amistad was for this course. The only previous knowledge I had about the film was the infamous line “Give Us Free”. The first time I heard this phrase was though a joke. Thus, the film’s content surprised me. I was not aware of how vivid most of the scenes were; I wasn’t aware of how historical it was. I also did not expect for the movie to appear that real. The contrast between how I felt when I heard the joke about the phrase in the movie and how I felt when I watched the entire movie relates to our discussion on how knowledge is framed. I entered the film with a comic perspective. As I watched the film, I became more aware of the gravity of the film. The naked bodies, bruises, water, wooden ships, bitter men/women, crying children, and pale faces all structured my knowledge far more than the joke about the “Give Us Free” phrase. My knowledge was framed by a combination of the visual and the oral, and the film garnered more meaning with both the visual and oral present. This observation made me realize how many factors frame knowledge and when one is absent, (in my case the visual), there is no meaning.