Western Representation of African Stereotypes through the Filming Industry

Filmmaking is not a domain constricted to entertainment. Instead, this industry covers an array of sensitive social, political, and economic issues. Therefore, it is a potent tool used in portraying a community. Because of these features, filmmaking became the primary motivation of the thematic networks between Africa and the Soviet Union during the pre-colonial era (Cummings). In the main, however, Western auteurs misuse filmmaking by ascribing undesirable statuses and stereotypes to Africans and their culture. Fundamentally, they are releasing films and genres that feature Africa’s inherent difficulties and portray Africans as meagre sociopaths and psychopaths.

For instance, A Screaming Man is a popular African film directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun. In the video, the auteur exclusively portrays the excesses of African culture. Similarly, the book called African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze by Olivier Barlet talks about African cinema and its attempts to deconstruct common stereotypes against Africans. Nevertheless, the Whites misinterpret these pieces of literature. Given the fact that the primary audience for such films and books is in the West, it is possible to ascertain why other continents marginalize Africa. Therefore, Western filmmakers promulgate skewed representation of Africans.

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How Western Film-Makers Are Perpetrating Skewed Representation of Africans

Thematic Networks. During the precolonial era, the Europeans regarded Africa as a less civilized society, which needed external control. Resultantly, this led to the perpetuation of the stereotype that the Whites were dominant over the Blacks. During this period, instances of forced labor, slavery, sexual exploitation, and killings of Africans by the Whites were prevalent. Resultantly, the oppression of Africans by the Whites led to the advent of one of the most prominent thematic networks, which occurred between African countries and the Soviet Union. Notably, this interaction was born out of the Soviet Union’s intent to extend its ideology to African nations (Cummings). Primarily, it provided African countries with military training and weapons used to fight against imperialism. Furthermore, the Soviet Union supplied Africans with filmmaking equipment and taught them the basics of cinematography.

Arguably, this socialist friendship gave rise to aesthetic and thematic attractions between Africa’s filmmaking industry and the Soviet cinema. In fact, the Soviet Union accepted African filmmakers into some of their most popular film schools in Moscow (Cummings). While in these schools, Russians educated Africans about the art of filmmaking and leveraging the industry for political influence. Cummings notes that “Whether for diplomacy, advocacy, as a form of soft power or as a means of propaganda, it is clear that cinema was a tool through which the Soviet Union wanted to extend itself; through images it saw its own expansion into Africa” (par. 5). Therefore, these measures strengthened the cine-geographic relationship between Africa and the Soviet Union.

However, it is worth noting that the Soviet Union had its unique vision of creating a parallel filming industry, different from that of Africans. Cummings adds that the Soviet Union’s restoration was tailored in the hope that the interactions with Africa’s cinema industry would trigger pro-socialist movements towards attaining socialism. Fundamentally, Russians involved themselves with the African filming industry because they had a similar set of interests. In particular, Africa was concerned with moving from colonialism to independence, which sparked the interests of African filmmakers, whereas the Soviet Union was determined to move from dictatorship to communalism. Consequently, African filmmaking adopted a new political approach towards liberation. According to Cummings, cinema was “the only form of artistic expression in armed struggle” (par. 10). People could voice their concerns regarding colonialism without getting tied to the inherent consequences of their actions; it was as an act of the play. Therefore, cinema became a significant factor in politics.

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Alternative Representation Strategies. Eventually, colonialists granted Africans independence and political rights over their regimes. Nevertheless, the representation of Africans as minorities still exists within the community. Primarily, the entertainment, film, and media industry is responsible for promulgating racial beliefs and supremacist ideologies (Akashoro 85). In the main, Western cinema groups spread these skewed representations of Africans by assigning them undesirable roles in films. They also predominantly feature Africans in disadvantageous contexts such as segregation, disillusionment, and resistance and involve them in films concerning economic difficulties, civil wars, and survival mechanism. In essence, all these frameworks exclusively portray the negative characteristics of Africans. For the most part, Western viewers tend to believe that the information is accurate, even though it might be stereotypical. Thus, the cinema industry from the West is ascribing negative stereotypes upon Africans.

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In return, African filmmakers are undertaking various actions to reverse the stereotyping of Africans by the Whites. Firstly, African filmmakers are challenging the preexisting stereotypes from the West, using decolonizing images of the continent. According to Akashoro, cinema production in Africa is an act of resistance whereby filmmakers observe the contemporary social, cultural, and political settings and give their personal opinions regarding African culture (85). In general, Africans acknowledge cinema as a potent tool for development, and they have authored their unique cinematic codes aimed at fighting Western imperialism. However, Akashoro adds that reversing stereotypes is not a guaranteed method of ending them (86). Even if African producers decided to author films that depict the African culture as good and the Western traditions as wrong, this approach is insufficient in deconstructing stereotypes (Akashoro 86). Instead, Africans should use alternative methods of representing their culture, using cinema.

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As mentioned above, adopting different methods of representing the culture of Africans through filmmaking is an efficient way to deconstruct stereotypes. Akashoro argues that Africans should take the initiative to express themselves in the filmmaking industry rather than watching others represent them (88). This action gives them a chance to portray their culture and standards according to their point of view, which describes the true nature of Africans. Unfortunately, the stereotypes have already influenced a significant number of Africans, who currently identify with the Western culture. Sometimes black people willingly accept to play negative roles relating to Africans in films, thereby perpetuating the stereotypes themselves. Therefore, it is mandatory that these alternative strategies should comprise the memory and history of Africans as the main themes. This approach reminds Africans of their cultural beliefs and values, which they are obligated to uphold. Finally, only after people recognize themselves for who they are, others will see them from the same perspective.

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Illustration Analysis

A Screaming Man (Mahamat Saleh Haroun). This film is a short allegory that expounds the fraught visions of Africa. Notably, it won the Jury Prize in 2010 during the Canvas Film Festival. In summary, the allegory is centered on an intimate relationship between a father (Adam) and a son (Abdel). The background setting of the film features a nation with brutal and unending civil wars. However, the primary focus of the paper rests on the internal conflict between the father and son. Because of Adam’s outstanding swimming skills, the chairperson of a Chinese hotel appoints him as the pool supervisor, but because of his advanced age and the love he has for his son, Adam lets Abdel take part in the job. Afterwards, the hotel decides to downsize, and the manager demotes Adam to a gatekeeper, whereas his son retains the job of a pool supervisor. This situation bothers Adam, and he decides to send his son to the cold war in Chad so that the management can reinstate him at the swimming pool. Unfortunately, Adam’s son is wounded and later dies.

Arguably, Haroun tries to avoid most stereotypes in the African culture. For example, the film incorporates a social environment in which the Chinese manager acts equitably towards the employees even though they are black. It also does not reflect widespread African stereotypes, such as gender bias, racism, or rape. Nonetheless, the film presents another instance whereby filmmakers leverage exotic fulfillment as a means to capture the attention of large audiences. This aspect of exoticism is traced to Western influence during the pre-colonial era (Herrington 1). However, filmmakers do not necessarily have to use African desires and fantasies to make their films interesting. They should consider critical issues that are affecting the society today.

Mostly, A Screaming Man portrays negative suggestions about Africans. For instance, Haroun presents Africans as selfish beings who would do just about anything to retain their jobs, even if it meant sacrificing their families. This depiction increases the level of mistrust between Whites and Africans. The film also portrays Africans as uncivilized when the author contends that the war in Chad was brutal and unending. Additionally, instances of forceful recruitment to join the army, rebels attacking civilians, and underage boys leading armies expose an awful picture of Africans. It is also important to note that the auteur of this film was born in Chad but grew up in France. Intrinsically, Haroun is a victim of Western influence. He identifies himself with Western culture and helps propagate negative perspectives concerning Africans. Thus, the films of the West are perpetrating a skewed representation of Africans.

African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze. Olivier Barlet wrote the book in 2000. Arguably, it is among the literature materials that extensively cover the art of filmmaking in Africa. Specifically, the book is segmented into three sections. The first one – “The Origin Akin to a Passage” – provides a reader with the background on Africa’s film culture. The second – “At the Well Springs of Narration” – outlines the inherent nature of African cinema and the most common stylistic devices that mold it. The third – “Black Prospects” – outlines the challenges that African filmmakers are facing in their quest to deconstruct the Western gaze. Fundamentally, Barlet offers great insight into Africa’s cinema for anyone who is interested in learning African culture and provides a roadmap whereby Africans can progressively establish their cinema industry and reverse Western stereotypes.

Moreover, Barlet extensively describes an intrinsic relationship between the Western gaze and the object – African cinema. In his opinion, the emergence of Western stereotyping of Africans is a binary function of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ (Barlet 41). Barlet also reveals that for the most part, African cinema is used to offer a new perspective on explaining African culture, which he literally describes as ‘another way of looking’ (44). Consequently, he notes that Africans use this perspective to describe their position among humanity. Unfortunately, this does not work out for Africans as they expect. Instead, Westerners use the gaze to ascribe inferiority and exoticism to Africans. As a result, Barlet’s discourse does not achieve its intended purpose to give the Whites a different perspective through which they can view African culture. Alternatively, Barlet’s ideologies are used to secure the same stereotypes he tries to eliminate: the themes of inferiority and exoticism. Thus, the Western filmmaking industry is portraying skewed representations of African culture.

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In summary, Western filmmakers are continually using the cinema industry to perpetuate African stereotypes. Primarily, they incorporate Africa in their films to gain significant attention through the alleged inferiority and exoticism of Africans, which are highly desired by the Whites. It is hard to deny the fact that Africa, as a third world country, is laden with social, economic, and political difficulties. Nonetheless, it is detrimental for Western filmmakers to portray the continent using such unattractive characters. In essence, such depiction fosters racial discord between the future generations. On the contrary, the continent is trying hard to progress. To help Africa move forward, Western filmmakers should instead incorporate desirable traits regarding Africans in their upcoming cinemas.


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