Friend of Film Africa, Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor challenges the gaze with which we look upon Africa cinema in this thought-provoking piece.
According to Dr Zuleya Zevallos, the idea of ‘otherness’ is central to sociological analyses of how majority and minority identities are constructed. “This is because the representation of different groups within any given society is controlled by groups that have greater political power.” Zygmunt Bauman writes that the notion of otherness is central to the way in which societies establish identity categories. In the early 1950s, Simone de Beauvoir argued that Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought. Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other against itself:
Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being… She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.’ – Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex.
The problem that we face when it comes to cinema, is the representation of the ‘Other’, in relation to what we have seen to be the norm, i.e. Hollywood and their representation of what the ‘Other’ is through their lens. Which is why, when looking at the films Price of Love, Stranded in Canton, and The Sea is Behind, we have to be aware of the gaze that we place on these films. It is very easy to look at these films and instantly judge them in relation to other cinema, whilst I can agree that when it comes to certain technical aspects, African cinema must move forward, I do not agree that all our performances must be seen in comparison to other cinema.
The Sea is Behind
There is something beautiful and yet understated about Fereweni Gebregergs’ performance in Price of Love; a woman who is trying to make something more of herself, but life and circumstances constantly get in the way, of not just her but also of Teddy. There is an underlying tone of realism in Isibango Iko Lebrun’s portrayal of Lebrun – a man who cannot pass up an opportunity, but in the end learns the real cost of life. The first few seconds of Hisham Lasri’s The Sea is Behind, instantly hits us with a constant thirst that permeates the film. Each of these films has a clear representation of their culture and themselves, therefore when judging these performances, can we really judge them against the ‘greater political power’ i.e. Hollywood? Would that be accurate and would it do their performances justice?
If we take each film individually, placing them firmly within their own socio-political framework, allowing them the ability to breathe in their own context, not framing them with the Western gaze, but rather acknowledging that to them, we stand as the ‘Other’, then each film brings us something astounding in their representation of themselves, which all films should be allowed to do using the voice that they yield.