Indiana University Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies

Black Camera
VOL. 21, NO. 1 A Micro Journal of Black Film Studies The Black Film Center/Archive ISSN 1536-3155 Spring/Summer 2006

Director’s Notes

Troubling The Waters
A Conversation with Manthia Diawara
by Audrey T. McCluskey
IU alumnus, Manthia Diawara was interviewed by Audrey T. McCluskey, Director of the BFC/A during his visit to campus. Diawara is the Director of the Institute of African American Affairs and Professor of Comparative Literature and Film at New York University. He is the author of several books including: Black African Cinema (1992), Black American Cinema (1994) In Search of Africa (1998) and We Won’t Budge (2004). Audrey T. McCluskey: Manthia, welcome back to your alma mater! We are delighted to have you. Manthia Diawara: Thanks, it is good to be back. It has been a few years. ATM: I know that in your work as a filmmaker and scholar, you do a lot of traveling between Africa, Europe, and the US. You have lived in these places and probably feel at home wherever you are. This reminds me of a recent article on the New York Times about African parents who immigrated here a few decades ago, sending their children back to their native countries in Africa to attend school. They are finding that their children are becoming too “Americanized.” MD: That’s right. I read that and know that people actually advise you to send your children to Africa so they can learn the African ways. There is a notion that you are not an African child when you are born in America or in France. So, in order to become a better African child, which basically means to be part of the community, to respect the elders, to obey the tradition, you are not considered African until

The Power and the Story
Drifting on a memory Ain’t no place I’d rather be -Isely Brothers even years, with all its magical and spiritual implications, have passed. It has been that long since I drifted in the Black Film Center/Archive as its director.During that time, the country and the culture have changed, mostly for the worse. This sends some of us in search of truer things that strengthen our resolve to resist arrogant injustice, and to anchor us against the hostile tide. Looking back, the last seven years have been filled with wonderful opportunities to highlight the power of film to expose and enlighten, while preserving stories that sustain our lives. Without story, as filmmaker Haile Gerima reminds us, we are easily trampled in the underbrush of history and absorbed in its master narrative. The Black Film Center/Archive, founded in 1981 by Phyllis Klotman under the aegis of the Department of African American Studies and the late Herman Hudson, has worked to disseminate and preserve those stories and the knowledge that film, in its best iterations, convey. Proudly, The BFC/A has played an integral role in establishing what we now call Black Film Studies. Part of my role has been to push it forward . This issue recounts the activities of continued on page 2


Manthia Diawara you achieve that. I find that Africans often become more conservative here than they are in Africa because of the fact that in Africa today, different ethnic groups leave their villages and meet in the city and mix; modernity is going on. When the same Africans leave an African city in Nigeria or other places, and come to America or France, they are very traditional and are very conservative with their kids. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It’s one thing to go home with their kids but these kids to me are American My children are American children. They are Black Americans. For me, they grow up here, they are part of the struggle here and they face racism that all Blacks experience. continued on page 2

Also inside this issue:
BFC/A Retrospective . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Issues in the New Nigerian Cinema . . 6 The Constant Gardener: A Review . . 12 Hustle and Flow Response . . . . . . . 13 Black Women Filmmakers Forum . . 15

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Director’s Notes
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Diawara Interview
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the BFC/A’s last seven years, a highlight of which has been the growth of the archive, particularly the number of special named collections and our expanded focus on African diaspora cinema. We feature an interview with Manthia Diawara, a filmmaker and scholar who bridges African and African American cinema, and an insightful essay by Akin Adesokan on Nigerian Cinema. Professor Adesokan introduced the films in our recent film series, ‘“Nollywood:’ Nigerian Cinema on the Rise.” As I prepare to pass the torch to the very able Dr. Michael Martin, I am reminded of the countless people who have enhanced my experience at the BFC/A. Although there are too many to name here, without them this journey would not have been so full of pleasure and drifting memories. -Audrey T. McCluskey, Director BFC/A

ATM: This has remained a troubling divide of the ancestral waters exacerbated by perceptions that Africans are being favored by White America. MD: Yes, that’s true. So I want [my children] to learn African culture, but I want them primarily to learn Black American culture here, not only to get ahead but also to defend themselves against racism. That’s important to me. ATM: That thought brings me back to something that you said earlier about meeting poet Ted Joans in France and your friendship with him. MD: Yes. ATM: He seemed to be telling you to go to America because they [the French] don’t like you [Africans] here. They liked him because he was from America. How did you understand that complicated notion? MD: At that point, I took it as a poetic statement. I said: “This guy’s crazy all the time.” He was a kind of an older brother, and so wise. I had to listen to him. I saw an opportunity in his advice. He said, “Go to America because they will accept you all there, and they don’t like us there. Leave France because they don’t love you here, and they like us here.” Literally I understood it, but I didn’t understand at that time the complicity that he was creating between us, the bond that he was creating between us—that is, we wink at each other, we know where something worked for someone in this place or that place. He had that kind of intelligence, and I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that he was telling me: “Young man, you are not an American here. You will make it in America, but you won’t make it here. And I want you to make it, so this is what I’m going to advise you to do even though I don’t like America myself.” ATM: That was in 1974…? MD: 1974. I always apply this statement to affirmative action because the way affirmative action is conceived nowadays, where there is an attempt to dilute the concept and bypass African Americans and get people from India, Africa, everywhere. ATM: Yeah. A broad, ahistorical lumping of people to divide and conquer. MD: You have to figure out how you can keep the spirit of affirmative action while at the same time build this complexity when, if a Nigerian can do the work sometimes, you go with a Nigerian because you know that the White professors may not go for an African American and that Nigerian would have to work to be an African American later and so on. So you have to
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 Special Collection Acquisitions 

S. Torriano Berry Collection- June 2005
St. Clair Bourne Collection- September 2002 William Greaves Collection- October 2003 Alile Sharon Larkin Collection- January 2003 Jesse Maple Collection- June 2005 Edward Mapp Collection- June 2000

We appreciate your generous contributions to the BFC/A Endowment to support collections development and special projects.
Name Address

Black Film Center / Archive Endowment

Please mail your check (payable to BFC/A Endowment Account No. 37-AS59-02-2): BFC/A Endowment - IU Foundation c/o IU Foundation Showalter House 1500 N. State Roade 45/46 Bypass Bloomington , IN 47402

Please check box: ‫ ٱ‬Benefactor

‫ٱ‬ ‫ ٱ‬Supporter

($1,000 and above) Patron ($500 and above) ($200 and above)

‫ ٱ‬Friend (any amount)

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The Black Film Center/Archive presents:

“‘Nollywood’: Nigerian Cinema on the Rise”

Osuofia in London Feb. 7

Thunderbolt ‘Magun’ Feb. 14

Agbéké Feb 23

Feb. 7 Osuofia in London (Part One), (2004), dir. Kingsley Ogoro. Running time: 110mins

Osuofia is a farmer often at odds with his demanding family. When he receives the news of the death of his brother in London, an under-prepared Osuofia sees an opportunity to escape the troubles of home and enrich himself from the huge bequest of his late brother’s will.

Feb. 14 Thunderbolt: Magun (2001), dir. Tunde Kelani. Running time: 105mins

Thunderbolt: Magun tells the story of Ngozi, a young wife who, because of her job as a school teacher, has to divide her time between two towns. Her husband suspects her of infidelity, and when she is discovered to be suffering from a deadly affliction, her marriage and life are at risk.

Feb. 23 Agbeke, (2004), dir. Abbey Lanre; prod. Bukky Wright. Running time: 120mins.

A rich but childless man takes advantage of a naïve girl, and dies thereafter, but not before his own barren wife claims to have become pregnant at last. Agbeke, the girl, is separated from her child who grows up as Tobi. When the teenage Tobi develops a serious illness, the question of who will donate a spare kidney arises, bringing a long-neglected Agbeke back into the foray.

Dates: Feb. 7th, 14th, and 23rd Time: 7:00 pm (7:15 for Agbeke) Place: Theatre Room 251 (245 for Agbeke) in the Radio and Television Building next to the main library parking lot Cost: Free and open to the public.

Co-Sponsored with POAET and African Studies

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The BFC/A looks back on the major events during the years 1999-2006
“My decision [to study filmmaking] was a reaction to racism and exclusion and a kind of self defense”

“Looking Back, Moving Forward”


Ethiopian-American filmmaker Haile Gerima screens Adwa and gives key note lecture on black filmmaking at the international festival titled:“Films of the African Diaspora: Bridging Culture through Film”

Devil in a Blue Dress (1999) screening and discussion with director Carl Franklin

Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998) screening with question and answer featuring screenwriter/producer/ actress Tina Andrews IU graduate Gerald Harkness gives lecture titled: “The Art and Passion of a Filmmaker” “Real to Reel: Urban and Hip Hop Culture in American Film” film series and panel discussion

“Is He Crazy? The Humor and Genius of Richard Pryor” film series with keynote lecture by writer James Alan McPherson titled: “Crazy like a Fox: The Vernacular Style of Richard Pryor”

“No, I didn’t decide to be different. I decided this is what I wanted. I said, ‘Man, I’m tired of this,’ and it turns out I seem to have a populist touch.”
“Kickin’ Science: An Evening With Melvin Van Peebles,” Artist-in-Residence

Occasional Papers Series Volume 1: Urban Testimonials- Hip Hop Culture in Film by Audrey T. McCluskey and Tyrone Simpson Frame by Frame III: Filmography of African Diaspora (forthcoming IU Press) edited by Audrey T. McCluskey Imaging Blackness:Film Poster Art and Racial Representation (forthcoming IU Press) edited by Audrey T. McCluskey “Imaging Blackness”- National Touring Exhibit of BFC/A Poster Art (check website for details)

Academic/Cultural Projects

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“An Evening with Spike Lee.” McCluskey presents Lee with the Oscar Micheaux Distinguished Achievment Award

“...I think that ...far too often we don’t realize where we’ve come from...we’re all African people...we’re decendents of slaves and our ancestors went through holy hell for us to get where we are”

Screening of the The Black Beyond with director S Torriano Berry’s book signing Screening of The Gilded Six Bits (2001) with filmmaker Booker T. Mattison. Part of Zora O’ Zora! A Celebration of the work of Zora Neal Hurston


William Greaves introduces Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey (2001)

“Imaging Blackness 19152002” poster exhibit at the IU Art Museum exhibit

Screenings as part of the poster exhibit include: Lumumba (2000) and Afrocentricity (2000). Dr. Edward Mapp delivers lecture titled, “African Americans in Cinema: An Enduring Odyssey,” in conjunction with the exhibit


Film Series- Africana Women Filmmakers: Spotlight on Julie Dash

Salem Mekuria conducts workshop on documentary filmmaking and screens her films Sidet (1991) and Deluge (1995)


Film Series- Back in the Day: “Race” Movies in Black Hollywood

Film Series-Nollywood: Ni- Black Women Filmmakers Forum: An Alternative Aesgerian Film on the Rise thetic and Vision with Alile Sharon Larkin, Jessie Maple, and Yvonne Welbon

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Issues in the New Nigerian Cinema
By Akin Adesokan
moment, and apt to soon loose effervescence and disappear once its ostensibly utilitarian end is achieved. One is thus reminded of the ancient saying about the continent as the perpetual site of new things. The truth is that the cinema had been in existence for about seven years when the critic Jonathan Haynes published an essay titled, “Nigerian Cinema: Structural Adjustments.”1 Haynes had several concerns in that important piece, but the most central, in this writer’s view, was to demonstrate the effects of the regime of global economic deregulation on the vibrancy of a filmmaking practice that had none of the institutional support usually available to filmmakers in French-speaking West Africa. This concern was clear from the title; the economic deregulation process went by the name of Structural Adjustment Prothe suppositions of critics who analyzed their works. It seems ironic from this distance in time that Haynes’s essay focused not on the then-incipient cinema driven by video technology but on the final gasps of the 16 to 35-mm celluloid tradition. The irony loses poignancy when one observes that those films of the late 1980s were already in the process of grafting their aesthetics on the technology of video, which would explain the structural and aesthetic problems identified in the essay. In one crucial passage, Haynes made the following observation: “…[O]ne will not truly be able to speak of Nigerian Film until the rift between the Yoruba filmmakers and the rest of the filmmaking community is overcome” (111). The rift in question had to do with the conviction of Yoruba-language filmmakers of the late 1980s that their works subsisted on an audience that they had created and cultivated, and the feeling of academics and bureaucrats that much of these films purveyed little beside superstition and false consciousness, the latter a Marxian terminology. In the last ten years, those who follow the developments in cinema in Nigeria have seen a different, more muddled picture. There is such a thing as a Nigerian film now, although when we say this we usually turn a blind eye on the films made in Hausa language in and around the northern city of Kano, which are Nigerian but still very different. The questions of superstition and occult imagery have not been resolved, and the Yoruba filmmakers of Haynes’s recall are not quite the dominant players in the current dispensation. It is true that the bridge across that rift has been provided in the works and person of Tunde Kelani, arguably the best-known of the director-producers in Nigeria. Kelani, 57, has directed and produced eight video-based films between 1993 and 2005, excluding two cellucontinued on page 6

Professor Akin Adesokan lecturing on Nigerian cinema

The new cinema in Nigeria has been receiving a lot of attention in the last few years, through writings and featurings at film festivals as well as conferences. Much of this interest arises from the sheer power that the cinema is expected to wield as an economic force, next to Hollywood in the United States and India’s Bollywood, in terms of the scale of production. Predictably, and for this reason, it has been labeled ‘Nollywood.’ Very few of the commentaries bother to describe the films in any intelligible manner or even historicize them. Mere familiarity with the Nollywood label does not prepare anyone for films made in several Nigerian languages, nor does it draw attention to the vast use of video and digital technologies as markers of new social identities outside of filmmaking. Nor, for that matter, is the relationship of these films to television stressed as an aesthetic issue. There are write-ups that routinely but vaguely class the films as ‘straight-to-video’ or ‘home videos,’ the sort of vagueness that, paradoxically, is to be encountered when even the filmmakers talk about their works. This tendency cannot be divorced from the general attitude to cultural productions in contemporary Africa, which sees any form as dazzlingly new, for the

The questions of superstition and occult imagery have not been resolved...
gram, or SAP, its telling acronym. It was part of the neo-liberal economic agenda administered by the transnational corporate capital complex through the International Monetary Fund with variations in different parts of the ‘global south.’ In Nigeria, the deregulation consisted in the devaluation of the currency (which is still on a downward slide after almost two decades), the control of interest rates, and the removal of government subsidies from public corporations. The Nigerian cinema was a public (‘national’) institution more by presumption than practice, and the filmmakers discussed by Haynes had ideas that were compatible with neither the expectations of bureaucrats—the putative administrators of the industry—nor

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Issues in the New Nigerian Cinema
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loid features, one of which he only produced. As an active and private broadcasting has since become a catalytic feature filmmakers he commands a stable, consistent, and formalized of mass media in Nigeria. The earliest films were produced on shoestring budgets structure—Mainframe Productions. His cinematic practice is firmly rooted in Yoruba cultural identity even when he makes that the established filmmakers, who were accustomed to cellua foray into a cross-cultural ambience, as in the film Magun: loid filmmaking with all its costs, could not embrace. Granted Thunderbolt, his first ‘English-language’ film. At the same that technical expertise was lacking in most cases, those early time (a suitable Nigerian phrase), he travels regularly to film films suffered more from an inability to the requisite capital festivals inside and outside the continent. In 2004 he was the than from an inability to tell a good story. Acting in Nigerian subject of a mid-career retrospective at the New York African cinema has always been excellent, if often quite theatrical, but Film Festival, and in Los Angeles later in the year. One of his the overall quality was greatly affected by the technology of films, Agogo Eewo (The Sacred Gong), was screened around shoulder-borne video camera. Even the breakthrough work of this perithe United States as part of an African travod, Living in Bondage (1992) produced and eling series. For a country with a directed by the electronics merchant Kenneth But there is a limit to holding up an indiwidely misunderstood Nnebue, was technically flawed. Its success vidual filmmaker as the paradigmatic figure derived in part from its appeal to an audiin a context as stunningly diverse as Nigeria. international image that the Yoruba There are producers such as Francis Onwoand quite susceptible to ence broader than the ones years. The story filmmakers had pleased for chei, Kingsley Ogoro, Kabat Esosa Egbon and others who work the European circuit, resentment from outsiders, of Paul, a jobless man who becomes rich by while being active in Nigeria-focused initiathe self-adulation is not sacrificing his wife to a secret cult, Living in Bondage cannily mixed a dramatic example tives like filmmakers’ cooperatives and goventirely useless. of personal tribulation with the pervasive ernment-sponsored professionals’ retreats presence of Pentecostal fervor, and through and workshops. There are actors’ caucuses and cliques unevenly spread across Lagos, Onitsha, Aba, and the judicious deployment of English subtitles rendered the Osogbo; in sprawling markets of Idumota and Alaba cartels and Igbo speech accessible in the multi-ethnic context of Nigeria. mafias proliferate as regularly as the videofilms are released. In Haunted by the wife’s ghost to the point of mental breakdown, terms of actual productivity, these different formations put out Paul finds deliverance in a Pentecostal church. On this purely over a thousand titles in a year, although given the scarcity of didactic level, the film was an unqualified success. The rest is reliable statistics in Nigeria, this estimate is at best rough for a cinematic history, an on-going rehearsal and one of the most sector firmly in private hands. Their target markets spring from fascinating in contemporary Africa. Little of this history has received the kind of rigorous atthe road-side tuck-shop to transnational trade networks that the anthropologist Brian Larkin has questionably characterized as tention that it deserves3. Instead, what abound are celebratory claims regarding Nigeria as a ‘force’ in filmmaking circles. ‘disembedded from the official global economy’2. The introduction of SAP had two immediate effects on the Hence the chest-beating honorific of Nollywood, ‘the third economics of filmmaking in the middle of the 1980s. In the first largest film industry in the world’, as an otherwise well-meanplace, hitherto-active filmmakers like Ola Balogun, Eddie Ug- ing commentator recently opined4. For a country with a widely bomah, and Bayo Aderounmu (with whom Kelani had worked misunderstood international image and quite susceptible to reas a cinematographer) found it difficult to fund new films. When sentment from outsiders, the self-adulation is not entirely usethey were able to complete a project, the costs of postproduc- less. In the rest of this essay, I attend to misconceptions whose tion, which could only be done abroad, were too prohibitive. correction I judge as crucial to a productive engagement with Even if the filmmakers could hope to sell these works to local the videofilm practice. It is common to describe these films, indeed the cinema television stations for broadcast, there was the other effect of of Nigeria, as apolitical. This is unhelpful. The sense of the SAP. The Nigerian National Television Authority, NTA, was one of the public corporations from which subsidies had been political implied in such descriptions is conventional. The withdrawn, and most of the television producers were increas- films are political, but not always in the explicitly anti-imperial mode which we see in much of better-known African cinema, ingly looking elsewhere for work. In the early 1990s, there was an exodus of professionals from Ousmane Sembène to Jean-Marie Teno. Politics here is from the television houses. But as it happens in such situations, conceived philosophically as a sub-category of morality, so it this was also the time that video and digital technologies were is a foundationalist kind of principle, over and above specific becoming more and more available and affordable (deregu- political or social situations. There is some truth in the assumplated, in fact, like the economies of the developing regions), tion that, since volatile political themes do not often or easily
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interest spectators eager for escapist and fantastic plots, filmmakers who cater to a mass audience are quick to keep such representations at arm’s length. However, such is the proliferative character of the videofilms produced in Nigeria in terms of themes, notions of the cinematic image, and genre that no approach is absolutely fore-

...the (mostly uncritical) use of Pentecostal Christian ideas and ‘traditional African’ practices is better engaged than disparaged.
closed. This industry may be far from integrated for now, but the very fact of an incremental form requires the practitioners to conceive of a material, a videofilm, as a commodity. This means that it must show potential for commercial viability. Once a particular film achieves success through its combination of certain factors, the formula becomes a basis for other stories. When Kelani revamped the institution of monarchy as a locus of political desire in the three-part Ti Oluwa Nile (The Land Belongs to the Lord), his first film released between 1993 and 1995, and later in Saworoide (1999), he also re-engineered the skin-deep proclivity for the allegorical among Yoruba-language filmmakers, with whom he shares a cultural template. These days, in any number of Yoruba-language films, the king sits resplendent in his grandeur on the screen, even if mostly pressed to share his authority with the law court and political Big Men. The recognition that women’s motives could be presented as starkly as in Glamour Girls (dir. Nnebue, 1994/95) also led to a whole genre of Englishlanguage films, of which Zeb Ejiro’s Domitila (1997) is perhaps the most controversial. Even the consolidation of the videofilm as a genre is an example of this; everyone embraced this new formula once it was discovered that its economic success could double as artistic niche. Within this kind of logic, it is safe to speculate that directly political themes are not an anathema, all risks considered. There is enough evidence already. In such films as Akobi Gomina (The Governor’s Heir, 2003), Alaga Kansu (The Council Chairman, 2003), Mr. President (2004), and the eponymous Omasiri and Makan (both released in 2002), political issues are either foregrounded or integral. More and more films are turning toward ‘dirty deals’ in the political capital, Abuja. It is not to the advantage of the videofilm form to constantly import a notion of the political derived from the cultural-vanguardist practice of African cinema. Surely there is much that Nigerian videofilms stand to benefit from an acute sense of the ideological and political forces shaping global relations, which is

to be found in different registers in the works of Sembene, Youssef Chahine, or Jean-Luc Godard. But it is more productive to relate to the phenomenon of videofilm on the terms of its open-endedness, and see its tendency to proliferate as the strategic basis of such engagement. In any case, the films’ ground of foundational politics, which is seen in the (mostly uncritical) use of Pentecostal Christian ideas and ‘traditional African’ practices is better engaged than disparaged. It is about everyday human choices in socially volatile circumstances, so it embodies the moral force of a human example. Nigerian videofilms are also often disparaged as being overly didactic and full of moralisms, when not obsessed with simplistic saccharine romance and domestic trivia. This is a question of form which cannot be avoided, and it is related to the earlier critique about ideological ambivalence. Like that critique, however, this is again a conventional view of a form that subsists on a foundational view of social processes. We would be relating appropriately to the complexities of the form if we viewed those spectacles of family romance and magic-suffused allegory as complex (even confused) attempts to address deep moral issues. The films are about good and evil but not always in the traditional sense in which this binarism has congealed to be identified as melodrama. Good deeds are often seen to be rewarded or praised, but evil or deviant conducts may receive no more than telling rebuke or ostracism (the lot of distrustful Yinka in Kelani’s Magun) or retributive justice (which is why the political stalwart Chief Makan has to go to jail, in spite of having the film named after him!) These concerns are real, but they need not be viewed as permanent because the terrain is broad and open to fresh ideas. More urgent concerns, it seems to me, should lie elsewhere. Even before conception, the films are being made to serve social purposes. Twenty-first century politics turns on some important social issues. These include questions of economic development, the threat posed to the human community by epidemics like HIV/AIDS, bird flu, and other still to be identified, the concern about sustainable development and ecological catastrophe, trade-for-aid, pervasive militarism, and bio-political surveillance masked as war on terrorism. These are global issues with varying relevance or topicality; in African societies, each of them is crucial and crucially linked to everyday political or social choices. At their beginning, some Nigerian films were generated through a close identification with social issues like gender inequalities, prostitution, etc. Their didactic treatment of these subjects drew upon the strong tradition of artistic populism that rendered a topic attractive to a mass audience within familiar aesthetic standards. Now filmmakers are required, through funding possibilities, to use their films to combat AIDS and attack the phenomenon of child soldiers. Important as such critiques might be from the point of view social responsibility, it is a debatable issue that a form ought to be burdened by these economistic calculations so early in its life. In continued on page 11

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look at these complicities and this was what Ted Joans was trying to make with me. He is in France and it works well for him, and he sends me to America. ATM: That’s a wonderful complicity. Let’s now talk about film and filmmaking. I recently saw your new film Diaspora Conversations (2000). MD: Diaspora Conversations. ATM: There is such a contrast with your film and a film we just screened in our series. We featured films such as Raoul Peck’s Lumumba (2000), and William Greaves was here to screen Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey (2001). But then another film in the series that was troubling to some was Little Senegal (2001) by Rachid Bouchareb. Do you know the film? MD: Little Senegal, yes, I know that film. You have to make a decision. I made a decision to be part of the African American community. The director of Little Senegal made a decision to say that Africans and African Americans have nothing in common and he wanted to make [the film] to prove that. If you notice in the film, toward the end all the relations break down except for the Black American woman and an Arab woman and nothing that was taking place between Black Africans and African Americans came to fruition. The film is consistent with the usual French propaganda to say that it’s America that’s racist, America is where nothing works and even African Americans have nothing to do with Africa and so on. It was very troubling to me, too. But I love the idea of a film that sends an African to America to look for his roots. ATM: A great notion. MD: I love this idea! But suddenly the film begins to give moral lessons to African Americans. ATM: Your film comes from a vastly different point of view. It’s still about

those cultural connections and feelings. MD: Right. My position is not romantic. My position is that Africans and African Americans, first of all, share similar fates. With all the problems in Africa, people think that African Americans have something to do with it in the sense that they stereotype them and they say “Yeah, Black people are this, Black people are that.” So, problems in this country, too, sometimes reflect on the image of Africa. We need to struggle, to fight together, to do things together, and I don’t want to do this romantically. I think that if you go to Africa as an

really want to work together, you get to know each other. You create a new relationship, and it’s this new relationship that’s most important to me and this is what I have created with African Americans. ATM: Do you think your film actually moved to that position? MD: Yes, because I went to Africa with Danny Glover and Clyde Taylor and then we met Ted Joans there. Ted Joans, to his credit, knew Africa better than the rest of them. He’s been going there for years. Everybody laughs, everybody loves him. But first, Danny and Clyde, they raise their questions about Africa, which is the kind of rejection that I’m talking about and Africans do look at them in certain ways. Once they got to know each other, people realized what a kind person Danny Glover is. He never really acts like a star. He’s just such a normal person. ATM: Yeah, you can tell that. MD: And then Clyde Taylor is the same way. So they gradually began to come home because they began to know each other as human beings, not as Black Americans and Africans. It was a very rewarding thing to see. Through the documentary, we ourselves got possessed by African rituals and it transformed us and that includes me. ATM: It is a really a powerful film to teach; to create a dialogue among diasporan Africans, like the dialogue Africans and African Americans don’t often engage that followed your talk. We share the same space, but we don’t often engage each other. MD: That’s a shame because when you look at what African-America can do for Africa, it’s incredible. African Americans are in the most powerful country in the world and they have an incredible, powerful lobby in Washington D.C. They can influence America in its decicontinued on page 10

My position is not romantic. My position is that Africans and African Americans, first of all, share similar fates.
African American and get rejected, you should not be surprised because in Africa, people have gone through several changes. This idyllic fixed Africa is not there. So if you go to the Motherland, you must remember that the Motherland has already been colonized by Islam, by French people, by different partitions of the nation-state—then where are you going to go? But if you take history into account and look at contemporary realities and as a Black American you say: “I feel implicated by the situation in Africa. I want to go and do something.” So you go and first you get rejected. “Who are you? I don’t know you.” You know, that’s what people do to each other. When an African comes here, first African Americans will reject you. You are not like the Africa they had imagined and then somewhere the African-American goes to Africa and it’s not what the African-American had imagined. So that initial rejection to me is so normal. It’s ok. But then if you

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sions toward African countries—whether it’s trade, politics, or getting rid of dictators—African America can make America do things for Africa. Africa, too, can do incredible things for African-Americans in terms of finding one’s roots, one’s identity—African cultures and their contribution to the world culture. Not only music and art but also a kind of [African] humanism. The idea in Africa that we are a family. It’s not because you are an old person that we have to cast you out, put you in the old folks home, everybody takes care of you. That family relation would be a very important notion in America.
ATM: Yes, there is acceptance of this, but there’s still a resistance to becoming acculturated. MD: What I still try to do is to show is that Africans do not know Black Americans. They don’t know much about slavery, they don’t know much. The only thing that they know about Black America that is important is the stereotype. The things that they see on CNN: people getting arrested, people with guns, rap music and this kind of thing. ATM: And that brings us back to film. MD: Yes. That’s right! ATM: Because film can produce or disrupt stereotype. I was in South Africa recently and was surprised by what Africans are actually watching on television and at the cinema. MD: Unfortunately, it is bad films. Bad films with negative stereotypes with Black people as thieves, as drug dealers and so on. ATM: Where is this coming from? America? MD: It’s coming from America mostly—mostly American old movies and new movies—but not enough redeeming images. Black filmmakers can make an incredible contribution to changing the image of Black America in the world—

specifically in Africa. Showing also that this is the country where W.E.B. Dubois was born. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and these people have contributed more to the changing world history than any philosophy in the world. Africans do not know these figures, these giants and Ida B. Wells; they do not know Angela Davis and so on. Documentaries, films like Eyes on the Prize (1987), fictional films on these issues would be very, very good [to show] in Africa. Making films on Africans who have civilizations, who have rich cultures, showing them in Black communities— these are things we can do. We don’t have the power to change the world right away, but as academics and professors and with our relations to people like Danny Glover, we can do things like that. Danny Glover not only is helping filmmakers like Ousmane Sembene, he also gave one million to TransAfrica to work to change US pol-

can Cinema] back in the early nineties. I should have paid more attention to that. ATM: What is your assessment of current African American cinema? MD: I was at a conference recently and many of these ideas here are not just mine. But the thrust of the discussion was that Black American independent cinema of the ‘70s and ‘80s—particularly around UCLA, called the LA Rebellion with filmmakers like Charles Burnett, Billy Woodbury, Julie Dash etc. These filmmakers were using films in a very powerful manner. They drew their resources from the Italian neo-realism, from African cinema, Brazilian cinema—but they had a Black aesthetics that one could compare to Black music—you know, the Blues, the vernacular. They were working within the community and they were creating a film language that produced some classics like Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) and Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama (1976). Then came Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have (1986). Very edgy. Very interesting. Also, independent—and it’s a movie that could be shown in movie theaters—and the argument was made at the conference that that changed the force of Black cinema. People just threw everything out until Spike Lee and they began to watch Spike Lee and he becomes the Black filmmaker because of She’s Gotta Have It. The argument continued that in a way that was both positive and negative for Black cinema. It was positive because Black filmmakers were shown on the big screen and She’s Got to Have It was a watershed film. All the Spike Lee films brought to people’s attention many Black actors who are now great actors—Halle Berry, Sam Jackson, all these guys. But it was unfortunate because it did not lead to a new language of Black cinema. It killed independent cinema, but it did not replace it with a new artistic cinema that people could describe as they could describe the LA Rebellion films, for example. Our whole conference was based on the question of where we are going after She’s Gotta Have It. continued on page 11

It killed independent cinema but it did not replace it with a new artistic cinema that people could describe...
icy toward Africa and Haiti and Central America and South America. ATM: What do you think about the content of a lot of the films coming out of other parts of Africa these days? Is there a kind of homogenizing of the stories and plots? Is that globalization all over again. (I say again because we often forget that the slave trade was global and so was colonialism). MD: That’s right, its this new globalization. That’s what’s happening. They only make films that are not threatening to [power holders] and African filmmakers have learned to respond to that. It’s a gift to the global market—something light. Something easy to consume. So the best African cinema was actually being produced when I was writing my book [Afri-

Volume 21, Issue 1

Black Camera

Page 11

Diawara Interview
continued from page 10

Issues in the New Nigerian Cinema
continued from page 8

ATM: It’s an interesting and provocative discussion because there are certainly more Black filmmakers than ever right now, more blacks making a living in the film industry, not to mention the recent academy awards to black actors. But is the quality better or worse? What is black cinema doing for black people? MD: Yeah. That’s exactly what they were saying. Black filmmakers are interested in one thing—to be a filmmaker and to go

to Hollywood and make money. So they left behind the community to go to Hollywood. You make films that compromise and leave behind certain artistic and political concerns. This was the argument at the conference. I was fascinated by some of these ideas. ATM: Potent ideas. MD: We said Black cinema is dead. The film they showed was like Kasi Lemmons’ The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) Films like that, that’s what was shown and, you know, people say “Where is that edgy Black cinema beyond the Hollywood cinema?” But again, people say “Every Black filmmaker wants to go to Hollywood, that’s the problem.” ATM: But a filmmaker with real passion wants to make filmsmost of them have Hollywood dreams—but the new technology—internet, DVDs, digital cameras, and lower costs create more options. I wonder if we are creating new models of success in filmmaking. MD: Well, you know, that’s what’s happening in Nigeria. The Nigeria video films, they used to make them literally for $2,000. Now the price has gone up because they are making a lot of money. Now it’s got to be at least $25- 50,000, so they make these films and it’s a huge market right now. It’s like a $70 million a year market— ATM: Yes, it is often compared to what has happened in India. MD: It’s like India, but the paradigm is very interesting because remember in the ‘80s, Black writers used to do this. They would write books published by the Black press and they would distribute them themselves. With the development of video and the potential of video, digital video cameras, I think what you just said—DVD, movies can be created and they can be sold on alternative markets and a new cinema can be born. At least that is the hope.

one sense, this demand is a reflection of the integrated role of the arts as social phenomena, and cultural brokers in the 20th century had many field days perorating on the functionality of African arts. In another sense, Nigerian videofilms stand at the crossroads of capital as casualties of their own success. At this strange pass, how much can one hope to see by way of the auteur tradition that preserves the independence of a film as a singular work of art? Is not this social requirement a way of further severing the form’s open-ended, inclusive politics from the critical traditions in global cinema? Or, to take a more optimistic view, does this suggest a reconfiguration of the politics of mass forms on a global level, in very much the same way that new technologies and the wide dispersal of peoples are unsettling entrenched cultural notions? Akin Adesokan is an assistant professor of Comparative Literature at IU

Haynes, Jonathan. “Nigerian Cinema: Structural Adjustments”, Research in African Literatures, Vol. 26, No. 3, Fall 1995, 111. 2 See his “Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Nigerian Videos and the Infrastructure of Piracy”, Public Culture, Vol. 16, No 2, Spring 2004, 293. 3 For an early attempt to characterize the films along thematic lines, see Nigerian Videofilms, Jonathan Haynes (ed.), Jos: Nigerian Film Corporation, 1997. Contributors included Larkin, Onookome Okome, filmmaker Afolabi Adesanya, and others. 4 Toyin Akinosho, “Don’t envy the South Africans” (Artsville), The Guardian on Sunday, Online edition, March 6, 2005.

Submit an Article for Black Camera
For more information regarding contributing writer submissions please contact: Damien Strecker, Graduate Assistant for the Black Film Center/ Archive email:; phone: (812) 855-6041

Page 12

Black Camera general, the plot encourages genuine reflection on this discrepancy in regards to the respect of life. In addition to the broad issue of the worthiness of life, the film focuses on white guilt and the idealism necessary for change in Africa. This is a position that ignores the structural reality of the situation. In truth, the English “white guilt” can still be highly profitable as well as palatable, in the form of Kenyan coffee grains and tea leaves. Economic policy is constructed accordingly. While the tag line, “Love. At Any Cost,” has a nice romantic ring to it, it ultimately sends the message that only if enough do-good Europeans had the right amount of brotherly love, the unequal power structure could be challenged. The reality suggests otherwise. According to the CIA Fact book, 67% of the nation’s gross domestic product goes towards the repayment of debt and the unemployment rate is around 40%. With these sorts of embedded disadvantages fostered by organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, one would be foolish to invest hope in the concept of Europeans embracing love as the answer. This idealism that relies on the moral pangs of Europeans for change is a feel-good thematic ploy on the part of the writers that fails to acknowledge the powerful entities behind the widespread scenes of poverty shown in the film. Along with not offering a structural critique of the issues facing Kenya, there is not a single African character that is developed thoroughly. Aside from Arnold (Hubert Kounde), who dies early in the film, the only exposure the audience has to Africans is in examples of corruption, extreme poverty (sometimes in a voyeuristic fashion), and unmitigated aggression. This gives the impression among audience members that Africans are more of the problem than the solution. The scene involving the Sudanese raiders on horseback, not

Volume 21, Issue 1 put into proper context, leaves the average audience member feeling as though the situation is hopeless because of the irrational blood lust and feuding going on ‘over there’ instead of an example of the complex Muslim-Christian relations in the region. The filmmakers could have developed a more nuanced African perspective by perhaps making Arnold a central character. The solution given by the film involves Europeans looking inward and changing their moral outlook instead of a fundamental critique of the system initiated by intolerance of the status quo. This “love conquers all” solution, combined with the paucity of African characters of substance leaves much to be desired. Damien Strecker is pursing a Master’s degree in AAADS and is a graduate assistant at the BFC/A

The Constant Gardener A Review
By Damien Strecker
The Constant Gardener (2006), directed by Fernando Meirelles, is a film that tries to mix love, suspense, and political consciousness. While the narrative succeeds in conveying the first two objectives, the political aspect is ripe for interrogation. While it does attempt to shed light on the negative tendency of Western governments to value life on a relative basis, there remains problems with the European idealism, as well as the lack of a developed African character. The story centers on Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) and Tessa Quayle (Academy Award winning Rachel Weisz), an English couple living in Kenya. Justin, a diplomat, is an unassuming public servant who avoids confrontation at all costs. Tessa, a passionate, pro-active idealist, investigates the dealings of a foreign pharmaceutical company that is conducting drug research on unsuspecting Kenyans. Her detective work leads to trouble and Justin is compelled to find the courage to continue his wife’s whistle blowing efforts. The issue of a pharmaceutical company’s trial testing drugs on humans is tackled as an international conspiracy driven by greed. While this particular scenario of drug testing was created for the plot, it underscores a general theme to which the historical record can attest. That is, in the eyes of many white policy makers, an impoverished African life is not worth as much as a European or American life. One need not be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to make the logical leap that something similar to The Constant Gardener could exist today. Giving small pox infested blankets to Native Americans, promoting opium addiction in China, and testing the effects of syphilis on black men in rural Georgia is a random snapshot that illustrates the point. Supposedly ‘civilized’ countries have shown a long track record of not valuing the lives of non-whites. In

Volume 21, Issue 1

Black Camera

Page 13

A Pulse Response

Hustle and Flow
Is it Hard out Here for a Pimp?
The Memphis group, Three 6 Mafia and their protege Frayser Boy recently took home the 2006 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song with “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.” Used in a crucial scene for the film Hustle and Flow, the song has raised discussion in regards to its depiction of pimping and the implications for the Black community. The BFC/A posed this question to several IU students:

I am becoming increasingly disappointed that everytime something Black is portrayed or praised in the mainstream public eye, it involves stereotypical or outright negative images. An uncritical eye can easily be led to believe that gangs, pimps, drugs, and prostitution are the Black status quo. It is not enough that a “Black song” has won when the song in question happens to glorify a pimp culture that will undoubtably be imitated by misguided Blacks and their white counterparts. This is not cause for celebration. -Garlia Jones, playwright and graduate student AAADS The fact that these men were black is critical in the acclaim and accolades they receive for this song. Would whites, Latinos or Asian Americans be awarded for such a song? I would find such a scenario hard to believe. Also, the accepted exploitation of women, foundational to this song, is disturbing to say the least. The physical, sexual, and mental abuse associated with prostitution and pimping is deemed as a regrettable but ultimately understandable means of survival in the ghetto. The academy has awarded a song that promulgates a misinformed, muddy theme at best. One can only hope that this is seen for what it is by our society: the proclamation of African Americans as agreeably sexualized, violent, and crude. With messages like this, they are telling the country wholly that the African American predicament is a product of their culture instead of an historical legacy of inequality. -Jeremy Gilmore, graduate student, AAADS I’m amped. All the uproar over the issue shows people are still trying to ignore the biggness of hip-hop. Three 6 Mafia may not be the particular type of hip-hop I am in to, but I have mad love for anyone bringing hip-hop to different audiences and mediums. That power can be tapped into to get more relevant stuff out there. -Versiz, slam poet/hip hop artist who performs regularly at IU

“How do you feel about the song ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,’ winning an Academy Award?”
The film’s tagline reads, “Everybody gotta have a dream.” In the case of Terrance Howard’s character Deejay, the scope of his dreams are extremely limited due to a lack of an equality of opportunity. It is telling of the broader societal situaton that within the ghetto, some of the only percieved options out are via music or sports. I think the song should not be judged too harshly in that it tries to capture the essence of the struggle to survive amidst limited circumstances that is usually lacking in the largely cartoonish popular images of the Black pimp. -Damien Strecker, grauduate student, AAADS I have a problem with any music, or movie for that matter, that would glorify such a despicable profession without critique of the larger social issues that contribute to the crime. I think that pimping is one of the highest crimes that a black man can commit, because he is willingly exploiting the women who have already been dehumanized in this society. It’s sad that this image has been glorified in the pop culture marketplace. Historically, African Americans at the Oscars have been awarded for roles that conform to the America’s archetypal fantasy of “black life.” So far, the academy has “awarded” us for staying in our roles: a mammy, a handy man who risked his life for German nuns, a child-abusing poor woman who found salvation in a white southerner, a dirty cop exposed by a good white cop, an entertainer, and now, a pimp. Because of the scarcity of black roles in pop culture, I am disturbed when the exalted images are ones like these. -Asha French, M.F.A. candidate, Creative Writing program

From left to right: Jordan “Juicy J” Houston, Paul “D.J. Paul” Beauregard, and Cedric “Frayser Boy” Coleman

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Black Camera

Volume 21, Issue 1

The Black Film Center/ Archive Presents

Yvonne Welbon

Jessie Maple

Alile Sharon Larkin

Wednesday, April 5, 2006
4:00 pm - Woodburn 120 Forum: An Alternative Aesthetic and Vision 6:00 pm - Rawles Room, Woodburn Hall Reception 7:00 pm - Radio/TV 245 Film Screenings: Mz. Medusa (1998), 29 min. A Different Image (1982), 52 min. Introduced by the filmmaker, Alile Sharon Larkin. Discussion to follow.

Thursday, April 6, 2006
6:30 pm - Woodburn 120 Film screening: Will (1981), 72 min. Introduced by the filmmaker, Jessie Maple Patton. Discussion to follow. 8:30 pm - Woodburn 120 Film screening: Sisters in Cinema (2003), 57 min. Introduced by the filmmaker, Yvonne Welbon. Discussion to follow. All events are free and open to the public Co-Sponsors: African American and African Diaspora Studies, Office of Academic Support and Diversity, and the Creative Writing Program

Volume 21, Issue 1

Black Camera

Page 15

Black Women Filmmakers Forum: An Alternative Aesthetic and Vision
By Paul Heyde
Hollywood has been a difficult place, to say the least, for black women to break through as filmmakers. Only a few—including Euzhan Palcy, Darnell Martin, and Cheryl Dunye—have directed a Hollywood feature film. However, others have managed to make their films through bypassing the traditional film industry and producing their films independently. Three of these filmmakers—Jessie Maple, Alile Sharon Larkin, and Yvonne Welbon—are pioneers who have greatly contributed to the advances of black women in the ongoing struggle for representation. The BFC/A is happy to welcome them as participants in our first Black Women Filmmakers Forum. Jessie Maple began her career in film as an apprentice film editor for Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and The Super Cops (1974). She then became a union cameraperson for television stations in New York City, helping to open the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television (IATSE) to black women. In 1974, Maple and her husband, Leroy Patton, founded LJ Film Productions, Inc. and produced a number of short documentaries, including Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy? (1977). Maple’s 1981 film, Will, was the first feature-length independent film made by an African-American woman and with Twice as Nice (1988), she also became the first to direct two. The film career of Alile Sharon Larkin began in the late 1970s while working on a Masters degree in film and television production at UCLA. Her first film, Your Children Come Back To You (1979), describes the struggle of a young African American girl choosing between her aunt’s wish to adopt a European lifestyle and her mother and her African heritage. Larkin received critical acclaim for her second film, A Different Image (1982), which won first prize from the Black American Cinema Society. As a cofounder of the Black Filmmakers Collective, Larkin helped to produce My Dream is to Marry an African Prince (1984). Later, she formed NAP Productions to develop quality educational video and television for children. They include Dreadlocks and the Three Bears (1992) and Mz Medusa (1998). The relative newcomer, Yvonne Welbon, made her first film Monique in 1991. Following this, she earned a Master of Fine Arts with a concentration in film and video in 1994 and obtained her Ph.D. in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University in 2001. Dr. Welbon’s oeuvre includes many films that focus on black women’s lives, such as The Cinematic Jazz of Julie Dash (1992), her tribute to African American filmmaker, Julie Dash; an examination of an elderly black lesbian’s life and meaning to the gay community in Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 (1999); and her latest work Sisters in Cinema (2003), a history of black women filmmakers. Sisters in Cinema has inspired a website created by Welbon as “a resource guide for and about African American women feature filmmakers”: Together, their work offers an alternative aesthetic and vision about what it means to be a filmmaker. Paul Heyde is the BFC/A Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services

Methadone: Evil Spirit or Wonder Drug (1975-1976) Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy? (1977) Will (1981) Escape Artists (1982) Swish (1984) Twice as Nice (1988) Kiss Grandmama Goodbye (1992) – cinematographer “It’s You” [music video] (1997)

Jessie Maple:

Your Children Come Back To You (1979) A Different Image (1982) My Dream is to Marry an African Prince (1984)-producer What Color is God? (1986) – producer Miss Fluci Moses (1987) Dreadlocks and the Three Bears (1992) Mz Medusa (1998) The Blessing Way (2000) – cast

Alile Sharon Larkin:

Monique (1991) The Cinematic Jazz of Julie Dash (1992) Missing Relations (1994) Mother of the River (1995) – associate producer Remembering Wei Yi-fang, Remembering Myself (1995) Compensation (1999) – associate producer Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 (1999) Stray Dogs (2001) – producer Stranger Inside (2001) – associate producer E Minha Cara [aka That’s My Face] (2002) – co-producer The Taste of Dirt (2002) Sisters in Cinema (2003) *All films directed by the filmmakers unless otherwise noted

Yvonne Welbon:

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