“Back home, our very own Zimbabwean sister Tsitsi Dangarembga displayed the same mentality in her movie Kare Kare Zvako. She shows Africans as savage cannibals who literally eat each other. She won a Western-sponsored award for her efforts. That is also another catch used to lure the misguided African filmmakers — the proliferation of Western-sponsored awards. These serve as external motivation, and for the desire of international fame, the black filmmakers from Africa — to borrow James Weldon Johnson’s Ex-coloured man’s words — sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. Films such as Hotel Rwanda and Tsotsi from South Africa win international acclaim because they portray the negative aspects of Africa,” writes Kamurai Mudzingwa in his 2006 Op-ed entitled “African Movies Spiteful”.
The article critiques African film production, which Mudzingwa argues is sponsored by the West and for this reason tends to represent stereotypes its sponsors want to portray about Africa. These films are damaging since some of their viewers worldwide tend to interepret Africa based on what they depict. I remember that during my early days in the United States I repeatedly answered questions about whether or not things “back there” were like they are in Chaka Zulu, the five-hour movie. Of course, back then I hadn’t even seen the movie, but judging by the hidden messages in the questions, I knew what the implications were. When, years later, I bought my copy of the movie for a dollar at a Blockbuster clearance sale, I just wondered how someone could ever think to use that movie as a way to learn about present-day Africa.
Mudzingwa also discusses The God’s Must Be Crazy. I own both volume 1 & 2, and I watch them once in a while to see, well, to see the landscape, and to hear the Shona man in volume 1 singing, “Mai Vachauya”. Recently, I was able to connect him to a Marechera character who is exiled in some kind of desert and seems to be going through a cleansing ritual for having offended his mother in some way back home. I had to force that connection, of course, because at a symbolic level, what this unnamed Marechera character says is that he was in political exile, but was also waiting, if not suffering for, his wife who had left the place with a promise to come back or not, so the reader sees him in a miserable existence in this desert away from home, perhaps singing (we are not told), “Mai Vachauya”, just like the Shona man in The Gods Must Be Crazy (Of course, many viewers, intrigued by the clicking language in the movie, may barely notice the Shona man, may not ever know that he is Shona because that’s not the movie’s purpose: just focus on the funny guy taking the bottle back to the Gods). The Shona man’s song could be considered (even where I exaggerate) the one positve ( and it’s really negative, come to think of it) message I get from the two volumes of what Mudzingwa calls a “highly offensive movie”.
But Tsitsi Dangarembga too? Well, she stated in a recent interview with Per Contra that film-making helps her make a living, something that her very consciousness-driven literature has failed to do. Perhaps our main hope is in emerging film-makers like my former student Marian Kunonga? I know at one point she was in Malawi filming “positive” documentaries in the villages, documentaries that show happy, laughing Africans. More of that attitude is needed.
Anyway, Mudzingwa goes on to quote University of Zimbabwe scholar, Memory Chirere, who has said we should: “put our money where our culture is.” In this regard, the films, especially when produced by Africans, should give a balanced, not biased, depiction of Africa. I think the literature, novels, poetry, etc, is performing well; now let the film industry learn to be self-sufficient and to boldly present an Africa that’s full of hope and progress–something like that, if I am reading Mudzingwa right. In fact, why don’t I link to the original article here?