Cinema of Africa

African cinema is film production in Africa. It dates back to the early 20th century, when film reels were the primary cinematic technology in use. During the colonial era, African life was shown only by the work of white, colonial, Western filmmakers, who depicted blacks in a negative fashion, as exotic "others".[1] There is no one single African cinema; there are differences between North African and Sub-Saharan cinema, and between the cinemas of different countries.[1]

The cinema of Egypt is one of the oldest in the world. Auguste and Louis Lumière screened their films in Alexandria and Cairo in 1896[2][3] and the first short documentary was filmed by Egyptians in 1907.[4] In 1935 the MISR film studio in Cairo began producing mostly formulaic comedies and musicals, but also films like Kamal Selim's The Will (1939). Egyptian cinema flourished in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, considered its golden age.[5] Youssef Chahine's seminal Cairo Station (1958) foreshadowed Hitchcock's Psycho, and laid a foundation for Arab film.[6]

The Nigerian film industry is the largest in Africa in terms of value, number of annual films, revenue and popularity.[7][8] It is also the second largest film producer in the world.[9] In 2016 Nigeria's film industry contributed 2.3% of its gross domestic product (GDP).[9]


Colonial era

During the colonial era, Africa was represented exclusively by Western filmmakers. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Western filmmakers made films that depicted black Africans as "exoticized", "submissive workers" or as "savage or cannibalistic". For example, see Kings of the Cannibal Islands in 1909, Voodoo Vengeance (1913) and Congorilla (1932).[1] Colonial era films portrayed Africa as exotic, without history or culture. Examples abound and include jungle epics based on the Tarzan character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the adventure film The African Queen (1951), and various adaptations of H. Rider Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines (1885).[10] Much early ethnography "focused on highlighting the differences between indigenous people and the white civilised man, thus reinforcing colonial propaganda".[11] Marc Allégret's first film,Voyage au Congo (1927) respectfully portrayed the Masa people, in particular a young African entertaining his little brother with a baby crocodile on a string. Yet the Africans were portrayed as human but not equals; a dialogue card for example referred to the movements of a traditional dance as naive. His lover, writer André Gide, accompanied Allégret and wrote a book also titled Voyage au Congo. Allégret later made Zouzou, starring Josephine Baker, the first major film starring a black woman. Baker had caused a sensation in the Paris arts scene by dancing in the Revue Nègre clad only in a string of bananas.

In the French colonies Africans were prohibited by the 1934 Laval Decree from making films of their own.[12][13] The ban stunted the growth of film as a means of African expression, political, cultural, and artistic.[14] Congolese Albert Mongita did make The Cinema Lesson in 1951 and in 1953 Mamadou Touré made Mouramani based on a folk story about a man and his dog.[15] In 1955, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra  originally from Benin, but educated in Senegal  along with his colleagues from Le Group Africain du Cinema, shot a short film in Paris, Afrique-sur-Seine (1955). Vieyra was trained in filmmaking at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris, and despite the ban on filmmaking in Africa, was granted permission to make a film in France.[16] Considered the first film directed by a black African, Afrique Sur Seine explores the difficulties of being an African in 1950s France.[17]

Portuguese colonies came to independence with no film production facilities at all, since the colonial government there restricted film-making to colonialist propaganda, emphasizing the inferiority of indigenous populations. Therefore, little thought was given until independence to developing authentic African voices.[18]

In the mid-1930s, the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment was conducted in an attempt to "educate the Bantu, mostly about hygiene. Only three films from this project survive; they are kept at the British Film Institute.[19]

Before the colonies' independence, few anti-colonial films were produced. Examples included Statues Also Die (Les statues meurent aussi) by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, about European theft of African art. The second part of this film was for 10 years banned in France.[20]) Afrique 50 by René Vautier, showed anti-colonial riots in Côte d'Ivoire and in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).[21]

Also doing film work in Africa at this time was French ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch, controversial with both French and African audiences. Film documentaries such as Jaguar (1955), Les maitres fous (1955), Moi, un noir (1958) and La pyramide humaine (1959). Rouch's documentaries were not explicitly anti-colonial, but did challenge perceptions of colonial Africa and give a new voice to Africans.[22] Although Rouch was accused by Ousmane Sembene and others[23] of seeing Africans "as if they are insects," Rouch was an important figure in the developing field of African film and was the first person to work with Africans, of whom many had important careers in African cinema (Oumarou Ganda, Safi Faye and Moustapha Alassane, and others).[24]

Because most films made prior to independence were egregiously racist in nature, African filmmakers of the independence era  such as Ousmane Sembene and Oumarou Ganda, among others  saw filmmaking as an important political tool for rectifying the erroneous image of Africans put forward by Western filmmakers and for reclaiming the image of Africa for Africans.[25]

Post-independence and 1970s

The first African film to win international recognition was Sembène Ousmane's La Noire de... also known as Black Girl. It showed the despair of an African woman who has to work as a maid in France. It won the Prix Jean Vigo in 1966.[26] Initially a writer, Sembène had turned to cinema to reach a wider audience. He is still considered the "father of African cinema".[27] Sembène's native Senegal continued to be the most important place of African film production for more than a decade.

With the creation of the African film festival FESPACO in Burkina Faso in 1969, African film created its own forum. FESPACO now takes place every two years in alternation with the Carthago film festival in Tunisia.

The Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes, or FEPACI)[28] was formed in 1969 to promote African film industries in terms of production, distribution and exhibition. From its inception, FEPACI was seen as a critical partner organization to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union. FEPACI looks at the role of film in the politico-economic and cultural development of African states and the continent as a whole.

Med Hondo's Soleil O, shot in 1969, was immediately recognized. No less politically engaged than Sembène, he chose a more controversial filmic language to show what it means to be a stranger in France with the "wrong" skin colour.

1980s and 1990s

Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen (Mali, 1987) was the first film made by a Black African to compete at Cannes.[29] Cheick Oumar Sissoko's Guimba (Mali, 1995) was also well received in the west.

Many films of the 1990s, including Quartier Mozart by Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Cameroon, 1992), are situated in the globalized African metropolis.

Nigerian cinema experienced a large growth in the 1990s with the increasing availability of home video cameras in Nigeria, and soon put Nollywood in the nexus for West African English-language films. Nollywood produced 1844 movies in 2013 alone.[30]

The last movie theatre in Kinshasa shut down in 2004. Many of the former cinemas were converted to churches.[31] In 2009 the UN refugee agency screened Breaking the Silence in South Kivu and Katanga Province. The film deals with rape in the Congolese civil wars.[32]

However a 200-seat cinema, MTS Movies House, opened in 2016 in Brazzaville.[33] In April 2018, construction began on a new cinema in Brazzaville.[34]

A first African Film Summit took place in South Africa in 2006. It was followed by FEPACI 9th Congress.

The African Movie Academy Awards were launched in 2004, marking the growth of local film industries like that of Nigeria as well as the development and spread of the film industry culture in sub-Saharan Africa.

2000s and 2010s

Contemporary African cinema deals with a wide variety of themes relating to modern issues and universal problems.

Migration and relations between African and European countries is a common theme among many African films. Abderrahmane Sissako's film Waiting for Happiness portrays a Mauritanian city struggling against foreign influences through the journey of a migrant coming home from Europe.[35] Migration is also an important theme in Mahamat Saleh Haroun's film Une Saison en France, which shows the journey of a family from the Central African Republic seeking asylum in France.[36] Haroun is part of the Chadian diaspora in France, and uses the film to explore aspects of this diasporan experience.[37]

Afrofuturism is a growing genre, encompassing Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora who tell science or speculative fiction stories involving Africa and African people. Neill Blomkamp's District 9 is a well-known example, portraying an alien invasion of South Africa.[38] Wanuri Kahiu's short film Pumzi portrays the futuristic fictional Maitu community in Africa 35 years after World War III.[39]

Directors including Haroun and Kahiu have expressed concerns about the lack of cinema infrastructure and appreciation in various African countries.[40] However, organizations such as the Changamoto arts fund are providing more resources and opportunities to African filmmakers.[41]


African cinema, like cinema in other world regions, covers a wide variety of topics. In Algiers in 1975, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) adopted the Charte du cinéaste africain (Charter of the African cinéaste), which recognized the importance of postcolonial and neocolonial realities in African cinema. The filmmakers start by recalling the neocolonial condition of African societies. "The situation contemporary African societies live in is one in which they are dominated on several levels: politically, economically and culturally." African filmmakers stressed their solidarity with progressive filmmakers in other parts of the world. African cinema is often seen a part of Third Cinema.

Some African filmmakers, for example Ousmane Sembène, try to give African history back to African people by remembering the resistance to European and Islamic domination.

The African filmmaker is often compared to the traditional griot. Like griots, filmmakers' task is to express and reflect communal experiences. Patterns of African oral literature often recur in African films. African film has also been influenced by traditions from other continents, such as Italian neorealism, Brazilian Cinema Novo and the theatre of Bertolt Brecht.

In Mauritania CINEPARC RIBAT AL BAHR is an open air Drive-in Cinema located in Nouakchott, the only one of its kind in Africa. In addition to the projection schedule, the drive-in have a new application iOS and Android provides you with the biggest international movie database in which you can find information such as plot summaries, cast members, production crews, critics reviews, ratings, fan trivia, and much more about movies, series, and all cinematic work.

List of cinema by region

North Africa

West Africa

Central Africa

East Africa

Southern Africa

Women Directors

Recognised as one of the pioneers of Senegalese cinema as well as cinema developed on the African continent at large, ethnologist and filmmaker Safi Faye was the first African woman film director to gain international recognition.[42] Faye's first film La Passante (The Passerby) was released in 1972 and following this, Kaddu Beykat (Letter from My Village), the filmmaker's first feature film was released in 1975. Faye continued to be active with several released works in the latter half of the 1970s all the way through her latest work, the 1996 drama film Mossane.

Sarah Maldoror, a French filmmaker and the daughter of immigrants from Guadaloupe has been recognised as one of the pioneers of African cinema in the diaspora. She is the founder of Les Griots (The Troubadours), the first drama company in France made for actors of African and Afro-Caribbean descent.[43] Originally in the theatre, she went on to study filmmaking at the State Institute of Cinematography of the Russian Federation (VGIK), in Moscow.[44] In 1972, Maldoror shot her film Sambizanga about the 1961–74 war in Angola. Surviving African women of this war are the subject of the documentary Les Oubliées (The forgotten women), made by Anne-Laure Folly 20 years later. Maldoror also worked as assistant director on The Battle of Algiers (1966) with filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo.

In 1995, Wanjiru Kinyanjui made the feature film The Battle of the Sacred Tree in Kenya.[45]

In 2008, Manouchka Kelly Labouba became the first woman in the history of Gabonese cinema to direct a fictional film. Her short film Le Divorce addresses the impact of modern and traditional values on the divorce of a young Gabonese couple.

Kemi Adetiba, hitherto a music video director, made her directorial debut in 2016 with The Wedding Party. The film, about the events involved in the celebration of an aristocratic wedding, would go on to become the most successful Nollywood film in the history of her native Nigeria.

Wanuri Kahiu is a Kenyan film director, best known for her film From a Whisper, which was awarded Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009.. Nearly 10 years after the release of From a Whisper, Kahiu's film Rafiki, a coming-of-age romantic drama about two teenage girls in he present-day Kenya. The film made headlines, partly for its selection at the Cannes Film Festival but also for its exploration of sexuality that did not sit well with the Kenyan government.[46]

Rungano Nyoni, best known for the internationally acclaimed feature film I am Not a Witch is a Zambian-Welsh director and screenwriter. Born in Zambia and also raised in Wales, Nyoni went on to graduate from the University of Arts in London with a Master's in acting in 2009.[47] Her filmography as a filmmaker (whether as a director or/and screenwriter) also include the short films: The List (2009, short), Mwansa The Great (2011, short), Listen (2014, short) and she was also one of the directors of the international film project Nordic Factory (2014).[48][49] She has been awarded with a variety of awards including a BAFTA for outstanding debut by a British filmmaker for I am Not a Witch.[50]

In 2019, Azza Cheikh Malainine became the first woman in the history of Mauritania's cinema to direct a fictional film. Her film SOS addresses the impact of modern and Security in Mauritania.

Directors by country

Films about African cinema

Film festivals

See also


  1. Hayward, Susan. "Third World Cinemas: African Continent" in Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (Third Edition). Routledge, 2006. p. 426-442
  2. Leaman, Oliver (2003-12-16). Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film. Routledge. ISBN 9781134662524.
  3. "Alexandria, Why? (The Beginnings of the Cinema Industry in Alexandria)". Bibliotheca Alexandrina's AlexCinema.
  4. "A Chronology of Firsts in Alexandria".
  5. "The Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema – the 1940s to 1960s".
  6. "African Cinema: Invisible Classics". British Film Institute.
  7. "Nigeria surpasses Hollywood as world's second largest film producer – UN". United Nations. 2009-05-05. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
  8. "Nigeria's Nollywood eclipsing Hollywood in Africa". The Independent. May 15, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-24.
  9. "Spotlight: The Nigerian Film Industry" (PDF). July 2017.
  10. Murphskirty, David (2000). "Africans Filming Africa: Questioning Theories of an Authentic African Cinema". Journal of African Cultural Studies. 13 (2): 239–249. doi:10.1080/713674315. JSTOR 1771833.
  11. "The anti-colonial gaze in ethnographic cinema: "Voyage au Congo" e "Marquis de Wavrin"". Cinefilia ritrovata. July 1, 2018. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  12. Barlet, Olivier (2012). "The Ambivalence of French Funding". Black Camera. 3 (2): 205–16. doi:10.2979/blackcamera.3.2.205. JSTOR 10.2979/blackcamera.3.2.205.
  13. Diawara, Manthia (1992). African Cinema: Politics and Culture. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, pp. 22–23.
  14. Halhoul, Khalid (2012). "Using African Cinema to Shift Cultural Perceptions." Utne Reader (June/July 2012 edition). Mixed Media Section, pp. 78–79.
  15. Wes Felton (December 2010). "Caught in the Undertow: African Francophone Cinema in the French New Wave". Senses of Self.
  16. Diawara (1992), African Cinema, p. 23.
  17. Gugler, Josef (2003). African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, p. 3.
  18. Abiola Irele; Biodun Jeyifo (2010). Abiola Irele; Biodun Jeyifo (eds.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Thought. 1. Oxford University Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0195334739 via Google Books.
  19. Notcutt, L. A., and G. C. Latham, The African and the Cinema: An Account of the Work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment during the Period March 1935 to May 1937, London: Edinburgh House Press, 1937.
  20. Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994), Black African Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 49.
  21. Melissa Thackway (2003). Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan Francophone African Film. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0-253-34349-9, pp. 7 and 32.
  22. For more on Rouch's work, see Steven Feld (ed.), Cine-Ethnography (1994), and Paul Henley, The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema (2010).
  23. See, for example, Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Black African Cinema (1994), pp. 48–58.
  24. Diawara (1992). African Cinema, pp. 23–24. See also Henley, Paul (2010), The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 310–337.
  25. Thackway (2003). Africa Shoots Back, pp. 1–6.
  26. Bilge Ebiri (November 5, 2015). "The Story of Sembene!: How Ousmane Sembene Invented African Cinema". Vulture. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  27. Dennis McLellan, "Ousmane Sembene, 84; Senegalese hailed as 'the father of African film'" (obituary), Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2007.
  28. FEPACI. Archived 2014-02-26 at the Wayback Machine
  29. Nadia Neophytou (May 19, 2018). "In Cannes, African filmmakers are plotting to take back control from European producers". QuartzAfrica.
  30. Jake Bright (June 24, 2015). "Meet 'Nollywood': The second largest movie industry in the world". Fortune. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  31. Colm McAuliffe (November 6, 2015). "The death of cinema in Congo: how churches killed off cowboy films: As the country is left without a single film theatre, a new documentary explores the end of a once thriving movie culture". The Guardian. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  32. "DR Congo: UNHCR uses cinema to spread awareness of sexual violence". July 30, 2009. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  33. Jean-Sebastien Josset (August 25, 2016). "Congo : ouverture d'une salle de cinéma à la pointe de la technologie: La République du Congo s'offre un cinéma de haut standing de 200 places à Brazzaville" [Congo:Opening of a cutting-edge cinema hall: The Republic of the Congo getting a luxury cinema with 200 seats in Brazzaville] (in French). JeuneAfrique. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  34. "Cinéma : bientôt une salle de projection à Brazzaville" [Cinema: Soon a screen in Brazzaville] (in French). 19 April 2018. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  35. Gonzalez, Ed (October 4, 2002). "Waiting for Happiness". Slant Magazine. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  36. "A Season in France (2017)". Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  37. "Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN - Festival de Cannes 2018". Festival de Cannes 2018. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  38. Cousins, Mark (September 3, 2012). "African Cinema: ten of the best". The Guardian. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  39. Pumzi (2009), retrieved 2018-12-04
  40. Kermeliotis, Teo (30 March 2010). "Wanuri Kahiu "In Kenya, I'm a hustler"". CNN. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  41. "Changamoto Arts Fund". Contemporary And. 2018. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  42. Beti Ellerson, "African through a Woman's Eyes: Safi Faye's Cinema" in Focus on African Cinema(ed) Francoise Pfaff, (Bloomington: Indiana University, 2004), 185
  44. Ibid.
  45. G. Cahill. "THE BATTLE OF THE SACRED TREE". Cleaveland International Film Festival.
  51. Biography, African Film Festival, New York.
  52. Thackway (2003). Africa Shoots Back. ISBN 9780852555774. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  53. "Ali Abdel-Khalek". IMDb.
  54. "Radwan El-Kashef". IMDb.
  55. "Ehab Mamdouh". IMDb.
  56. "Salem Mekuria", Women Make movies.
  57. Maureen Abotsi, "Nii Kwate Owoo", GhanaNation, 13 September 2013.
  58. Fernando Arenas - Portuguese Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (May 29, 2018). Christopher Larkosh; Mario Perreira; Memory Holloway (eds.). "The Filmography of Guinea-Bissau's Sana Na N'Hada: From the Return of Amílcar Cabral to the Threat of Global Drug Trafficking". Transnational Africa. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  59. Lynsey Chutel (March 30, 2018). "One of Africa's oldest animated films has a timeless message about African life". Quartz Africa.
  60. "Nelson "Nana" Mahomo". South African History Online.
  61. Yael Even Or (August 14, 2017). "The Man Running a Queer Film Festival in a Nation Where Homosexuality Is Illegal". Broadly.
  62. "Film Screening: SEMBENE! The Inspiring Story of the Father of African Cinema with Director Samba Gadjigo". February 7, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  63. Ela Bittencourt (June 27, 2017). "Reactivating the Lost Revolutionary Films of Guinea-Bissau: In her debut feature, artist Filipa César documents the digitization of films made in the African country around the time of its independence". HyperAllergic.
  64. Ben Kenigsberg (June 27, 2017). "Review: 'Spell Reel' Shows a Revolution Filmed, on the Leader's Orders". New York Times.


  • Tomaselli, Keyan G., & Mhando, Martin (eds), Journal of African Cinemas, Bristol : Intellect, 2009 - , ISSN 1754-9221
  • Mahir Şaul and Ralph Austen (eds), Viewing African Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Art Films and the Nollywood Video Revolution, Ohio University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8214-1931-1
  • Roy Armes: Dictionary of African Filmmakers, Indiana University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-253-35116-2
  • Barlet, Olivier (2000). African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze. London; New York: Zed Books. ISBN 978-1856497428.
  • Pfaff, Françoise (2004). Focus on African Films. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253216687.
  • Fernando E. Solanas, Octavio Getino, "Towards a Third Cinema" in: Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods. An Anthology, University of California Press, 1976, pp. 44–64
  • Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994). Black African cinema. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520077478.
  • Africultures: see (French and English)
  • Samuel Lelievre (ed.), "Cinémas africains, une oasis dans le désert?", CinémAction, no. 106, Paris, Télérama/Corlet, 1st trimester 2003
  • Écrans d'Afriques (1992–1998)  French and English  to read on or
  • Halhoul, Khalid (2012-07-03). "Using African Cinema to Shift Cultural Perceptions". Utne Reader. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
  • Lindiwe Dovey (2009). African Film and Literature: Adapting Violence to the Screen. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231147545.
  • Onookome Okome. "Film Policy and the development of the African Cinema" (PDF) via Michigan State University.
  • Oliver Bartlet. "The Five Decades of African Cinemas". Africultures.
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