Ode to an Independent and Popular African Cinema

Although I am not an expert in African cinema, I follow with great interest, the films screened in movie theatres in France, and more specifically in and around Paris. Joseph Gaye Ramaka’s Carmen, Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s Viva Riva, Dany Kouyaté’s Sia Yatabaré, or his le rêve de Python and Bamako and Timbuktu, 2 incredible adventures written by Abderahmane Sissako. These story-lines are often well constructed, with good visuals and sound.

Cinema and literature are similar, in that they are cultural tools that can serve to deconstruct or reinforce a certain image of Africa and of Africans. Without going into technical, philosophical or aesthetical details, I have come to the conclusion that these "African movies", often financed by European funds, do not target the African audience (with the exception of Sissako's Timbuktu). For the best part, they serve only to promote a neo-colonial discourse or propagate false African stereotypes, which only serve to reassure the public who pays to watch them.

I know that my opinion is quite extreme. However, I am not the first person to think like this.  Boubacar Boris Diop, the acclaimed Senegalese essayist and novelist talks about it in his first short story, La petite vieille  of his collection La nuit de l’Imoko published by Mémoires d’encrier. In this piece, the rebellious and marginalized African intellectual expressed his views on this biased film-making industry that is controlled by other forces. His revolutionary opinions were harshly repressed. Boubacar Boris Diop's mainly denounces the France-Africa system that is calling all the shots.


The Nollywood Week Festival in Paris inspired me to write this article. I think that I have finally understood the difference between a funded movie industry and an independent one. On learning the importance of quality as expressed by a seasoned observer, the actor and producer, Jimmy Jean-Louis, something came to mind. There is something special about the Nigerian movie industry. It is the story of lions beginning to tell their stories to other lions leaving the disillusioned hunter at the edge of the forest. Strangely, this is reflected in the reactions of the audience, mainly of African descent. They can relate to what is been narrated, what is being shown.


Great laughs were inspired by the drama-comedy, set in London, Gone too far by Destiny Ekaragha. Sobbing and sighing could be heard during the movie, Dry by Stephanie Okéréké-Linus, which told of the sad fate of Halima. What can we say about the investigations of Inspector Waziri? Here, we could see from the brilliant, subjective and controversial point of view of Kunle Afolayan, the director of October 1. Kunle Afolayan is a Nigerian that gives us insight into a tragedy borne at the independence of his nation. The end of the story gives the spectator a view of the complexities and the challenges that a multi-cultural nation faces as she is forced to take her destiny in her hands. She has to do this by bearing the scars of the invisible abuse, inflicted on her in unexpected ways by the colonist.


I could talk about other movies that I saw, but my aim is to tell you that I discovered the real essence of an independent movie industry. It’s fascinating; the content is different. It is crucial for Africa to tell her own story. So why am I not surprised that these really good movies aren't in competition at FESPACO in Ouagadougou? Can we really say that Dry or October 1 are not up to standard for the competition?


Let's be honest, I do not know how the judges select the films for these festivals but I think that Boubacar Boris Diop’s reasoning is not far from the truth…this reasoning that one must pay allegiance to the funding party. Therefore, I think that any cohabitation of the latter and the independent Nigerian producers will not make any sense; it would be like finding a worm in your apple …


The strength of an independent movie industry is measured by the freedom of speech given to the creators, script writers and directors. Also, in one way or the other this measurement also applies to the literary world. The fact that certain African authors write for a western audience is a loss and a denial of responsibility. The consumer makes the artist. The consumer is the one who accepts to take a look at the produced work and it is left to him to judge if such an investment is worthwhile. Nollywood has found its true audience by producing movies that relate to them.

The economic power of this industry lies in a very large and loyal clientele and not in a small elite group that only looks down from its pedestal on the endogenous productions. The model is quite unstable as it does not rely on a network of movie theaters. However, this is not the subject of our discussion.


We should feel great pride that Nigerian or Ghanaian directors could be sponsored through independent means, government funding programs or foreign institutions especially western ones. This is therefore an ode to this movie industry, even though it can produce only one good film per year …


Translated by Onyinyechi Ananaba