A Brief History of African Film

Film Reel Pair
During the Golden Age of Hollywood when some of the greatest masterpieces in motion picture history were being produced, African filmmakers were not allowed to make films. The period which lasted from the end of the silent era in the late 1920's to the late 1950's did not see a single film produced by an African director. In fact, all of the early films that were composed by African filmmakers were not filmed in Africa. It was not until the 1960's and 70's that African directors broke free from their chains' and began to produce works of their own.

 
The reason that African filmmakers were denied the right to produce their own films in the early days was because many African countries were suffering under colonialism. European countries like France and Europe strictly prohibited Africans from producing their own films for fear that they would communicate to the world the horrible oppression they were suffering under colonialism.
 
As we mentioned, it was not until these countries achieved independence that their writers and artists could finally speak out. Before their independence, during the colonial era, most films about Africa were produced by Western filmmakers. These directors, most of whom had never visited Africa, often depicted Africa as an untamed land inhabited by wild beasts and savages. That is one of the reasons why Africa came to be known as the Dark Continent. And even though they knew next to nothing about Africa, it didn't stop them from perpetuating endless myths and stereotypes about the land. Some of the most popular early films about Africa include: The African Queen, Tarzan, and King Solomon's Mines. 
 
Most African writers and directors were appalled by these early images and stereotypes that were being produced by non-Africans about Africa. This would serve as motivation for the first generation of artists who would achieve success after independence. Though few anti-colonial films were produced before independence and absolutely none were produced by African filmmakers in Africa. 
 
But when colonialism came to an end, all of that changed. The first African motion picture to gain international acclaim was La Noire de (Black Girl). It was written and directed by Sembene, who hailed from Senegal and is still considered the father of African Cinema. Due in large part to his success, Senegal would be designated the unofficial capital of African film-making for decades.
 
Then in 1969, the African film festival (FESPACO) was established and gave a new forum to many talented African writers and directors. That same year the Federation of African Filmmakers came into being and created production and distribution networks that allowed African film to reach the masses.
 
Many of these early films dealt with subjects like colonialism and were therefore highly controversial. In fact, a number of them were banned for decades in former colonial powers like France. Nowadays many African films focus on the power and influence of tradition in African life. It is not uncommon for an African film to deal with the role of women in traditional African communities. But whatever the subject, it is a relief to know that films about Africa are finally being made by Africans.
 

The African Side Blog focuses on African discussions, including African films about Africa that explore Africa from an African's perspective.