African Film and Literature

African Film and Literature: Adapting Violence to the Screen

Lindiwe Dovey
John Belton General Editor
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 360
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/dove14754
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  • Book Info
    African Film and Literature
    Book Description:

    Analyzing a range of South African and West African films inspired by African and non-African literature, Lindiwe Dovey identifies a specific trend in contemporary African filmmaking-one in which filmmakers are using the embodied audiovisual medium of film to offer a critique of physical and psychological violence. Against a detailed history of the medium's savage introduction and exploitation by colonial powers in two very different African contexts, Dovey examines the complex ways in which African filmmakers are preserving, mediating, and critiquing their own cultures while seeking a united vision of the future. More than merely representing socio-cultural realities in Africa, these films engage with issues of colonialism and postcolonialism, "updating" both the history and the literature they adapt to address contemporary audiences in Africa and elsewhere. Through this deliberate and radical re-historicization of texts and realities, Dovey argues that African filmmakers have developed a method of filmmaking that is altogether distinct from European and American forms of adaptation.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51938-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Film Stills
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction: “African Cinema”: Problems and Possibilities
    (pp. 1-33)

    There are no artificial lights to dim. Late-afternoon sun streams into the large, cinder-block theater, making visible a magical gauze of red dust as more and more bodies enter, sweating, from the Sahelian heat outside. The rows of hard-backed chairs have completely filled up, so people do what feels most natural—they begin sitting down on the cool stone slabs, the steps between the rows, until the room is so packed it would be impossible to get out without a frantic bottleneck. You can hear the police officials shouting commands at people outside of the room, people who are still...

  8. 1 Cinema and Violence in South Africa
    (pp. 34-62)

    In 1916 a film calledDe Voortrekkerswas made by one of the first South African film production companies, African Film Production (AFP). The film tells the story of the Great Trek and ends with a historical reconstruction of the 1838 Battle of Blood River, in which about 3,000 Zulus, led by their chief Dingaan, were massacred by 464 Boers. The South African film historian Thelma Gutsche relates what happened when the imported American film producer, Harold Shaw, and the screenwriter, the Afrikaner Gustav Preller, attempted to direct the battle, having ordered all the props that they felt would ensure...

  9. 2 Fools and Victims: Adapting Rationalized Rape into Feminist Film
    (pp. 63-89)

    Ramadan Suleman and Bhekizizwe Peterson’s filmFools(1997), an adaptation of the novella by Njabulo Ndebele (1983), was the first feature film to be made post-1994 by a black screenwriter and director. It was made primarily with a multiracial South African audience in mind, and was supported by the South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. It is a coproduction¹ that has achieved moderate commercial success in France,² has been distributed also in Belgium and Germany, and has won the Silver Leopard Award for Direction at the 50th International Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. Occupying a unique place...

  10. 3 Redeeming Features: Screening HIV/AIDS, Screening Out Rape in Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi
    (pp. 90-118)

    On an April afternoon in 2006, in the city of Pretoria, a woman called Olga Botha left her car with its engine still running as she opened the gate to her driveway. A moment later, she turned around to see that her car had been hijacked. Inside it was her baby. Botha’s mobile phone was also in the car. When police called her number, a man answered and said that he had been expecting the call. He said that he did not want the baby, and agreed to drop it off at a school for the police to collect. He...

  11. 4 From Black and White to “Coloured”: Racial Identity in 1950s and 1990s South Africa in Two Versions of A Walk in the Night
    (pp. 119-144)

    WhereasFoolsandTsotsiraise questions about gender violence (or the lack of representation of it) in contemporary South Africa,A Walk in the NightandCry, the Beloved Countryexamine the continuation of racially motivated violence in the “new” nation. At the core of the literary texts ofFoolsandTsotsiwe find a scene of black-on-black sexual violence while at the heart ofA Walk in the Night and Cry, the Beloved Country—both the novels and film adaptations—is the murder of a white man by a Coloured or black man. How the respective directors ofA...

  12. 5 Audio-visualizing “invisible” Violence: Remaking and Reinventing Cry, the Beloved Country
    (pp. 145-176)

    In 1995 a new film adaptation of Alan Paton’s novelCry, the Beloved Country(1948) appeared, with advertisements hailing it as “the first major film to be made in the newly democratic South Africa” (Beittel 2003:70). Anant Singh had bought the film rights when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 (Beittel, 71), no doubt anticipating the collapse of apartheid, but he waited for apartheid to officially end in 1994 before making the film, with Darrell James Roodt as the director. The film is the second adaptation of the novel, and so can also be considered a remake of...

  13. 6 Cinema and Violence in Francophone West Africa
    (pp. 177-204)

    After a hurried croissant and a café crème, I make my way down the industrial rue Ferrus and take the escalator up to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is midsummer but Paris is cold. I take a lift up to the floor on which the Cinémathèque Afrique is housed. Waiting for me in the chilly viewing room beside the Steenbeck flatbed viewing suite are a number of film reels—solitary copies of some of the earliest films made by Africans. As I string up the celluloid into the gates of the Steenbeck to settle in for a day...

  14. 7 Losing the Plot, Restoring the Lost Chapter: Aristotle in Cameroon
    (pp. 205-217)

    Cameroonian director Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s second feature film,Aristotle’s Plot(1997), opens with Bekolo relating in voice-over that he has been commissioned by the British Film Institute (BFI) to make a film for its “Century of Cinema” series. Asked by his grandfather who else will contribute to the series, Bekolo mentions names such as Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Luc Godard, highlighting the irony surrounding this request for an African filmmaker to make a film celebrating cinema’s centenary, when Africans began making their films sixty years after Europeans and Americans. Bekolo chooses to begin his parodic account of the history of film twenty-three...

  15. 8 African Incar(me)nation: Joseph Gaï Ramaka’s Karmen Geï (2001)
    (pp. 218-251)

    Carmenhas achieved mythical as well as canonical status through the countless literary, musical, theatrical, and cinematic adaptations of Prosper Mérimée’s novella (1845–1847) and Georges Bizet’s opera (1875). Each of the adaptations inevitably offers an interpretation ofCarmen, and, in addition to these performative interpretations, there is a large body of critical work that offers responses to the novella and/or the opera through various disciplinary discourses. It is therefore almost impossible to approach the original without preconceptions, andCarmenhas been, in this sense, subject to the process that André Lefevere calls refraction, that is to say, a canonical...

  16. 9 Humanizing the Old Testament’s Origins, Historicizing Genocide’s Origins: Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s La Genèse (1999)
    (pp. 252-274)

    La Genèse(1999) is the first African film adaptation of the Old Testament.¹ It was made by a Malian filmmaker who is a Muslim, for viewers in a country that is 90 percent Muslim and 1 percent Christian, although laic by policy (Imperato 1989:87). However, it was also intended to reach an international audience. Sissoko thus speaks of his choice of the Book of Genesis as representing the shared story of origins of all three monotheistic religions, which share the same prophets. He says, “The Bible—it is also the Qur’an and the Torah [the first five books of the...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 275-278)

    “Fear Stalks Darfur Camps as Violence Begins to Take Hold.” “Tribal Violence Spirals in Kenya.” “Thousands Flee Fighting in Chad.” “DR Congo: Voices of Violence.” “Mogadishu Emptied by Fighting.” “Children Terrified by South African Xenophobia.” These were the news headlines circulating in Europe in early 2008. One cannot deny the existence of violence in Africa, but the crystallization of violence into neatly packaged, easily digested news-bites engages in precisely the kind of repetition and reproduction for which Adorno condemns the mass-culture industry. These kinds of headlines have become so predictable in relation to African countries that they could even be...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 279-288)
  19. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 289-298)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 299-324)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 325-334)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-336)