African Cinema and Revolution: Part I


I attended the Here & Now: African American Art & Film Conference @ NYU, November 16-17, in memory of Ousmane Sembene. It was pretty incredible.

There was a phenomenal panel, Contemporary Filmmakers in Conversation, that featured Clyde Taylor, Jacquie Jones, CCH Pounder, John Akomfrah (Handsworth Songs, 1986), Balufu Bakupa Kanyinda (Juju Factory, 2007), Zola Maseko (The Foreigner, 1997), Thomas Allen Harris (The 12 Disciples of Nelson Mandela, 2005), Moussa Sene Absa (Teranga Blues, 2007), and Mahama Johnson Traore (Njangaan, 1975).

It was the single most affecting discussion of Africa, African representations, politics, and culture that I have ever heard. The kind of self-determination exhibited by these filmmakers is hard won.

The conversation began with a definition of the meaning of revolutionary cinema.

We screened Drum, directed by Zola Maseko (featured in vid above), about the forced removal of blacks from Sophiatown in 1950s Johannesburg. The film stars Taye Diggs (!) as Henry Nxumalo, the slain journalist who exposed the government's intent to relocate residents.
During the discussion, Maseko said that he started making the film a few years before the end of apartheid, and was spurred on by Mandela's election as a time of renaissance and rebirth, similar to the zeitgeist that captured 1950s Sophiatown and gave birth to Drum, the popular black lifestyle magazine for which Nxumalo wrote, and after which the movie was named.

I asked him why he didn't write the film (he's listed only as the director). He replied that he wrote the first draft of Drum, but Armada Pictures (which contributed $1.5mln, roughly 60 percent of the total cost, to make the film) didn't think his screenplay was Hollywood enough, so they hired another writer to rework it, and he ultimately got the screenwriting credit. (Maseko sued through the WGA and lost the case.)

(Read "African Cinema and Revolution: Part II")

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