African Cinema Essay

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Frantz Fanon is one of the outstanding theorists whose critical work has helped in understanding a wide range of issues ranging from the social identity, racial consciousness, nationalism and, more significantly, the role of violence in the struggle for decolonization. He has, thus, helped a great deal in shaping the post colonial consciousness. To be specific, his works have given more insights into the post colonial terror, the psychology of a racist society and the kind of paralyzing fear that results from being invoked through what he described as the racist epithets. Such theories have since had a great influence on the cinema as well as other fields. For instance, his language and body of works have been the index of power. This has had a great influence on the fields of philosophy, psychiatry, cultural studies and politics among others. As far as the cinema is concerned, Fanon's theories have had a great impact on the current structure of a film production in Africa.

When analyzing colonialism, Fanon explains that the effect of the colonizer's technological paternalism and subsequent frames of a structure of behavior of the colonized ones has maintained the control over a technological use (Frindethie, 2009). In so doing, colonizers have been able to achieve the establishment of an organized domination over their colonies' film industry. They have, thus, greatly controlled and determined the role of a colonial film unit in Africa. During the post colonialism, many African countries did not attempt to integrate their film towards the cultural policy either as an important element of development or while using as an entertainment. However, some countries like Ghana and Nigeria, through their film unit, have embraced the current narrative styles of fiction films and documentaries.

In essence, Frantz Fanon's writing has a deep influence in the shaping of a post colonial consciousness. Through themes of the colonial terror, the pathology of the racist sociality and the paralyzing fear of being invoked through racist epithets, he has provided the psychological theories which are more influential in the production of African cinema films. It is, in this regard, that the article discusses how the African film making directly or indirectly engages with Fanon's theories or thinking aesthetically.

While examining how the African film making engages either directly or indirectly with Fanon's theories, it is good to note that his theory has become the foundation of the Third Cinema right during the 1960s. Its characteristics and formations were reflected in the films being made during the post colonial times (Frindethie, 2009). Towards this, this article will utilize the film La Vie Est Belle by Ngangura Mwenze and Beniot Lamy in offering a comparative film analysis between Fanon's theories and the African film making. My choice of the film is based on the definition of the Third Cinema that establishes it as a post colonial ongoing phenomenon in the application of themes, politics and aesthetics rather than as being a mere historical epoch.

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The Third Cinema and Fanon's Theories

During the anti-colonial period, there were some revolutionary struggles in the Third World due to the rising political movements that were against the economic dominance of the Western Countries. As a result, the Third Cinema in Africa has emerged as an artistic reflection and ideology that actively formed the part of political movements. The need to develop a new kind of cinema being appropriate enough to critique neo-colonialism, cultural imperialism and Western capitalist strategies was then necessary (Frindethie, 2009). As to Ngangura Mwenze and Beniot Lamy, their Third Cinema La Vie Est Belle was to create a social and political consciousness of those inequalities among the audiences. It, thus, motivated people that were watching, especially the Africans, to take some accurate actions aimed at freeing themselves from the domination of colonial masters.

The post-colonial feminist theory, in the perspective of the African cinema, as developed by Fanon, tends to critique the dominance of a male domain during the colonial times. In Zaire's based film, La Vie Est Bele, Ngangura Mwenze and Beniot Lamy develop a story of Kourou, a poor rural musician, who realizes that in order to succeed in the today's music world, he must venture into the city and break into radio and television. However, on reaching Kinshasa, the capital city of Zaire, which is a center of the "world music", he falls in love with Kabibi, a young woman, which Nvouandou, a club owner, also wishes to marry (Frindethie, 2009).

It is noted that postcolonial theories have been only formulated to critique social histories, cultural differences, and, more significantly, a political discrimination being actively practiced by colonial and imperial machineries. According to Frindethie (2009), it only through understanding the extent of what the history has determined that we can configure the power structures of the present. It is on the realm of this recognition that the African film making seems to be based. In the confrontation of African filmmakers with western, post-, and neo-colonialism, female characters have been used as a concomitant spread of westernization, an indication of conflict between the African and European culture. In La Vie Est Belle, Ngangura Mwenze and Benoit Lamy display Kabibi, a virginal young woman, whose sexual responsibility and gender inequalities display the cinematic tradition of uncovering the gender inequity and social injustices against African women (Frindethie, 2009).

Ngangura Mwenze and Benoit Lamy believe that if the sexual responsibility is diligently practiced, then it would result into the resurrection of the social order. To them, it is this kind of order that will help in the restoration of sexual harmony. Their ideology is similar to that of Fanon who believes that the restoration of sexual normalcy is an essential component in unraveling all other forms of societal insufficiencies. In the book, The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon denotes that an effective understanding of alienating effects of colonialism can only be achieved through the study of psychological disorders (Fanon, 2007). As a result, he has linked the individual's manifestation of a psychological disorder with the social processes of oppression.

It is in the same regard that Ngangura Mwenze and Benoit Lamy directly have based the formation of their film in bringing out the social inequalities. This has been reflected in the movie which seems to have been composed in order to advocate for the creation of the national culture that would enhance a revolutionary struggle in freeing oneself from the effect of colonialism. Thus, in the making of the African film, especially La Vie Est Belle, there is the degeneration of cultural mores. This has resulted into the loss of the sexual formation. In essence, it means that if the societal social standings have deteriorated, it is because the people within the society are fundamentally imperfect. The imperfection is simply because both men and women have indulged into a new sexual position.

In the film, La Vie Est Belle, Kourou, a character played by Papa Wemba, a traditional successful musician with the faithful rural audience, dreams of becoming a national radio star (Frindethie, 2009). Kourou then decides to travel into the big city, Kinshasa, where he secures himself a domestic job at home of Nvuandu, a successful music producer. Even though, Nvuandu is financially successful, he is sexually deficient meaning he is impotent. As a result, he consults a local healer, Nganga, who then advices him to marry a second wife, Kabibi. With her he would have no sexual intercourse for their first thirty days after the marriage (Frindethie, 2009). However, on a revenge mission, Nvuandu's first wife, Mamu, encourages Kourou's affairs with Kabibi and more significantly goes ahead to have love affairs with Kourou's cousin, Mongali. The plot of the film is, therefore, revolving around Nvuandu's laughable scenery in trying to manage his life of polygamy especially in taking the control over his wives being actively making a fool of him.

It is evident from the film that, for the society to manage to extricate itself from the colonial domination, it has to identify a new set of problems. This similar concern is adopted by Frantz Fanon, a revolutionary thinker and psychiatrist, whose writings have, to a greater level, influenced on the anti-colonial and postcolonial movements on some issues related to race and domination. This raises two themes: psychopathological conditions of colonized people and the problem of alienation, which is extensively depicted in the film, La Vie Est Belle.


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In his book, Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon explains the pathology that forms the foundation of a man of color and that has since led to the collective unconsciousness within the colonial society. According to him, this collective unconsciousness refers to the "sum of prejudices, myths, and collective attitudes of a given group." He argues that all these have been repressed but has later emerged into the consciousness in a different format (Silverman, 2009). Normally, to the racist white the Negros were the symbols of negativity of which a black man had been associated with the bad side of the character. More significantly, the black man symbolizes an archetype of the lowest values. This was not different in the display of the character, Kourou, in the film La Vie Est Belle.

Fanon has argued that by incorporating such demeaning notion towards black people, it has entered into their conscience. It had been suppressed by the realm of subconscious, thereby, emerging as a collective catharsis or release (Silverman, 2007). This is based on the fact that tapping racial images of black people enabled the Negros to start developing the psychopathological tendency through assimilation. In the film, La Vie Est Belle, there is a visible line that is drawn between Kourou that had arrived in the city barefooted without any money in his pocket, his employer, and a wife of the employer. The fact that Kourou comes from a low social class is a representation of an archetype of the lowest value. This is especially portrayed by the fact that he is employed as a domestic servant who washes plates. Serving others instill in him subconscious.

Kourou's subconscious is displayed when he develops a psychopathological tendency in indulging into the social class after finding a substantial amount of money from Nvuandu's suit during laundering. In this scenery, Ngangura Mwenze and Benoit Lamy try to make a viewer or audience understand the economic necessity as being the underlying term and strategy which the poor ones rely on to overcome it. Kourou seized the opportunity that was presented to him in order to survive and eventually succeed. Before, Kourou with some amount in his employer's suit jacket, the film never displayed him as either eating or drinking. But after the discovery of the money, he borrowed the suit and went to the bar in order to display his new wealth and, more significantly, treated all the ladies whom he found at the bar nicely.

In essence, the new suit and a girl Kourou had on his shoulder signified his change of a social status. However, he was only able to experience such a change because of the assimilation he had with his employer, a notion which Fanon concurred with. He observes that, "across the zebra striping of my mind surges this desire to be suddenly white. I wish to be acknowledged not as black but as white for the black man cannot take pleasure in his insularity," (Silverman, 2009). It is from such perspectives that the African film making tries to incorporate Fanon's thinking of aesthetics in defining the culture identity that forms a sort of the collective one true self hiding within more superficial which imposed them (Nvuandu and his wife). It is this identity that La Vie Est Belle must discover and bring to light through expressing the same through a cinematic representation.

Since the concept of the cultural identity has played a significant role towards post-colonial struggles which have, in turn, profoundly reshaped the world, what Fanon's observation illustrates is the extent of which the new forms of the visual and cinematic representation would be influenced. This points the fact that the African filmmaking should not be based on rediscovery, but rather the production of identity that is grounded on re-telling of the past. In this regard, Ngangura Mwenze and Benoit Lamy have produced their film based on a three-phase stage of Fanon's narrative on the cultural identity through filmmaking.

In the first stage, where Fanon refers to the "period of unqualified assimilation", the colonized people seem to be completely assimilated into the culture of their colonizer. For instance, once Kourou was employed and have found some amount from his employer's suit, he indulged in the culture of drinking and prostitution which he assimilated from his employer. In addition, traditionally, Kourou did not believe in sorcery, but when he got employed by Nvuandu, who actively was consulting Nganga, a sorcerer, his happiness was ultimately dependent on Nganga's powers. It is, in this regard, that in the early stage of making African films saw its production being based on a Hollywood-style which exhibits the fascination with a landscape and stereotyped perceptions of people.

For instance, at the opening sequence of La Vie Est Belle film, the camera denotes the presence of Kabibi. She is referred to by Kourou (Frindethie, 2009). Throughout the film, Kabibi being first displayed as wearing a school uniform is shown as performing low class activities such as pounding millet while sitting in a low stool. Consequently, in the scene where Kabibi is displayed carrying a basket on her head while passing through a wrought fence, her image is portrayed as being gazed upon. Moreover, there is the incorporation of the western rendition in the African film especially where Kabibi's face is depicted as having spotted paint while hanging tresses on her shoulder. This is an image that denotes a westernized African woman that still believes in traditions. It is essential to point out that what marks out such images is based on the employment of western codes of femininity by African film makers. In so doing, these directors have been able to construct a traditional African woman within the context of the western film culture.

In the second stage, referred to as s remembrance phase, Fanon points out that film making industries have often indigenized and controlled talents in the production, exhibition, and distribution of African films. In so doing, it has created the movement for a social institution towards the film making. In the African film, a predominance filmic theme has either been a clash between the traditional and modern values or rural life versus urban life. In a long run, this phase has established an act of reunion or a return to the societal conformity. In the case of the La Vie Est Belle, Nganga traditionally restored Kabibi and film lovers at the end of the film.

According to Fanon (2007), cultural values are usually internalized into the individual's consciousness of which creates a fundamental disconnect between the black man's consciousness and body. Based on this, the black man's consciousness is normally alienated from him and, therefore, requires a certain psychological formation. It is in this regard that the African cinema especially La Vie Est Belle has continuously focused on the social and political themes but not for any commercial interests. The plot and features of this particular African film tries to explore the conflicts related to the traditional past and modern times. This kind of an economic, cultural, and social approach is clearly evident in the African film making La Vie Est Belle which the directors have adopted.

For instance, the film begins by recalling the neocolonial conditions of Kourou especially the condition for which he had lived dominated by different levels of economics and cultural standings. In Kinshasa, Kourou is employed by the family that controls the city economy. Nvuandu comes from a prosperous class whose business is selling alcohol and an essential lubricant that enhances social activities in the city (Frindethie, 2009). Mamu, Nvuandu's wife, on the other hand, is a thriving businesswoman who sales clothes dressing women in the city. However, their economic situations contrast that of Kourou. In so doing, filmmakers, while incorporating the comedy in the film, wanted the viewers to recognize the societal discrepancies that the film had wished to display. It is, therefore, clear that that the film was for a social reconstruction rather than commercialization.

However, while African films are being produced with a view of enhancing the individual's consciousness, films such as La Vie Est Belle has not incorporated the qualities that are associated with successful Hollywood films. Fanon's psychological theories, as adopted by Ngangura Mwenze and Benoit Lamy, do not effectively aim to provide the entertainment to their audience. They instead encourage the audience's escapist fantasies for a financial rewarding. By this, filmmakers are looking at the past culture with a view of using it to critique the opposition to the modern distortion as this had been established by colonizers (Nvuandu and Mamu). They only idealize the history rather than work towards enhancing more cultural expressions.

Fanon in defining the third stage brings out a combative sense of the African filmmaking where people tend to influence on the organization of a given film industry, themes and styles produced. It is this ideological impact of the African cinema and style that forestall this kind of ideology in a character. In doing so, the film seems to create a genre foregoing the realism in understanding the cultural expression. But this is different in La Vie Est Belle film as the culture of the economic potential is well expressed in the character of Nvuandu. He uses wealth and a social class in positioning himself. Throughout the film, one is instilled with the feeling of almost being outside the period for which it has been produced. Both the past and present have been juxtaposed, thereby demonstrating that the social identity can best be understood in a historical continuum. In essence, it the past experiences illustrated by Fanon that have continuously shaped the perception of filmmakers and actors.


Based on the production of La Ve Est Belle, the film by Ngangura Mwenze and Benoit Lamy, it is clear that African filmmakers have incorporated Frantz Fanon's theories and aesthetics in their production of films. Reading the film in conjunction with Fanon's study, there is the relationship between economic necessities and strategies which the poor people rely on to address their social status. It, therefore, sets out the president that should be emulated by African filmmakers to enable them to produce films that amount to a financial benefit. At the same time, they address social inequalities in the society.



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