Cinema is an art with the power to both reflect and shape a culture. Like other continents, Africa has been the backdrop as well as the source for powerful stories told through film. As the years have gone by, Africa’s social and political issues have been brought to light in insightful and courageous ways. Listed below are five of the most noteworthy.
1.) “Zulu”: This 1964 historical epic featuring a young Michael Caine was shot in South Africa under apartheid. While rife with historical inaccuracies, the film is a powerful depiction of The Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu War. Utilizing actual members of the Zulu tribe as extras and consultants, the government banned screenings for black South Africans to avoid riots from ensuing.
2.) “Cry Freedom”: While initially planned to be filmed on location in South Africa, this 1987 film’s production was located in Zimbabwe. Based on a true story of white journalist Donald Woods investigating the death of South African Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko. As the death had occurred in 1972, the story was politically damning for South African political leaders at the time.
3.) “Nowhere in Africa”: While films involving Africa frequently illustrate people in a strange land being forced to adjust to new surroundings, this one does so from a unique angle. Set shortly before World War II, “Nowhere in Africa” follows a Jewish family’s emigration from Germany to Kenya to avoid persecution by the Nazi Party. The family’s difficulties and triumphs of adjusting to African life become strained at the outbreak of war in Kenya. The film was a critical success and won several awards including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002.
4.) “Lumumba”: This 2000 film carries the weightiest political implications of any of the films on this list. It follows Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the months surrounding his country’s independence from the Belgian regime. While looked upon unfavorably by some members of the international community upon his death at the hands of a firing squad, the story unearths new evidence, portraying the fallen revolutionary from a different angle. The governments of both Belgium and the United States are portrayed as being responsible for his death. Only two years later, the Belgium government issued an apology for the 1961 execution.
5.) “District 9”: This is the most recent film on the list, and the only one directed by a native of South Africa. Simultaneously an impressive feature-length debut by a young director and incredible achievement of low-budget filmmaking, the story is a powerful allegory hidden beneath stylish action sequences and expressive performances. After arriving in Johannesburg, South Africa, a weakened community of extraterrestrials are confined to an internment camp outside the city. When they are to be relocated, a government official comes to understand and empathize with the aliens. Without giving away too much of the story, it is a moving portrait of the pain caused by xenophobia and segregation. Director Neill Blomkamp makes a case for himself as a major talent while reminding the world of the sting of apartheid.
About the Author
Pearce Corbin is an interior designer in-the-making and a freelance writer for MyProjectorLamps.Com. He’s a lover of vintage furniture and has a special affinity for spooky couches. In this guest post he discusses his top African films of all time