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The Archeology of Origin: Transnational Visions of Africa in a Borderless Cinema

  • Sheila Petty

In an interview in Sight and Sound John Akomfrah remarks that “there is the myth of African Cinema and there is the reality of it. The myth is that it is largely made by people who live and work in Africa—but my sense is that the thing is much more fluid than that.… African Cinema is a film world in search of both a constituency and a community, and it realises tfiat it is potentially a borderless cinema” (Givanni 1995: 39). Akomfrah's statement underscores the existence of slippage between transnational and continental articulations of Africa, opening the debate around the nature of the relationship between Africa as origin and African diasporic identities.

Visions of Africa created by filmmakers on the shores of the Black Atlantic undeniably challenge monolithic constructions of origin and authenticity. This paper examines the nature of this challenge through an investigation of the aesthetic and ideological projects of three films: Soleil O (Med Hondo, Mauritania/France, 1970); Testament (John Akomfrah, Ghana/UK, 1988) and Ye Wonz Maibel/Deluge (Salem Mekuria, Ethiopia, 1997). Ultimately, the paper demonstrates that although each film possesses a divergent connection to Africa, all three probe the slippage between personal and national histories as a restorative force in redefining contexts of origin and identity.


Dans un entretien accordé à Sight and Sound, John Akomfrah remarque qu' “il y a le mythe du Cinéma Africain et il y a sa réalité. Le mythe, c'est que ce cinéma est pour la plupart réalisé par des personnes qui vivent et travaillent en Afrique—mais mon impression est que tout ceci est bien plus fluide que cela.… Le Cinéma Africain est un univers du film à la recherche à la fois d'un territoire d'élection et d'une communauté, et il se rend compte qu'il est potentiellement un cinéma sans frontières” (Givanni 1995, 39). Cette déclaration d'Akomfrah souligne l'existence d'un glissement entre les articulations transnationales et continentales de l'Afrique, ouvrant un débat autour de la nature de la relation entre l'Afrique comme origine et les identités africaines diasporiques.

Les visions de l'Afrique créées par les cinéastes sur les rivages de l'adantique noire remettent indiscutablement en question les constructions monolithiques d'origine et d'authenticité. Cet article examine la nature de cette remise en question à travers une étude des projets esthétiques et idéologiques de trois films: Soleil O, (Med Hondo, Mauritanie/France, 1970); Testament, (John Akomfrah, Ghana/Royaume Uni, 1988) et Ye Wonz Maibel/ Deluge, (Salem Mekuria, Éthiopie, 1997). En dernière analyse, cet article démontre que bien que chaque film possède une connexion à l'Afrique qui est divergente, tous trois explorent le glissement entre histoires personnelles et nationales comme force régénératrice, redéfinissant les contextes d'origine et d'identité.

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Brah, Avtar. 1996. Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London: Routledge.
Clifford, James. 1994. “Diasporas.” Cultural Anthropology 9/3 (08): 302–38.
Cottenet-Hage, Madeleine. 1996. “Decolonizing Images: Soleil O and the Cinema of Med Hondo.” In Sherzer, Dina, ed., Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism: Perspectives From the French and Francophone Worlds. Austin: University of Texas Press, 173–87.
Diawara, Manthia. 1992. Black African Cinema: Politics and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Givanni, June. 1995. “Dream Aloud: an Interview with John Akomfrah.” Sight and Sound 5/9 (09): 3739.
Hondo, Abid Med. 1987. “The Cinema of Exile.” In Downing, John D. H., ed., Film and Politics in the Third World. New York: Autonomedia, 6976.
Naficy, Hamid. 1999. “Between Rocks and Hard Places: the Interstitial Mode of Production in Exilic Cinema.” In Naficy, Hamid, ed., Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place. London: Routledge, 125–47.
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Deluge/Ye Wonz Maibel (1997). Mekuria Productions. Director: Salem Mekuria. Producer: Salem Mekuria. Screen Writer: Salem Mekuria. Starring: Saamra Mekuria-Grillo, Akalu Mekuria, Sehin Mekuria, Neburacid Mekuria Abiyehoy, Leelai Negga.
Soleil O (1970). Director: Med Hondo. Producer: Georges Anderson. Screen Writer: Med Hondo. Starring: Robert Liensol, Théo Legitimus, Gabriel Glissand, Mabousso Lo, Bernard Fresson, Gilles Segal, Pierre Santini, Odette Piquet.
Testament (1988). Black Audio Film Collective. Director: John Akomfrah. Producer: Lina Gopaul and Avril Johnson. Screen Writer: John Akomfrah. Starring: Tania Rogers, Evans Hunter, Emma Francis Wilson, Frank Parkes, Errol Shaker, Alex Tetteh-Lartey.
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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
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