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Lights…Camera…Africa: Images of Africa and Africans in Western Popular Films of the 1930s

  • Kevin Dunn
Extract

The steady beating of the war-drums grows stronger. An exotically painted black face peers out behind a bush. The African porters drop their packs and cower in fear, but the tall, courageous white hunter forces them on. Suddenly a spear flies out of the bush and hits a porter in the chest. The rest of the porters, screaming, disperse into the jungle, only to be cut down by the savages. With his trusty gun, the white man fends off the brutes and retreats to a nearby cliff. As the tension mounts, the audience sits spellbound.

Such images became the staple for “jungle” movies in the early part of this century. During the Depression era, the economic importance of the West's African colonies greatly increased. What these celluloid images suggest is that, consciously or not, the filmmakers were acting as cultural colonialists by reinforcing and legitimizing Western political practices in Africa. These images contributed to the viewing audiences' misperception of Africa and Africans and helped to perpetuate and strengthen racist and colonialist modes of thinking.

For this study, I have chosen nine films from the United States and Great Britain that can be considered “popular” films based on their box office success and wide distribution: Trader Horn (1931), Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Sanders of the River (1935), Tarzan and his Mate (1934), King Solomon's Mines (1937), Tarzan Escapes (1936), Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939), Four Feathers (1939) and Stanley and Livingstone (1939).

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References
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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
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