AFRican Cinema and Revolution By Iquo B. Essien, The AFRican Blogger
Published on Mon, Nov 19 2007 by Iquo Essien
(Seated, L to R, are Zola Maseko, Manthia Diawara, John Akomfrah, and CCH Pounder)
I've been MIA for awhile, off getting inspired so that I can come back with a lot to say. This past weekend's Here & Now Art & Film Conference, in memory of Ousmane Sembene, provided much food for thought.
The panel I attended yesterday, "Contemporary Filmmakers in Conversation," featured Clyde Taylor, Jaquie 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).
I wish you could have all been there. It was the single most affecting discussion of AFRica, of representations of AFRicans, of politics and culture, that I have ever participated in. I can only say that the kind of self-determination exhibited by these filmmakers is hard won.
The conversation started with a discussion about the meaning of revolutionary cinema. (Can you imagine?!? If that's where the talk started, you can only imagine where it ended.)
Zola Maseko talks about revolution in AFRican cinema.
We screened Maseko's Drum about the forced removal of residents from Sophiatown in 1950s Johannesburg.
It's a dramatic reenactment starring Taye Diggs as Henry Nxumalo, the journalist who exposed the government's intent to relocate its black residents, which ultimately cost him his life.
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 kind of energy that captivated 1950s Sophiatown, and spurred Drum to capture urban Black life for the first time.
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.)