AFRICA ON FILM by Kenneth M. Cameron


Beyond Black and White
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 An intelligent but severely flawed look at Anglophone films set in Africa from the silent era to the present. Cameron (Our Jo, or the Chronicle of a Coming Man, 1974, etc.) notes that the Africa of American, British, and South African films bears little or no resemblance to the real place. Instead, it is a locus for the projection of mostly 19th-century attitudes toward the continent, often racist and imperialist. In his introductory remarks, the author promises that this book will move beyond the rather mechanistic dismissal of such films as pure-and- simple vehicles of racist ideology. He wants to examine the roles of gender and class in the films and how political and historical realities inflected their racial politics. He traces the influence of authors H. Rider Haggard (Solomon's Mines) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan), showing how filmmakers revamped the more overtly offensive elements of the books. Much of the rest of this volume is occupied with the development of various character archetypes in the films under examination. Cameron is a sardonic, witty writer and has obviously spent incalculable hours looking at films that few have seen since their original release. However, the book offers a narrative-based aesthetic that is ultimately as mechanistic and schematic as the simple-minded ``anti-racism'' that he calls into question. The book has little visual analysis, little recognition of the role of the director in many of the films under discussion. Moreover, his distinction between British and American films begins to break down as international cofinancing becomes the rule for English films. Is Mountains of the Moon, directed by Bob Rafelson, really a British film? Is Cry Freedom!, directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, an American one? An entertaining read, and not without the virtues of humor and smarts, but an ultimately disappointing volume on an underexamined subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8264-0658-0
Page count: 250pp
Publisher: Continuum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994