Development vs. Underdevelopment: The Movies as Faithful Mirrors of the African Continent

Development vs. Underdevelopment: The Movies as Faithful Mirrors of the African Continent

Andrew Ali Ibbi (University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9821-3.ch009
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In recent times, the continent of Africa has been the darling of tourists all over the world. From various historical perspectives about the continent, curious people find the continent irresistible. However, a series of activities in the film industry both foreign and indigenous have suggested that the continent does not get a fair representation on the screens. How can film, a medium that has brought a lot of development to some countries of the world, not replicate the same in Africa? This chapter looked at the realities on the ground as far as representation of the continent is concerned, and discussed ways that could change the narrative for the better. It is a qualitative research that critically looked at the movie industries in Africa as well as other parts of the world.
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Africa, the ancestral home of the black race has suffered depletion in terms of human and material resources. With several nations existing within the continent, the advent of both the trans-Saharan as well as the trans-Atlantic slave trades took millions of Africans out of their ancestral homes to distant lands which led to loss of culture and identity. The only way to educate people about the continent is through the mass media. Using the mass media for this purpose will help in the changing the negative perception of people around the world regarding the continent and its people.

According to Denis Mcquail (2010) the mass media is like a mirror that reflects society. To be more specific, McQuail further qualified the mass media as a faithful mirror. If we agree that the media is a faithful mirror of the society, then we must also agree that whatever comes from it is the exact reflection of what is happening around us. Hence, what we see in the media will certainly influence our understanding of what is happening around us. According to Njogu and Middleton (2009), as a whole, or in specific artifacts and genres, the media have varied social, economic and political effects that can promote democracy, development, nation building and inclusion as much as they can sustain authoritarianism, exploitation, conflict and exclusion. This position suggests that the media is so powerful that it can be used to promote unity as well as create division among the people. In Africa for instance, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 is an example of how messages from a radio station were used to spread hate messages which led to a war of ethnic cleansing that left millions of people dead.

As a result of its dual advantages of projecting both audio and visuals, film has been used for a long time to shape audiences’ perception of reality/things. According to Barsam and Monahan (2013) the movies we see shape the way we view the world around us and our place in that world. Scholars like Berg (2002) have explained that stereotypes perpetrated by film become more dangerous than that held by an individual because they have the tendencies of going to distant places.

According to Entman & Rojecki (2000), although television as a whole and even local news also carries many messages that affirm the social value and racial equality of African Americans, crime reporting fashions a hierarchical racial divide that stereotypes black people and associates them with the wrong, dangerous side of the cultural continuum. Even before the advent of television news, Hollywood over the years has not given Africa a fair representation. Stereotypes in films have been in existence since the beginning of cinema and several scholars have conducted extensive research on how film is used to perpetrate stereotype. Donald Bogle recognized five African American movie stereotypes, which he used to title his study: toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks. Similarly, Berg (2002) was able to identify six latino stereotypes in films which he arranged in three sets of male-female pairs: el bandido and the harlot, the male buffoon and the female clown, the Latin lover and the dark lady. There abound other stereotypes related to Chinese, Japanese, Russians and other races in Hollywood movies. Kersey and Ochoa (2011) summarise the stereotyping of blacks in Hollywood films thus:

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