I recently went to a double feature at the movie theater on a perfectly sunny weekend day. Picture it, I have Brooklyn at my disposal, what would it take to draw me into the ice cold of a midday double feature? For me, as I scrolled past the notice from BAM on my phone, it was the image of two black people astride a motorcycle with horns. The text identified the film as Touki Bouki (1973). I had never heard of it. It was a restored film by the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty, that was a CLASSIC, according to people in the know (Martin Scorsese)and it was paired with Breathless, a Jean Godard film that I had heard of countless times but had never watched.
Hours later, I left the theater with a profound sense of the transcendental nature of art. Just kidding. I did however, wonder why I hadn’t seen this film before. It was so cool and weird and visually stirring. Really, I questioned why I had not heard of this film before. I’m an African born and raised in America. I have a decent amount of interest in global popular culture. I grew up in New York City, an established global hub of art and culture. And yet, African movies and film were not on my radar until I was exposed to the more well regarded of them in college.
Part of this is my fault. As a kid I had a mild and largely baseless disinterest in African movies and film because the only African features that were filtered to me were Nollywood movies. They were abundant and awful, seen in all their grainy videotape glory in my family’s homes, hair braiding shops and West African restaurants. But honestly, what did my kid brain truly understand about production value? To a kid raised in America, fed on a constant diet of slickly produced and astronomically budgeted flicks, these movies seemed rushed and poor attempts to mimic western styles of presenting a story. They looked, well, low budget. Yes, some were funny and delightful, but my snobby kid brain was looking for gravitas, and so I wasn’t checking for African film and largely missed the aggressive development and flourishing of African movies and film that has occurred in the last twenty years. The accessibility, demand for and audience for African content has grown. Have you noticed this too? This is a mostly anecdotal and unscientific observation, based on my own experience and increased exposure to these stories, but it definitely feels like a huge shift is happening.
So, Africa is cool now.(Rejoice!) Okay, sure, Africa, the massive, complex and beguiling (for some) continent has arguably been a large part of the global imagination before, but those representations were mostly created by non Africans and those stories were a woeful combination of racism, essentialism, fetishism and misguided good intentions. Africa’s stories are now being told by Africans or people with roots in the continent. Films, movies, television, art and books about Africans, either in Africa or abroad proliferate. I’m glad and frankly giddy at the offerings and can’t wait for more. I simply know that the world is grand and that there are more stories out there than the narrow range offered previously. If you’re like me and late to the game, the compilation of sources below is for you. Happy viewing!
I found the following list to be a good primer on African film:
For Bustle’s list from 2018 of movies made by African directors available on the major streaming services, Click Here.
Here is a non exhaustive and buildable list of the platforms that offer access to Africanism in film, movies and (in a whisper), television.
Netflix ( are we sharing passwords?)