Sunday, February 27, 2011

African Film Fest Begins - Guess Who's Got Trailers!

A still from the film Restless City, by Andrew Dosunmu.
The prestigious Pan-African film Festival FESPACO (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou) began on the 26th, and I hope to heaven above that I actually get to see some of the movies.

Yes, hope. You'd think it would be fairly easy, but good African films -- as opposed to the ubiquitous Nollywood home videos -- are very difficult to get your hands on. Distribution is rubbish on a lot of these films, so there's an entire list of movies out there that no one ever gets to see. The only reason I've seen L'Homme Qui Crie is because Air France had it in its selection on my flight from DC to Paris. Shame, that.

The good people over at Shadow and Act have a list of the film entries for this year's awards. I'll be looking to them and Bombastic Element for any news and analysis on the events as they happen between now and the 3rd of March.

However, I did manage to find some trailers (sadly, inexplicably, Andrew Dosunmu's Restless City is as yet without one, and I couldn't find anything on Moloch Tropical). I'm particularly psyched about Wanuri Kahiu's short film Pumzi and Hors de Loi. The second Nigerian-directed entry, The Figurine, looks well-acted at least -- I'm wary about anything that has to do with hocus-pocus.

And this is where I casually mention that Restless City has shown at Sundance, Pumzi has shown at Berlin's Film Festival, and Hors de Loi is nominated for a foreign-language Oscar. Awesome!

Anyway, on to the trailers!

Movie poster:
Photo of women: Still from Restless City.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

African Bloggers' Statement on David Kato and Uganda

"We the undersigned wish to express our deep sadness at the murder of Ugandan human rights defender David Kato on 26th January 2011.  David's activism  began in the 1980s as an Anti-Apartheid campaigner where he first expressed a strong passion and conviction for freedom and justice which continued throughout his life.   David was a founding member of Sexual Minorities Uganda where he first served as Board member and until his death as Litigation and Advocacy Officer and he was also a  member of Integrity Uganda, a faith-based advocacy organization.

David was a man of vision and courage. One of his major concerns was the growth of religious fundamentalism in Uganda and across the continent and how this would impact on the rights of ordinary citizens including lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered / Gender Non-Comforming and Intersex  [LGBTIQ] persons.   Years later his concerns were justified when the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill backed by religious fundamentalists was outlined in 2009.  David was also an extremely brave man who had been imprisoned and beaten severely because of his sexual orientation and for speaking publicly against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. 

Many African political and religious leaders in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Gambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana, have publicly maligned LGBTIQ people and in some cases directly incited violence against them whilst labeling sexual minorities as “unAfrican”.  

In October 2010, the Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone published the names and photographs of "100 Top homos" including David Kato.   David along with two other LGBTIQ activists successfully sued the magazine on the grounds of "invasion of privacy" and most importantly,  the  judge ruled that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons.    

The court did not only rule that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons but it issued a permanent injunction against Rolling Stone newspaper never to publish photos of gays in Uganda, and also never to again publish their home addresses.
Justice Kibuuka Musoke ruled that,
"Gays are also entitled to their rights. This court has found that there was infringement of some people’s confidential rights. The court hereby issues an injunction restraining Rolling Stone newspaper from future publishing of identifications of homosexuals."
Every human being is protected under the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights and this includes the rights of LGBTIQ persons.   We ask the governments of Uganda and other African countries to stop criminalizing people on the grounds of sexual orientation  and afford LGBTIQ people the same protections, freedoms and dignity, as other citizens on the continent."
Anengiyefa Alagoa,                           Things I Feel Strongly About
Anthony Hebblethwaite                     African Activist
Barbra Jolie,                                     Me I Think
Ben Amunwa,                                   Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa
Bunmi Oloruntoba,                            A Bombastic Element
Chris Ogunlowo,                               Aloofaa
Eccentric Yoruba,                             Eccentric Yoruba
Exiled Soul                                        ExiledSoul
Francisca Bagulho and Marta Lança  Buala
Funmilayo Akinosi,                            Finding My Path
Funmi Feyide,                                   Nigerian Curiosity
Gay Uganda,                                     Gay Uganda
Glenna Gordon,                                 Scarlett Lion
Godwyns Onwuchekwa,                    My Person
Jeremy Weate,                                   Naija Blog
Kayode Ogundamisi                          Canary Bird
Kadija Patel                                       Thoughtleader
Keguro Macharia,                              Gukira
Kenne Mwikya,                                  Kenne’s Blog
Kinsi Abdullah                                   Kudu Arts
Laura Seay,                                       Texas in Africa
Llanor Alleyne                                   Llanor Alleyne
Mark Jordahl,                                    Wild Thoughts from Uganda
Matt Temple                                      Matsuli Music
Mia Nikasimo,                                   MiaScript
Minna Salami,                                    MsAfropolitan
Mshairi,                                             Mshairi
Ndesanjo Macha                                Global Voices
Nyokabi Musila,                                 Sci-Cultura.
Nzesylva,                                           Nzesylva’s Blog
Olumide Abimbola,                            Loomnie
Ory Okolloh,                                     Kenyan Pundit
Pamela Braide,                                   pdbraide
Peter Alegi,                                        Football is Coming Home
Rethabile Masilo,                               Poefrika
Saratu Abiola,                                    Method to Madness
Sean Jacobs,                                     Africa is a Country
Sokari Ekine,                                     Black Looks
Sonja Uwimana,                                 Africa is a Country
Spectra Speaks,                                 Spectra Speaks
TMS Ruge,                                       Project Diaspora
Toyin Ajao                                        StandTall
Tosin Otitoju,                                    Lifelib
Val Kalende,                                      Val Kalende
Zackie Achmat,                                 Writing Rights
Zion Moyo,                                       Sky, Soil and Everything in Between

Thursday, February 24, 2011

For All Aspiring Revolutionaries

I haven't had it in me to comment on the recent uprisings sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, because somethings are just awe-inspiring, and the best thing to do is to allow oneself to be awestruck by the sheer bravery, the sheer humanity of it all.

Of course, I'm still holding on to my prayer beads for the people of Libya and keeping my eyes glued to the Al-Jazeera twitter feed like everyone else. I can't be the only one who can't wait to see the effect of this new Mexican wave of democracy across these countries on the foreign policy calculus of the U.S. and the EU, even as the emerging leaders may not be as West-friendly as Ben Ali or Mubarak, but that's another blogpost.

For now, I have a poem for you. Change is hard. Revolution is difficult. Both words are deceptively easy to say.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Music VJs Save Lives

A few things before the VJ works her magic. MTV Base Africa helped put together this music video to encourage Nigerian youths to vote. Like I've said before, the more African pop culture gets, well, African, the more eyes will be on us.

Other songs you should check out. I'm really feelin' Dj Kent and Maleh, mostly because I'm all about house music and this one is actually pretty solid. It needs a remix with a heavier bass, maybe some dancehall hints mixed in, but still -- solid. On the whole, mad props to South Africa for being omnivorous -- I wish other African countries branched outside of hip-hop. Why is this (seemingly) a Southern African thing? Does anyone know?

Anyway, here you go. You're welcome.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why Do Protests Ever Bring Down Governments?

The good folks over at the Monkey Cage -- such an awesome blog -- ask a question I've been wondering about myself.

First, who are the pivotal actors in society that can actually force a change in government? Clearly - as is the case in Egypt - the military is always a possible candidate here. But are there others? Party leaders? Key economic figures? Major civil society players? I guess part of what I'm wondering is is this explanation inevitably a story about the military? Or, put another way, will we look back on events in Egypt and describe what changed on Day 17 simply as the military deciding that Mubarak was now a liability, and little more than that?

The second factor this last proposition points to is what exactly is it that protesters can do that convinces these pivotal actors that a change in government is necessary? Is simply bad PR, e.g., protesters getting beaten or killed making it harder for the country to manage its international relations? Could it be more economic, e.g., shutting down commerce in a capital city for an extended period of time? Or might it actually be something more normatively pleasing, such as demonstrating to these pivotal actors that the regime no longer has the support of the people?

A UNC professor writes in to the Monkey Cage with an excellent observation on the nature of authoritarian regimes, and protests in these regimes.
The key to answer this question, I think, is to understand the basic nature of authoritarian rule. While the news media focus on "the dictator", almost all authoritarian regimes are really coalitions involving a range of players with different resources, including incumbent politicians but also other elites like businessmen, bureaucrats, leaders of mass organizations like labor unions and political parties, and, of course, specialists in coercion like the military or the security forces. These elites are pivotal in deciding the fate of the regime and as long as they continue to ally themselves with the incumbent leadership, the regime is likely to remain stable. By contrast, when these elites split and some defect and decide to throw in their lot with the opposition, then the incumbents are in danger.

So where do protests come in? The problem is that in authoritarian regimes there are few sources of reliable information that can help these pivotal elites decide whom to back. Restrictions on media freedom and civil and political rights limit the amount and quality of information that is available on both the incumbents and the opposition. Moreover, the powerful incentives to pay lip service to incumbent rulers make it hard to know what to make of what information there is. Rumor and innuendo thus play a huge role in all authoritarian regimes.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ad-Watching, Nigeria Style

If you live in Nigeria, are female and have not gotten funny looks upon going to a bar and ordering something even slightly alcoholic, you haven't lived.

Accordingly, Nigerian ads for beer are blatantly male, with blatantly male slogans like "Ultimate Man" (Gulder) or "For the Real Man" (Legend Extra Stout). But this Star Commercial, taking you on a journey through Nigeria with Sir Victor Uwaifo's "Joromi" playing in the background, is a beauty.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What's the Point of Nollywood?

The other day, I was watching an episode of a show on the Yoruba movie cable channel (with that, you should already know there would be no embed link to this – sorry!) where Yoruba filmmaker and actor extraordinaire Saidi Balogun was saying how the purpose of his movies is to spread wisdom to Nigerians on how to behave to each other and spread love to their fellow man and roll around in meadows and have flower parties with dolphins and puppies. Or something.

Yes, I know.

It has to be said, hearing a Nigerian filmmaker tout usefulness and wisdom as the point of his movies cannot be a surprise to anyone who has ever seen a Nigerian film. This isn't a direct hit at Saidi Balogun. If anything, I'm actually a big fan of his specifically, and of Yoruba movies in general. Where I find the sanctimony of their storylines to be quite grating and the often-poor quality of the production to be, well, poor, one can easily see the great quality of the acting and a real sense the filmmakers are speaking of a people they know well. Where English actors tend to be stilted, Yoruba actors are fluent, not just in the language, but in the tradition of those who they seek to depict, and this gives their films a sense of ease and color. I would argue that Yoruba filmmakers know Yoruba people in a way that English filmmakers, in the broadness of their intended audience and their lack of mastery even of the language of their art, do not their intended audience. What I'm wondering about is this notion that art must serve some utilitarian end.

Generally speaking, one of the saddest things to me about African artistic expression has always been this need to be 'useful'. Forget the obvious examples of the gorgeous printed design that gets used for clothing and stories in folklore used to spread wisdom. Take literature. Writers in French and English in the independence movements across Africa used their stories and poems to raise consciousness about freedom and political struggle. Then came women like Buchi Emecheta, Flora Nwapa, Tsitsi Dangaremgba, and Ama Ata Aidoo, who used their work to talk about women's experiences. This is not just in Africa, of course; James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston's works, for example, were not exactly P.G. Wodehouse-style fiction, after all. The thing is, I love all these writers. Their work was deep and heart-wrenching and difficult. Above all, their work was necessary.

But is this kind of work still necessary?

It is as though, having seen no knowable, physical enemy against which to write our movies, like there was for writers in new pre- and immediate post-independence literature, we have chosen some abstract monster of depravity and corruption and dressed them up like ourselves. I join in the chorus of complaint too often to say that Nigeria isn't that bad, but I think I can say that Nigeria is not all bad. We are a complex lot, and we all know that. And if we are so complex, and fimmakers seek to capture us on-screen, are we not worthy of that complexity by those who seek to depict us?

And if “mega-church Christianity meets Yoruba proverb” morality is really all we can hope for, then it cannot be too much to ask to get some simplicity. Just once, it would be wonderful if someone wasn't trying to preach to me and instead just told me a story about a man who wanted to get a girl and did all sorts of wacky things to make her go out on a date with him. That's it. No juju, nobody giving their lives to Christ at the end of the movie, no Ifa priest and prayer beads, no sudden coming of age. Just so – well-acted, maybe even funny, with characters more fleshed-out than clapboards.

The more I think about it, I wonder if the magic of Hollywood for so many of us non-Americans is this ease to create such movies as they do, movies that do not reach any further than the world that they are seen to create. While I love ambition in any artwork, there is something to the simple romantic story, the action movie with nothing beyond its gunshots and gore, the comedy that seeks nothing but your laughter, that speaks to a level of comfort in one's skin. There is nothing to parse in Titanic and Iron Man for knowledge. It just is. For reasons beyond my ken, the single-mindedness to make such films comes with a certain kind of cultural ease by people no longer driven with a need to ask questions of themselves. For now this is a privilege that it seems Nigeria cannot yet afford, and I hope that one day we can.