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24 June 2024

Closeup: The Africas/Diasporas of Women in the Evolution of a TransAfrican Film Practice and Critical Inquiry curated by Beti Ellerson - Black Camera: An International Film Journal 15. 2 (Spring 2024)

Closeup: The Africas/Diasporas of Women in the Evolution of a TransAfrican Film Practice and Critical Inquiry 
curated by Beti Ellerson
Black Camera: An International Film Journal

Excerpted from introduction:

The objectives of the Close-Up, The Africas/Diasporas of Women in the Evolution of a TransAfrican Film Practice and Critical Inquiry: to recover, to chronicle, to affirm, to reimagine even, African/Diasporan women’s cinematic world-making, indeed self-making—envisioning the manners in which they devise, create, make, a space, a universe, a domain, a world; within which they may tell/relate their stories—storytelling as a project of world-making through cinema.

The Close-Up asks questions regarding the tenets of an African/Diasporan cinematic practice/tradition shaped by women: its beginnings, the forces that compelled, facilitated and informed it, the requisite approaches needed to formulate it, and the propositions on which to explore its cultural, political, and social manifestations.

The title “The Africas/Diasporas of Women in the Evolution of a TransAfrican Film Practice and Critical Inquiry” calls attention to the multiplicity of locations, providing a place for the explication of African/diasporic histories (historical and new Diasporas), as well as an elaboration of the peregrinations as well as the negotiation of hybrid, indeed symbiotic, identities of so many of these women.

The Close-Up comes together under myriad themes, in order to draw from the intersectional, multifarious aspects of women’s transAfrican film practice, histories and critical inquiry.

“(Re)imagining cinematic histories of Africa: African women, cinema and the tale of Kadidia Pâté”, offers a prelude of sorts, relating the story of Kadidia Pâté’s first experience with cinema, as a colonial subject in Mali in 1908, and later in 1934 when she first sets foot in a movie theater, during which the specifics of her engagement with cinema unfolds, related by her son, the inimitable griot, storyteller-historian Amadou Hampâté Bâ.

The introductory essay, “Women’s transAfrican cinematic practice and activism: Mapping the trajectory of an African women’s cinematic consciousness,” conceptualizes the transAfrican nature of women’s cinematic practice and critical inquiry. In so doing, it traces key historical, political and cultural movements of the twentieth century that stimulated the artistic and intellectual sensibilities of the trailblazers who set the course moving forward. The discussion of these pioneering women—several of which are featured in this section—puts into focus the multiple environments that shaped their choices, and offered the requisite context in which to study, work, live and imagine future worlds for themselves and Africas/Diasporas.

“Building a legacy: archiving, curating, disseminating, producing, preserving, African-diasporic cinematic experiences,” brings together a discursive profile of cultural workers who have as mission, to build a legacy by creating, archiving, disseminating, curating, preserving, the collective experiences of cinematic Africas/Diasporas as well as to uphold its oral traditions through visual storytelling.

“Alternative Discourses: theorizing lived experiences in African women’s cinematic practice, meaning-making and shaping of knowledge,” draws its main heading from the words of Togolese international lawyer-filmmaker, Anne-Laure Folly Reimann, who describes the dialogue of the women in her films as “alternative discourses”: beyond the analysis of things, they live them. This appropriately applies as well to the women in front of the screen, as scholars, critics, organizers, advocates, activists and behind the camera as filmmakers. The women presented in this segment, work at the intersection of critical meaning-making and the cinematic practice of counter-hegemonic production of knowledge.

“Mediating diasporic cinematic experiences and practice” probes African women’s cultural identity and social location as diasporic experience. Thus, the section explores the ways that they grapple with exilic, traveling identities in their cinematic practice, research and analysis. It examines as well the multiple ways that “the duty of memory” plays out in the films and visual projects of the women selected to represent this segment. The painful question: Do they remember us? gives rise to the emotional reconnecting needed “to no longer feel hurt” by the tear of separation from dislocation during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and enslavement of Africans in the Americas. The Sankofa proverb: “it is not taboo to go back and retrieve what you have forgotten or lost”, becomes the leitmotif of so many of the stories of Africans who have left and seek to return, whatever the circumstances.

“Critiquing Africas/Diasporas: Intersecting dialogues,” presents a compilation of interviews by Falila Gbdamassi with several celebrated filmmakers, organizers, film critics/activists who navigate within the world cinema landscape—with Africa and the Diasporas on their minds.

“Reconciling Africas, Identities and Diasporas,” prepares the reader of a caveat, but insists it is not a polemic. The title speaks for itself. Discourses, questions, responses, on the very nature of Africa, the African, are not new. Hence, this section returns to a moment in the past when, “in the mouth the teeth sometimes bite the tongue” as a Burkinabe adage goes. In 1991, at the start of the landmark Women’s Meeting at FESPACO, confusion ensued at the announcement that “all non-African women leave the room,” which, as it turned out included diasporan women. Compiled here are diverse responses on both sides of the debate. Thus, by introducing this section, employing in this proverb all the conflicts and anxieties that the event revealed, provides an armature of sorts, in which to continue the conversation raising other stakes and ultimately returning to this pivotal question and its incessant pursuit towards an answer.

The final piece on this theme repositions discussions around African subjectivities, as well as deconstructs the very notion of an African ontology, including questions of ethnicity. Thus, this section considers the positionality of white South African women, especially as it relates to white privilege and the importance of interrogating whiteness. The questions around identities in South Africa focus as well on the Bo-Kaap community largely populated by the Malay diaspora. During this same conversation around complexities of identity, this segment explores the dual positionalities of Arab/African women. And finally, it probes the renegotiated identities of first and second generation diasporans in search of belonging, home, place.
The Close-Up is in the memory of Sarah Maldoror and Safi Faye.

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