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“Calabash Cinema”: The Fall and Rise of Francophone African Film
February 6, 2012 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
French and Italian, African Languages and Literature, UW-Madison
Race, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity Fellow (2011-2012)
Since its inception a half century ago, Francophone African cinema has been fraught with contradictions and controversies. Early on, it sought to tell the story of newly independent nations, but while doing so, it remained moored to the vision and resources of the colonial power, France, which long attempted to deter its existence in the first place. Now in the midst of a greatly changed cinematic landscape on a continental scale, a younger generation of filmmakers has called those earlier films “Calabash Cinema” because of perceived misrepresentations of the indigene that were reminiscent of stereotypical and demeaning Western images of Africa and Africans. Eschewing grand narratives of the Nation and of nation-building, the new generation of films strives to turn a more intimate gaze on the African subject in negotiation with the traps and trappings of globalization nearly as much as with forces of “tradition.” The subject in question, sometimes urban/urbane, sometimes rural/traditional is depicted in any case as far more complex than in earlier films. Yet, while claiming greater artistic independence, the new filmmakers remain reliant on the erstwhile colonial power, albeit no longer exclusively. The seminar will propose a reading of several films to examine the pursuit of new genres and forms produced despite—and sometimes because of—the paradoxes and controversies, and the gradual waning of cultural nationalism.
Aliko Songolo is Halverson-Bascom Professor of French and Professor of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research and teaching interests lie primarily in Francophone literatures of Africa and the Caribbean, and Francophone cinemas of Africa and Québec. He has published a monograph (Aimé Césaire: une poétique de la découverte, 1985), two co-edited volumes (Twenty-five Years After Dakar and Fourah Bay: The Growth of African Literature, 1998, and Atlantic Cross-Currents/Transatlantiques, 2001), and was Associate Editor of the highly acclaimed five-volume New Encyclopedia of Africa (2008). He also edited special issues of two eminent journals in his field, French Review (1982) and Présence Francophone (2003), and published numerous articles. His current research projects investigate the question of national cinema in Québec and Francophone Africa, and postcoloniality in the wake of the Négritude movement. He was named “Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques” (Knight in the Order of Academic Palms) by the French Ministry of National Education in 2008. He has served as Chair of the Department of French and Italian, as Director of the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and as Associate Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the University of California-Irvine before his move to Wisconsin.