Can we speak of cinema critique when it comes to the cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa? This question, asked in such brutal a manner, still remains an enigma in my view. Under other auspices, the question of critique often translates itself into the effervescence of an atmosphere that is more contentious than consensual, but in any case joyous because it uses knowledge to meliorate works of the mind. It goes without saying that this notion of critique goes hand in hand with the idea of judgment, which for some falls like the blade of a guillotine, and yet for others is akin to grace. Controversy, trials based on supposition, autodafé, jubilation, pleasure, eructation, complacency, outbidding, etc. are all terms that when taken to the public scene, ought to be perceived as a source of progress in that they push the filmmakers to evolve in their aesthetic development and in the way they approach their work. One could have imagined that critique should give rise to a pantheon of masterpieces rather than to craft, but why not knowing how to craft? These debates, taking place frequently in the organized societies of the West, do not always have their equivalent, even though embryonic, in the South. Thu,s is it not daring to affirm that Sub-Saharan African filmmakers are ahead of the critique that is supposed to complement them, a easy assertion inasmuch as the critique is not brilliant.
To Live Out Critique
We can add a second interrogation to the first one, always keeping in mind the concern to satisfy our preoccupation with understanding the stakes of this notion. The questions on which we could linger are the following: what critique? And by reverberation, what is the function of critique? And for that matter, must it have a function? The educational prospects resulting from these questions could probably pique the curiosity of an African public known to be disinclined to engage readily in reading. A public that has not always integrated in its traditions writing and reading, at least within the majority, whereas, paradoxically, radio, cinema and television can be defined as constituting neo-orality hence their perpetual success [is the author referring to what Walter J. Ong called secondary orality?]. The difficulty being in short that these considerations are often accessible mainly if not only through the written word and that can prove to be a real obstacle. It appears to be necessary to create places of debate that would take this constraint into account. Critique is destined for whom? Who is our target audience for critique? Who is our target audience for our films? These questions are endless because the answers are not obvious. We all know that the major part of our [cinematographic] production remains rather inaccessible, insomuch as we remain practically invisible on our own continent. Some productions by filmmakers from the South are conscious of this reality and develop works that integrate these concepts…
In an arbitrary fashion, I do not take into account critique on the subject of our films developed in the North, because my wish is to see emerge a critique birthed in mythical African origins alongside the Northern one. To paraphrase Cheikh Anta Diop who dreamed of Egypt playing the same role for re-thought and renovated African cultures that Greco-Roman antiquity played for European cultures, we must be accountable for the emergence of a theoretical, conceptual, psychological, psychoanalytic, aesthetic, and indexing language that would owe nothing to Oedipus and Electra. The auteurs, in integrating the conscience of these mythologies, should inscribe them into the process of their creations. In this way, they would take on more fully this “factory of keepsakes European style” seasoned with an okra stew spiced with fiery Kongo peppers. Unfortunately those capable of such undertakings, notably Jean Servais Bakyono, Clement Tapsoba, Baba Diop and Manthia Diawara, are few. At present, we are living in a sort of prehistoric time, flavored clockwork orange style, where some of our journalists trying on critique for size are still confusing television and cinema, and the (tele)viewers, critique and publicity. In this game, we are not all equals, for instance the reflection of Arab cinemas of Africa enjoys the benefits of the gaze of specialists, even if they are subjected to a very powerful religious censorship.
A Tradition to be Built
Who sees? Who reads? Who reads what? And under what conditions? If the question of the gaze holds our attention, it is because it is imperative to be able to affirm unconditionally our difference on a universal scene that is monochromatic and monotonous, not only in the form of testimonies proving our existence, but also as actors in a world that has not inscribed us on any map. As addressed in Olivier Barlet’s work African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze, the gaze in question finds several answers that are worth addressing. But the fact of existing in a world without borders, to our great happiness, cannot erase from our creations the repercussions of our environment. “Chaque homme se fonde sur une culture et c’est la sienne, mais pas sur elle seule” [Every man is based in a culture and it is his, but not in it alone: would the other mind sending the reference for that quote in order to find proper translation? I’m guessing it is from Condition Humaine, but I don’t have time to research it.] said Andre Malraux. In order to help our creations grow and expand in more efficient ways, it seems necessary to generate a critical arena in order to produce fundamental texts, capable of elaborating new grids of reading, or at least more original ones. And so we would appreciate even more analytical works that would be a welcome addition to the existing body of work by Paulin Soumanou Vyera, Georges Ngal, Pius Ngandu-Kashama… because these considerations extend to the totality of our artistic practice.