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Notes on films about colonialism in Africa and trans-atlantic slave trade

Slavery had been practiced in every society since ancient times. It's usually results of wars between tribes and kingdoms. But European colonialism made slavery massive with systematic racism for solely commercial purpose driven by capitalism and globalization. Trans-atlantic slave trade would dramatically change landscapes of Africa and Americas forever.



Ivory, gold and other resources attracted Europeans to West Africa, by avoiding the emerging Islamic Ottoman Empire who seized control over North Africa. The Portuguese first began to buy African people and take those they enslaved back to Europe in 1444.
... By the 16th century, Europeans had started plantations in their colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America. But as enslaved natives continued dying from Europeans' diseases, demand for labour on plantations grew, Europeans turned to West Africa to supply an enslaved workforce.


A powerful sorcerer father looking for his son Nyanankoro whose mother told him to take a magical relic to his exiled uncle. Cannes' Jury Prize winner Yeelen (1987, Souleymane Cissé, Mali)*** [watch] is one of the most mesmerizing film about magical power. It tries to depict mindset of African people before the arrival of the Europeans. There is a scene when an oracle predicts disastrous destiny of future Africa that will be struck by the light and everyone becomes slaves. This film's title also means the light or brightness.

Cannes' Grand Prize winner, The Law (1990, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Burkina Faso)** [watch] tells story in pre-colonial Africa about a man whose his girlfriend married to his own father. When their affair broke traditional law, the village decides their punishments. This is a beautiful story about beautiful people, but is too beautiful to be true, yet still satisfying. If Yeelen is how Africans imagine they once were supernaturally, The Law is how they imagine realistically.


Netflix's Aníkúlápó (2022, Kunle Afolayan, Nigeria)** starts like a cheap TV melodrama set in the 17th-century Oyo empire about forbidden love affair between a poor weaver Saro and one of the king's four queens. After boring first hour, this Nollywood film changes pace in second hour, when Saro was resurrected from death by mystical bird, and the queen stole a mysterious bottle from the bird. Aníkúlápó becomes more interesting with some fascinating details but abruptly ends. This whole story happened amidst rumours of white slave traders in the area. In one scene, the king's court discussed if they should continue selling people to white slave traders.

Europeans initially colonized some coastal towns around Africa and established their own slave ports, since fatal tropical diseases prevented them from going deeper into the Dark Continent. So they needed Africans to kidnap people and sell to them at slave ports.
... Slave trade was the major economic resource for many African empires, especially Oyo empire (Nigeria), Kingdom of Dahomey (Benin), Ashanti Empire (Ghana) and Swahili Coast in Omani Empire (Tanzania and Kenya). But the principal source of slaves in trans-atlantic slave trade was Angola in Portuguese Empire.

17th century West Africa, a village was raided by Amazon warriors. Those who're still alive were enslaved to the empire of King Adanggaman who trades slave with the Dutch. Adanggaman (2000, Roger Gnoan M'Bala)** follows a villager's mission to rescue his family and his girlfriend. The film suddenly changes pace in the last part when a female Amazon warrior helps the protagonist from being enslaved. Together they will reconcile and help each other dealing with their past. Unfortunately, its folklore-style plot is not convincing enough as a realistic movie. But with very good ending, Adanggaman is about selecting the choice for reconciliation and living happily together as Africans, or not. The film ends with caption about the surprising fate of the real King Adanggaman.


In William Shakespeare's The Tempest (1611), an exiled sorcerer Prospero conquered an island once belongs to Caliban, a black African guy who was now enslaved as his servant. When the ship of the King of Naples and Prospero's brother passed by his island, Prospero summons thunderstorm and takes them to the island for revenge. The Tempest had been criticized as both colonialist and anti-colonialist play, since Caliban's plan to revolt against Prospero makes him the villain of the story. In one interesting scene, after his first taste of alcohol, Caliban was voluntarily enslaved just for drinking liquor. Julie Taymor's The Tempest (2010)** changes Prospero to female Prospera. This partially modern take on Shakespeare's play somehow does not work. It couldn't decide which way to go and stuck in the middle. While Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Book (1991)** is almost incomprehensible for those who're unfamiliar with the play.




West Indies (1979, Med Hondo)** [watch] is innovative musical film covering hundreds of years of slavery from Africa to French colonies in the Caribbean. The main stage was built like a large ship, resembling a slave ship. With no real story, this film is more like an exaggerated documentary that ends with Independence of the colonies. Interesting but not very engaging.

Netherlands makes amend to dark part of its history in The Price of Sugar (2013, Jean van de Velde, Netherlands)**, a decent sentimental drama involving lives of two half-sisters: a white and a half-blood African slave, who grew up together in brutal sugar plantations in 1747 Dutch colonies of Suriname, South America. The film focuses more on the spoiled white woman through the eyes of her sweet dark-skinned sister/slave. Melodramatic and predictable.


The phenomenal TV mini-series Roots (1977)*** begins with the birth of a boy named Kunta Kinte in 1750 Gambia, West Africa. He was later captured to a slave ship and arrived in Maryland, USA in 1767. They tried to tame him, give him new name, new language and new home. Roots spans 120 years and 7 generations through Independence War and American Civil War. However, the first part in Africa is pretty weak, since several characters seem to possess mindsets of late 20th century African Americans. This American saga is culturally important melodrama that's far from authentic, but still works furiously. [FYI: The book had been accused of plagiarism. It's not real history of the writer's ancestors as he claimed.]

Things get better once you stop being African. Start being nigger like the rest of us.
- Roots

During Holy Week at a brutal sugar mill in Havana, Cuba, a Spanish Count invited 12 African slaves to dinner. The slave master tried to manipulate his slaves to accept their misfortunes - like Christ sacrificed himself for humanity. Cuban auteur Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's The Last Supper (1976, Cuba)*** exposes hypocrisy of Christianity and the white master. It would lead to extreme violence on Good Friday and end with powerful Easter Sunday. Excellent arthouse film.


Toussaint Louverture (2012)*** is very complex biography of the African rebel leader on the island of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), amidst conflicts between France, Spain and England. Born a slave in French colony, Toussaint would become general-in-command and finally governor of Saint-Domingue. But French Revolution and its aftermath complicated situation, Toussaint later lost to Napoleon's army, sent to France and died in jail in 1803. His dream of Haiti independence was achieved one year later. This French mini-series is very good and informative, it's not afraid to show dark sides of revolutions, European politics and Toussaint himself.

The Haitian Revolution was the only successful slave rebellion in world history. Haiti formally declared independence from France in 1804 and became the first sovereign nation in the Western Hemisphere to unconditionally abolish slavery in the modern era.




England 1797, a British politician William Wilberforce kept fighting to abolish slave trade in British Empire. Amazing Grace (2006)*** is well-intended film that needs to be made. It explores long debates over abolition of African slave trading in British parliament. The House of Commons eventually passed the bill in 1806. This film successfully captures the moment in history that was triumph of humanity and equality. Though the protagonist seems too idealistic to be a realistic human character.

Around 12 million Africans were enslaved in the course of the trans-atlantic slave trade. Six million out of them came from Portuguese Angola, and were sent to Portugal's colonies, mainly Brazil. While British ships transported about 3.4 million Africans across the Atlantic.

Saartjes Baartman, an African woman from Dutch South Africa was manipulated to perform in exotic shows around Europe in 1810s. Her life would become worse and worse to the end. After she died, her unique body was displayed nakedly at the Paris Natural History Museum for almost 200 years, until 2002 with request from South Africa, it was sent back to be buried in her homeland. Abdellatif Kechiche's Black Venus (2010)*** is actually pretty good but also very disturbing and not pleasant to watch. It could be interpreted as metaphor about how Europe treated Africa physically, psychologically, anatomically and academically.


After England blocked slave port in Angola, bandit Cobra Verde was sent from Portuguese Brazil to resume slave trade at another port in West Africa with the brutal King of Dahomey. He later helps a prince challenging his uncle king. The African part in Werner Herzog's Cobra Verde (1987, West Germany)*** is quite convincing and very interesting, though it still follows white savior theme that usually involving one white guy helping a local tribe organizes its chaotic army to fight enemy (sometimes whites). Its anti-climactic last part makes Cobra Verde a heartbreaking story about slavery from this cynical slave trader's point of view. Exceptional ending.

Year 1823 the Kingdom of Dahomey usually paid tributes to the Oyo Empire. But Oyo also kidnapped Dahomey peoples and sold them to white slave traders. While Dahomey sold captives as slaves too. The Woman King (2022, Gina Prince-Bythewood)** tells one-side story from perspectives of female Dahomey warriors led by General Nanisca preparing for war with Oyo empire. This revisionist action film glorifies African kingdom in sentimental Hollywood style with post-colonial mindset. The protagonist even suggests the king to abolish slave trade and sell palm oil instead. Not very good film but different and quite brave to tell this part of history.


Year 1836 after slave trade was banned, an idealistic guy was sent to establish plantations in Danish Guinea. He will soon face cruel realities of Africa and his countrymen. This story of the Danish hero who fights illegal slave trade alone in Gold Coast (2015, Daniel Dencik, Denmark)* is too romantic, too naive and even too dumb to the point that makes it annoying and unconvincing in real circumstances. The attempt for Denmark to redeem its sin on film fails miserably.

In 1839, a revolt of Africans on Spanish slave ship, La Amistad, caused controversy in US. These Africans were taken from Sierra Leone and sold to slavery in Cuba before they were captured off the coast of Long Island, USA. Steven Spielberg's Amistad (1997)*** is powerful courtroom drama about battles between slavery supporters and abolitionists on the way to American Civil War. It takes audience through very long and tiring process of justice system, and shows how difficult to fight colonial mindset. Though its story involves slaves from Africa, Amistad is actually a film about American values, endorsed by Christianity.

There is a notion defending Europeans concerning slave trading, that Europeans did not invent African slave trade, they just embraced it from Africans and Arabs. Moreover, it's the Europeans who first acknowledged abolition of slavery, they also helped Africa slowly abolishing its own slaves, and encouraging equality.


In the 1850s, quinine had been found to combat malaria, and opened opportunity for Europeans to explore deeper into the continent.
... East African Coast 1854, Captain Richard Burton and British Lieutenant John Hanning Speke started a journey to find the source of the Nile river and mysteries of Central Africa. Inspired by true story of supposedly first group of white men entering center of the continent by following old trans-sahara slave trade route controlling by Arabs, Mountains of the Moon (1990)** is adventure film about white men in savage land with arguments between two kinds of mindsets, and suppressed queerness. Very good story that ends with complicated relationship in the last part, but too loud, too emotional and too Hollywoodesque for me.

Central Africa 1870, two pygmies were kidnapped to Scotland for presenting to Royal Academy of Science. The anthropologists assume that pygmy is the origin of man - the missing link between apes and mankind. The protagonist even called them his America to him the Columbus. Man to Man (2005, Régis Wargnier)** is a good film about how European public treated those they considered to be inferior races, and how they changed that perception later. The protagonist will question his theory and tries to prove to his colleagues that these pygmies actually are human not animal. But he couldn't prevent them from exhibiting those pygmies in a zoo. A bit sentimental and too obvious messages.

Year 1904, Ota Benga, a member of the Mbuti pygmy tribe from the Congo Free State, was purchased and exhibited at the notorious “human zoos” in New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo) amid the cages full of exotic animals.


In an African kingdom, the king recently converted to Islam, and tried to convince his people to convert too. Those who refused were called Ceddo (outsider). One day, a Ceddo kidnaps Princess Dior Yacine, and then the country is divided by Islamic fanatics. Told in comedic tone by the father of African cinema, Ceddo (1977, Ousmane Sembene, Senegal)*** [watch] is very brave and would not be made today. It examines conflicts between animism and Islam, with a Christian missionary and a white slave trader witnessing in the background. As one must prepare for slow pacing of African films which usually feels like listening to unhurried oral folk-tales, Ceddo is very slow with weak ending but still complex and important. It certainly is one of the most controversial films ever made, and of course it was banned in Senegal.

Things Fall Apart (1958) is one of the most important African novels. It tells story of Okonkwo, a respected warrior in 19th century Nigeria, who was ashamed of his coward father and worried his lazy son would end up like his father. One day Okonkwo was given a 15-year-old boy from another tribe as hostage, who he slowly treated like his own son. The story evolves through the period that Christian missionaries started converting Africans in the area from native animism. Things Fall Apart shows how Christianity combining with colonial power, conquered Africa both physically and spiritually.
... Things Fall Apart (1971) was the first feature film to be shot entirely in Nigeria. But the one I watched is the TV-series Things Fall Apart (1987, Nigeria)* [watch]. This mediocre series is quite faithful to the book but does not feels as authentic or interesting.

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.
- Things Fall Apart






France acquired Tunisia from declining Ottoman Empire in 1881, which was the beginning of the period of new colonial competition later known as the Scramble for Africa. From 10% occupation in 1870, by 1914 almost 90% of the continent and its natural resources were under control of seven European powers, with only Liberia and Ethiopia remaining independent.
... [Some historians suggested that the industrialization of new powerful countries including US, Germany and Japan in 1870s, threatened those old colonial powers and rushed them to urgently proceed the partition of Africa.]


Britain acquired the Cape of Good Hope Colony at the southern tip of Africa from the Dutch in 1815. The discovery of diamonds in 1867 near Cape Town, encouraged the British to occupy the area in the 1870s, and sold the right to De Beers Company. British South Africa, led by Cecil Rhodes, also planned to annex the Kingdom of Zululand and Boer republics (Dutch descendants).
... In 1879 Kingdom of Zululand, 150 British troops were fighting 4,000 Zulus in widely beloved epic film Zulu (1964)*. This patriotic film is celebration of bravery of British soldiers against powerful Zulu warriors. Though it praises intelligence of the Zulus and tries to balance the narrative, the film is still very annoying and the pacing is very irritating in outdated style. I can't stand any white characters in this film, and wish they would all be killed by the Zulus. But of course not.

In 1881, nationalist revolt in Egypt weakened the Egyptian monarchy, and eventually led to the occupation of Egypt by British Empire.
... When the head of a mountain tribe died, the elders reveals secret of the tribe to his sons, that the whole tribe depends on the money from illegally selling artifacts in the secret tombs of royal mummies. Inspired by real discovery in 1881, The Mummy (1969, Chadi Abdel Salam, Egypt)**** explores guilt and morale of young generation that realizes their elders' sins who have been destroyed ancestors' legacies to survive, when discovery of the mummies finally returns meanings to those lifeless stones and long forgotten bodies. This classic film was made long after the Independence in 1952 and the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1954, but immediately after disastrous defeat to Israel in 1967 Six-Days War. A hidden treasure indeed.


Year 1884 when Sudan was still under Egyptian rule, British General Charles Gordon, a hero who ended slave trade in Sudan, was sent back to Khartoum in Sudan to arrange the evacuation of Egyptians from invading Muslim Army. Whereas British politics in London would affect Gordon and other civilians' lives in Sudan. Khartoum (1966)** is beautifully made epic film in style of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but not as deep, with Laurence Olivier controversially playing the black-faced Arab.

Learned from her adoptive father, Sarraounia became pagan sorceress and warrior queen of the Aznas clan, feared by Islamic neighboring kingdoms. In French colony of Niger 1899, as the French army is approaching the area, those Islamic kingdoms are facing dilemma: should they help colonial army destroying fearsome savage queen to spare their villages; or help savage queen fighting foreign army to defend Africa. From one of the most acclaimed African filmmaker, Sarraounia (1986, Med Hondo)** [watch] presents Scramble for Africa from African perspective. This decent patriotic film celebrates bravery of African peoples, and examines different kinds of beliefs.


Discovery of gold in the Boer republics (parts of present-day South Africa) stimulated the British to invade the country of white Dutch-descendant. The Boers fought Great Britain in Boer War (1880–1881) and became British colony. The Second Boer War (1899-1902) resulted in the deaths of nearly 100,000 Boer people, including 10,000 of Boer women and children who died in British concentration camps.
Uncle Kruger (1941)** [watch] examines this part of history from perspective of Paul Kruger, the president of Boer country, played by the great Emil Jannings, with Queen Victoria and Cecil Rhodes as villains. But the tricky part is that this is a German film made during the Third Reich. Even though this film is product of Nazi propaganda machine against the British, the condemnation is still legit and ironic, since genocide of the Boers is not far from genocide of the Jews. The scenes in concentration camp are almost the same as of the Nazi in WWII.

On the other hand, British film Rhodes of Africa (1936)* [watch] glorifies the roles of Cecil Rhodes in founding of British South Africa, the De Beers diamond mine, Rhodesia country (from his name), and conquering of Boer republics and the gold mine.


An English sailor Charles Marlow was hired by Belgian Shipping Company to find an ivory trader named Kurtz, who is the chief of its innermost station in Congo Free State. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) was considered as both pro-colonialist and anti-colonialist at the same time. Though it examines the horrors of Western colonialism, especially Belgian, the protagonist also describes African people as if describing animals. Honest or contemptuous, Conrad was true to the climate of that period, when no Europeans ever thought about independence of savage Africa.
Thinking about his masterpiece Walkabout (1971) which involves aboriginal people in Australia, I expected something challenging from Nicolas Roeg, but Heart of Darkness (1993, Nicolas Roeg)* is more like a mediocre stage play in outdoor locations. Not impressed.

Under Belgian King Leopold II's administration, the Congo Free State became one of the greatest international scandals of the early 20th century. While extracting ivory, rubber, and minerals in the upper Congo basin for sale on the world market, the Belgian authority tortured natives and murdered, directly and indirectly, up to 50% of the population.

During WWI, the Ottoman Empire, on the same side with Germany, wanted to reclaim Egypt from the British Empire. Ottoman forces attacked British forces in Egypt in 1915 attempting at raiding the Suez Canal, which was of vital strategic importance to the British. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean, UK)**** portrays the life of T.E. Lawrence, an English officer who successfully united Arab tribes in order to fight the Turks in Sinai Peninsula, the only part of Egypt located in Asia. Arrogant, reckless, independent and narcissistic, liar and opportunist - is this very complex character of Lawrence the same as the British Empire? Filmmaking at its finest.


New Year 1915, news of World War I came to French colony in Africa late for six months. The French community decides to declare war on three Germans in the neighborhood. Black and White in Color (1976, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Ivory Coast)*** begins as lighthearted comedy but when realization of faraway war starts changing everyone's lives, the film becomes more serious. Both sides capture African natives to recruit in their pathetic armies, but imitating the real war would inevitably results in real casualties. This Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film is decent satire on war, colonialism, patriotism and racism.

Kenya, British East Africa 1913, a Danish Baroness had a farm in Africa. She married to a Baron, fell in love with a free-spirited hunter and lived through World War I. Out of Africa (1985, Sydney Pollack)** is beautiful romantic film that's hardly about Africa, but rather complicated relationship between a woman who always wants to own something for herself, and a man who won't belong to anyone or anywhere. I like the book and think the film is quite good for the first watch. But this time, watching self-important elites falling in love in luxury houses surrounding by African servants amidst the wilderness of savage land feels a bit pathetic. Still decent film about white people and their servants, for those who think it's white man's burden to civilize savage Africa.
... In the same manner, Nowhere in Africa (2001)** tells story of a Jewish family from Germany who fled Nazi to British Kenya in 1938, but the film is more about Germany, holocaust and World War II than Africa itself.


Mister Johnson (1990, Bruce Beresford)*** is an educated African who wants to be an English gentleman. He works as a clerk to a white judge in British Colonial Nigeria 1923. Stand between natives and white colonists but could not belong to any sides, his sly and tricky behavior will lead him into troubles, just for the expense of becoming a proper Englishman. Mister Johnson is good metaphor about Africa who chose to leave its roots behind, but cannot be rich and civilized as expected.

British repression of Egyptians sparked the 1919 Revolution. In 1922 The British government offered to recognize Egypt as an independent sovereign state, but with the British-controlled government in the Kingdom of Egypt.
... The land is drying up, while the mayor reduces water irrigation to every cotton fields from 10 days to only 5 days. The village just needs the water, but instead the authority plans to build a road that will connect the village to civilization. What price people have to pay for progress? From acclaimed Egyptian filmmaker, The Land (1969, Youssef Chahine)** portrays the wrath of peasants in the midst of demonstration of students against British colonialism in 1930s Cairo. For freedom or for land, both of them would face injustice, humiliation, torture and murder in Egypt under British rule. Important film but dated and a bit annoying. The last shot is very powerful.


Senegal 1940s, most of young men in the village were forced to enlist in French army, and sent to fight in white man's war (WWII). Elders, women and those who were left behind, continued living by themselves in the village. When French colonial authority raised taxes, villagers decided to hide their rice. One of the elders questioned their gods for not helping them. Ousmane Sembene's Emitaï (1971)*** is name of god of the sky and war. There is no main human character in this film, but actually the whole village is the protagonist. The story will eventually escalate into violence, in absence of the gods.

While Emitaï depicts the collapse of native beliefs in front of colonial brute force, Camp de Thiaroye (1988, Ousmane Sembene)*** explores another side of the story. African soldiers just came back from WWII fighting for France, as different men to different Africa with the tragedy of Emitaï. They temporarily stationed at transit camp in Dakar, Senegal, while an African sergeant was attacked by aggressive Black American soldiers. There is an interesting scene where two African descendants meet; one is African-born and another American-born. This is a comedy that is very bitter and also very complex film about racism in multiple layers. Its tragic ending is predictable as real massacre in 1944. Camp de Thiaroye asks what's the difference between colonialism and holocaust, and why the West treated both of them differently. This one of the best films about racism also portrays initiation of resistant movement that will lead to the end of colonialism. Camp de Thiaroye was banned in France for ten years.

We are back from Europe, where we fought your enemies. Now we fight for Africa.
- Camp de Thiaroye




Post-WWII Kenya, British East Africa, two childhood friends who are now a white master and a black servant, would stand against each other during the Mau Mau uprising. Richard Brooks' Something of Value (1957)*** is quite a good film from Hollywood studio system. Though some parts of the film may be too exaggerated or too easily resolved, it still superbly depicts how white colonizers forced Western values on natives, over traditional African values. But with opposite effect, the rebellion turned to tribal superstition to encourage its militia in guerrilla warfare. Mau Mau would be effectively crushed by the end of 1956, but the conflict arguably helped set the stage for Kenyan independence in 1963.

South Africa (Boer) became fully sovereign in 1931, but with the British monarch remaining head of state. In 1948, the National Party was elected to power. It strengthened the racial segregation, which became known as apartheid that classified all peoples into three races (Whites, Blacks, and Coloured people) and developed rights and limitations for each.
An African priest went to Johannesburg in 1940s to find his lost sister who is now a prostitute, and his lost son who is now a criminal. Cry, the Beloved Country (1951)*** dramatized fate of two families, one black and one white (Boer), that will collide in the chaos of Johannesburg. White privilege and apartheid may drive poor blacks into criminal, but when a group of young blacks kill a well-intended white man, whose false is it? Emotionally complex and very effective.
... Apartheid would continue mistreating the Blacks until early 1990s, when Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, won election and became president in 1994.

Our natives today produce criminals and prostitutes, and drunkards, not because it is their nature to do so, but because their system of order and tradition and convention has been destroyed.
- Cry, the Beloved Country


Threatened by Boer from the south, Bamangwato and other tribes sought protection from Queen Victoria and became the Bechuanaland Protectorate in 1885, ruled directly from Britain.
... Year 1947, Seretse Khama, an heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) fell in love with a white girl in London. He married her against British government's advice. When they returned to Bechuanaland, conflicts arose. This marriage was objected furiously by the South African government, which was just starting to introduce its policy of apartheid. So Britain decided that Seretse was not fit to rule and was banished from his homeland. But when diamond was discovered, Britain threatened to claim newly discovered diamond mine. A United Kingdom (2016)*** is not just a love story, but a political film about Bechuanaland on the road to independence in 1966. This important true story is better than I expected.

When demonstration against British-controlled government turned violent in Cairo, Egypt, the protagonist (Omar Sharif) decided to assassinate Egypt's prime minister. He was caught but later escaped to stay with a friend's family during Ramadan. His presence will change their lives forever. A Man in Our House (1961, Henry Barakat, Egypt)*** fictionalizes a part of Egyptian history that would lead to 1952 revolution that transformed Egypt from a British-backed monarchy to a republic. This idealistically naive film is product of the time, but the humanistic part is superb. The ending is a farewell from those radical revolutionists to Egypt they left behind.

:: I have no future without you.
:: Believe me.. I'm not the future.. I'm the past. The past you must forget. Promise you'll forget me.
:: I promise.. never to forget you.
- A Man in Our House

The 1952 Egyptian Revolution is a coup d'état that ended in the exile of the British-controlled King Farouk in 1954 and the rise to power of Gamal Abdel Nasser. This revolution inspired the Arab nationalist movement leading to wave of revolutions/coup d'état in Syria (1958), Iraq (1958), Algeria (1962), North Yemen (1962), Sudan and Libya (1969).


Jean Rouch is one of the first groups of filmmakers making documentary in Africa. His short film, The Mad Masters (1955)** [watch], depicts a strange ritual of natives in Accra, Gold Coast (present-day Ghana), when a group of young men were voluntarily possessed by the spirits of British colonial officers. While we usually heard about spirit possessions of gods, demons or ancestors, this documentary about rite of passage is both interesting and disturbing. And I couldn't stop analyzing it psychologically.

French colonizers in Algeria built a dam blocking a river. Living through severe drought every year, an Algerian peasant and his family decided to leave their land for the city, and work in a salt mine. His independent spirit would be tested and finally turned him to anti-colonial movement. Cannes' Golden Palm winner Chronicle of the Years of Fire (1975)** spans around 15 years from pre-WWII to massacres of anti-colonial demonstrations after the war. The film ends around 1954, long before Algeria's independence in 1962, it could be a prequel to the more famous The Battle of Algiers (1966). While best part of the film happens in barren countryside, the other part might be boring for those who are not into intensive political debates and provocative speech.


The Battle of Algiers (1966)**** began in 1954 with the forming of National Liberation Front to fight guerrilla warfare with colonial authorities of French Algeria. This Venice's Golden Lion winner was made just a few years after the independence in 1962. Although sometimes it looks like real documentary footage, it was actually planned to look that way. With more than 5 million Algerian people killed during 130 years under French colonialism, The Battle of Algiers captures the wrath of the oppressed, and also casualties and humanity on both sides. Absolutely one of the best films about terrorism and anti-colonialism ever made. The film wasn't released in France until 1971.

A truck driver was arrested by the Portuguese secret police in Angola during the Angolan War of Independence (1961-1974). Sambizanga (1972, Sarah Maldoror, Angola)** follows the wife's journey to find her captured husband. Since the war was still going on, the film was shot in Congo instead, but surprisingly not in style of neo-realism. Sambizanga is more like homage to unknown heroes who died on the way to independence, with very beautiful soundtrack.
... Angola achieved its independence in 1975 and became a Marxist-Leninist Republic. But the civil war began immediately between two former anti-colonial guerrilla movements: the communist MPLA (supported by Cuba and USSR) and the anti-communist UNITA (supported by USA and South Africa). Each of them was based in different ethnic groups.

After independences, the physical borders between African countries that were deliberately drawn by colonial powers would lock many different tribes in same countries and eventually cause unnecessary conflicts and civil wars in former colonies. Driven by hunger for diamonds, gold and power, these wars would prevent Africa from progressing for decades.






One day after Independence of Senegal (1960) under new native government, corruptions start, while France still controls behind the curtain. A minister is marrying his third wife, but cannot get erection, he thinks he is cursed (xala) by one of his wives. So the president recommends him to a marabout. Ousmane Sembene's Xala (1975)** [watch] is satirical film about identity crisis of post-colonial Africa. The protagonist's relationship with his families resembles relationship of neo-colonialist government and its citizen. Like all of Sambene's film, Xala is interesting and rich in detail, but still kind of slow.

If Africans do not tell their own stories, Africa will soon disappear.
- Ousmane Sembene

Before Independence, the French authorities prohibited Africans from making films of their own. Sambene's first internationally acclaimed film, Black Girl (1966)*** [watch] might be the first anti-colonialist film by African director. In Post-colonial Senegal, an ambitious black girl was manipulated by a French couple to become a servant in France where she feels like a slave. Black Girl shows that colonialism persists even after independence, and the promises from European colonizers will never be kept. Important film but not as interesting as his later works. The pacing of Black Girl also flows like ordinary European films, before he changed back to slow folklore style in his next film.
... [Watch excellent analysis of Black Girl here.]
... In the same manner as Black Girl, there is Med Hondo's Oh, Sun (1967, Mauritania)*** [watch], a satire film about an African immigrant looking for work in Paris. It's the African answer to French New Wave cinema.


Lumumba (2000, Raoul Peck)*** portrays the political life of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of independent Congo who stayed just two months in office before he was murdered. His radical politics divided people in the country that contains many tribes. The film superbly demonstrates the very complicated situation of this new country which is hard to describe in a short summary, and there is no perfect character in this film. After independence from Belgium in 1960, Congo was immediately confronted by a series of secessionist movements. The massacres of white people by rebels led to conflicts between government and military, that caused Lumumba to side with the Soviets, while military with the Americans. The film ends with 1965 coup d'état, but Congo would suffer from dictatorship, two disastrous civil wars and their consequences to the present day.

Even though Ethiopia preserved its sovereignty during the Scramble for Africa (1881-1914), it was later occupied by Fascist Italy in 1935, and Britain in 1941. Its full sovereignty was restored in 1944. Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia since 1930 was overthrown in a military coup by a Marxist-Leninist junta in 1974.
... Teza (2008, Haile Gerima, Ethiopia)* tells story of an Ethiopian scientist studying in Germany, returned to Ethiopia after the 1974 revolution. He would face totalitarian regime (that resembles Khmer Rouge (1975)) and civil war that lasted for 17 years. Unfortunately, very good materials were ruined by sloppy script, and the idealistic protagonist who is overdramatic and very annoying. Could be much better.


The Kingdom of Rwanda was ruled by a Tutsi monarchy since 15th century, but with the Hutu majority around 80% of the population. It was later annexed under German and Belgian colonial rule. The Tutsi monarchy was abolished in 1961 after ethnic violence erupted between the Hutu and the Tutsi during the Rwandan Revolution. Then Rwanda became a Hutu-dominated republic and received its independence from Belgium in 1962.
... Our Lady of the Nile (2019)*** tells story of Rwandan schoolgirls at a Belgian-run Catholic boarding school in 1973, where Hutu and Tutsi elite girls were living together. At that time, Hutu authorities restricted only 10% quota for Tutsis in schools, universities and administrations. The pretense that Tutsis were exceeding the quota, led to a purge killing Tutsis in schools. Our Lady of the Nile is small-scale racial tension event that anticipates the 1994 genocide during the Rwandan Civil War which 800,000 killed in 100 days. The film is well balanced on both sides amid ignorance of the whites, though feels a bit exaggerated but that's how unimaginable genocide happened.

Another Day of Life (2018)** is animation/documentary told from perspective of a Polish reporter at the beginning of the Angolan Civil War in 1975. He is trying to go to the south to interview General Farrusco, a Portuguese who changed side and became the leader of southern front of MPLA (supported by Cuba and USSR). In style of Waltz With Bashir (2008), it brilliantly mixes animation, archival footage and newly shot footage together. The animation part perfectly captures the chaos after all the Portuguese left Africa, while Angola was descending into civil war. But because the film is based on one single perspective, it is heavily biased. Another Day of Life presents MPLA as hero, and UNITA (supported by USA and South Africa) as villain, during invasion of Angola by white-dominated South Africa in 1975. For me, making politically biased film in information age is ignorant and immature.


A Coca-Cola bottle fell from a plane to a group of bushmen in Botswana. This one single object of obsession created disputes, anger, jealousy and violence in this utopia. One bushman decides to take the "evil thing" to throw it off at the end of the earth. The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)** is delightful comedy about culture clashes in many layers. This iconic film is more interesting than what I remembered, when a group of revolutionary rebels from neighboring country (obviously referring to Angolan Civil War) attacks a school and takes all the kids as hostages. But in the end, the bushman will be used by the whites, and exploited by the filmmaker as just silly comedic element for the film - where the main storyline is about a white couple. The Gods Must Be Crazy is actually South African film made during apartheid period, it concludes that the bushmen should stay uncivilized and undisturbed in their utopia.
... Lack of clever plot of the first film, The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989)* confirms that in this franchise, the bushman is just accidental hero who will always help white people in need. The Coca-Cola bottle lured him out of the village in the first film, here it's a truck of illegal ivory hunters - both worst products of Western civilization. But in the end, the whites will finally achieve something, while the bushman will gain nothing. He will return to what he was before - romantically uncivilized.

Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)** is an African fairy-tale from African-American perspective, who had been cut out of African roots long time ago. With awareness of inferiority, this film reimagines an African nation with technological supremacy, rare metal resources and supernatural power. Its first hour is amazing with impressive cultural display, it could be a creative homage to those fallen kingdoms or excellent satire, but instead Black Panther goes down in boring formulaic superhero narrative in the end.
... The meeting of two conquered empire, African and Mayan, in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)* is quite desperate, forced and not interesting anymore. These two fictional powerful nations chose to hide from the entire world to protect their own citizens and resources, rather than help other peoples in their races from European colonialism. This is cruel and selfishly realistic. The success of Black Panther also evokes how desperate African Americans need their own fictional royals/roots on this strangers' land.


Some other African films I watched recently:

I, a Negro (1957, Jean Rouch, Ivory Coast)**
Cairo Station
(1958, Youssef Chahine, Egypt)**
(1964, Ousmane Sembene, Senegal)*** [watch]
The Naked Prey (1965, Cornel Wilde, South Africa)**
The Lion Hunters (1966, Jean Rouch)**
Mandabi (1968, Ousmane Sembene, Senegal)**
Tauw (1970, Ousmane Sembene, Senegal)** [watch]
Harvest: 3,000 Years (1975, Haile Gerima, Ethiopia)***
Baara (1978, Souleymane Cissé, Mali)**
The Lion of the Desert (1980, Moustapha Akkad, Libya)**
Coup de Torchon (1981, Bertrand Tavernier, France)**
Wanderers of the Desert (1984, Nacer Khemir, Tunisia)**
Cry Freedom (1987, Richard Attenborough, UK)**
A World Apart (1988, Chris Menges, UK)**
Chocolat (1988, Claire Denis, Cameroon)***
Yaaba (1989, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Burkina Faso)**
Hyenas (1992, Djibril Diop Mambéty, Senegal)*
The Silences of the Palace (1994, Moufida Tlatli, Tunisia)* [watch]

Our Father (2002, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad)**
Moolaadé (2004, Ousmane Sembene, Senegal)***
Wah-Wah (2005, Richard E. Grant, Swaziland)**
The Last King of Scotland (2006, Kevin Macdonald, Uganda)***
Blood Diamond (2006, Edward Zwick, Sierra Leone)*
Munyurangabo (2007, Lee Isaac Chung, Rwanda)***
Johnny Mad Dog (2008, Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, Liberia)**
White Material (2009, Claire Denis, France)**
District 9 (2009, Neill Blomkamp, South Africa)***
Horses of God (2012, Nabil Ayouch, Morocco)***
Timbuktu (2014, Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania)***
Beasts of No Nation (2015, Cary Joji Fukunaga, USA)***
Clash (2016, Mohamed Diab, Egypt)**
I Am Not a Witch (2017, Rungano Nyoni, Zambia)**
The Wound (2017, John Trengove, South Africa)***
This Magnificent Cake! (2018, Emma De Swaef, Belgium)***
Black Earth Rising (2018)
You Will Die at 20 (2019, Amjad Abu Alala, Sudan)**
The Unknown Saint (2019, Alaa Eddine Aljem, Morocco)**
Moffie (2019, Oliver Hermanus, South Africa)***
This is not a Burial, it's a Resurrection (2019, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Lesotho)**
Atlantics (2019, Mati Diop, Senegal)*
Cairo Conspiracy (2022, Tarik Saleh, Sweden)***






Read Further:
Colonialism in the Americas
Magical-Realist Films from Latin America
Colonialism in Asia (1)


P.S. The ancient name of Africa was Alkebulan meaning “mother of mankind” or “garden of Eden”. Alkebulan is the oldest and the only word of indigenous origin. It was used by the Moors, Nubians, Numidians, Khart-Haddans (Carthagenians), and Ethiopians. Africa, the current misnomer adopted by almost everyone today, was given to this continent by the ancient Greeks and Romans. [Source]

P.S.2 The word negro means the color black in both Spanish and in Portuguese, where English took it from. The word nigger appeared in the 16th century as an adaptation of French nègre, itself from Spanish negro.

P.S.3 Colonialism is where one country physically exerts complete control over another country and Imperialism is formal or informal economic and political domination of one country over the other. In a nutshell, colonialism can be thought of as the practice of domination and imperialism as an idea behind the practice.


Posted: April 2023


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