I’m working on a project in African Studies and I need help from a tutor to assist my work. The work should be 4 pages and citing from two films and three readings, double spaced. Please refrain from citing outside the syllabus unless it builds directly on an argument developed through a close analysis of materials. Feel free to use stills from films if they aid in your discussion of a film (but be mindful that images will not count toward the page count requirement).Include a works cited. Clearly identify which prompt you are responding to. Give a title.
Here’s the research problem: Labor and extraction have been themes that run through several of our films and readings this quarter–spanning the temporal markers of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Africa. Choosing one film to focus on (and citing a second film to add to your argument), explore what the conditions of labor are in the film and the broader social and cultural context of the country and time that the film is set in. (i) Offer a definition of labor and its relation to extraction or value through a close reading of the film. (ii) What are broader social or historical factors that produce the conditions for this type of labor? Be sure to set the scene (where are we in time and place) of the film and its genre. (iii) How does the film explore the impacts, violences, tensions, or contradictions of the type of labor relation that it presents? This may be a place to explore social and cultural impacts on family, identity, gender, health, migration, or other topics that you see fit to discuss. 
Films: Blood Diamond (2006) Black Panther (2018) I want to compare and contrast the different social dynamic of Blood Diamond and Black Panther, mainly focusing on Blood Diamond (2006) by Leonardo DiCaprio. In Blood Diamond, people are suppressed to mine diamond by rebellion army RUF. People were living in fear and the diamond they mine will eventually becomes fund for more firearm. In Black Panther, the country of Wakanda also have rich resources called Vibranium and the country managed it well by concealing the fact that they possess such resource. I  think the material of Guyer’s take on labor is very important and relates to the film well.

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02.26.2018

Why is the cultural life of Black
Panther so derivative?

BY

Ainehi Edoro

Bhakti Shringarpure

In the Global North, Africa never inspires radically new terms of

representation. It always presents itself as an entity grounded in an

anthropological reality.

Wakanda is not a country in Africa, it is Africa. What this means is that Wakanda is not simply located in the
center of Africa, as the map points out right at the start of Black Panther, but that it is shown to be a cumulative
product of the entire African continent’s histories, politics, aesthetics, cultures and landscapes.

Afro-futurism is what emerges when we seek the meaning of the future in blackness. The form of utopian
politics hard-wired into this view of the world is not hard to identify when we look at Black Panther, as well as
at Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon and Who Fears Death, and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair. What these works have in
common is the notion that the future of the globe depends on a becoming-black of the world. They situate
global networks of black worlds as the center around which a new global or planetary order can be assembled.

Black Panther has left no stone unturned when it comes to incorporating the extraordinary geography that the
continent is home to, as well as cultural elements such as clothing, hair, jewelry, body art and make-up. A
Somali blogger beautifully deconstructed Black Panther’s fashion by illustrating the ways in which every
single character’s look had been crafted in great detail based on painstaking and detailed research by Ruth

Annotate Highlight

https://africasacountry.com/author/ainehi-edoro

https://africasacountry.com/author/bhakti-shringarpure

http://nnedi.com/books/lagoon.html

‘Who Fears Death’ Post-Apocalyptic Drama Set At HBO With George R.R. Martin & Michael Lombardo Producing

https://us.macmillan.com/everfair/nisishawl/9781466837843/

https://www.nytimes.com/video/arts/100000005735913/black-panther-costumes-merge-african-history-with-afrofuturism.html

https://twitter.com/diasporicblues/status/964770975190528000

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/02/why-fashion-is-key-to-understanding-the-world-of-black-panther/553157/

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Carter on various groups across the continent — Mursi lip plates from Ethiopia, hair woven with otijze paste in
the style of Namibia’s Himba women, Kente scarves from Ghana and Basotho blankets from Lesotho, among
dozens and dozens of such stunning details.

There is a kind of euphoria in seeing these appropriated, misrepresented and marginalized cultures come alive
on the screen. But for us, it also raises some questions: If Wakanda is an isolated and hidden country that has
successfully invented a dizzying array of technological implements and has a fiercely nationalist mentality, why
have they not managed to generate their own unique culture? Why is it so easy, in spite of all the dressing up,
to mistake Wakanda for Africa?

Why is Wakandan cultural life so devoid of its own, special brand of artifacts, fashion and language? In
Wakanda, highly detailed and realistic renditions of ethno-aesthetic, sartorial elements from African countries
geographically and culturally distant from each other co-exist despite Wakanda’s centuries long isolation from
the rest of the continent, as well as the planet.

There are several reasons why Wakandan culture is so derivative.

Firstly, the Africa in Black Panther is all too familiar. Apart from the typical Hollywood futuristic gizmo, the
world in the film is much too recognizable. Director and cowriter Ryan Coogler assembles a delightfully mixed
bag of contemporary African iconographies touched up with the usual Hollywood futuristic sheen and tells us it
is what a futuristic Africa looks like. But Wakanda is not futuristic enough. It is too rooted in an Africa we
already know and inhabit and, thus, does not manage to really take flight into the imaginary.

At the end of Black Panther, T’Challa dreams of a new world order led by Wakanda. Like other global
imaginaries built around blackness, his vision presupposes a tectonic power shift and a redrawing of the maps
of global power. In a way, Black Panther exemplifies the ways in which Afro-futurism renders blackness as
what is at stake in the future of the globe. And precisely for that reason, the utopian politics that are at the heart
of the film are easy to grasp and endlessly exciting. But the same cannot be said for its aesthetics. What we find
is that, while the film’s politics are beautifully utopian, its aesthetic is typically “anthropological.” The idea of
Wakanda is radically utopian, but the formal way in which the film is designed is far from utopian.

In the Global North, Africa never seems to inspire radically new terms of representation. Africa  always
presents itself as an entity grounded in a kind of anthropological reality. That is why, in his attempt to imagine a
futuristic Africa, Coogler is content to simply reproduce Africa as it exists. He forgets that Africa as the subject
of art, and Africa as what is artistically represented, are two different things, and that the gap between the two
is where the imagination can soar.

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How is it that in a futuristic Africa, a Himba woman looks similar to how she appears in National Geographic
magazine? In Coogler’s mind, as in the minds of many writers and artists, there is really no difference between
the Himba woman as a ethnographic fact of the African world  and the form in which she is artistically
represented as a figure of the future. A truly utopian gesture would have been to be a bit more inventive. The
fetish for “tribal” culture, nativism and indigeneity is also illustrated in the design elements for the all-female
Wakandan warriors, known as Dora Milaje. Senior visual development illustrator Anthony Francisco said that
these women’s look was inspired by a Filipino tribe called Ifuego.

More evidence of an archetypal anthropological imaginary are the bare-bodied duels on top of a waterfall, the
long traditional ceremonies involving drinking panther blood, the making of life-giving potions with a mortar
and pestle, the encounters with ancestors under the obligatory acacia tree, and the oddly herbal nature of
vibranium. Oh yes, the glowing, throbbing purple vibranium is squeezed out of a really exotic African flower.
The Jabari tribe, who exist autonomously in Wakanda and are also quite wealthy, have descended from gorillas
and use barking as their war cry and decorate their palace with twine and twig art.

 The essence of science fiction and fantasy is invention in its most radical sense. There is a distinct pleasure that
comes from seeing familiar iconographies reinvented to the point of being unrecognizable. There is a place in
fiction, a border point, where our knowledge of a place intersects with a completely reimagined version of that
place. It is from this threshold that the futuristic derives its power, and it is this threshold that separates
Wakanda from Africa. To let Wakanda fulfill its utopian function, we cannot allow it to coincide with Africa,
which is what the movie does. It suggests that Wakanda is nothing but the sum total of Africa’s existing cultural
artifacts and practices. A truly utopian aesthetic would remind us not to mistake Wakanda for Africa by
maintaining a distance between the two, where something mindblowingly imaginative can take place. Even
though we see Africa in Wakanda, it should be an Africa that is so completely re-imagined that it suspends
everything we thought we knew of Africa.

But an ethnographically diverse, United Nations of Africa-type of scenario is what Wakandan culture seems to
be about. The language being spoken is Xhosa, which is absurd because the Black Panther budget could surely
have whipped up several linguistics experts to create a new Wakandan language for the scant number of scenes
it’s spoken in. In the history of sci-fi/ fantasy, the invention of language has always been a generative element
of world building. Think Tolkien’s Elvish, with its complete linguistic archive, or Dothraki in George R. R.
Martin’s Game of Thrones. It would have been a real treat to hear Wakandans speak a whole new language, in
part, because a utopian Africa on film deserves a new language. That would have been the futuristic thing to
do.

Secondly, Wakanda is bizarrely and inexplicably postcolonial!

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-panther-filipino-influence_us_5a90b27fe4b03b55731c44a9

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Wakandans seem to come armed with all kinds of intellectual discourse opposing colonialism. In postcolonial
literature, authors will often write back against centuries of Western “othering” of colonized people and their
culture. Several postcolonial novels will have white or European characters who are depicted as exotic or
strange or comical, and their culture is mocked and rendered somewhat absurd. In Black Panther, plenty of
othering jokes abound. Okoye says, “Guns, so primitive,” and Shuri gets the big laughs when she calls CIA
Agent Ross a “colonizer.”

Why are Wakandas so fluent in a postcolonial comedic sensibility when they have never even experienced
colonialism? Teaching white students in the West about the legacy of colonialism is like pulling teeth. There is
neither empathy nor interest. In Wakanda, however, there is no one living with colonial conquest or its
aftermaths. Why, then, do they sound so postcolonial? It seems that when Wakandans Netflix and chill, they are
binging on Battle of Algiers and 12 Years a Slave. In their curriculum, there is perhaps an overload of Edward
Said, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe and Paul Gilroy.

This oppositional postcolonial politics constantly reinforces existing stereotypes about Africa and Africans.
Reversing the dynamics of others, rejecting racist or nativist stereotypes, is part of the comedic underlayer of
Black Panther. Jabari threatens Agent Ross with cannibalism, and then bursts out laughing because Ross falls
for it; Jabari then informs him that his kids are actually vegetarian. This is similar to Okoye using the word
“primitive” to typecast the white world. By implanting these reversals, these lines only highlight and perform
their presence. We weren’t really thinking of Wakanda or even Africans as being either primitive or
cannibalistic, but suddenly the jokes circle around it, reminding us that, actually, these things are indeed still a
cross to bear for Africans everywhere.

The truth is that Black Panther, at the end of day, emerges from a very American imagination. To the extent
that it aims to express the natal rupture experienced by African-Americans and the perpetual legacy of
traumatic uprooting that is brought upon them, Black Panther beautifully evokes it. It fills the heart to see the
loss that an unmoored and orphaned Eric feels, and the sense of solidarity he has with his black brothers who
continue to suffer worldwide. Cooger and team have been heavily criticized for depicting Eric as an aggressive,
toxic, woman-murdering war veteran but the Wakandans have been depicted somewhat unfairly too, even
though they stand in for a powerful African utopia that is meant to reshape the global black experience.

Africans are imagined in the most Western way possible in this film. Wakanda’s tribalist, isolationist, ethno-
nationalist, lineage-obsessed mentality makes them insensitive and tone-deaf to the need for a true black
solidarity. The long-standing rift between the Africans and the African-Americans has been raised to a fever
pitch in the film. In a way, this insensitivity is blamed on the Wakandan’s old-school ways, an assertion that
could have been mitigated and reframed had the utopia that is Wakanda been rooted in a less anthropological
imaginary. It feels disappointing in the end to realize that, no matter how cerebral and illuminated the

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filmmakers are in terms of history and politics, they end up falling into the trap of showing us an Africa of the
Western imagination.

Comic book adaptations continue to evolve and mature over time. Often, they completely reinvent their
imagery and aesthetic approaches. We can only hope that the Black Panther franchise can fully embrace an
Afro-futurist vision. Kodwo Eshun reminds us that not all science fiction is utopian. To be truly utopian, a
narrative must move beyond simply re-assigning the present to a future time. For Black Panther, this would
mean beginning from a utopian archive. It would mean fashioning a radically new African world from a
backcloth that is itself utopian and not merely anthropologically available.

“Wakanda,” Lupita Nyongo says on the American TV talk show, The View, “is special because it was never
colonized,” and thus “a reimagining of what could have been possible had Africa been allowed to realize itself
for itself.” To push its utopian vision as far as Lupita’s comment suggests, Black Panther has to begin from an
African world that has successfully rendered both the colonial experience and the postcolonial response to it
superfluous.

That said, #WakandaForever? Absolutely!

About the Author

Ainehi Edoro is on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and founded and edits literary site, Brittle Paper.

Bhakti Shringarpure is Associate Professor of English at University of Connecticut, Editor-in-Chief of Warscapes and author

of ‘Cold War Assemblages’ (Routledge, 2019).

https://www.kit.ntnu.no/sites/www.kit.ntnu.no/files/KodwoEshun_Afrofuturism_0.pdf

THE GROUNDS OF CIRCULATION: RETHINKING AFRICAN FILM AND
MEDIA

Brian Larkin

Karthala | « Politique africaine »

2019/1 n° 153 | pages 105 à 126
ISSN 0244-7827
DOI 10.3917/polaf.153.0105

Article disponible en ligne à l’adresse :
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Politique africaine n° 153 • 2019/1 • p. 105-126 105
Le Dossier

Brian Larkin

The Grounds of Circulation:
Rethinking African Film and Media

The aesthetic form and financial infrastructures of African popular film
has transformed in recent years leading to a revision of the paradigms
for thinking African screen media. This paper assesses that rethinking.
It  examines three things. First, I argue the analysis of the technical,
financial, and institutional infrastructures of film has a longer history in
studies of African screen media and is, perhaps, one of its most
innovative aspects. Second, I expand analyses beyond the dichotomy
between traditional African cinema and popular film to take in colonial
and postcolonial educational cinemas, the historical and continuing
presence of foreign films (U.S., Indian, French, Chinese), and emergent
art-world, gallery cinemas. These have all generated rich scholarly
debate but are often segregated from each other. I argue we can
fruitfully analyse them as part of a single cinematic ecology. Third, I turn
from a general discussion of infrastructures of distribution and exhibition
to a more narrow focus on “new Nollywood” cinema in Nigeria. I
re-examine recent debates about the political effects of these new
infrastructures of production and exhibition and their supposed
complicity with contemporary neo-liberalism.

In both film production and the scholarly analyses of African screen media
there has been a recognition that something has fundamentally changed. The
mode of productive forces has shifted, the aesthetic forms they produce are
different, and the technical, financial and institutional infrastructures that
organize film production are not reproducing themselves but are in the midst
of a deep transformation. The task for scholars has been how to think this
change and the split between these new forces and older forms of African
popular cinema. For Haynes and Jedlowski in this volume, for Adejunmobi,
and others, the older paradigms for thinking and writing film and media no
longer hold, and we need a new critical language to address this transfor-
mation. This is one that moves away from the older militant manifestoes of
African cinema as well as the concepts of popular culture that replaced them
and which are now, in Jedlowski’s argument “at least partially obsolete”.

I want to address three issues in this article. First, both scholars and
filmmakers examining recent changes in popular cinemas have focused on

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Politique africaine n° 153 • 2019/1

L’audiovisuel africain et le capitalisme global

106

the technical and financial infrastructures of distribution that undergird these
changes. They argue that these infrastructures organize and delimit what
African film and media are – aesthetically, socially, politically. This has been
a preoccupation of my own research – particularly around the emergence of
video1 – but recent scholarship has pushed this approach farther analyzing
the new digital infrastructures that undergird practices of distribution2.
Moreover, this focus on distribution has been augmented as scholars have
begun to analyze film festivals and biennials as infrastructural nodes that
control (and mediate) forms of cultural production3. Overall, this is a focus
on the material and cultural infrastructures that support and transmit media
rather than on the texts themselves and reveals how these systems exert
cultural and political force and are not simply neutral means of moving media
around. I focus on these processes but, as will become clear, I argue this is
not new. I want to return to the founding of African cinema at the moment
of high nationalism to see how these issues were central to the definition
of African cinema as a technical and discursive object. African film and
media have a peculiar ontology because filmmakers producing them and
scholars analyzing them have always focused beyond the film text itself and
paid attention to how that text exists within a broader technical, economic,
and political environment. This has been a focus in recent turns within film

1. B. Larkin, « Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Media and the Infrastructure of Piracy in
Nigeria », Public Culture, vol. 16, n° 2, 2004, p. 289-314 ; Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure and
Urban Culture in Nigeria, Durham, Duke University Press, 2008 ; « Hausa Dramas and the Rise of
Video Culture in Nigeria », in J. Haynes (dir.), Nigerian Video Film. Revised and Expanded Edition,
Athens, Ohio University Press, 2000, p. 209-242.
2. Jedlowski cites much of this work in the introduction. See the Haynes essay in this volume and:
M. Adejunmobi, « Neoliberal Rationalities in Old and New Nollywood », African Studies Review,
vol. 58, n° 3, 2015, p. 31-53 ; « Streaming Quality, Streaming Media », in K. Harrow et C. Garritano (dir.),
A Companion to African Cinema, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2019, p. 219-243 ; C. Garritano,
African Video Movies and Global Desires: A Ghanaian History, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2013 ;
J. Haynes, « Between the Informal Sector and Transnational Capitalism: Transformations of
Nollywood », in K. Harrow et C. Garritano (dir.), A Companion to African Cinema, op. cit., p. 244-268 ;
A. Jedlowski, « African Media and the Corporate Takeover: Video Film Circulation in the Age of
Neoliberal Transformations », African Affairs, vol. 116, n° 465, 2017, p. 671-691 ; C. Ryan, « New
Nollywood: A Sketch of Nollywood’s Metropolitan New Style », African Studies Review, vol. 58, n° 3,
2015, p. 55-76 ; J. L. Miller, Nollywood Central: The Nigerian Videofilm Industry, Londres, British Film
Institute, 2016 ; N. A. Tsika, Nollywood Stars: Media and Migration in West Africa and the Diaspora,
Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2015. See also R. Lobato, Shadow Economies of Cinema:
Mapping Informal Film Distribution, Londres, British Film Institute, 2012.
3. On festivals the major contribution here is L. Dovey, Curating Africa in the Age of Film Festivals,
Londres, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Biennials as an infrastructure for the art market and art film
is receiving increasing attention. Y. Konaté et R. G. Elliot (trad.), « Dak’Art: The Making of Pan-
Africanism and the Contemporary », Art in Translation, vol. 5, n° 4, 2013, p. 487-529. Dovey also
discusses this turn toward biennials in her book.

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Brian Larkin

The Grounds of Circulation: Rethinking African Film and Media

107

and media studies but its long history in the subcontinent is, perhaps, one of
the most innovative aspects of African screen media studies.

Second, in drawing out this history I want to move beyond normative
binaries that have organized polemics between (a largely francophone)
African cinema, what I am going to refer to as festival cinema4, and what I will
term popular cinema. This refers to the cinemas that emerged in Ghana and
Nigeria from the 1990s on Ghannywood (Ghanaian film), Nollywood (English
language Nigerian film) and Kannywood (Hausa language Nigerian film)5. In
the 1990s and 2000s these two cinema practices were often at loggerheads with
both scholars and filmmakers engaged in polemics though this has lessened
in recent years. The problem with this polemic is that it focused on differences
producing reified oppositions and eliding continuities. It also operated with a
restricted definition of film in Africa in that it largely ignored a much broader
cinematic ecology, colonial and postcolonial mobile educational cinemas, the
continuing presence of foreign film (U.S., Indian, French and Chinese films):
and emergent art-world cinemas6. What made these polemics so intense is
that behind them lay ambitions for the possible futures for modern African
subjects in Nigeria. One was progressivist, engaged with modern artistic

4. See L. Dovey, Curating Africa in the Age…, op. cit. Dovey uses this term to refer to films that are
outside of the mainstream, and which are more aesthetically challenging, often striving for a new
film language. This is the classic definition of African cinema and the sense I will use the term in
this article (M. Diawara African Cinema: Politics and Culture, Bloomington, Indiana University Press,
1992). However, as Dovey notes, film festivals themselves are varied with many pursuing a
mainstream audience while other seek a more experimental edge. The appearance of mainstream,
popular Nigerian films such as Wedding Party (Kemi Adetiba, 2016) at the Toronto Film Festival,
for instance, blurs this distinction.
5. Yoruba language film is decisive here, both as a precursor and driver of the emergence of
Nollywood, but also as an industry in its own right. It has not been given a “…wood” suffix.
6. On educational cinema see J. Burns, Cinema and Society in the British Empire, 1895-1940, Londres,
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013 ; C. Garritano, African Video Movies and Global Desires…, op. cit. ; B. Larkin,
Signal and Noise…, op. cit. ; A. Sanogo, « Colonialism, Visuality and the Cinema: Revisiting the Bantu
Educational Kinema Experiment », in L. Grieveson et C. McCabe (dir.). Empire and Film, Londres,
Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 227-245. Since the heyday of the critique of cultural imperialism there
has been sustained historical and contemporary research into the central place of foreign films
within the cultural life of Africans across the continent. On the popularity of Hindi cinema see:
A. U. Adamu Transglobal Media Flows and African Popular Culture: Revolution and Reaction in Muslim
Hausa Popular Culture, Kano, Visually Ethnographic Press, 2007 ; « Currying Favour: Eastern Media
Influences and the Hausa Video Film », Film International, vol. 28, n° 4, 2007, p. 77-89 ; L. Fair, Reel
Pleasures: Cinema Audiences and Entrepreneurs in Twentieth-Century Urban Tanzania, Athens, Ohio
University Press, 2018 ; M. Fugelsang, Veils and Videos: Female Youth Culture on the Swahili Coast,
Stockholm, Studies in Social Anthropology, 1994 ; M. Krings, African Appropriations: Cultural
Difference Mimesis, and Media, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2015 ; B. Larkin, « Indian
Films and Nigerian Lovers: Media and the Creation of Parallel Modernities », Africa, vol. 67, n° 3,
1997, p. 406-440. On cowboy films see F. De Boeck et M. Plissart, Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City,
Gand, Ludion Press, 2004 ; C. D. Gondola, Tropical Cowboys: Westerns, Violence and Masculinity,
Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2016 ; on gangster films see R. Nixon, Homelands, Harlem
and Hollywood: South African Culture and the World Beyond, Londres/New York, Routledge, 1994.

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currents from elsewhere, artistically and intellectually modernist, socially
and intellectually elite. The other emerged from the crucible of the popular
and the informal, representing what Ashis Nandy refers to as the “unintended
city” that overwhelmed the modernist imagination and underwent an
“incomplete modernization”. This distinction is real, so far as it goes. But
it asserts fixed categories when in fact there is much movement between
them, and it presumes the centrality of these two cinemas at the expense of
the educational, the foreign and the art-world, each of which mobilizes their
own forms of ambition, identity and desire. To understand the cinematic
as a cultural and political form in Africa it is necessary to take this broader
ecology into account.

Third, I turn from this more general discussion of infrastructures of
distribution and exhibition in the context of film and media history in Africa
to a more narrow focus on “new Nollywood” cinema in Nigeria. In particular,
I comment on recent discussion on the production of technically sophisticated,
“international standard” images in New Nollywood films and the complicity
of these images with contemporary neo-liberalism7. The material nature of
the image – whether low or high quality –is not simply an aesthetic choice
by filmmakers but is the technical aftereffect of systems of distribution. And
as those systems have become the focus of aesthetic and political debate so
too has the status of the image and its quality. Earlier popular cinema was
seen to be technically poor, but because it was distributed broadly to all
strata of society and because it addressed tensions at the heart of everyday
Nigerian society those poor images were, for some, a material embodiment
of their egalitarianism and accessibility. New Nollywood cinema, by contrast,
is technically superior, but its high resolution, sophisticated lighting and
clear sound is seen, again, by some, as the formal expression of a cinema
oriented to elites. Borrowing from urban studies, we can see this as a kind of
enclave cinema, a gated reserve that provides a way of living that matches
a global middle class (“international standard”) but only by excluding the
popular classes. There is much to agree with in this depiction. However, I wish
push against it by taking seriously the ambition for technical excellence and
narrative sophistication as a political as well as a cultural goal. The desire for
technical excellence needs to be understood as something more than a formal
expression of neo-liberal capital.

7. I use this term as it is the one mobilized by scholars in their discussion of new Nollywood. It is
a large and capacious concept and different scholars focus on differing aspects. In the main, it
refers to the privatization of previously state-run institutions in the aftermath of structural
adjustment programs; the avocation of new forms of consumption and spectacle, and the growing
penetration of international private capital into domains once controlled by the state and the (local)
market and an increased governmental focus on the self at the expense of the communal.

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Distinction

When Onookome Okome wrote his now classic essay “Nollywood and its
Critics” (2010) he made the important point that debates around film have
generated “intractable controversies” about the place of culture and society
in postcolonial Nigeria8. As Okome notes, critics of Nollywood were trained
in the fight against cultural imperialism and dismissed this new film form as
“trashy” because of what it was – naïve, technically poor, culturally essentia-
list, obsessed with images of wealth and consumption – and for what it was
not – progressive, critical, aesthetically and technically complex. Because of
the critique, the earliest scholarly works on Nollywood were all concerned
with the same issue: how do you create a critical discourse around a popular
new form that seems to show a total lack of concern for politics as such. Are
these apparently apolitical films actually engaged in core political issues
facing Nigerians9?

The emergence of popular cinema represented a technical revolution
brought about by the small media of videocassette. As I argued at that time,
the affordances of video as a technology had a profound effect. It marked a
fundamentally different material base than previous histories of media in
Africa (both state television and commercial cinema), bringing different sorts
of actors into the film industry, innovating new structures of distribution and
reshaping sites of film exhibition, giving rise to what I then termed a “video
culture10”. These consequences were felt all over Nigeria but particularly in the
north where women were often kept in seclusion (kulle) and largely excluded
from forms of public culture. Video brought films into the home which now
became the dominant site for film exhibition transforming gendered relations
of viewing in the north.

The introduction of new technologies is often a time of great instability as
their practical operations, semiotic economies, cultural and political effects are
not yet fixed but in process. This is why they are often accompanied by anxiety

8. O. Okome, « Nollywood and its Critics », in M. Saul et R. A. Austen (dir), Viewing African Cinema
in the Twenty-First Century: Art Films and the Nollywood Video Revolution, Athens, Ohio University
Press, 2010, p. 26-41.
9. The important works in this regard are: M. Adejunmobi, « English and the Audience of an African
Popular Culture: The Case of Nigerian Video Films », Cultural Critique, n° 50, 2002, p. 74-103 ;
J. Haynes et O. Okome, « Evolving Popular Media: Nigerian Video Films », in J. Haynes (dir.), Nigerian
Video Film…, op. cit., p. 51-88 ; J. Haynes, « Introduction », in J. Haynes (dir.), Nigerian Video Film…,
op. cit., p. 1-36 ; J. Haynes, « Political Critique in Nigerian Video Films », African Affairs, vol. 105,
n° 421, 2006, p. 511-533 ; O. Okome, « Nollywood and its Critics », art. cité.
10. B. Larkin, « Hausa Dramas and the Rise of Video… », art. cité. See also the classic works on this
topic: P. Manuel, Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India, Chicago, Chicago
University Press, 1993 ; A. Sreberny-Mohammadi et Ali Mohammadi, Small Media, Big Revolution:
Communication, Culture and the Iranian Revolution, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

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and intense cultural debate as individuals and societies seek to define and fix
what these technologies are and fear for what they might do11. It is this debate
Okome tracks. Scholars, filmmakers, censors, government officials, clerics
all collided over what the political and cultural consequences of popular
cinema would be12. The result of these debates was that the discussion of film
became oriented around difference and opposition. As scholars, we sought
to identify what was new in popular cinema, technically, financially and
aesthetically, and contrasted these innovations with the cinema that came
before. And because of the polemical nature of these debates this difference
was frequently narrated as opposition. This is helpful in establishing key
differences between media but can be reductive, missing out on the broader
ecology in which media exist.

In the last seven years, as Haynes and Jedlowski note, there has again
been a technical and economic transformation in African screen media.
I do not want to go into the details of this transformation as they are well
described in this journal and elsewhere13. But where previously the opposition
(or “culture wars14”) was between festival and popular cinemas, recent
transformations mean the binary is now between what is glossed as “old”
and “new” Nollywood. This is again based on a technological transformation
(the emergence of digital technologies) that in turn involves new forms of
financing, distribution, exhibition and audience. And once again scholars have
focused on establishing what is distinct about this new cinema emphasizing
its alterity from what went before15 but unlike before, instead of championing

11. L. Gitelman et G. Pingree (dir.). New Media 1740-1915, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2004 ; B. Larkin,
Signal and Noise…, op. cit., p. 3.
12. This debate was particularly intense in the north of Nigeria where the emergence of popular
film brought filmmakers into conflict with Islamic clerics seeking to censor films under the rubric
of Islamic law. See A. U. Adamu, « Islam, Hausa Culture, and Censorship in Northern Nigerian
Video Film », in M. Saul et R. A. Austen (dir), Viewing African Cinema…, op. cit., p. 63-73 ; M. Ibrahim,
Sharia Implementation, Filmmaking, and Muslim Discourses: Analysis of Contestations and Negotiations
between Ulama and Kannywood Filmmakers in Northern Nigeria, Thèse de doctorat, Bayreuth, Université
de Bayreuth ; M. Krings, African Appropriations…, op. cit. ; C. McCain, « Nollywood, Kannywood,
and a Decade of Hausa Film Censorship in Nigeria », in D. Biltereyst et R. Vande Winkel (dir.),
Silencing Cinema: Film Censorship around the World, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013,
p. 223-240.
13. See footnote 2.
14. Voir M. Saul et R. A. Austen, « Introduction », in M. Saul et R. A. Austen (dir), Viewing African
Cinema…, op. cit., p. 3.
15. This is the dominant tendency in all writing on the topic. However, M. Adejunmobi, « Neoliberal
Rationalities… », art. cité ; A. Jedlowski, « African Media and the Corporate Takeover… », art. cité ;
and N. A. Tsika, « Nollywood Chronicles: Migrant Archives, Media Archeology and the Itineraries
of Taste », in K. Harrow et C. Garritano (dir.), A Companion to African Cinema, op. cit., p. 269-290, all
try to query this opposition drawing out continuities between these two cinemas as well.

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the new cinema, scholars of new Nollywood have been far more wary of the
political economic and cultural consequences of these changes.

This is because many scholars identify new Nollywood with a form of
neoliberalization. Adejunmobi sees the convergence of television serials and
new Nollywood as productive of a new governmental subject organized
around consumption, a global orientation, the regulation of self and society
through individual choice rather than broader social action. “New Nollywood
films”, she argues, “embrace the ethos of neoliberal orthodoxy more fully
than Old Nollywood films16.” Jedlowski sees the financing for these films as
a “corporate take-over” of cinema. Old Nollywood or “Asaba” films could
and can be made by almost anyone and distributed to everyone quickly
and cheaply through open-air markets whereas streaming services and
multiplex cinemas are seen to effectively monopolize what was previously a
more democratized system of production and distribution. Because they rely
upon venture capital, bank financing and major capital investment, they also
represent the incursion of the formal financial sector into what was very
much an informal system17. If the melodramatic spectacle of old Nollywood
was a critical commentary on the forms of precarity and wealth that marks
modern Africa, new Nollywood is seen to be a direct expression of capital
itself. New Nollywood, Connor Ryan argues, “serves more and more as a
direct demonstration of capitalism’s production of social life in the city18”.
While all these scholars are aware of the positive potential of these changes,
overall, they betray deep anxiety that these changes represent a form of
loss. The distorted images and sounds of old Nollywood were the technical
aftereffect of a distribution system that allowed these images to reach the
mass of people. Democratization, it could be said, left its material trace on
the image. Now technical excellence can be maintained but only by enclaving
images onto screens and platforms that allow for quality control but whose
expense keeps those images beyond the means of many Nigerians.

The irony here is that in developing a sophisticated critique of recent
changes, scholars who defended popular cinemas from attack by critics of
cultural imperialism now read far more like the latter. The early critique
of Nollywood by theorists of African cinema was that it was commercial
and apolitical, complicit with forms of capital, depicting a world of wealth
and luxury unrelated to the everyday life of most Nigerians. Now scholars
are anxious that new Nollywood is commercial and apolitical, complicit

16. M. Adejunmobi, « Neoliberal Rationalities… », art. cité, p. 41.
17. A. Jedlowski, « African Media and the Corporate Takeover… », art. cité ; J. Haynes, « Between
the Informal Sector… », art. cité ; J. L. Miller, Nollywood Central…, op. cit.
18. C. Ryan, « New Nollywood… », art. cité, p. 65.

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with forms of neo-liberal capital, depicting a world of wealth and luxury
unrelated to the everyday life of most Nigerians. The critical discourse around
African cinema emerged from the broader analysis of neocolonialism and
underdevelopment focusing not just on texts but on the place of cinema in
a broader political economy. Now it is precisely the relation of cinema to
capital that is at the forefront of this new literature. What was once framed as
two opposed, if not warring, aesthetic and scholarly traditions, now occupy
similar terrain

Connection

In narrating a history of film in Africa for this issue Jedlowski provides
a short conceptual overview familiar to all of us who work in this realm.
“In early post-independent Africa the economy of screen media production
and dissemination was mostly controlled by local governments and foreign
donors” producing a cinema that was high quality but “mostly oriented
toward international audiences rather than larger, Africa-based publics”. This
was replaced by “a more dynamic ecosystem of small entrepreneurs who
produced media contents with limited budgets and low-end technologies
for local distribution via mainly informal networks19”. Jedlowski identifies
two different forms of criticism associated with these two cinemas. The for-
mer was based on “politically-militant Third Cinema theory” and the latter
on the study of postcolonial urban popular cultures drawn, he says, from
anthropology. For Austen and Saul this distinction is one between film studies
students who use “the classic cinema-studies method of closely analyzing
art films as finished texts” versus “the scrutiny of social scientists” (mainly
anthropologists) or, in humanities faculties, of “media studies” and “cultural
studies specialists20”.

While this history is correct it only pertains to certain cinemas while in
fact there is a more capacious history of film in Africa which has received
considerable analysis in recent years and which we should bring into this story.
These cinemas are part of the broader ecology in which festival and popular
cinemas (old and new) grow. The history of African film is sometimes narrated
as a linear sequence: colonial propaganda documentaries are superseded by
the rise of festival cinema, which in turn gave way to the explosion of popular
cinemas that are now giving way to the rise of new Nollywood and its cousins.
However, festival cinema never eradicated the educational, propaganda

19. See Jedlowski in this issue.
20. M. Saul et R. A. Austen, « Introduction », art. cité, p. 2.

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impulse that organized colonial and early nationalist documentaries as the
continued attempt by NGOs and foreign states to use Nollywood, Kannywood,
and Riverwood (Kenyan popular cinema) to spread “messages” attests to.
Equally, popular cinema never eradicated the auteurist impulse as Aboubakar
Sanogo21 has made abundantly clear (he notes that the same transformations
in digital infrastructures that have roiled popular cinema have also energized
festival filmmaking). And new Nollywood has not replaced the grassroots
cinema of old Nollywood. Rather, all of these cinemas continue to co-exist.
Spectators oscillate between watching Indian and Hausa films, old and new
Nollywood, American and Hong Kong films. Popular filmmakers see the
festival circuit as a potential world they aspire to as well as an aesthetic and
financial structure to avoid and are happy to move between the two. Neither
are the lines of critical analysis so sharply drawn. It is true that studies of
festival cinema are typified as textualist and, indeed, this is an important part
of the study of African film and media. But it is only one method of analysis.
Because of its roots in political economy, African filmmakers and scholars
always addressed economic and technical structures outside of the text as
well. It is also the case that the materialist turn in scholarship generally – new
materialism, actor-network theory, archaeology of media, posthumanism –
has shifted analysis away from texts per se and toward the material structures
that support and traffic them. But this is a tradition of analysis that emerges
from within both the humanities and social sciences. Any simple division
between a textualist humanities and sociological social science is almost
immediately undermined.

The Grounds of Circulation

One of the most interesting aspects of recent research in African screen
media has been the attention paid to the infrastructures that make possible
and ground the circulation of media22. This is clearest in the analysis of new
multiplexes, streaming services and satellite televisions but the consequence
of this has been to throw older structures of distribution into relief. These
were organized around open air markets – Kof’ar Wambai (Hausa film),
Idumota, Alaba (Nollywood film) – and embedded in the sorts of informal
economic and social structures that have been widely studied in African

21. A. Sanogo, « Certain Tendencies in Auteurist Film Practices in Africa », Cinema Journal, vol. 54,
n° 2, 2015, p. 140-149.
22. See note 2. See also R. Lobato, Shadow Economies of Cinema…, op. cit. ; R. Lobato et J. Thomas,
The Informal Media Economy, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2015.

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urbanism23. This research has been augmented by recent scholarship exami-
ning the infrastructural role festivals play in regulating and mediating the
circulation of festival films24 and in the art world by the increasing critical
focus on biennials. All of these – markets, film festivals, biennials – comprise
the infrastructure allowing images to circulate and which draw together
technical, economic, institutional and cultural forces to make the movement
of images possible.

My earliest work examined the circulation of Indian film to Nigeria and
was part of a broader examination of how the flow of images produced by
globalization affected cultural and social life25. I had always been interested
in the materiality of the technologies that carried cultural forms as well
as the forms themselves but became interested in grounding the abstract
notion of “flow”. Things do not “flow” in any open-ended sense. They can
only move from point A to point B because an infrastructure allows them
to do so and, as it does, it prevents them moving to points C or D. These
infrastructures are not neutral but they operate upon the objects they traffic.
In the case of Nigeria in the 1990s, the vast majority of image products were
only available through pirate videos which were copies of copies of copies.
Mass copying leaves material traces. Not only that, but distribution relied
upon technical equipment that was frequently old, faulty and in varying states
of (dis)repair. As I argued previously, “Piracy imposes particular conditions
on the recording, transmission, and retrieval of data. Constant copying
erodes data storage, degrading image and sound, overwhelming the signal
of media content with the noise produced by the means of reproduction”
giving rise to a pirate aesthetics26. This refers to the fact that “Pirated images
have a hallucinogenic quality. Detail is destroyed as realist representation
fades into pulsating, pure light. Facial features are smoothed away, colors
are broken down into constituent tones, and bodies fade into one another.
Reproduction takes its toll, degrading the image by injecting dropouts and

23. These are all markets where the reproduction and distribution of popular film were organized:
in Kano (Kof’arWambai), Lagos (Idumota, later Alaba) and, more latterly, in Asaba, Delta state.
24. L. Dovey, Curating Africa in the Age…, op. cit. See also T. J Bikales, From “Culture” to
“Commercialization”: The Production and Packaging of an African Cinema in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso,
Thèse de doctorat en anthropologie, New York, New York University, 1997.
25. B. Larkin, « Indian Films and Nigerian Lovers… », art. cité ; « Bandiri Music, Globalization and
Urban Experience in Nigeria », Social Text, vol. 22, n° 4, 2004, p. 91-112. On flow, see A. Appadurai,
Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press,
1996 ; M. Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, 1996 ; G. Deleuze et
F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota
Press, 1987 ; P. Virilio, Speed and Politics, New York, Semiotext(e), 1987.
26. B. Larkin, « Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds… », art. cité, p. 290-291.

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bursts of fuzzy noise, breaking down dialogue into muddy, often inaudible
sound27”. Distribution was not a transparent, neutral event but affected the
material nature of the image itself. It made pulsating images and muddy
sound the material grid through which all media were consumed.

In this, I built on work that circulation and its opposite, stasis, are activities
that have to be accounted for rather than presumed. Dilip Goankar and
Elizabeth Povinelli argued that things must take on form as a condition of their
circulation, and those forms must conform to the channels of circulation that
move them28. On a material level, for instance, for gifs to circulate widely and
reach large amounts of people quickly they must use small file sizes leading
to stuttering, pixelated images.MP3s, similarly, compress audio, reducing the
sonic range of music and sound in order that they can be stored, transmitted
and played quickly. This means the machinery we have for organizing sound
is not governed by fidelity to the sonic event recorded but by the technical
needs demanded by the system of storage. Sound responds to technics, not
the other way around29. For media to disseminate as broadly as possible,
reaching the most amount of people, they need to be able to be produced
quickly and cheaply and media which do this are often of low resolution and
poor quality. That poverty of image and sound is the material consequence of
its circulatability and the symbolic statement of its connection to the demos30.

However, as Gaonkar and Povinelli suggest, practices of circulation rest
on cultural as well as material bases. They do so by inhabiting specific
forms which address and bring into being specific publics and collectives31.
This is why they argue that to understand circulation we need to move
beyond seeing it as an enabling matrix that makes movement possible but
something that exerts its own determinative culture32. We can see this in the
relations between informal marketers, multiplex cinema operators, festival
programmers, and art gallery curators all of whom have sophisticated ideas
of the sorts of cultural forms relevant to the publics they are addressing

27. Ibid., p. 308.
28. D. P. Gaonkar et E. A. Povinelli, « Technologies of Public Forms: Circulation, Transfiguration,
Recognition », Public Culture, vol. 15, n° 3, 2003, p. 385-397. See also B. Larkin « Making Equivalence
Happen: Commensuration and the Architecture of Circulation », in P. Spyer et M. Steedly (dir.),
Images that Move, Santa Fe, SAR Press, 2013, p. 237-256. For an interesting analysis of material
breakdown in circulation and stasis see G. Steingo, « Sound and Circulation: Immobility and
Obduracy in South African Electronic Music », Ethnomusicology, vol. 24, n° 1, 2015, p. 102-123.
29. J. Sterne, MP3: The Meaning of a Format, Durham, Duke University Press, 2012.
30. H. Steyerl, « In Defense of the Poor Image », The Wretched of the Screen, e-flux journal, Sternberg
Press, 2009, p. 31-45.
31. K. Barber, « Preliminary Notes on Audiences in Africa », Africa, vol. 67, n° 3, 1996, p. 347-362.
32. They take this idea from B. Lee and E. Li Puma, « Cultures of Circulation: The Imagination of
Modernity », Public Culture, vol. 14, n° 1, 2002, p. 191-213.

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and constituting. Lindiwe Dovey argues that festival programmers play a
role “in producing certain kinds of African cinema” raising questions about
the exclusions involved in this selection “what Arjun Appadurai resonantly
calls ‘the traffic in criteria’33”. But as Jonathan Haynes (this volume) notes,
informal marketers also have an acute instinct for what their audiences want
and are well able to insist that films follow these formal directives in order
that they will be funded and circulated. These exclusions, then, do not just
happen at the high end but are present at every stage of Nigerian screen
media production. Old Nollywood films have to conform to the technical,
formal, and narrative requirements of multiplexes in order to be screened34.
The pleasing narrative and commercial sophistication that made Wedding
Party (Kemi Adetiba, 2016) a blockbuster at multiplexes might disqualify it
from film festivals with more avant-garde sensibilities35. Similarly, Wangechi
Mutu’s three screen animated, non-narrative video installation The End of
Carrying All (2015) conforms to an art world cinematic format that allows it
to be curated by Okwui Enwezor for the Venice Biennial but would make
it difficult to circulate outside of the gallery space.

Asaba marketers, film house multiplex owners, festival programmers,
and biennial curators are all highly sophisticated in recognizing the
formal devices their specific circulatory systems demand and ensuring the
products they screen conform to those technical and aesthetic formats. This
dominates the selection criteria of marketers as much as it does of film festival
programmers. In a fascinating interview, Chris Eneaji, the new Nollywood
director, tells Carmen McCain that after he made his first critically successful
film, he was sat down by veteran Nollywood director Teco Benson and bluntly
told that he must choose between making films for a mass audience or making
films for multiplexes because the two venues engaged different audiences
with differing taste criteria. Eneaji’s film, Murder at Prime Suites (C. Eneaji
2013), was critically successful but Benson told him “It is a good story, but
that’s not what Nigerians want to see… Choose. It’s either you want to make

33. L. Dovey, « Through the Eye of a Film Festival: Toward a Curatorial and Spectator-Centered
Approach to the Study of African Screen Media », Cinema Journal, vol. 54, n° 2, 2015, p. 128.
34. To give an example, Daniel Oriahi, the director of Taxi Driker: Oko Ashewo (2015) was instructed
by FilmOne, the production arm of Filmhouse cinemas, that his film should be kept to a 90 minutes
length. This is to keep the film within an “international standard” for feature films and to
distinguish it from excessively long (often multi-part) stories of old Nollywood (conversation with
Oriahi, November 2017).
35. Noah Tsika demonstrates clearly how structures of distribution and exhibition affect the
aesthetic organization of the text noting that the filmmaker Izu Ojukwu had to eliminate nearly
50 minutes from his film ’76 (Izu, 2016) in order for it to be shown at multiplex cinemas. Tsika refers
to this as the “authoring” process of distribution and exhibition, an argument Dovey also makes.
N. A. Tsika, Nollywood Stars…, op. cit., p. 283.

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money, or you make the movies that will make the name for you36”. Benson
is clear that films made to fit the style of one of these structures of exhibition
will not work in the other. Eneaji goes on to confirm Benson’s insight. When
he finished his next film, Secret Room (2013), shot in new Nollywood style,
he screened it for his family to get a sense of popular reaction, “it didn’t go
more than twenty minutes and someone was asking me, ‘Can we change?’
I was depressed…37” (however the film received critical success and was later
nominated for awards).

What this shows is the power of systems of distribution in “authoring”
the films they traffic. And it indicates the fact that Nigeria, like most African
countries, encompasses a range of filmmaking styles and taste sensibilities.
This is why discussing film in terms of binaries – between festival and
popular cinema or old and new Nollywood – is limited. Film in Africa, like
Africans themselves, is diverse comprising differing aesthetic and cultural
investments.

It is precisely this attention to the dynamics of circulation that we see in
the innovative recent scholarship on multiplexes, streaming services, satellite
television stations, film festivals and biennials that provide the technical
infrastructures for African screen media. These transformations are not
distinctive to Africa. The relationship of cinema to the multiplex and the
shopping mall has been a central theme of spectatorship since the pioneering
work of Anne Friedberg38 and the role of multiplexes in the “gentrification” of
cinema has been analyzed extensively in Indian screen studies39. But what is
distinctive is that film history in Africa – from mobile propaganda cinemas,
through to auteur festival cinemas, to the emergence of a popular home video
format cinema industry – has had a trajectory unlike other film histories
and which, as a consequence, has included systems of distribution as a core
analytic focus.

36. C. McCain « An Evolution in Nollywood, Nigeria’s New Wave: A Conversation with Chris
Eneaji », Black Camera, vol. 7, n° 2, 2016, p. 210. Benson saw the old Nollywood market as more
lucrative financially for directors than the far more expensive enclave cinema of new Nollywood.
37. Ibid., p. 212.
38. A Friedberg, Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, Berkeley, University of California
Press, 1993.
39. A. Athique et D. Hill, The Multiplex in India: A Cultural Economy of Urban Leisure, Londres,
Routledge, 2010 ; T. Ganti, Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Film Industry, Durham, Duke
University Press 2012 ; A. S. Rai, Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India’s New Media Assemblage,
Durham, Duke University Press, 2009.

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The peculiar ontology of African Cinema

In 1973, Third World filmmakers from across Africa and Latin America met
in Algiers in a historic congress to produce a series of resolutions defining
the concept of Third World Cinema. Coming just after the formation of the
Fédération panafricaine des cinéastes (Fepaci) in 1969 this was a collective
effort of developing nations to fight against cultural imperialism by esta-
blishing a progressive popular film industry. It came after the establishment
of the Journées cinématographiques de Carthage (JCC, Carthage Film Festival), the
first film festival of its kind in Africa and gave rise to Fespaco, the dominant
film festival in West Africa. The congress was followed by two others – in
Algiers in 1975 and Niamey in 1982. The aim of these congresses was to put
forth a series of resolutions laying out a blueprint for a cinema in the Third
World and in Africa in particular40 and their resolutions remain canonical
statements about the relation between culture and decolonization.

The first sentence of the 1973 resolution on the state of cinema begins:
“So called ‘underdevelopment’ is first an economic problem with repercus-
sions on the social and cultural sphere41.” As a statement on cinema this
is an interesting opening. The roots of nationalist African cinema lay in
political economy, in the analysis of an economic system of dispossession
and the role of cinema – economically and culturally – in that dispossession.
“To analyse such a development” the resolution continues, “we must refer
to the dialectics of capitalism on a world scale”. Political economy generates
a peculiar ontology for cinema because it displaces the cinematic. Under
this analysis film can never refer to either text or the physical substance of
celluloid alone but is dispersed into a broader political economy – “capitalism
on a world scale”. This is what I mean by its peculiar ontology, that in this
lineage of critical thought film is displaced at the moment it is brought into
focus. The very meeting designed to focus attention on the cinematic text
incorporated the question of infrastructure into the object of African cinema
and, I am arguing, set in motion a concern for the platforms that allow
circulation which continues to today. James Genova has recently made a
similar argument in his detailed recounting of the struggle between the first
generation of African filmmakers and the French government in the origins
of festival cinemas. He argues that African filmmakers at this time were not
just concerned with issues of representation (though this was an important

40. This initiative merged from the formation of the formed in 1969 and inaugurated in 1970.
41. « Resolutions of the Third World Filmmakers Meeting, Algiers, December 5-14 1973 », Black
Camera, vol. 2, n° 1, 2010, p. 156.

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focus) but with the “cinema industrial complex” as a whole42. He cites the
filmmaker and theorist Haile Gerima on this: “I believe that the… right to
express one’s own story is the battleground… Now I have become more
realistic that films are nothing without the power of distribution, and I have
become more realistic about the economic aspects of cinema43.”

The concern for the infrastructural bases of cinema can be seen in the
fact the 1973 congress was broken down into three separate sections each
issuing their own set of recommendations. The first examines cinema’s role
in the cultural alienation of societies and the need to develop a revolutionary
alternative. The second focuses on production and stresses the need “to
provide revolutionary filmmakers with national cinema infrastructures44”.
The third analyzes distribution and recommends the creation of a Third World
Cinema Office to organize the distribution of revolutionary films from across
the Third World. Genova argues that the founding figures of Fepaci – Paulin
Vieyra, Med Hondo, and Ousmane Sembène – realized that without command
of the material structures of cinema “any progress in the representational
realm would be fleeting and reversible45”. This is why the second meeting of
Fepaci (Fédération panafricaine des cinéastes) in 1975 and the third in Niamey
Manifesto in 1982 again reiterated the need to understand cinema in a broader
capacity as comprising “the exploitation of cinema theatres, the importation
of films, technical infrastructure, and training46”.

This history is provocative. It complicates easy assertions about the
textualist bias of African cinema studies that is different from and opposed
to, a social scientific concern for material structures. The analysis of film
form remains important but at the very emergence of African cinema there
was already a far more capacious idea of the cinematic which rejects these
dichotomies. In his programmatic essay, “What is Cinema for Us?” the noted
Mauritanian director Med Hondo excoriates the “domination” of African
audiences by foreign images and affirms the ways of life they promote and

42. J. E. Genova, Cinema and Development in West Africa, Bloomington, Indiana University Press,
2013.
43. Ibid., p. 8. This quote was taken from F. Pfaff, « From Africa to the Americas: Interviews with
Haile Gerima (1976-2001) », in F. Pfaff (dir.), Focus on African Films, Bloomington, Indiana University
Press, 2004, p. 303-320. The struggle of Francophone filmmakers to control the infrastructural
circuits of distribution was, of course, a different one from Nigerian and Ghanaian filmmakers.
For the former this involved a direct engagement with the French state, who sponsored cinema
production, and with cinema theater owners across West Africa. Nigerians and Ghanaians received
no such support and largely avoided or were excluded from cinemas. Instead, from travelling
Yoruba cinema on, they innovated their own structures.
44. Ibid., p. 163.
45. Ibid., p. 129.
46. « Niamey Manifesto of African Film-Makers: First International Conference on Cinema
Production in Africa, Niamey, Niger, March 1-4, 1982 », Black Camera, vol. 1, n° 2, 2010, p. 111-116.

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calls for the production of films by Africans addressing African realities.
But he also calls for a “radical change” in production and distribution
networks, and that control of images demands control of infrastructure at the
same time47. The contemporary material turn in screen studies is prefigured
in this longer history of African cinema. It is not a repudiation of that history,
it is an extension of it.

The rise of video based popular cinemas in Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere
in the 1990s again brought the issue of platform into central focus. In its
early days, these productions were known as “home videos” but because
that term referred to something quite different in the U.S. and U.K., Jonathan
Haynes and Onookome Okome, writing the first works on the subject, referred
to them by the oxymoron “Nigerian Video Films48”. This was a cinematic
form screened on television and almost never at the cinema49, it was a film
industry that used no film. Video was transgressive in that it upset established
boundaries and, like all transgressive objects, calls the nature of those
boundaries into question. Fespaco, the premier African film festival banned
all films shot on video in an attempt to impose order on what the definition of
a “film” should be, in doing so highlighting the epistemic, cultural, technical
and institutional differences between these cinemas. But, even as they did
so, they made the platform that carried feature length stories into an object of
dense cultural politics and conflict. Contemporary scholarly anxiety over the
rise of streaming services, multiplexes, and satellite television stations, is an
extension of this same history – one that places systems of distribution and
the material structures of film at the center of analysis.

The platforms of New Nollywood

I wish to turn now to a more focused discussion of some of the changes
associated with new Nollywood and the link between the nature of the image
and the increased penetration of neo-liberal capital into Nigeria. This issue
has become a major focus of scholars who have sought to track and analyze
the nature of fundamental technical shifts in the industry.

47. M. Hondo, « What is Cinema for Us? », in I. Bakari et M. Cham (dir.), African Experiences of Cinema,
Londres, British Film Institute, 1996, p. 40.
48. These terms were encoded in the first scholarly works on the subject. A. U. Adamu, Y. M. Adamu
et U. F. Jibril (dir.). Hausa Home Videos: Technology, Economy, Society, Kano, Bayero University Kano
Press, 2004 ; J. Haynes et O. Okome, « Evolving Popular Media… », art. cité.
49. Adejunmobi referred to it as the “detheatricalization” of film. Voir M. Adejunmobi, « Neoliberal
Rationalities… », art. cité.

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One symbolic focus of public and scholarly concern has settled on the
technical quality of the image and, for scholars, and the way that technical
quality embodies neoliberal capital itself. “In New Nollywood’s endeavor to
standardize its trade and foster a glossy visual style” Ryan argues, “conside-
rable effort has been put toward the mastery of cinematography and
production design, such that the image itself directly expresses value rather
than merely providing the frame or container for some valued object50”.
As part of their effort to separate themselves – aesthetically and technically –
from old Nollywood, Adejunmobi argues that new Nollywood directors
foreground the technical details of their filmmaking, highlighting the cameras
they use, the technical sophistication of their sets, and the time and care they
take in shooting and editing51. This concern for technical quality even marks
the serials that fill up many hours of satellite television and which have come
in for particular criticism as being stylish but cheaply made and vacuous in
ambition. “The opening graphics can be impressively sophisticated” Jonathan
Haynes argues, “but the scripts are negligible… The whole budget is spent
creating a certain look”. He continues, in an argument that may sum up much
of the ambivalence scholars and a great deal of older filmmakers have for
these productions: “These might be the emptiest productions ever offered to
the Nigerian public and are a pure example of corporately-produced mass
culture, designed to model consumption in a capitalist economy52.” To be
clear, Haynes is referring to a specific sub-genre of television melodramas
rather than more aesthetically ambitious multiplex films. And he, like all
contemporary theorists, is registering ambivalence, anxious about the relations
of this cinema to a creeping neoliberalism but also realizing it is leading to
genuine aesthetic successes.

It is in this critique that current scholars of Nollywood come closest to
sounding like earlier critics of cultural imperialism. In 1969, the Cuban
filmmaker Juan Garcià Espinosa argued that “technically, artistically
masterful [cinema] – is almost always reactionary” calling for a new poetics
of imperfection to challenge that cinema53. Haynes returns to a tradition of
political economy in film theory that explores how broader systems of capital
can be located at the level of the image. And it indicates an anxiety that

50. C. Ryan, « New Nollywood… », art. cité.
51. M. Adejunmobi, « Neoliberal Rationalities… », art. cité. See also Haynes in this issue.
52. J. Haynes, « Between the Informal Sector… », art. cité, p. 259. Noah Tsika similarly notes that
“Filmmakers who sign contracts with EbonyLife TV invariably receive instructions to make their
films ‘look American’ – meaning polished and professional”. N. A. Tsika, « Nollywood
Chronicles… », art. cité, p. 282.
53. J. G. Espinosa et J. Garciá, « For an Imperfect Cinema », Jump Cut, n° 20, 1979, p. 24, Accessed
July 17 2019. See also H. Steyerl, « In Defense of the Poor Image », art. cité.

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the demand for “international standard” images betrays a complicity with
international capital. I agree with much of this critique but I also want to
consider how aspirations toward an international standard may have a
different politics, one we can see best if we turn toward that scholarship
on African cinema that focuses on the presence of foreign films rather than
on the media Africans themselves produce. Since the height of the critique
that cinema was a mode of cultural colonization a formidable scholarship
has appeared examining in historical depth the deep popularity of foreign
cinemas all over Africa from the 1940s onward54. These scholars argue that
the pleasure African audiences took from foreign films were central to
practices of self and social realization rather than cultural alienation. They
radically rejected the argument that African culture should be produced by
turning inward toward deep cultural traditions untouched by the violence
of colonial rule and argued, instead, that Africans have always been engaged
in a dynamic exchange with other places through which African cultural
practice and social identity has been formed.

In his classic article, “The 1960s in Bamako”, Manthia Diawara writes
at length how young Malians in the 1960s borrowed sounds, images and
styles from the U.S., France and Britain in to articulate a new form of cultural
identity55. For the elder nationalist generation, this form of copying was
everything they had fought against, evidence youths were mimicking the
culture of the colonizer, betraying the future of nationalist Africa. For Malian
youths, including Diawara himself, these images and sounds embodied
a “complete and clear language of modernity”. Copying these styles was
not a loss of identity but “a liberation and realization of the self56”. Charles
Gondola makes similar argument writing about a very different class fraction
of Congolese society where a young underclass in urban areas began to dress
and act like cowboys from American films57. Young “Bills”, according to
Gondola, appropriated the style, slang and violence from American cowboy
films in order to articulate a language of opposition to the social order, using
foreign films to develop a new, distinctly urban identity. In my own work
I have written on the ways Hausa youths incorporated stories and music from
Indian films into Hausa literature, film and music as a means of expressing
ambitions, desires and frustrations with the social worlds within which youths
find themselves58. Diawara, and the literature examining cowboy, gangster,

54. See note 6.
55. M. Diawara, « 1960s in Bamako: Malick Sidibe and James Brown », Black Renaissance/Renaissance
noire, vol. 4, n° 2-3, 2002, p. 59
56. Ibid.
57. C. D. Gondola, Tropical Cowboys…, op. cit.
58. B. Larkin, « Indian Films and Nigerian Lovers… », art. cite.

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Indian and other film genres, points to the ways in which newly urbanized
peoples, forging identities for themselves, found powerful resources in the
flows of foreign media that were part of the broader cinematic ecology of
urban life. As Achille Mbembe and Sarah Nuttall have argued, this is part of a
much longer history whereby Africa has always been embedded in multiple
elsewheres out of which “societies compose and invent themselves in the
present59”.

The desire to pursue an “international standard” image that allows popular
cinemas to circulate in international commercial festivals and appeal to a
global audience should be seen in the same way that popular engagement
with American and Indian films are. They represent genuine cultural
aspirations, what Mbembe would term self-writing. The link to neo-liberalism
is clear, as many scholars have argued, but we should not reduce the desire
for technical sophistication to this alone. This is partly because the desire for
technical excellence must be analyzed in the context of the structural violence
of infrastructural breakdown that haunts much of Africa. Breakdown in
many parts of Africa is an everyday fact of life. In a world where access to
technology has long been a powerful index of the modern and denial of that
access a form of abjection, the insistence on making films of superior technical
quality carries a political charge.

African cinema always existed against a background that Africans could
not make films, that they were incapable of using technologies, that they
existed in technologically inferior worlds. When Ousmane Sembène directed
Mandabi (The Money Order, 1968) it was not just the first film in Africa to be
shot in an indigenous language but was also shot on 35mm, i.e. on a high
resolution, technically rich format. This made it expensive, requiring more
capital, but was driven by the fact “Sembène sought to make a feature-length
film of a quality that would match the elevated standard of the commercial
global film industry60”. 35mm film here becomes attached to a cultural and
a political project, the density of resolution of the image carrying with it a
civilizational freight, a talking back to accusations of technological inferiority.
It is this history that lay behind the intense reaction against video which, for
African filmmakers, seemed to be nothing but a demonstration of inferiority
which those filmmakers had spent their lives challenging. In the early 2000s
Ola Balogun, one of the most prominent Nigerian directors working in the
tradition of African cinema, lobbied a fierce and uncompromising attack

59. A. Mbembe et S. Nuttall, « Writing the World from an African Metropolis », Public Culture, vol. 16,
n° 3, 2004, p. 348. See also A. Mbembe, « African Modes of Self-Writing », Public Culture, vol. 14, n° 1,
2002, p. 239-273 ; A. Simone, « On the Worlding of African Cities », African Studies Review, vol. 44,
n° 2, 2001, p. 15-41.
60. J. E. Genova, Cinema and Development in West Africa, op. cit., p. 138.

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L’audiovisuel africain et le capitalisme global

124

on Nollywood arguing that its popularity with Western journalists and
documentary makers came about because it confirmed their prejudice that
Africans were technically backward. Balogun compared praise for Nollywood
to the admiration and earlier generation of Western literary critics had for
the “quaint and ungrammatical writings” of the author Amos Tutuola
and which “the western media held out as wonderful examples of African
‘inventiveness’61”. “In rather the same manner today, the western media are
delighted to be able to uphold the crude and childish output of the Nigerian
home video as examples of the best that Africa can offer in the field of film62.”
In praising Nollywood, Balogun is arguing, western media seems to celebrate
it but in fact taps back into this longer history of seeing Africans as incapable
of taking part in modernity on the same terms. Nollywood is admired but
only by turning it into kitsch63.

If media are a conduit for considering whether a people are “in” or “out”
of history, or where they are arraigned along its continuum, then the desire
to shoot on film – as Sembène did in 1968 or Izu Ojukwu did for his film ’76
in 2016 – can to be seen as a cultural and political statement. It is a demand
that African film be taken seriously on an equal footing with international
standard cinema. The cost of this, as many have pointed out, is that self-same
desire can result in producing films that are far less popular with a mass
audience. But Africa is large and diverse with a range of audiences separated
by taste and interest which should not be expected to be standardized. African
artists producing challenging works to be screened in biennials and galleries
are representing a different ambition for engaging with the world than
popular arts do but both remain important. The desire for quality images,
to operate at an international standard, should be seen as an aspiration that
needs to be taken seriously as well as subject to critique. When the director
Chris Eneaji found that his films had been pirated and were selling on the

61. O Balogun, « Does Nigeria Indeed Have a Film Industry? », This Day, 11 June 2005.
62. Ibid.
63. Interestingly, this argument parallels the insurgent African critique of art history in the 1990s.
Olu Oguibe excoriates Western curators, collectors and critics for whom popular arts have
“remained the focus of Western fascination and… promoted as quintessential contemporary
African expression” (1999, p. 24). “The childlike paintings of the Beninois, Cyprien Toukoudagba,
would not ordinarily represent great creative talent in the West, and would not, conventionally,
qualify as art beyond the sixth grade… But Toukoudagba’s naïve drawings are today preferred in
the West to the more sophisticated, more familiar forms that represent the cutting edge of
contemporary African art precisely because his works fall below those standards” (1999, p. 24-25).
Oguibe questions why it is (at that time) curators preferred sign writers, paintings of the occult,
and other popular arts made by individuals trained outside the art world rather than those of
African artists directly engaged with it. O. Oguibe, « Art, Identity, Boundaries: Postmodernism
and Contemporary African Art », in O. Enwezor and C. Okeke-Agulu (dir.), Reading the Contemporary:
African Art from Theory to the Marketplace, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1999, p. 17-28.

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Brian Larkin

The Grounds of Circulation: Rethinking African Film and Media

125

open market he stated: “the only thing I made sure about was to rush and
see that the quality stays so someone doesn’t see it [his film] and feel it is not
made properly… I was amazed to see that the copy they have is just as clear
as the one that I had released. I was quite happy64.” To have your film ripped
off, bundled with 7 others, and sold cheaply on a single DVD in ways that
will fundamentally destroy your ability to gain economic security from your
work might elicit a range of emotions. The fact that aesthetics, not economics,
is first on Eneaji’s mind indicates that the desire of filmmakers to make high
quality images is not simply the visual expression of neo-liberalism but
something more. It is genuine ambition to push African cultural production
into new terrain.

I began this article citing the argument by Haynes, Jedlowski and others that
with the transition toward digital platforms and the emergence of a techni-
cally sophisticated popular cinema we need a new critical language to analyze
these events. My argument is that this new critical language in fact taps into
an analytic tradition that has been an integral part of the analysis of African
screen media since independence. This tradition has joined the analysis of
film with an analysis of the infrastructures that support and distribute it. It
has examined how the material status of the image has been the site for a
series for broader political controversies and how this continues until today.
The cultural and political debate over the status of the image in new popular
cinema returns our focus to the ways in which the materiality of systems of
distribution, and their cultural, political and aesthetic effects. Highlighting
this intellectual lineage refuses easy distinctions between the textual and
the infrastructural, still less between the humanities and the social sciences,
but ploughs a furrow where these traditions blur into one another. It also
moves us beyond binary distinctions between festival and popular cinemas
or between old and new Nollywood by seeing how a series of different cine-
mas have brought these issues into view. It should go without saying that the
strength of this tradition, and my focus on it here, does not eradicate other
scholarly approaches, such as hermeneutics or auteur theory. But it does
represent a distinctive history which has been amplified and deepened in
recent scholarship across the range of African screen media n

Brian Larkin,

Barnard College, Columbia University

64. C. McCain « An Evolution in Nollywood… », p. 212.

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126

Résumé
Les bases matérielles de la circulation : repenser les médias audiovisuels africains
La forme esthétique et les infrastructures financières du cinéma populaire africain

se sont transformées au cours des dernières années, entraînant une révision des
paradigmes théoriques utilisés pour les étudier. Ce texte revient sur cette réflexion.
Il se concentre sur trois aspects en particulier. Premièrement, je soutiens que l’analyse
récente des infrastructures techniques, financières et institutionnelles qui permettent
aux films africains de circuler s’inscrit dans une histoire plus longue que ce que l’on
pense habituellement, et cela constitue peut-être l’un de ses aspects les plus innovants.
Deuxièmement, je développe mon analyse en allant au-delà de la dichotomie entre
le cinéma africain d’auteur et le cinéma populaire, pour englober les cinémas éducatifs
coloniaux et postcoloniaux, la présence historique et continue de films étrangers en
Afrique (américains, indiens, chinois, français) et la scène émergeant du cinéma de
galeries d’art. Ces différentes formes ont toutes généré un riche débat scientifique,
mais de manière séparée les unes des autres, et selon moi, nous pouvons les analyser
de manière fructueuse dans le cadre d’une même écologie cinématographique.
Troisièmement, je passe d’une discussion générale sur les infrastructures de production
et de distribution à un recentrage plus étroit sur le phénomène du « nouveau
Nollywood » au Nigeria. Je réexamine les débats récents sur les effets politiques de
ces nouvelles infrastructures de production et distribution, et leur supposée complicité
avec le néolibéralisme contemporain.

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The

page 01 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2617-3255/2018/n33a4 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The future of the past: imagi(ni)ng
black womanhood, Africana
womanism and Afrofuturism in
Black Panther
> Rosemary Chikafa-Chipiro

Department of English and Media Studies, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

[email protected]

ABSTRACT
Since its release, Black Panther (Coogler 2018) has proven to be a phenomenal
black cultural text on so many levels. The film has revitalised discourses on
Afrofuturism, owing to the fact that the black themes it raises reconfigure
representations of black lives and histor y that have mainly been steeped in
normative we ste rn cate gorisations. Black Panther ) has also prove n to be
phenomenal in its representation of black womanhood which, I would like to
argue, engenders intimate convergences with the film’s Afrofuturistic thrust. In
other words, Black Panther’s Afrofuturistic re-imagi(ni)ng of black womanhood
is Africana womanist-centric. Black women from Africa and the African diaspora
are presented as an imagined community – they have a shared history of imperial
and patriarchal domination among other forms of othering. Their representation
is a return to the source of sorts which recalls African women warriors who have
been celebrated in the African past but seem to have lost the significance of
their prowess over time but still have prospects in a re-invented Africa. Thus,
in this paper I seek to make a theoretical case for Africana womanism in the
Afrofuturistic context presented by Black Panther.

Keywords: Black Panther; representation; Africana womanism; Afrofuturism; black
womanhood; Africa.

Introduction

page 02 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

While Afrofuturism presents black themes such as slaver y, apartheid, othering,

marginalisation in the African and the diaspora contex t, histor y, colonisation,

postcolonisation and decolonisation as viewed and (re)conceptualised and (re)articulated

through the dual lenses of technoculture and science fiction (Dery 1994), these themes

also inform Africana womanism in large part. Africana womanism, like Afrofuturism,

covers the same black themes in the African and diaspora context but with black

women at the centre. Africana womanism as designed by Clenora Hudson-Weems

(1998) is for women of African descent and their experiences but is not only concerned

about black women but about the wholeness of black peoples; that is, race, class

and sex. At the core of Africana womanism’s eighteen characteristics of an Africana

woman are concerns for self-articulation, social commitment, communal empowerment

and interpersonal connection (Tounsel 2015). Africana womanism is also a reclamation

theoretical perspective that seeks to reclaim black women’s identities and subjectivities

in the face of western feminist hegemonies (hooks 1992; Hudson-Weems 1993). From

an Africana womanist perspective, black men and women from Africa and the African

diaspora are united by their shared history and their gender relations are largely

informed by a spirit of unity in struggle.

Afrofuturism is also understood to be an extension of the historical recovery projects

that the black Atlantic intellectuals have engaged in for well over 200 years (Yaszek

2009:47). Afrofuturism, as defined by Mark Dery (1994) and Womack (2013) among

other Afrofuturist scholars, refers to cultures of resistance that are born out of reflections

on the not so glorious African past and the consequent re-imaginations of African

futures – in Africa and the African diaspora. Afrofuturism is understood as an artistic

aesthetic and framework for critical theory that employs ‘science-fiction, historical

fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity and magic realism with non-western

beliefs’ (Womack 2013:9). At the heart of these components is Afrofuturism’s intersection

of imagination, technology, the future and liberation (Womack 2013:9). Scholars

including Womack (2013), Dery (1994), Eshun (2003), and Dean and Andrews (2016)

among others also speak to an understanding of Afrofuturism as a resistance movement

that employs the imagination in inverting conventional thinking, destabilising previous

analysis of blackness and creating an African space in the future.

Of Afrofuturist and Africana womanist interest in Black Panther is the way that the film

engages gender roles and the implications this may have on theorising on gender

and the place of black womanhood in the African futures discourse. To engage this

aspect, the paper utilises Africana womanism and Afrofuturism as critical frames of

engagement. I posit that the convergences between Afrofuturism and Africana

womanism need to be engaged further as a way of re-discoursing and re-theorising

the black woman experience. Thus, placing Africana womanism in dialogue with

page 03 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

Afrofuturism in Black Panther offers a nuanced angle from which to engage these

intersections which are also apparent in the wide-reaching ‘affective cords (subjective

experience) and social struggles (collective historicity)’, (de B’beri 2011), represented

by narrative imaginations of race, rights and gender in global discourses. In essence,

the interconnections between Africana womanism and Afrofuturism in Black Panther

speak to much more than the African and African diaspora interface but to other

political discourses including postcolonial subjectivity and decolonisation.

The essence of this paper lies in the significance of Black Panther itself. The film has

come in the wake of discourses on representations of blackness that more often than

not are continuously steeped in normative western categorisations. When asked on

how the response to Black Panther has been framed around tensions in the diaspora,

such as the representation of Africa, the role of “real” Africans versus African American

fantasies, the tension and/or limits of black nationalism and pan-Africanism, Reynaldo

Anderson states that although there is a lot of misinformation going round among

interested parties, blacks have interests that have to be attended to and they should

instead work against the educational, historical, and the political-economic designs

of the white Atlantic and their allies who instilled in Africans of the diaspora and Africans

on the continent a slave mentality and colonised mentality respectively (The Black

Scholar 2018 [sp]). In that regard, there is substantial black scholarship that has

uplifted works on counter-hegemonic expressions of racial identity especially those

that re-imagine racial progress and racial identities in new and provocative ways as

represented in science fiction and comics among a number of futuristic texts (Nama

2009; White 2018; Ringer 2016).

However, another scholar, Michelle M Wright (2013) poses that tensions in the diaspora

are manifest in black scholarship where diaspora studies reveal ‘the limits of authentic

heteronormativity in African diaspora discourse’. By heteronormativity is meant ‘a set

of assumptions on the “natural” formations of communities as well as how key terms

such as resistance and oppression are defined and measured’ (Wright 2013: 7). She

further postulates that heteronormativity justifies narrations of diaspora wholly through

men by assumptions that heterosexual male bodies are active agents who create history

while heterosexual female bodies are passive objects that simply lives it (Wright 2013:7).

Wright makes the point that dominant African diasporic discourse interpellates black

subjects differently and more so, through gender and sexuality (Wright 2013:10). This

is of high interest to this study as Black Panther posits new dimensions from which to

speak to the expression of heteronormativity in general (as referenced above),

heteronormativity in a gendered sense, and the question of authenticity.

page 04 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

Mark Dery (1994:180) opines that the notion of Afrofuturism raises a troubling antimony

and asks whether a community whose past has been deliberately erased and whose

energies have subsequently been consumed by searches for a legible trace of its

history can imagine possible futures. This is a question that Black Panther, as an

Afrofuturistic work of art, seems to answer. What is apparent in Afrofuturistic works

is that in setting out on a reclamation project, they do more than combat the erasure

of black subjects from western history, they also institute the discourse of authenticity

on the black subject’s experiences and the way those experiences embody the

dislocation felt by many modern peoples (Yaszek 2006). Moreover, as intimated by

Dean and Andrews (2016) the methods and ideologies of Afrofuturism are situated in

diverse bodies of cultural knowledge including mysticism, technology, new age

spirituality, human and posthuman identity, and the futurity of race, sexuality and

gender roles. I am in agreement with Eshun’s (2003:289) view that capital continues

to function through the dissimulation of the imperial archive and that in the contemporary

moment power also functions through the envisioning, management and delivery of

reliable futures as posited in Black Panther.

In this vein, the study posits that there are convergences between Africana womanism

and Afrofuturism in Black Panther and these speak to the African and African diaspora

interface, postcolonial subjectivity and decolonisation. The representations of women

in Black Panther is a return to the source of sorts which recalls African women warriors

who have been celebrated in the African past but seem to have lost the significance of

their prowess over time but still have prospects in a re-invented Africa. Thus, in this paper

I seek to make a theoretical case for Africana womanism in the Afrofuturistic context

presented by Black Panther.

Imagining black womanhood in Black Panther

The first point of departure that this study seeks to take in the critique of imaginations

of black womanhood is that Black Panther’s Afrofuturistic re-imagining of black

womanhood is Africana womanist-centric. Black womanist scholarship has been at

pains to call for and upend texts that speak to the importance of black women’s

subjectivities in diverse works of art including comics. This range of scholarship has

since celebrated the role of black women in science fiction from Octavia Butler’s works

to the roles of female heroes such as Storm in the X-Men. These works have attempted

to subvert general heteronormative narratives that have limited the experiences of

black womanhood at the margins of claims to black authenticity as previously intimated

through reference to Wright’s work (Wright 2013). In spite of these attempts most of

page 05 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

the narratives have remained confined to the gendered heteronormative hierarchy that

displaces black women from central and significant roles outside of the superimposition

of black males.

Black Panther film reviews and scholarship has paid homage to how the film has

distinguished itself in its representations of not only blackness but black womanhood

(Hardawa 2018; Pulliam-Moore 2018; Faithful 2018; Anyabwile 2018). These critics

argue that Black Panther has engendered a new discourse in representations of black

men and women thereby presenting the black experience itself as multifaceted,

complex, and subjective in such a way as to permit an innumerable variety of forms

that ultimately reflects that the black experience is not a singular, monolithic entity

(Faithful 2018:12). Critics have highlighted both the negative and positive aspects of

the film’s representations of women with the positive mostly outweighing the negative.

Following the criticisms on Black Panther’s presentation of women, I argue that the

film has made significant progress in re-imagining and re-situating black womanhood

within and even outside the general heteronormative hierarchy. Aside from being

Africana womanist, Black Panther is arguably a postcolonial, Afrocentric and de-colonial

reinstitution of a pre-colonial African past undertaken by means of traversing a

ubiquitous African colonial past and through a de-colonial African present and imagined

future in the face of modernity. Hence, my utilisation of the phrase ‘the future of the

past’ in the text of the title. By looking to the past through Afrofuturism, the film

institutes a “sankofa” moment of returning to the source in order to chart a viable

future. The film narrative evokes myth as it looks to Africa as the origin and authentic

source of African diasporic identity through the rise of a mystical Wakanda from an

Africa that was hit by a meteorite made of vibranium and the subsequent unity of the

four tribes that eventually became Wakanda. The initial agency towards the protection

of Wakanda against the outside world from N’Jobu’s betrayal is heralded by the

preceding of King T’Chaka’s entry into N’Jobu’s house by the two “Grace Jones”

looking Dora Milajes. This heralds the centrality of black womanhood in the power

dynamics of Wakanda that runs through the film.

From an Africana womanist perspective, black and/or Africana gender roles are

complementary. Africana womanism appeals to the black male-female unity in struggle

that was inculcated by black subjection to slaver y and colonialism under white

imperial domination. The aspects of male compatibility and being in concert with male

in struggle are contentious in the way they raise debates on whether Black Panther

really succeeds in situating black womanhood outside the confines of gendered

heteronormativity. First and foremost, male compatibility assumes heterosexual relations

as the norm in patriarchal Africana cultures. This necessarily places limits on the

page 06 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

extent to which Africana women can resist patriarchal domination although the women

in Black Panther (Coogler 2018), seem to have some degree of individual independence

and autonomy in decision making even as they answer to their men. Hence, Nakia

can stubbornly decide not to be the Queen and continue to be a spy and work on

saving non-Wakandan victims of war and T’Challa finally adopts her idea of helping

oppressed peoples outside Wakanda. In this regard, it may be argued that Africana

womanism champions negotiation and harmonious relations between black men and

women as opposed to western feminism’s overt resistances to patriarchy, hence the

precedence of race over sex in Africana womanism.

Africana womanism as a theoretical standpoint sorely coined for women of African

descent and grounded in African culture (Hudson-Weems 1993:24) places black

women at the centre of agency from family to national politics. The contention with

this theoretical positioning of black women is that they may play significant and

immutable roles but they do not rule. Africana womanism has been criticised for its

complacency to patriarchal domination through the inclusion of black men which is

ascribed to years of phallocentric socialisation (Ogundipe-Lesley 1994). Thus, in Black

Panther (Coogler 2018) the Dora Milaje are an all-woman army in the service of Wakanda

Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) with T’Challa (Chadwick Bosman) ©MARVEL
(fair use copyright permission).

FIGURE No 1

page 07 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

which is led by a patriarchal monarchy. The centrality of the women in the film is

apparent in the way they occupy spaces; they dominate the mise-en-scène and are

present at every significant event. From the Dora Milaje, who are led by Okoye, to the

women in the familial monarchy, the patriarch’s survival is reliant on the resilience of

its women. When King T’Chaka is murdered, it is Okoye, the Queen mother Ramonda,

the prince’s sister Shuri and the prince’s fiancé Nakia who support and somewhat

propel prince T’Challa to the throne. When the throne is usurped by Erik Killmonger

at the assumed death of T’Challa and the consequent threat to Wakanda’s sovereignty,

it is their responsibility to protect and restore Wakanda’s interests. Thus, Okoye remains

to safeguard Wakanda out of loyalty to the throne while Nakia takes responsibility for

the future restoration of Wakanda by plucking the healing herb that will resuscitate

the dying Prince T’Challa. Meanwhile, Shuri continues her innovative role of driving

Wakanda’s technology as she makes sure to escape with the kimoyo beads while the

Queen mother continues with her maternal duty as she escapes with her children to

seek exile and help from King M’Baku of Jabari.

Elsewhere, I have argued that Africana womanism is multi-dimensional and flexible in

focus because it not only references the black woman’s experience but inherently

assumes other theoretical formulations such as Afrocentrism, postcolonial theory,

and Afrofuturism in the context of the current paper, as it seeks to speak to the whole

black experience (Chikafa 2017:29). From the analysis above, this makes an Africana

womanist critique of patriarchy more complex than it may seem at the outset. An

example of this complexity is represented in Makgato, Chaka and Mandende’s (2018)

institution of an Africana womanist’s resistance to patriarchy which in some instances

contradicts the characteristics of the protagonist’s embodiment of Africana womanist

characteristics because her resistance is individualistic and runs contrary to aspects

of family centredness. The women’s centrality in the politics of Wakanda places more

precedence on the commitment to the wholeness of Wakanda peoples and the state’s

sovereignty than to the women’s individual subjectivities. Therefore, the women’s roles

privilege the communal over the individual. Anyabwile (2018), using Alice Walker’s

womanism opines that womanism transcends the limitations of patriarchal hegemonies

because of contextual specificities. He echoes Alice Walker (1983) and contends that

through Walker’s sensibilities to the experiences of the American South there was

such a thing as acting “womanish” by pushing socially accepted boundaries while

appreciating women’s culture, women’s sensibilities and at the same time being

committed to the survival of whole peoples. Although Hudson-Weems (1993) dissociates

her Africana womanism from Walker’s womanism, the relationship here is apparent.

page 08 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

From an Afrofuturist perspective, it is essential that black men and women as subjects

of colonial history should maintain harmonious relations so as to enable the realisation

of sustainable futures for Africa. Even as the patriarchy is dominant, there is room for

the women to question patriarchal decisions and act autonomously as illustrated by

Nakia’s support for Wakanda’s outside engagement. The patriarchal set up renders

the women subordinate but their representation awards them independence and

strength of character that pits them as equal to their male counterparts. Some critics

have argued that Wakanda is patrilineal and not patriarchal in a pejorative sense

(Anyabwile 2018:4). In this kind of social structure, Shuri and Nakia could possibly lay

claim to the throne but do not do so because ‘the culture values the role of men in

society’. In what George Faithful (2018:3) refers to as the redemption of blackness in

Black Panther the male and female characters have their own narratives, trials, flaws,

conflicts, and opportunities for growth. Faithful rightly opines that Okoye prevails

against her enemies in combat because of her superior situational awareness, reflexes,

and expertise rather than because of her brute strength which is, in fact, an expression

of her mental precision (2018:6). In contrast, Faithful characterises T’Challa as a

complex leader who is bold in battle, measured in his words, and cautious in his

foreign policy and yet prone to take significant personal risks in covert action (2018:4).

Thus, the men and women of Wakanda are equal, but different (Anyabwile 2018).

Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and Everette K
Ross (Martin Freeman) ©MARVEL (fair use copyright permission).

FIGURE No 2

page 09 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

In essence, the black women of Black Panther are an ensemble that is not new to the

African narrative. In the context of the film, they are drawn from a diverse African and

African diaspora pool of black actresses that may be termed ‘sisters of the screen’

to borrow from Beti Ellerson’s (2000) nomenclature for black women across Africa

and the diaspora working in film. The central role that the women play in the socio-

political and economic welfare of Wakanda is imitative of the scholarly and historical

claims of African women’s autonomy in the continent that is argued for by scholars

such as Ife A madiume (1987), Zulu Sofola (1998) a nd O usma ne Se mbe ne’s

representations of their pivotal role in Africa’s resistance to colonialism in his films

Emitai (Sembene 1971) and Ceddo (Sembene 1977).

The women of Black Panther essentially represent an embodiment of the Africana

womanist eighteen characteristics of an Africana woman and these are spread across

their different roles and personalities. Hudson-Weems identifies the following

characteristics of an Africana womanist: ‘(1) a self namer and (2) a self-definer, (3)

family centred, (4) genuine in sisterhood, (5) strong, (6) in concert with male in struggle,

(7) whole, (8) authentic, (9) a flexible role-player, (10) respected, (11) recognized, (12)

spiritual, (13) male compatible, (14) respectful of elders, (15) adaptable, (16) ambitious,

(17) mothering and (18) nurturing’ (Hudson-Weems 1998:1814-1815).

Black Panther (Coogler 2018) women’s embodiment of these characteristics is

phenomenal and has been presented as such by many critics. Anyabwile (2018) and

Faithful (2018) respectively place the women in name categories to reflect on their

embodiment of these characteristics. Anyabwile refers to Nakia as ‘the down black

woman’ because she gives up the possible comforts of the Kingdom as its queen for

the survival and wholeness of peoples through the saving of oppressed women in

the Chibok forest (2018:1). Faithful, on the other hand, refers to Nakia as ‘the spy’.

These categories for Nakia position her as an embodiment of Africana womanist

ethos, as the down woman she has the subjectivity to name and define her experience

and be adaptable as the circumstances demand. As a spy, she has a more independent

and yet communal role to play, albeit independently, alongside her male counterpart

in a way that makes her a flexible role player and an ambitious woman. Only the film

subtly fulfils her ambition by way of the compromise that T’Challa finally takes as he

gives in to Nakia’s opinion that Wakanda should engage the world outside Wakanda

and offer assistance where its might will benefit many peoples.

Okoye is referred to as ‘the loyal black woman’ by Anyabwile (2018:2) while Faithful

refers to her as ‘the warrior’. These two readings of Okoye are diametrically opposed

in the sense that Anyabwile’s positions her in the normative role of womanhood in the

African setup. Thus, as an Africana woman, she is both a loyal soldier and a beautiful

page 10 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

woman who can be a suitable spouse. There is no overt militancy in such an embodiment

as opposed to how as a warrior she can act independently, outside the idiosyncrasies

of normative womanhood. In this regard, Africana womanist characteristics appear

to be limiting on the overt expression of the black woman experience outside of the

normative everyday interactions of African womanhood. Being a self-namer, self-

definer, and flexible role player seems to be empowering while being family centred,

mothering or nurturing seems to place boundaries on the extent to which women can

be powerful and liberated. This is also apparent in how the two critics perceive of

Ramonda as ‘the motherly black woman’ (Anyabwile 2018:3) and ‘the conscience of

a nation’ who is consistently bound by tradition, honour and family (Faithful 2018:7).

Of all the women in Black Panther, Shuri presents the most powerful representation

of an Africana woman. She is a genius and there is some consensus to the fact that

she is indeed a genius. Shuri embodies other womanly characteristics in the Africana

womanist sense but what really defines her is her pivotal role as the technocrat of

Wakanda. She is the scientist, engineer, and technological inventor and strategist at

the centre of Wakanda’s techno-political genius. Her role as the woman who presents

gadgets to the protagonist is in place in the Africana womanist frame of reference,

but is a significant subversion of Hollywood representational practice where it is solely

males who assist each other at that level. That and the power of the Dora Milajes are

a classic win for black women in Black Panther.

T’Challa (Chadwick Bosman) with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Ayo
(Florence Kasumba) ©MARVEL (fair use copyright permission).

FIGURE No 3

page 11 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

The Intersection of Africana Womanism and
Afrofuturism in Black Panther

At the heart of Africana womanism and Afrofuturism is the representation of black

people as an imagined community (Anderson 1983). Beyond any nationalistic premises

for identification, black people, represented in both theoretical postulations, are imagined

through a shared history of imperial domination; and patriarchal domination for black

women, among other forms of othering. These forms of othering are manifested through

subjective experience and social struggles. In addition, as intimated earlier, the

Afrofuturist-Africana womanist orientation of Black Panther resonates with broader

discourses in the Africanist canon including postcolonial and decolonial subjectivities.

Taking this as my point of departure in interrogating the intersection of Africana

womanism and Afrofuturism in Black Panther I argue that these theoretical underpinnings

are more or less two sides of the same coin and can be complementary, not only in

the Africanist canon but in the expression of black futures.

Shuri (Letitia Wright) sitting in the lab ©MARVEL (fair use copyright permission).

FIGURE No 4

page 12 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

Africana womanism and Afrofurism are both multi-dimensional and flexible in focus.

Both theoretical postulations assume the postcolonial and Afrocentric project which

opens them up to a broader political focus. In their signaling the future of the past,

they represent a reclaiming and re-signaling of African cultures and history as means

of black liberation and innovation. Both theoretical postulations are thus implicit within

the post-colonial discourse of the west and the rest of us, hegemony and resistance,

the western subject and the other (Spivak 1988; Bhabha 1994; Said 1978) as well as

the Afrocentric centralisation of Africa and its peoples. Thus, Afrofuturism and Africana

womanism in Black Panther mediate “brave black worlds” through the intersection of

race, science, speculative fiction, black culture, African tradition and technology which

speaks to ideological expression of racial identity and black futurism (Nama 2009:135).

In an Afrofuturistic reconfiguration of history, Africa is critically and creatively renamed

Wakanda. Naming is as central to Afrofuturism’s reclamation of history as it is to

Africana womanism’s concept of nommo, which expresses the power of naming and

self-definition to establish the concreteness of experience (Hudson-Weems 1993).

Naming is potent in the Afrofuturist narrative of Black Panther because it gives new

meaning to the history of Africa. The origin story of Wakanda is realistic as it presents

that Wakanda was not a utopia as it was made up of five constantly warring tribes

four of which were later reunited under the first Wakanda king while the Jabari tribe

chose to isolate themselves in the mountains. Internal conflict in Wakanda is visible

even through N’jobu who betrays Wakanda’s secret to Klaw. The narrative of N’jobu’s

betrayal is significant in the way it inverts the African and African diaspora historical

narrative that has often identified Africans in Africa as having betrayed their clansmen

during the transatlantic slave trade for material gain. In Black Panther, the conflict

culminates from divergent political and economic interests whereby Wakanda’s future

is at stake if it opens its doors for international interference. N’jobu’s mission in America

thereby breeds the African diasporic identity through the birth of a son Erik Killmonger,

a birth that will problematise African identity and endanger Wakanda’s autonomy.

The significance of naming is also shown in the film where people are asked “ungubani”

(“who are you?”). In the face of possible defeat in combat with M’Baku T’Challa regains

his strength and defeats his opponent when his mother shouts, “show him who you

are”. The same agency that nommo brings to Afrofuturism in the film is signaled in

the women’s sense of agency as self-namers and self-definers. Okoye, Nakia and

Shuri are shown to be independent and to have causative agency as self-namers and

self-definers. They are comfortable in their roles, identities and responsibilities. Okoye

as the leader of the Dora Milaje defines her loyalty to the throne and asserts that she

is willing to stay attached to the throne even at the expense of her loved ones the

most glaring of which is her affirmation to her husband that she would even kill him

page 13 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

for Wakanda. Her experience necessitates that she put her people first before her

personal desires. Okoye’s loyalty pays off as it strategically positions her for the final

fight for the throne on T’Challa’s return.

The significance of naming to the narrative of Black Panther can be understood in

Kwodo Eshun’s argument that assembling counter-memories that contest the colonial

archive situates the collective trauma of slavery as the founding moment of modernity

(Eshun 2003:288). Africana womanism as an anti-western feminist articulation of the

black woman’s race, class, and sex experience is a bold confrontation of the trauma

of imperial, racial, and patriarchal domination which makes room for the re-inscription

of black women’s past, present and future. Even the Killmonger subplot in the film

addresses the trauma that continues to shape the contemporary era and allows for

an Afrofuturistic re-orientation.

On discovering that his father murdered his brother N’jobu, T’Challa seeks to make

reparations by admitting Killmonger into his legitimate home and accepting his challenge

to the throne, even at his own peril. Aside from his legitimacy in Wakanda, Killmonger

also represents the threat of colonial subjugation through carrying on relations with

western imperialism whose characteristics he imbibes in his thirst for power and

vengeance against Wakanda. Nonetheless, even when Killmonger is defeated after

the long, drawn out battle at T’Challa’s return, T’Challa offers to reconcile with Killmonger

who remains obstinate and asks to be buried in the ocean with his ancestors who

jumped from ships, ‘cause they knew death was better than bondage’. Thus, to concur

with Eshun’s argument, when it comes to Afrofuturist themes it is never a matter of

forgetting what it took so long to remember, rather, the vigilance that is necessary to

indict imperial modernity must be extended into the field of the future (Eshun 2003:

289). In essence what Black Panther as an Afrofuturistic narrative has done is to re-

orient black history and ‘the intercultural vectors of Black Atlantic temporality towards

the proleptic as much as the retrospective’ (Eshun 2003:289). Thus, the Afrofuturistic

thrust of Black Panther significantly shifts knowledge and power dynamics and more

importantly now that power operates predictively as much as retrospectively. Through

and beyond the Killmonger sub-plot and his subsequent death, Black Panther predictively

reconfigures the whole colonial and modern narrative to define a progressive future.

The envisioning, management and delivery of a reliable future in Black Panther does

not happen in isolation of Africa’s women who are also key players in the present and

future. The Africana womanist representation of black womanhood in Black Panther

is significant because it is removed from western feminism. Unlike western feminism,

Africana womanism gives precedence to race before class and gender (Hudson-

Weems 1998). Western feminism has ostensibly been associated with middle class

page 14 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

white women and their search for equality with their male counterparts thereby giving

precedence to gender and sexuality over other subjectivities. By giving precedence

to race and class, Africana womanism specifically prioritises black women’s identities

and subjectivities in an arguably culturally relative way. The theoretical postulation is

thus able to retrospectively and predictively reposition black gender relations. More

so, because Africana womanism is not disengaged from African everyday experiences

in social spheres including the family, the community and religion, and allows for a

smooth transition and/ or analogy between the past and the present. It positions the

past gender relations in dialogue with present and speculative future relations.

The film presents a subversion of racial and gender stereotypes that would divide black

men and women and put to question the authenticity of black male-female relations.

It has been argued that the power of women in African societies is a major component

of Afrofuturism (Hardawa 2018). Black women are represented as crucial to organic

African existence on a spiritual plane. By organic African existence is meant the

biological, physical, and spiritual cosmological makeup. Not only are the women at the

centre of Wakanda’s technological life through Shuri’s innovations but they are also

the essence of Wakanda’s tangible and intangible cosmological existence. The mythology

of Wakanda locates black women at the heart of black spirituality. In the African cosmos,

spirituality and womanhood are often linked and the woman as mother is considered

a giver of life (Chikafa 2017:176). The Africana woman is spiritual and the African woman

is, ‘the highest incarnation of wisdom; the future and the fate of the community depend

decidedly on her’ (Bujo 1998:124). As Bujo (1998:125) further argues, the African

woman’s role involves promoting and developing life in a variety of its forms and this

is what we see in Black Panther’s women. Like Bujo’s genealogy of African women

and spirituality shows, the women in Black Panther have a special relationship with the

invisible world, a relationship that is crafted through the process of giving birth, which

is linked to ancestors and God as the original source of life (Bujo 1998:125).

Furthermore, spirituality as an Afrofuristic theme in Black Panther is given more import

in its expression through the women. The mythical black panther of the Wakanda

origin story is a goddess – a woman spiritual being that provides guidance to the

King(s) of Wakanda. Her presence throughout the film is ubiquitous – she is embodied

in the panthers that prowl alongside former kings in the ancestral plains; in panther

iconography which marks T’Challa’s gear, in Shuri’s hand blasters; and at the mouth

of a mountaintop cave overlooking Wakanda. Thus, spirituality as a theme in both

Africana womanism and Afrofuturism pushes the Black Panther narrative forward with

women at the centre. In the film, Ramonda, Shuri and Nakia are at the centre of

T’Challa’s re-birth. Ramonda as the queen mother implores the ancestors on behalf

of T’Challa. M’Baku has preserved T’Challa between life and death by keeping him

page 15 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

buried in the snow and it is the heart-shaped herb that Nakia saves from death at

Killmonger’s hand that will revive T’Challa. Therefore, the three women preside over

T’Challa’s death and re-birth ritual as they chant to the ancestors and whisper ‘wake

up T’Challa’. This is a scene that has been replayed a few times before in the film at

the challenge for the throne ceremonies and at T’Challa’s and Killmonger’s respective

anointing’s as Kings of Wakanda. The women, although not at the centre of the

masculinist combat for the throne, are at the helm of the rituals and ceremonies in

the presence of the men. Suffice to also point out that Ramonda, Shuri and Nakia

negotiate peace with M’Baku’s Jabari tribe, the fifth Wakandan tribe that had chosen

to isolate itself in the mountains and are thereby able to save Wakanda in tribal unity.

The quasi death and re-birth rituals in the film are also symbolic Afrofuturist bridges

between the past and the present that necessarily informs an enlightened and viable

future. Through the rituals, not only a repository relationship with the past is maintained,

atonement for past wrongs is also achieved. This is particularly revealed in T’Challa’s

second death-re-birth scene as he is transported to the land of his ancestors. There

he confronts the past through dialogue with his father and out rightly tells him that it

T’Challa (Chadwick Bosman) with Ramonda (Angela Bassett) ©MARVEL (fair use

copyright permission).

FIGURE No 5

page 16 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

was wrong for Wakanda to turn away from the rest of the world and for his father to

abandon young Killmonger. T’Challa refuses to die so that he can go back and confront

“the truth” that his father “chose to omit” in the form of Killmonger who has also turned

into a monster of Wakanda’s making. T’Challa makes reparations thereof by opening

up Wakanda to the rest of the world. Wakanda would open its doors to the world but

on its own terms. The future is diplomatically and technologically inverted with the

advent of Wakanda into the international terrain of modern capital at the United Nations.

Moreover, T’Challa establishes a community center right at the building where N’Jobu

was killed and where Erik Killmonger was abandoned. The film ends with the prospect

of nurturing a new generation of African and African diasporic pan-African relations;

and of course, the technologically innovative centre will be run by Wakanda’s versatile

women Shuri and Nakia.

Africana womanism and Afrofuturism ostensibly lend Black Panther some degree of

success in the way that the two paradigms work towards a redemption of blackness.

The film achieves this by pushing the boundaries between the unreality of the superhero

narrative and the socio-cultural realities of many viewers as it invites them to rethink

the kinds of stories they could tell (Faithful 2018). The film has told the story of Wakanda

in a way that argues that a community whose past has been deliberately erased and

whose energies have subsequently been consumed by searches for a legible trace

of its history can imagine possible futures. Furthermore, Black Panther’s box office

Shuri (Letitia Wright) with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in the lab ©MARVEL (fair use

copyright permission).

FIGURE No 6

page 17 of 20Number 33, 2019 ISSN 2617-3255

success is another representation of the redemption of blackness. Although it poses

a complex of meanings for decolonisation and Africanisation even in its socioeconomic

implications, it is a giant step towards diversity in Hollywood representations (Waters

& Barton 2018).

Conclusion

Black Panther has done considerably well in shifting the conversation on Africa and

futurity by centering black womanhood. Besides the crucial African and Diaspora

identities interface that the Africa and futures discourse should make, there should

be commitment to the wholeness of black peoples which the film Black Panther has

relatively fulfilled in traversing the Afrofuturistic and Africana womanist canon. Afrofuturistic

and Africana womanist thought has proven to be versatile in engaging the imperial

archive in a materialistic and philosophical perspective that gives precedence to

pertinent postcolonial and decolonial subjectivities that would of necessity position

African substance in speculative futures. In essence, there is some improvement on

the superimposition of the heteronormative narrative in Black Panther. What is of

substantial significance in Black Panther and its engagement of Afrofuturism and

Africana womanism is the political mission behind the theoretical postulations. The

historical recovery project behind Afrofuturism in Black Panther engages the Nietzschean

‘founding conditions of modernity’ that are crucial to the African and diasporic past,

present and future (Gilroy 1993:178; Yaszek 2006:47). More so given that in representing

the future Black Panther has tapped into big science, big business and global media

thereby strategically positioning Africa within mainstream discourses of power and

knowledge production in the futures industry (Eshun 2003; Yaszek 2006:47).

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3/30/22, 12:14 PM The Zambian “Afronaut” Who Wanted to Join the Space Race | The New Yorker

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-zambian-afronaut-who-wanted-to-join-the-space-race 1/18

M

Culture Desk

The Zambian “Afronaut” Who
Wanted to Join the Space Race

At the height of the Cold War, a schoolteacher launched the Zambian Space Program
with a dozen aspiring teen-age astronauts. Was he unfairly mocked?

By Namwali Serpell
March 11, 2017

y country was born on October 24, 1964. The former British protectorate

of Northern Rhodesia, taking its new name from the great Zambezi River,
would henceforth be known as Zambia. A week later, Time magazine published

In 1964, Edward Mukuka Nkoloso wanted to join the space race. Was he for real? ILLUSTRATION BY
HEIDI & GARETH CHISHOLM

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk

https://www.newyorker.com/contributors/namwali-serpell

3/30/22, 12:14 PM The Zambian “Afronaut” Who Wanted to Join the Space Race | The New Yorker

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-zambian-afronaut-who-wanted-to-join-the-space-race 2/18

an article that focussed on the nation’s �rst President, Kenneth David Kaunda, a

“teetotaling, guitar-strumming, nonsmoking Presbyterian preacher’s son and ex-
schoolteacher,” who advocated for “positive neutrality” in the Cold War and for a

“multiracial society” in Zambia. Another �gure appeared in the article’s closing
paragraph:

One noted Zambian failed to share in all the harmony. He is Edward Mukuka Nkoloso, a
grade-school science teacher and the director of Zambia’s National Academy of Science, Space
Research and Philosophy, who claimed the goings-on interfered with his space program to beat
the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the moon. Already Nkoloso is training twelve Zambian
astronauts, including a curvaceous 16-year-old girl, by spinning them around a tree in an oil
drum and teaching them to walk on their hands, “the only way humans can walk on the moon.”

Time’s whimsical footnote prompted a �urry of interest from foreign reporters.
“We do not know whether to take the announcement of this news from Lusaka

seriously, or whether to conclude that Zambia somehow has been victimized by a
Madison Avenue type,” one confessed. Others wondered if it was “a semiserious

space program” or “a useful publicity stunt.” Their interviews with Nkoloso did
little to clarify whether his space program was serious, silly, or a sendup. “Some

people think I’m crazy,” Nkoloso told a reporter for the Associated Press. “But I’ll
be laughing the day I plant Zambia’s �ag on the moon.”

Nkoloso wore a standard-issue combat helmet, a khaki military uniform, and a
�owing cape—multicolored silk or heliotrope velvet, with an embroidered neck

and festooned with medals. His astronauts sometimes wore green satin jackets
with yellow trousers. (They were quick to explain that these were not space suits:

“No, we are the Dynamite Rock Music Group when we are not space cadets.”)
Godfrey Mwango, at twenty-one, had been tasked with the moon landing. Matha

Mwamba, sixteen, was headed for Mars. Nkoloso’s dog, Cyclops, was to follow in
the paw prints of Russian “muttnik” Laika. The other cadets carried a Zambian

�ag and a staff in the shape of “a crested eagle on a dinner plate atop a sawn-off
broomstick.” Nkoloso said he had been inspired by his �rst airplane �ight. When

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the pilot refused to stop the plane so that he could get out and walk on the clouds,

Nkoloso made up his mind to enter the space race.

Newspapers also reported the large sums of money, ranging from twenty million

to two billion dollars, that Nkoloso requested from Israel, Russia, the U.S., the
United Arab Republic, and ������. (One saw “piles of letters from foreign well-

wishers containing plenty of advice—but no money beyond a 10-rupee note sent
by a space-minded Indian schoolboy.”) Despite Nkoloso’s indifference as to which

side of the Cold War would fund his space program, he insisted on keeping its
details secret. “You cannot trust anyone in a project of this magnitude,” he said.

“Some of our ideas are way ahead of the Americans and the Russians and these
days I will not let anyone see my rocket plans.”

Yet Nkoloso welcomed reporters into his headquarters, which changed location
according to his day job, and were cluttered with space-related volumes donated

by the U.S. Embassy: a “Space Aids Mankind” calendar, and the Zambian Space
Program Manifesto. “Our spacecraft, Cyclops I, will soar into deep abysmal space

beyond the epicycles of the seventh heaven,” it proclaimed, before gesturing
toward how much the space race was about race. “Our posterity, the Black

scientists, will continue to explore the celestial in�nity until we control the whole
of outer space.” Nkoloso was also happy to demonstrate his D.I.Y. space

technology and training. He rolled his cadets down a hill in a forty-gallon oil
drum to simulate the weightless conditions of the moon. “I also make them swing

from the end of a long rope,” he told a reporter. “When they reach the highest
point, I cut the rope. This produces the feeling of freefall.” The mulolo (swinging)

system, he hinted, was itself a potential means of space travel. “We have tied ropes
to tall trees and then swung our astronauts slowly out into space.” Nkoloso had

considered launching the shuttle with a catapult system that turned out to be
“much too primitive,” and referred to “turbulent propulsion” as an area for future

investigation.

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As you may have guessed, the Zambian Space Program never got off the ground.

“My spacemen thought they were �lm stars. They demanded payment,” Nkoloso
told the A.P. in August, 1965. “Two of my best men went on a drinking spree a

month ago and haven’t been seen since . . . Another of my astronauts has joined a
local tribal song and dance group.” Even in the early days, Nkoloso had

complained that “they won’t concentrate on space �ight—there’s too much love
making when they should be studying the moon.” Matha Mwamba eventually got

pregnant and dropped out. The program suffered from a lack of funds, for which
Nkoloso blamed “those imperialist neocolonialists” who were, he insisted, “scared

of Zambia’s space knowledge.”

I �rst encountered Nkoloso in a work of art that tries to imagine a different

outcome. My friend sent me a link to Frances Bodomo’s short �lm “Afronauts”
(2014). In the �lm, set on the night of the Apollo 11 moon launch, in 1969, “a

group of exiles in the Zambian desert are rushing to launch their rocket �rst.” It is
just one of several projects inspired by the Zambian Space Program that have

emerged over the last �ve years, as part of the recent resurgence of interest in
black science and science �ction (the �lm “Hidden Figures,” Janelle Monáe’s

music). In 2012, Cristina de Middel made a series of surreal photographic re-
creations of Nkoloso’s space program. In the photos, models in raffia skirts and

Afro-patterned space suits meander across a desert �tted with rusted machinery
and impassive elephants. Projects like this present Nkoloso as an eccentric

visionary—an early pioneer of Afrofuturism, a term Mark Dery coined in 1992 to
describe the nexus of black art and technoculture. Dreamy and speculative, they

are a little �exible with facts. (There are no deserts in Zambia.)

Because we live in a miraculous world, you can still watch documentary footage

from 1964 of Nkoloso and his team training in Zambia on YouTube. A group of
young men and women, dressed unassumingly and mostly barefoot, jump up and

down, clapping their hands in front of a banner reading “������ �����
�������.” The extended footage shows a young trainee being slotted into a metal

http://powderroomfilms.com/film/afronauts/

https://secure-web.cisco.com/1A6Hq-IddLCYqC3js-YvPRrss1GX6tXChwEOLAXM-0SMwG9mA30jJebp01aUwuxDG_awNyL-tqDzHDQVvXvg1CTgWpVaZOYUevbY67VXuhT-lsScdyCygHpMY8kXA1sPseVo1mfhuFRkTbBG7yGAWo2Qc02w4Qnxh2a7BSNJLMsFkwXVK9Y520w92sslZw8hr_TDSfikDy3RK6NtX_T4BInRXlSIAlUE-wpVv035K_QD-G5xW1sv32r-mySqg6p-OcJsFEmAMJuGyNYOBcm_lXfsO60lsTudno4yemFzgkAv0WUjkt4WM_V42SkPMAo07/https%3A%2F%2Fczarne.com.pl%2Fkatalog%2Fksiazki%2Fafronauci

http://secure-web.cisco.com/1DfFpA4HHyUCR9Ub2l6dq9HkuSO4f4_p1hcjFbx7ZCMW4DGJTD-uyvwKziTE3m_VCJNW6OtAGTR9g1GT5v0VE8VNqoNfcmKVlTYr5K-wn1zg__wy-MS9zcVla0XNyded6pi6W-utDo1CwJ-IlXy55dEpLJPP3Wau3yjG9c6dY4M2Defo07P5jHhlzHEgmLgVRjajChZsLv6qJyA6QNzqvhq0i7E_oRf9ULUnQtAAjnTt9cxcl_KUTU2ze6SmDqH-d-hFpL5vE6GdrpaaxdukVqmRKZBFw__Gkk05HStSHT5Rxnyd3oZEWN54I8uz-M7K7QaoEBvSR4dp0pv9xG728lg/http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fprogrammes%2Fp04bnkbs

http://www.radiolistings.co.uk/programmes/a/af/african_space_programme__the.html

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/hidden-figures-is-a-subtle-and-powerful-work-of-counter-history

http://www.lademiddel.com/the-afronauts-1.html

http://www.itnsource.com/en/shotlist/RTV/1964/11/14/BGY505190222/?s=Nkoloso

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cylinder, then raised up, his head poking out like a hapless turtle; another �oating

down a stream in a drum; Mwamba on a swing, wearing a bomber jacket,
pumping her legs and smiling. The leader of these exercises wears an army helmet

and a cape over high-waisted pants, a dress shirt, and tie. A British reporter takes
Nkoloso aside to interview him. “Yes, this is the rocket-launching site, and my

rocket is just here,” he says, gesturing matter-of-factly to an upright cylinder with
an egg-shaped hole for breathing. “I will �re it from Lusaka and it will go straight

to the moon, based on how much money I’ve got.” The reporter turns to the
camera and remarks, laconically, “To most Zambians, these people are just a

bunch of crackpots, and from what I’ve seen today, I’m inclined to agree.”

In his 1965 book “The New Unhappy Lords,” the British conservative A. K.

Chesterton used Nkoloso as evidence of the folly of granting independence to
African nations. “The masquerade of the African in the guise of a politician able

to take over the running of a modern state . . . has nowhere been demonstrated in
a more ludicrous light than in Zambia,” he wrote. “What other country in the

world, for example, boasts a Minister of the Heavens?” This attitude toward the
Zambian Space Program has persisted alongside the paeans to the quixotic genius.

Over the years, Nkoloso has been called “an amiable lunatic,” “a court jester,” and
“Zambia’s village idiot.” His name still crops up in compilations like “Never in a

Million Years: A History of Hopeless Predictions” and “Dumb History: The
Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made.”

Of everything I’ve read on Nkoloso, the 1964 series of articles by the San
Francisco Chronicle columnist Arthur Hoppe best captures the tonal ambiguity of

the Zambian Space Program. Hoppe described Nkoloso as “an engaging if
somewhat insane man” with a “disarming grin,” and Matha as “a demure, well-

rounded young lady with a charming smile.” Hoppe asked Nkoloso what Matha’s
twelve cats were for:

“Yes, please,” he said, nodding. “Partly, they are to provide her with companionship on the long
journey. But primarily they are technological accessories.”

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Technological accessories?

“Yes, please. When she arrives on Mars she will open the door of the rocket and drop the cats
on the ground. If they survive, she will then see that Mars is �t for human habitation.” . . .

In answer to direct questions as to whether she found orbiting thrilling, valuable, or merely
routine, [Mwamba] ducked her head shyly and giggled charmingly. She did volunteer, however,
that it was “a bit worrisome.”

Hoppe’s dry wit resonates beautifully with the snippets of local voices he captured,

including that of Violet Ndonga: “To go to the moon. It is for you Americans.”
She made a gesture that “summed up Zambian public opinion of America’s $20

billion program to win the race to the moon so as to enhance our national prestige
throughout the world. They think we’re out of our minds.” As Martin Luther

King, Jr., pointedly remarked, in 1967, a country that had spent twenty billion
dollars to put a man on the moon could just as well “spend billions of dollars to

put God’s children on their own two feet, right here on Earth.”

In his 1995 memoir, Hoppe said that the journalists covering the violence in the

Congo next door had mocked him roundly for covering such a tri�e. He returned
to America to letters excoriating him for “blatant racism in poking fun at

uneducated Africans.” Hoppe was shocked. “The thought had never occurred to
me. I believed it was the Africans who were satirizing our multi-billion-dollar

space race against the Russians.” One of Hoppe’s fellow-journalists told him his
series was “going to be the greatest Rastus story in the history of journalism.”

Rastus is a minstrel character from Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus tales,
which often featured the trickster Br’er Rabbit.

The Zambian version of this witty, wily hare is named Kalulu. He is constantly
devising elaborate trouble for elephant and lion, the two mighty beasts competing

for King of the Jungle. The Zambian artist Stary Mwaba told me that Nkoloso
had named one of his rockets �����-1, after President Kaunda. I wondered if he

had actually named it after Kalulu. In 1969, the Chicago Journalism Review asked

Stary Mwaba

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the acting press officer of the Zambian Embassy in Washington, Phineas

Musukwa, about Nkoloso. Musukwa said he was “the Pat Paulsen of Zambia,”
referring to the American comedian who made a running gag of running for

President. “Mr. Nkoloso is actually a very well-read person,” Musukwa said. “It
was a big joke.” If it was, Nkoloso never broke character: as one reporter said,

“Nkoloso really lives the Jules Verne-like character he has built up around
himself.”

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In 1964, Nkoloso wrote an Op-Ed about his space program that read to me like a
parody of British colonialism in Africa, refracted through a paranoid Cold War

sensibility. “We have been studying the planet through telescopes at our
headquarters and are now certain Mars is populated by primitive natives,” he

wrote. “Our rocket crew is ready. Specially trained spacegirl Matha Mwamba, two
cats (also specially trained) and a missionary will be launched in our �rst rocket.

But I have warned the missionary he must not force Christianity on the people if
they do not want it.” Nkoloso accuses American and Russian operators of trying

to steal his space secrets: “Detention without trial for all spies is what we need.”

Perhaps the question is not whether the Zambian Space Program was satirical but

why so few have imagined that it could be. Zambian irony is very subtle. “We
don’t have a yes and a no,” a painter observed to me on a visit to Zambia last year

for an artists’ workshop. “We have two yeses, and one of them means no.” The
study of the history of black culture is full of theories about doubled or split

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identity, what W. E. B. Du Bois famously described as “the peculiar sensation” of

“always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by
the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Nkoloso seems to

have possessed a comic version of this condition, the ironic dédoublement—the
ability to split oneself—that Charles Baudelaire saw in the man who trips in the

street and is already laughing at himself as he falls.

A couple of years after my �rst encounter with the Afronaut, I came across a 1988

interview with him in a Zambian magazine. In the interview, Nkoloso makes no
mention of the space program; instead, he reminisces with evident relish about his

days as a freedom �ghter in Kaunda’s United National Independence Party, the
nation’s ruling party until 1991. On the eve of Zambia’s independence, in 1964,

Nkoloso says, he and his ����; comrades pulled a particularly seditious prank.
They broke into the Lusaka mortuary, bribed an attendant with a �ve-pound note

for the corpse of a white woman, smeared goat’s blood on it, and transported it to
the crowded whites-only bar at the Ridgeway Hotel, in Lusaka. The lights went

out just as they tossed the corpse on the �oor. Nkoloso says, “I shouted to the
whites who were busy dining, drinking and laughing, ‘White men, your time is

limited! We have killed the wife of [Prime Minister] Welensky and we shall soon
pounce on you!’” The expats reportedly scattered. Nkoloso and his men took their

prize—beer from the bar—and sang “militant songs in favor of the political
struggle.”

As I discovered when I next travelled to Lusaka, to visit family, Edward Festus
Mukuka Nkoloso is most famous in Zambia as a revolutionary. He was born in

1919, in the north of Northern Rhodesia, a prince of the Bemba warrior tribe; as
a child, he received the distinctive scars to the temples. Nkoloso met Kaunda as a

young man; like the future President, he had a missionary education, learning
theology, Latin, and French. Nkoloso wanted to join the priesthood but was

drafted to serve in the Second World War, for the British, as a member of the
Northern Rhodesian Regiment. Over the course of stints in Abyssinia and

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Burma, he was promoted up through the ranks in the Signal Corps, the

communications branch of the military.

Nkoloso’s education and military service receive short shrift in Western reportage

from the sixties. I learned more about both from his son, Mukuka Nkoloso, Jr. (I’ll
call him Mukuka to distinguish them), during a long conversation at his ancestral

home, a sky-blue one-story house in Lusaka. A jolly, voluble man of seventy,
Mukuka was wary—“they write false stories about my father, they don’t tell the

truth”—but keen to set the record straight. He told me that his father’s interest in
science had begun during the war, under the tutelage of “a certain Mr.

Montgomery, a white man,” who told him how to operate a microscope. But
when Nkoloso returned from the war, the colonial administration denied him a

permit to found his own school. He opened it anyway, and was prosecuted. Like
black veterans around the world, Nkoloso had discovered that �ghting for white

men did not grant him a better life back home. “We are entirely forgotten,” he
wrote, on behalf of African ex-servicemen, in a letter to the editor of The Northern

News.

Nkoloso drifted between secondary schools around the country, teaching Latin,

science, and math. One day, Nkoloso and some fellow-teachers were having lunch
at his home when a new British education official came by. A kerfuffle ensued

about whether the Africans had the right to take a lunch break. According to
Mukuka, Nkoloso overturned the lunch table in anger, saying, “You are now

hindering our human rights.” He led his entire school on a protest march to the
Education Office. He was �red.

Nkoloso’s next job was as a salesman for the pharmaceutical company Lever
Brothers, in Ndola, the boomtown of the copper-mining district. At the time, the

Copperbelt was one of the most politically contested parts of the colonial territory
then known as the Federation. The second Prime Minister of the Federation, Roy

Welensky, was determined to hold onto the valuable mines in the north rather
than handing power over to the blacks. The veterans and miners in the

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Copperbelt had other ideas. Nkoloso, already the head of a local veteran’s group,

joined the Ndola Urban Advisory Council, one of the few institutions that gave
Africans a voice, if not exactly a say in their governance.

In 2015, I went to the National Archives of Zambia, to see the records from the
council’s monthly meetings. The typed notes, held together with rusty staples,

reveal a young Nkoloso eager to promote his progressive ideas and showcase his
education. He spoke against raising the Native Tax and asserted that the colonial

federation protected “the interests of the white people” while Africans remained
“drawers of water and labourers.” He advocated for a maternity clinic, a welfare

hall, and an industrial and technical college that would lead to “equal pay for equal
work.” In 1955, one year after Brown v. Board of Education in the U.S., Nkoloso

proposed “an Inter-Racial School in this country as an experiment in this multi
racial society.” He suggested that it was “inevitable destiny for this multi racial

society to become dialectic in the struggle for survival.” Somewhere along the way,
the Afronaut had been exposed to Marx.

Nkoloso soon gained a reputation as a political agitator in the Copperbelt. As the
Zambian historian Walima T. Kalusa notes in an article about colonial con�ict in

the area, in 1956, Nkoloso stormed into the district commissioner’s office to
protest against a European foreman’s exhumation of African graves. Having

established himself as a troublemaker, Nkoloso later got caught up in a sweeping
arrest of trade unionists. Upon his release, he was designated a “restricted person”

and sent back to his home district, Luwingu, in a rural part of the country. There
he became a district president of the African National Congress, a political party

that was formed in 1948 to represent African interests in the colonial protectorate.

Mukuka painted a �erce portrait of the cult of personality that sprang up around

his father as a freedom �ghter. Nkoloso wore a blood-red robe and long
dreadlocks as emblems of mourning for those slain under colonial rule. His

followers compared him to Jesus, “who never cut his hair when he was preaching,”
to John the Baptist, to Elijah. Nkoloso, a former seminary student, would perform

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baptisms, after which, Mukuka said, he would hand the newly converted

membership cards to his political party. M. R. Mwendapole reports in his
personal history of the Zambian trade unions that he and Nkoloso disguised

themselves as women to avoid detection. Mukuka con�rmed this, saying that
Nkoloso, having “camou�aged” himself as a woman, would walk up to colonial

officers and query them about this Nkoloso fellow, much to the amusement of the
villagers in Luwingu.

On a hunch, I asked the archivists for a folder catalogued as “Luwingu
Disturbance 1957.” It contained a jumble of original and photostatted letters and

reports from the British government, A.N.C. officials, the colonial administration,
and Nkoloso himself. The records, compiled for an official inquiry, revealed that

Nkoloso had organized a large-scale civil-disobedience campaign against both the
colonial administrators and the rural chiefs (the so-called Native Authorities).

Africans refused to work as carriers, food servers, and census takers; they ignored
orders to cultivate their �elds. The local chief issued a summons for Nkoloso’s

arrest. Nkoloso disappeared into the bush. After a six-day manhunt, witnesses
said, he �nally walked toward the officers and “straightened his arms forward

ready for hand-cuffing.” But his supporters interfered, a riot began, and Nkoloso
�ed again. He was captured in the dambo, or wetlands.

The documents I read suggested starkly con�icting versions of what happened
next. Nkoloso claims that an officer “deliberately, and willfully, grabbed and took

me by the neck and thrust me into the river pool with his full intention to drown
me.” Black kapasus injured him, he writes, when they shaved his head and beat

him “with sticks on the lumbar side of my body causing internal batteries and very
injurious internal maims, lacerating the nerves.” The colonial administrators deny

these accusations, saying that the cuts to his head and his tumble into the water
were accidental, and that he had merely fallen into “a state of collapse.” They call

Nkoloso “well-educated but unbalanced” and a “puppet dictator.”

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Nkoloso’s letters from prison display both his education and his �air for rhetoric.

(In one, he reports that the district commissioner, “unlike the pure English
blooded Englishman,” had commanded a group of school children “to sneer, and

jibe, and jeer” at him, enacting “a political mockery drama like that of, ‘Ecce.
Homo—Behold the Man, behold your Congress Chief !’ ”) He made sure that

these reports of his arrest reached Kaunda, who was in England at the time,
sponsored by the British Labour Party to learn about the parliamentary system.

The A.N.C. telegrams that arrived on Kaunda’s desk in London alleged that
Nkoloso had been taken in “nearly dead,” his parents “beaten to death,” and his

female supporters physically and sexually assaulted. His aunt, who was arrested
alongside him, had died in prison about two weeks after her arrest. Kaunda placed

these reports, with all their incendiary details, into the hands of British officials in
London. A rebellion in a small African village had exploded across the world and

landed messily in the lap of the Empire.

Kaunda told his friend’s story in his pamphlet “Dominion Status for Central

Africa?,” published in 1958 by the left-wing Union of Democratic Control. Soon
after, Kaunda founded the new United National Independence Party (����)

responsible for the so-called Cha-Cha-Cha uprising (“we will make the
imperialists dance to our tune”), a civil-disobedience campaign involving protests,

arson, and road blockages. During this contentious period, the British repeatedly
arrested ���� leaders, including Nkoloso. Mukuka told me that, during one stint

in prison, his father had dumped a bucket of urine and ashes on a prison guard’s
head. Nkoloso became the self-anointed “camp kommandant” for ����’s meetings

in the bush to plan the new government. Later, he was appointed the party’s
“National Steward,” serving as a kind of hype-man for Kaunda at rallies as the

country moved toward independence.

Mukuka had been a member of the ���� Youth Brigade in the early sixties, and

said that his father had started recruiting his space cadets from this organization,
as well as from local schools. Mukuka had brie�y participated in the space

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program as a teenager and remembered rolling downhill in an oil drum. “I was

scared because you feel sometimes you can suffocate,” he told me. He seemed to
take his father’s program seriously: “People were saying no, he’s mad,

exaggerating. But, no, he’s a scientist, this is science.” Mukuka claimed that his
father wasn’t just training the cadets for space travel, though; Nkoloso was also

testing their “readiness for independence” in a political sense. “He was teaching
for the program, but hidden from the British government. Teaching the youth so

they could be active.” Before they had become astronauts, Mukuka said, Matha
Mwamba and Godfrey Mwango had travelled to Tanzania to broadcast political

propaganda when it was censored during Cha-Cha-Cha. “The Youth Brigade,
you’d �nd in the morning ‘Vote ����’ written in paint on the tarmac,” Mukuka

said. They even used explosives: “making bombs, burning bridges,” using “black
cloth—they would put it in a sack, then they would mix it with petrol or paraffin,

then they burn it.”

Describing all this subversive political action, Mukuka grew animated. “Miss

Burton,” he said, snapping his �ngers. “In Ndola, she was killed.” He was
referring to one of the most famous moments of the Cha-Cha-Cha campaign. On

May 8, 1960, a group of ���� cadres in the Copperbelt had attacked a white
British expatriate, Lilian Margaret Burton, by stoning her car and setting it on

�re. Despite her deathbed appeal against retaliation, the accused were hanged for
murder. “You know who killed her?” Mukuka said. “The astronauts, the scientists,

the people who made bombs and some other things.” He imitated the sound of an
explosion. “A bomb in her car. So when you wanted to jump in the car?

Explodes!”

The space program, Mukuka seemed to suggest, was both a real science project

and a cover. After independence, Nkoloso served as President Kaunda’s “Special
Representative” at the African Liberation Center, a safe house and a propaganda

machine for freedom �ghters in other still-colonized nations on the continent:
Angola, Southern Rhodesia, Mozambique, and South Africa. His son said that,

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beyond his management duties, Nkoloso gave military training to “those freedom

�ghters, they used to call them guerrillas,” in Chunga Valley—the erstwhile
headquarters of the Zambian National Academy of Science, Space Research and

Philosophy. Zachariah Zumba, a colleague of Nkoloso’s at the Liberation Center,
con�rmed that freedom �ghters had been trained “in the bush,” and that

the astronauts had been drawn from the Youth Brigade. Zumba hinted that they
may have served as bodyguards for Nkoloso, who was “a very feared man.”

Andrew Sardanis, a Greek-born journalist and businessman who participated in
the independence movement, remembered Nkoloso differently. In the early

sixties, Sardanis said, “everybody loved him, but at that stage, he was not being
taken seriously . . . He was insane. Not a normal person.” Sardanis attributed this

to what happened in Luwingu. “He was arrested and tortured. The Northern
Rhodesian police tortured him. And after that, he lost it.” The Zambian

ambassador to the U.N. at the time, Vernon Mwaanga, recalled that the reporters
who �ocked to interview Nkoloso “looked at him more in jest than in

seriousness.” But he felt that the older members of ���� respected Nkoloso as a
veteran freedom �ghter, and that the younger ones were inspired by his passion.

“He was a very intelligent man,” Mwaanga said. “He was not a fool. He knew
what was happening. He knew what was going on. Although my wife still thinks

that he was crazy.” Mwaanga had a notion that Nkoloso had been invited to visit a
���� base, which lent some credence to a 1974 letter I’d found in the archives

from Nkoloso, thanking the government for sending him “to witness the
launching of Appollo [sic] 16.” (In the margins of the letter, there is a hand-

scrawled note saying that his words appear “conceived in the realms of fantasy and
imagination.”)

Last June, I interviewed former President Kaunda in his personal office, in the
Leopards Hill neighborhood of Lusaka. Kaunda, who is ninety-two years old, was

digni�ed and sharp, if a little hard of hearing. Nkoloso had been “quite politically
active when we were �ghting for independence,” he said, and “a useful servant to

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the nation.” When I mentioned the space program, Kaunda laughed. “It wasn’t a

real thing,” he said. “He wasn’t a scientist, as such. But he used to do some—I
can’t say ‘funny things,’ but many people enjoyed themselves in what he was

talking about . . . It was more for fun than anything else.”

Once ���� was established as the ruling party of the new nation, Nkoloso was

gradually relegated to the outskirts of government. “He was supposed to be
Minister of Defense in the new government,” Mukuka said. “Now, unfortunately,

they sidelined him.” Nkoloso drifted through what amounts to a series of
sinecures. In his sixties, he went to law school at the University of Zambia, but

the degree he earned, in 1983, did not yield better circumstances.

A year later, Nkoloso was working as the chief security officer for an industrial-

development company outside of Lusaka. “It is too low for me and I don’t want to
talk about it,” he told a Zambian reporter in one of his last interviews before his

death, in 1989. He was more eager to discuss his “scienti�c madness” for space
travel. “I have not abandoned the project,” he said. “I still have the vision of the

future of man. I still feel man will freely move from one planet to another.”

Namwali Serpell is a professor of English at Harvard, and is the author of the novel “The
Old Drift” and the essay collection “Stranger Faces.”

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