Black Camera republished essay on African Cinema


The Theoretical Construction of African Cinema, Black Camera 12, no. 2, Spring 2021. 

In his investigations into the possibility of an African philosophy, V. Y. Mudimbe interrogates the various intellectual movements that have influenced the development of Africanist discourse: Negritude, Sartrean existentialism, missionary writings, ethnophilosophy, anthropological structuralism, and Fanonian neo-Marxist nationalism. A thorough study along the lines which I am proposing for the investigation of ideological currents in African cinema and criticism should, ideally, address all of these influences. For now I intend to make a few generalizations in reviewing some of the recent critical works on African cinema, the publication of which has highlighted the need for a systematic study of the theoretical foundations of the discourse on African cinema.

The contentious operative question underlying Mudimbe's work concerns how African philosophy might be positioned so as to avoid being a priori confined by the Western discourses that were initially introduced into African culture through colonialism, and which originally defined philosophy as a field of knowledge and a disciplinary practice as such. It may be useful to recall how Hegel presented the problem in relation to the African tradition in his Philosophy of History:

The peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend, for the very reason that in reference to it, we must quite give up the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas the category of Universality. 

On the basis of this logic, and by force of the institutions generated in its tradition, it became impossible to conceptualize such a thing as African history except as a sub-category of that of Europe; African thought, insofar as it was acknowledged at all, would necessarily be articulated in terms that extended out of the Enlightenment.

It would be hard to avoid the implication that any African discourse making philosophical claims would have to be inherently a hybrid intellectual product, its very effort to link itself to the philosophical tradition having as a precondition some reconciliation with Western culture. Thus, unsurprisingly, given the political relationship that has obtained between Africa and the West, the question of what "African philosophy" might consist of has been characterized by a struggle to distill the pure, authentic, original, traditional, or indigenous characteristics from what have generally been considered perverse external influences. Mudimbe's historicizations lead us to suspect that, articulated in this form, such an activity may not be very useful, and that the concept of authenticity may itself be implicated in formulations of intellectual originality, cultural appropriation, and mimesis that elide the very historical and cultural specificity which it is supposed to animate:

 The fact of the matter is that, up to now, Western interpreters as well as African analysts have been using categories and conceptual systems dependent on a Western epistemological order, and even in the most explicit "Afrocentric" descriptions, models of analysis, explicitly or implicitly, knowingly or unknowingly, refer to the same order. Does this mean that African Weltanschauungen and African traditional systems of thought are unthinkable and cannot be made explicit within the framework of their own rationality?