Just as movies reflect the beliefs and values of the cultures that produce them, they also help to shape and solidify them.
Film and culture are deeply intertwined, they have always been. While African movies have a powerful influence on the culture they tend to merge with, they also reflect prevailing concerns, attitudes, and beliefs in many societies. While the relationship between film and culture can be analyzed based on certain ideologies that may be prevalent in a given period, African culture is as diverse as the people that make it up, and it is also constantly evolving as it progresses through history.
What then exactly is cultural representation or identity? Simply put, it is information being presented in a cultural aspect, having to do with the traditions, food, music, dress or religion of a group. Culture is what made you the person that you are today while identity is the certain unique characteristics that differentiate one person from the next.
The act of making a film can provide a way of immortalizing culture and presenting various representations of it. Aside from reflecting certain commonly held attitudes and beliefs about what it means to be African, African films also depict contemporary issues, trends, and events, providing a record of the times in which they were made. For instance, stories about our political history such as The Herbert Macaulay Affair (Nigeria), Silverton Siege (South Africa), and The White Line (Zimbabwe) as well as films about Nigeria's independence. Films like these emerged from a seminal event of the time, one that preoccupied the consciousness of Africans at different points in time.
Just as movies reflect the beliefs and values of the cultures that produce them, they also help to shape and solidify them. Sometimes the influence is trivial, as in the case of fashion trends or figures of speech. After the release of the Oleku by Tunde Kelani in 1997, there was an increased promotion of fashion for women with the attire worn by the lead character in the film.
The film helped to further influence the Oleku fashion attire, one that’s still very relevant today. The Oleku style was reinvented into a stylish Iro and Buba for young ladies who were redefining what style meant in the late 90s.
However, sometimes the impact can be profound, leading to social or political reform, or the shaping of ideologies. In 2014, the Mauritian film Timbuktu was rightly seen as one of the finest films of the decade. The plot is as topical as they come as the film shows a city under siege from black-flag-toting jihadists, but it’s the triumph of the human spirit over adversity that really shines through. Timbuktu discussed the reality of the people in Mauritius, projecting their culture and putting the audience at the heart of the situation giving representation in all forms that there is.
2005 film Tsotsi, is a perfect entry for anyone interested in African cultural representation through film. Director Gavin Hood captures a side of South Africa we rarely see on screen, and never sugar-coats or softens the leading man, resulting in a film that stands the test of time.
In several aspects, African stories constitute a self-image and integrate this image into their storytelling because this is what distinguishes Africa’s identity from the west.
Nollywood has today become a global phenomenon due to the fact that it is "Pan-African", it is transnational, and in the age of digital technology, its cultural influence continues to be felt, not least by serving as a model for local film production and inspiring the growth of local industries.
These local manifestations of the Nollywood influence are indeed much more than the proliferation of a model of success. What now calls attention among many aspects, are the complex and diverse expressions of ‘national cinema’ and the internal, regional and global engagement that the films of these nascent industries produce.
Uganda is a national context in East Africa. One of the most notable Nollywood-influenced films of the twenty-first century has come from this society: Who Killed Captain Alex? It has been reported that the film was made for about $200.00. The revenue of the film is unknown, but it has received 2.5 million views on YouTube, and 10.7K views on Vimeo (with a download option).
The description of the film as being Uganda's first action movie has however drawn inspiration and has helped to create an identity for an industry that will create its own form of representation.
The influx of Western cultures in the developing world under globalization and at a rapid rate has caused concerns about the future of African cultural heritage in African cinema. Generally, Nollywood films are used to promote African culture, but they don't fully depict the original African culture due to cultural hybridization. This isn't a bad thing, as the industry wants to connect to a global audience, and it's that authenticity that keeps it going for years.
Furthermore, the study of different audiences and viewing contexts plays an integral role in enhancing knowledge and engaging with the potential for dynamic film cultures just as it is desirable that different audiences exist for different films.
The diversity of existing African cultures is impossible to capture in a single film, it is nevertheless necessary to acknowledge the unique engagement of our identity with a broader context of diverse cultures, histories, geographies, and languages, underlining the importance of incorporating our culture into our stories, which ultimately are shaped by audiences at home and abroad.