From Nigeria to South Africa, Kenya to Angola, Senegal to Rwanda, African cinema has also done its utmost best to continuously document history-changing events
For decades, Africa as a whole has been relentlessly plagued by dramatic social changes, undergoing political unrest, and turbulent economic transitions that have greatly contributed to the slow growth or steady decline of several nations in the continent despite having an abundance of natural resources and one of the richest cultural heritages in the world.
As the continent constantly changes, African cinema has also done its utmost best to continuously document history-changing events. From Nigeria to South Africa, Kenya to Angola, Senegal to Rwanda, there is a similarly harrowing history and somewhat unified experience that helps to contextualize African stories by documenting events that demonstrate the state of leadership, oppression, and politics in African storytelling.
In 2009, the popular Kenyan drama From A Whisper documented a story that is based on true life events surrounding the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The project explores the lingering impact of the violent attack by casting a spotlight on its victims and their families. The story goes ahead to highlight Kenya's struggles with hardship and loss, giving a vivid picture of the distressing reality of the people living in those communities.
The heart-wrenching historical event surrounding the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, was also acutely captured in a feature film titled Hotel Rwanda which was produced in 2004 by Terry George. The film succinctly follows an ordinary family man with the extraordinary courage to help thousands of displaced refugees by providing them with shelter in the hotel he manages. Focusing on the chaos of genocide and the violent inhumanity of war, the movie gives audiences an insight into Rwanda’s dark history but also casts a new perspective on the power of instinctual heroism. Hotel Rwanda is one of the finest historic films in African Cinema and it is one that is continually used as a reference for the horrible Rwanda genocide.
In 2016, Director Lara Lee travelled across the country to film Burkinabè Rising: the art of resistance in Burkina Faso, an inspiring drama that depicts the revolutionary spirit of Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara, and a series of creative resistance manifested through cultural expression. Sankara rose into power in 1983 and was assassinated in 1987 in a coup d'état led by his close advisor Blaise Compaoré.
Over the years Nollywood has not been left out, also telling dynamic historical stories from pre-colonial times to the era of British rule and the post-colonial period. Documenting these times which hold great significance for Nigeria is not always easy since it requires a lot of research, facts, and funds which is very limited, especially in countries where there is a lack of proper documentation. Nonetheless, movies like October 1 by Kunle Afolayan, Amazing Grace, The Herbert Macaulay Affair, and The Invasion all by Lancelot Imaseun have been able to properly depict Nigeria’s political history.
One monumental film that excellently documented the political climate of Kenya is awe-inspiring and partly heartbreaking Softie. Softie carries an artfully captured theme of resistance driven by Kenyan photojournalist and political activist Boniface Mwangi. The story narrates his incredible resolve in trying to make the country a better place. It tries to portray the milestones that can be achieved when the individual is faced with impossible situations. Using Mwangi’s run-ins with the law and unsuccessful run for legislative office, the dangers of street activism and community mobilization are laid plain for all to see.
It is intriguing to see that much more than ever, new African filmmakers are focusing on telling stories that for the longest time seemed unattainable. There has been a more promising growth in the film industry since the turn of the 21st century. As the new generation of filmmakers begins to emerge, I expect them to produce films that look to explore or document complex and important social and political issues. Through the production of these films, African cinema continues to tell and document very important stories which help preserve our history and helps us control the narrative in the present and even years to come.