SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

The Story of African Film: Narrative Screen Media in Africa

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Term 1
Students who take this half-unit course will come away with a thorough introduction to the history, politics, and theory of African filmmaking and video-making. Over the past fifty years, filmmakers from across the African continent have produced a large body of films and videos that, in the quality of their expression and the complexity of their themes, are on a par with the most important films produced in the rest of the world. African film has, however, been dubbed the “last cinema” due to its having been largely ignored by film financiers, distributors, and exhibitors, as well as by most Western film critics. The course charts the development of African filmmaking and video-making in multiple contexts, from West to East to Southern Africa, from the introduction of the film medium in Africa in the early 1900s as a tool of colonization, to the origins of “mediated ethnography” in Africa in the 1930s and onwards, to the “Third Cinema” and early resistance movements in African film, to the emergence of African filmmaking in the 1960s in the wake of decolonization struggles and political independence. Equal attention is paid to the specific socio-cultural and politico-historical contexts that have given rise to certain ethics and aesthetics within African film and video, and to the analysis of particular films as works of art and/or cultural artifacts that have the potential to challenge contemporary theory in novel and exciting ways. An array of theoretical and methodological frameworks and modes of analysis are considered in relation to the films and videos, including: history, (visual) anthropology, anti- and post-colonial studies, film studies, gender, sexuality, and race studies, theology, political theory and development studies, and area studies.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • successfully analyse and interpret African films from an array of different African contexts
  • discuss the institutional aspects of film in Africa (in terms of production, distribution, and exhibition)
  • undertake independent research and complete it successfully
  • show confidence in expressing his/her views both orally and in written form
  • show an awareness and understanding of the process of making a film


This course is taught in term 1 over 11 weeks with four contact hours a week, two of which are spent in film screenings, the other two being lectures.

Method of assessment

This course is examined by one 5,000 word essay to be submitted in week 1, term 2 (70%). Students will be required to submit at least 5 weekly analyses of each film they view for class (approx. 500-1000 words), the best 5 of these analyses will each be worth 6% each of the final grade (30%).

Suggested reading

  • Bakari, Imruh and Mbye Cham, eds (1996). African Experiences of Cinema. London: BFI.
  • Balseiro, Isabel and Ntongela Masilela, eds (2003). To Change Reels: Film and FilmCulture in South Africa. Detroit: Wayne State UP.
  • Barlet, Olivier (2000). African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze. London: Zed Books.
  • Bickford-Smith, Vivian and Richard Mendelsohn (2007). Black and White in Colour: African History on Screen. Oxford: James Currey. 
  • Diawara, Manthia (1992). African Cinema. Indianapolis: Indiana UP.
  • Givanni, June, ed. (2000). Symbolic Narratives/African Cinema: Audiences, Theory and the
    Moving Image. London: BFI.
  • Gugler, Josef (2003). African Film: Re-imagining a Continent. Oxford: James Currey.
  • Harrow, Kenneth, ed. (1999). African Cinema: Post-Colonial and Feminist Readings.
    Trenton/Asmara: Africa World Press.
  • Haynes, Jonathan, ed. (2000). Nigerian Video Films. Athens: Ohio University Center for
    International Studies.
  • Iliffe, John (1995). Africans: History of a Continent. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Pfaff, Françoise (2004). Focus on African Films. Bloomington: Indiana UP.
  • Thackway, Melissa (2003). Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan
  • Francophone African Film. Oxford: James Currey.
  • Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (2002). Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with
    Filmmakers. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P.
  • Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994). Black African Cinema. London/Berkeley: U of
    California P.

A coursepack will be made available to students with all required reading and weekly film screenings will be held so that all students have access to the required films.

Please note: Since October 2007, over 50 new films have been bought to make provision for the development of African film courses in general.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules