That was me just thanking everyone in Dagaare for the honor of speaking in front of this very intentionally gathered community. It’s such an honor to be able to speak to an audience I can really share with and get feedback from.
A few years back, at the BlackStar filmmaker symposium, I got to see [filmmakers] Roni Nicole and Iyabo Kwayana speak about how they constructed their practices, and how their personal lives gave rich material for the subject matter of their films. So jumping off from the gift of those presentations, I wanted to start by sharing a bit about my practice right now: where I’m at, what I’m doing, and how I’m conceiving of film.
Where I’m at always has a lot to do with what brought me to film: on the one hand, being African and being from the “dark continent,” being from a space that has been so willfully misrepresented by media—so much so that you grow up wanting to punch back, because you’ve seen something a majority of the world doesn’t get access to see. But then, on the other hand, being very diasporic and so, thinking: Let me remix, let me bring together, let me figure out, in my own way, what my traditional and indigenous heritage is [by] using all of the tools at my disposal. This desire to speak truthfully, complexly, and authentically brought me to film.
Even the movie I’ve been sitting with for a very long time now, Afronauts, was introduced to me through a similarly colonial video:
And yet, in popular American film discourse, we get into these linguistic, discursive dead ends, especially around this thing of representation—like Oscars So White and the conversation around why so many historical African American figures are portrayed by Black British actors. These conversations and this sort of protest are very important. However, I’m also just thinking through the year when the Academy finally opened up to a lot of women and people of color. And I’m looking at that result and wondering if when we frame our protests as “Oscars so white,” we then encase our protest within that institution only. So that institution then responds and opens up, but only to usurp everything that we’re talking about into their own ranks.
I’m always left wondering if I can truly speak properly and speak to the fullness and the richness that I want to be speaking to, and especially if I can do that with other people. When these questions come up for me, it’s at the scale of infrastructural things, but also at the scale of film-linguistic things, like how to put two shots together. So many threads have come up for me as to whether we can authentically, indigenously speak together using film language.
One of the threads that has come up is the idea of the colonial camera. I think most of us gathered here would agree that the camera has been used to define us but also to redefine how we define ourselves. So much so that Arthur Jafa said: “It doesn’t matter if a Black person is behind the camera or not, because the camera itself functions as an instrument of the white gaze.”1 So there are these discourses around the camera being something that isn’t for us and wasn’t made for us.
When I think about the colonial camera, the sort of stereotype that comes up is black-and-white newsreel footage with natives demonstrating native things for educational purposes. A white male, usually British voiceover comes on and explains—not to an audience that includes the natives, but to an audience that includes only the people akin to that white British voice—what the natives are doing.
But then we can also talk about how the camera itself was used to administer the colonial era. In Ghana, we had these movies like Mr. Mensah Builds A House (1955) or other educational films that would teach natives how to wash their hands and dress for an interview and clean up and be better citizens, be better colonial subjects. In this way, the camera had its place just in terms of administering the colonial era. And some of the earliest film practitioners in Ghana were making these colonial-educational movies, so those legacies definitely run deep.