African Agency in the Gold Coast Film Unit

Yesterday, after exploring some of my primary sources on colonial mobile cinema van units, I happened upon the article, “Cameraman on the Gold Coast” from the June 1952 Colonial Cinema magazine. In this article, Gold Coast Film Unit cameraman, George Noble talks about filmmaking problems in the Gold Coast. Below is an excerpt that reminded me of an earlier post that I made in which I proposed that even though African technicians in the Gold Coast Film Unit were not given major creative control over the films made, we should reconsider the ways in which their roles as assistants did impact film production choices. Reading this quote makes apparent the unequal terms of the colonial encounter—where glistening African bodies were the objects of the colonial gaze and an educated African was believed to be a dangerous African—reveling the daily forms of racism that African collaborators had to contend. On the other hand, it also clearly demonstrates how the making of Gold Coast Film Unit films were a cross-cultural process where African members of the Unit were allowed to assert some control over the way Africans were represented on film, even when it contradicted what British members of the Film Unit thought was best.

“Then one or two of the people, who had moved around and seen films about Africans, might raise an argument. The films they had seen or heard about usually showed African women stripped to the waist, and this they would tell the rest of the people, was showing the African as a savage. A first-rate example of a little learning being dangerous. The result was that everyone would go to the opposite extreme, insisting that the women wore three times the clothing they usually did…This was carried to a ridiculous degree even in the case of tiny tots about five or six. These kiddies, with their lovely glistening skins and their tiny strings of beads look beautiful, and are so natural that they form an integral part of the daily life. As soon as we appeared they were put into stupid and often dirty pairs of knickers that made them look, and feel, entirely unnatural. When we objected, an African attached to our unit, who spoke good English, did not agree with us; he went on to say that if it was his child he would object to her being photographed as she really was. All these things proved very disheartening, and will affect the natural beauty of the finished film. However, perhaps in time our friends will understand, and realize that insisting on things like this is just as bad as doing what they think we want them to do. In other words, just as they think the outside world will get a wrong impression of unclothed Africans, they will get an equally wrong idea when they see children with these ridiculous western ideas thrust upon them. However, I am glad to say that after a three-week stay in one village the people began to wonder whether their ‘wiser members’ were right after all.”

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This work is licensed under Creative Commons.


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