Sembene's Xala : alternatives to the representation of Africa in colonial and neocolonial novels and films
Dokotum, Okaka Opio, 1966-
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This dissertation examines the representation of Africa in colonial and neocolonial novels and films and alternative representational approaches by postcolonial African novelists and filmmakers. The dissertation asserts that the “Dark Continent” image of Africa was established in the nineteenth century following centuries of the slave trade. The colonial novels and later, films, served as weapons for promoting European cultural imperialism and the colonization of Africa. The most significant of these novels is Henry Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885), the first colonial novel set in Africa, which became the template for subsequent novels and films about Africa. These novels portrayed Africans as backward, uncivilized savages and cannibals and justified racism and colonialism. African writing from the Negritude movement of the 1930s to the novels and films of the 1960's onwards riding on the waves of the liberation movements across the continent sought to reconstruct the distorted history of Africa: first, to combat European cultural imperialism and to decolonize the minds of Africans; second, to show the world that contrary to derogatory Western representations, Africans had and have a glorious civilization. African novelists and filmmakers like Ousmane Sembene also criticized archaic African traditions like polygamy, and emerging dictatorship that betrayed the ideals of independence by serving the exploitative neocolonialism of foreign hegemonies and multinational companies. Ousmane Sembene's novel and film Xala are the springboards for analysis in this dissertation. Instead of the exoticism of colonial novels and films, Sembene's novel celebrates African cultures while also criticizing the economically impotent bourgeoisie of independent Senegal. The more political film adaptation focuses on the local audience and exposes the treachery of the political elite while mobilizing the population against colonial and neocolonial oppression. This dissertation concludes that the Haggard Rider quest narrative template of King Solomon's Mines is still evident in contemporary western novels and films and that despite the achievements of the African novel and cinema over five decades, the challenge of decolonization is still great. There is a need to sustain Sembene's vision of literature and film as tools for decolonization and for reconstructing Africa's history and reclaiming its stolen heritage.