by Celluloid Liberation Front.
I recently had the honor and privilege to hold a workshop for aspiring young film critics in Nairobi, Kenya — a country still scarred by the looting of colonialism, blackmailed by the “charitable” extortions of neocolonialism and let down by a corrupt and inept ruling elite; a place where the color of your skin (if white) still affords you privileges unavailable to the majority of the local (black) population and where racism made way to a subtler form of patronizing condescension.
All this is quite faithfully reflected in the kind of films that make it to the local multiplexes (there are no independent movie theaters in Kenya). Hollywood blockbusters are more often than not the only available option ending up representing the only conceivable idea of cinema. Western images and imagination still incarnate the ideal of beauty, success and glamour in a country where even the majestic beauty of its own wilderness has been forever monopolized by BBC wildlife documentaries.
Hair straighteners and bleaching creams, though, cannot wipe out the long-suppressed need for self-representation, the necessity to create and debate autonomous images — to give voice to the voiceless. There is a collateral effect to this legitimate enthusiasm for anything that finally turns locals from depicted objects into depicting subjects, namely the tendency to be overly generous and not critical enough when it comes to Kenyan films.
The other, related problem is that the standards to which local filmmakers aspire, audiences are accustomed to and critics refer to are limited to mainstream American cinema. In Kenya, the idea of what constitutes a valid film is, in other words, gauged against Hollywood’s most commercial output.
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