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The history of African cinema starts only after African countries gained independence from the colonial powers. African cinema is a postcolonial cinema; it represents the needs of those directors who grew up watching western moviies based on western models and vision, the most important were: neorealism and new wave.

African films represent the transgression and the overturning of reality and constitute an independent cinema compared to the western models. For this reason, Directors immediately understood that the film industry would have never taken off unless these films were distributed to African theatres.


The history of African cinema is characterised by sufferings and sacrifices, marked by films with derisory costs of production, often realized exploiting co-production channels. But some directors, such as Sembène Ousmane, have always claimed a sort of independence from France, preferring some forms of collaboration with the South and keeping a certain independence from the colonial power. When we talk about cinema, we tend to consider the Sub-Saharan part, excluding Maghreb and Egypt that belong to the Arab cinematography.

The term “Third World”, coined by the French journalist Alfred Sauvy in 1950, contemplates three geopolitical spheres: the First capitalist World including Europe, USA, Australia and Japan; the Second World of the socialist alliance and lastly the Third World of the colonised, neocolonasied and decolonised nations and the “minorities” of the world whose economic and social structures derived from colonization. This term was invented as an analogy to the French revolutionary “third estate”: the people against the first state (the aristocracy) and the second state (the clergy). The meaning of “Third Cinema” as we know it today originates from this term. In this period the reference texts were: The Aesthetics of Hunger by Glauber Rocha (1965), Towards a Third Cinema by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino (1969) and For and Imperfect Cinema by Julio Garcia Espinosa (1969).


According to Rocha (link in Italian), talking about the aesthetics of forms means creating a film that exhibits its own poverty, and releases the spectator from his alienation through an anti-Hollywood cinema. Solanas (link in Italian) and Getino (link in Italian) move on the same line, but they propose a documentary film, an extreme cinema that withdraws from constructing the narrative story (unlike Rocha who maintains a certain lyricism). Conversely, Espinosa theorises a cinema characterized by political activism. Frantz Fanon influenced strongly those texts and the culture of the Third World with two fundamental books written by him: Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth.


In his movie Black Skin, White Masks Fanon is the first to apply Lacan’s theories to the cinema and to represent colonialism as a sort of neurosis, the fact that the spectator’s point of view is that of a white person, makes it, in fact, impossible for an oppressed African to identify with it. The African spectator did not recognize himself in the characters of the Western films showed in Africa during the French colonization, therefore he was alienated, unable to start the process of identification and totally detached from “the journey” on which every movie takes us.

Solanas and Getino’s idea of “Third Cinema” is de facto that of a protest against cultural colonialism. According to them, the colonial ideology worked also in the film industry leading to the adoption of ideological forms associated with the dominant film aesthetics. The authors theorised three cinematographic models: a “First Cinema”, represented by Hollywood and its counterparts; a “Second Cinema”, supported by Truffault’s films in France and Torre Nilsson’s films in Argentina; an innovative “Third Cinema” consisting mainly of guerrilla warfare documentaries. Solanas and Getino define the “Third Cinema” as the one which represents (in the Third World anti-imperialist fight and in its equivalents in imperialist countries) the greatest cultural, scientific and artistic event of our time, in short, the decolonization of culture. Therefore, the Third World manifestos opposed Hollywood and the commercial customs of their countries – now seen as “bourgeois”, “alienated” and “colonised” – to the new cinema.


In this regard, it would be interesting to consider the theories presented in Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films by Theshome H. Gabriel according to which there are three stages that a native intellectual has to go through during the decolonization process: the occupant’s culture assimilation, the recovery of traditions, the fight. These three stages are discerned respectively in: “tout-court assimilation”, “phase of remembrance” and “battle phase”. The first is characterized by a strong imitation of the film industry, the second shows a revival of the pre-colonial origins in order to create a “native style”, the third aims to make cinema available to everyone and no longer produced by a single author; in other words, the purpose is to demolish the process of identification of Hollywood Films. In the Third World Cinema the representation of time is slower, it emphasises on space instead of time and it represents the fusion between character and context. Even the concept of hero disappears.

by Claudia La Ferla

Original text in Italian here.

Translation by Beatrice De Luca and Eleonora Maddaloni

Revision by Eleonora Maddaloni

Pictures taken from web.


Claudia has already written about African Cinema specifically about the directors Sissako (link in Italian) and Cissé (link in Italian). Besides the unquestionable artistic value of the films analyzed, we decided to dedicate a specific section to African Cinema in order to offer a different point of view on cinema as a representation of enfranchisement and affirmation of the principle of self-determination (link in Italian).