In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section African Cinema

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Primary Sources and Commentaries
  • Biographies/Filmographies
  • Anthologies, Dossiers, and Special Issues of Journals

Cinema and Media Studies African Cinema
Frank Ukadike
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0073


The term “African cinema” generally refers to film production in Sub-Saharan African countries. Compared to the other national cinemas in the world, African cinema can be said to be a recent phenomenon that for many countries within this region only began to materialize after independence in the 1960s. Thus, following the patterns of colonialism and the struggle for independence, film production mirrored the patterns of development in the English, French, and Portuguese-speaking African countries (often referred to as Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone regions). Its emergence also gave it a unique characteristic that is also quite distinct from the cinemas of the culturally Arabic-inclined North Africa, which has a longer production history. This North-South dichotomy is somehow knotty, as it signifies both ascertained commonalities and differences among filmmakers in the two African regions. Although cultural and political situations may seem threatening and agitating, the filmmakers are still united as one body under the banner of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI). They have also maintained regular contact and partnerships with Africa’s premiere film festivals in Carthage (Tunisia) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), where they strategize with respect to questions in relation to African filmmaking. Thus, the shifting conditions and adjustments made to the intrinsic manifestations of the colonial and post-independence periods reveal the cinemas that came into existence under unique circumstances that were incomparable to those of any other national cinema. South Africa offers another dimension in regard to its construction of African film history and the discourse of African cinemas. After the country became a bona fide member of the African Union following the demise of apartheid, the cinema in South Africa, once referred to as the “cinema of apartheid,” simply became known as “South African cinema.” A multiracial society that is unlike many other countries in Africa, film production in this land is, on the one hand, dominated by white South Africans and is closely aligned with the narratological patterns of Hollywood and European cinemas. On the other hand, the yearnings of black filmmakers to narrate stories in their own way, epitomizes the clamor for production based on the aesthetic canons and parallels similar to black African cinemas, something that is gradually being realized. Hence, as the springboard for analysis, the colonial, postcolonial, and contemporary practices informing film production and their bearing on aesthetics and the discourse of African cinemas can thus be explicated. Diversity, as the penultimate credo of this creative enterprise (and revolving as it does around the eclectic traditions of the continent’s cinematic practices in various regions, narratological patterns, filming techniques and, thus, image significations) offers expanded definitions of African film aesthetics.

Introductory Works

Critical studies of African filmmaking have proliferated since the production of films in Africa by Africans starting in the mid-1950s. Most of the pioneering first book-length studies were written in French as part of the Cinemas d’Africa noire series published by OCIC (Organisation Catholic Internationale du Cinema et de l’Audiovisuel) in Brussels. Bachy 1982a, Bachy 1982b, Bachy 1982c, Otten 1984, Vieyra 1983 offer country-by-country studies of African filmmaking. Schmidt 1985 provides an excellent review of all five books. Vieyra 1975 the first book by an African, one that synthesizes African filmmaking in one volume and that is truly an exemplary work that is also an interesting introduction to the historical, cultural, political, and ideological underpinnings of African film practices.

  • Bachy, Victor. Le cinéma au Mali. Brussels: OCIC, 1982a.

    A brief overview of the origins of film production in Mali from the perspective of a French historian.

  • Bachy, Victor. Le cinéma au Cote d’Ivoire. Brussels: OCIC, 1982b.

    This offers a brief history of the development of film production in the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), from colonial involvement to local production activities; it discusses pioneer filmmakers and the types of fiction/documentary films they made.

  • Bachy, Victor. Le Haute-Volta et le cinéma. Brussels: OCIC, 1982c.

    Covers the origins of film production in Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), the establishment of Africa’s biennial film festival (the Pan-African Festival of film and television of Ouagadougou), as well as the film institute, which was established in 1976 with the help of UNESCO.

  • Otten, Rik. Le cinema dans le pays des grands lacs Zaire Rwanda Burundi. Brussels: OCIC, 1984.

    This documents information on early developments of film production in Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi.

  • Schmidt, Nancy J. “African Filmmaking Country by Country.” African Studies Review 28.1 (1985): 111–114.

    DOI: 10.2307/524570

    An excellent review of filmmaking in several African nations, reflected in Bachy 1982c, Otten 1984, and Vieyra 1983. This article offers important updates and information pertaining to historical specificity, as well as to some of the problems in the early writings on African films.

  • Vieyra, Paulin Soumanou. Le cinéma Africain: Des origins à 1973. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1975.

    An excellent introduction to the history of African filmmaking, the first to synthesize it in one volume but covers only to 1973.

  • Vieyra, Paulin Soumanou. Le cinéma au Sénégal. Brussels: OCIC, 1983.

    Presents an authoritative perspective on the history of filmmaking in Senegal, explaining the problems of development, as per pre-independence structures and thereafter.

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