Sunday, December 10, 2006

Africa Lite


Painting by Owusu-Ankomah

Ok so on to Africa Lite posited as a new genre - so this will probably be a long meandering ramble over several posts...

Over the last 7 years we've seen a slew of good to brilliant award-winning films coming from these shores - all of them skewing towards 'darker' subjects. No matter, there's still huge antipathy (in South African audiences) towards 'worthy' or 'political' local films. It's well known that only Schuster's fairly un-exportable brand of slapstick and MTV style youth comedies pull SA audiences in their droves. A cry oft repeated (at Sithengi and on moviezone discussion groups) is 'we need lighter films'. Less drear, more cheer. But can we do light? And do we really want to? Or is Africa Lite a Hollywood skewed economic imperative at odds with Africa's complex history and even more complicated present? Hmmm maybe you can answer that...? (ha)

I'm going to talk about Minghella's forthcoming No1 Ladies Detective Agency movie (or will it be the 'Tears of The Giraffe' adaptation now?) The book has already inspired several productions at the Beeb - see article
here: You can probably listen to it on the 'Listen Again ' service - but I haven't managed to find it yet.

Minghella's film is due to shoot in these parts sometime next year. In many ways McCall Smith's detective series typifies Africa Lite - with pleasant African settings and colourful characters and 'small town' outlook with an accent on traditional values and virtues. The mood is kept light - moments of sadness are quickly overtaken by cheerful humour or comic oddity. Nasty stuff (AIDS, poverty, domestic violence etc) is pushed firmly into the background. This is 'feel good Africa' for Western audiences.


And maybe this is why folk seem peculiarly polarised in their opinions of the Lady Detective series - either loving or hating it. I'm even going to suggest that these opinions are polarised around race. The novels certainly hold an appeal for middle England (even middle America) - gentile, travelled white ladies of a certain age - Archers listeners perhaps? Go on now, punch me madam. Whereas black women seem to hate them - just talk to Facety about McCall Smith (and outsider's perspective and authorship and cultural authenticity!) But this is only a straw poll - and not very reliable. Just to prove it - I admit I'm a fan. Though I have to claim more than a passing interest here, since a few years back (one of SA's producers has/had the rights) I lobbied to do the adaptation (and received a pleasant enough reply alluding to re-decorating issues..hmmm).

Anyway, Mma Ramotswe has all the potential to be as magnificent on the screen as on the page. But please no Joan Armatrading, Oprah, Queen Latifah or Whoopie Goldberg! And there you have it - casting famous black Americans (or Brits) as African characters - the first of many pitfalls...

..to be continued...

5 comments:

Wessel said...

Cool blog you have Ms Scriptwriter. I disagree with the argument that Africa lite movies are the way to go.

All the 'darker' South African plots were too didatic, naive and politically correct, with flat characters lacking the complexity of real human behaviour. They whore a 'dark' cloak but it was a disguise, we never suspended our disbelief.

Tsotsi went a long way and almost achieved it.

South Africa should rather go the way of Denmark and a Dogma type setup. Strong scripts and acting, in our local languages - and forget about the glitzy holywood aesthetic. At least then it does not matter if the movies are not box office hits, and they might get real aclaim abroad.

Wessel said...

Oh and thanks for the link to my blog....

Far away said...

Thanks for dropping by Wessel!

and I'm not suggesting 'Lite' is the way to go at all...

Carole said...

Just a side note - How exactly does Joan Armatrading get grouped into "famous black Americans?"

Far away said...

Hi Carole - ooops by osmosis obviously! I'll correct that