From the era of the silent film where Charlie Chaplin dazzled audiences with his theatrics, film has always been integral in breaking down and presenting contemporary issues in a subtle yet powerful way. As a medium, it helps us understand cultures, navigate new ways of life and bestows on the viewer an appreciation of all ways of life. With or without dialogue, film is the language of humanity and a glimpse at different experiences across the world. It educates, empowers and entertains audiences as we fall in love with characters, sympathize with their conditions and empathize with them. When the curtain falls, we get to learn and have new perspectives to life.
Therefore, the African diaspora has been a lucrative subject for the big screen and has created many movies that reveal the nature of African diaspora, its struggles and its prospects. From, gut wrenching Roots to heartbreaking Twelve Years a Slave, movies on the African diaspora have tantalized audiences, making fortunes on the box office. Of remarkable nature is the indelible impression they have made on the realities, hopes and dreams of the African and the diaspora African. For any African immigrant the following list details some movies on African diaspora that have moved audiences over the years and those that illustrate the similarity of the struggles all Diasporas face when assimilating in their new environments.
SHAKE THE DUST-2014
Hip-hop is often revered as an African American invention having deep roots in the African continent. This film documents how the hip-hop culture has infiltrated most global cultures flourishing in unexpected areas. Adma Sjoberg takes you to exotic and unknown peripherals of the globe where the hip-hop scene is vibrant. Break-dancers in rural Uganda and rappers from small town in Yemen and Cambodia exhibit how hip-hop is a universal language.
Featuring music from hip hop legends such as Nas, Common and Talib Kweli, the film is a thrilling kaleidoscope that captures an exotic array of hip-hop. It still manages to capture the tough environments that American hip-hop rose from. Poverty, refugee crises, immigration, identity and race conflicts are prevalent all over the world, evidence that the African diaspora shares the same problems with other diasporic communities globally and these issues can be tackled through music. Nonetheless, shake the dust is beautifully shot and documented, making you yearning for more hip hop and an itching temptation to pick up a microphone in the next karaoke session and spit some rhymes.
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE-2013
After Django unchained sent us into an unnerving roller coaster into the painful past of slavery in the Americas, Twelve Years a slave delves into the subject, cutting deep emotional cuts in the viewer’s heart. The film is set in a time when slavery is an unquestionable fact of life and our protagonist, Northup, a freeman is duped during a job interview, drugged and sold into slavery. He is forced to hide his ability to read and write if he is to survive and see his family again. The film depicts how, although some white men sympathize with the enslaved black men, they are adamant to help them, an injustice that is just too horrifying to forgive and forget.
He is sold three times and his last slaver, Edwin Epps, is ruthless and justifies his abuse of slaves using scripture as an excuse. He savagely subjects Northup to severe beating every time he falls short of collecting 200 pounds of cotton daily. The film is a work of art and an instrument of education to audiences. It depicts how slavery worked and how psychological torture deterred uprisings although slaves outnumbered their white oppressors. African actors like Lupita Nyongo shine in this star studded cast to win the hearts of many. Watching the brutality inflicted on the slaves will make you shed a tear. However, the honesty of the film serves as a lesson on the human condition; how cruel we can be and how humans with only hope can traverse adverse and impossible conditions.
ROOTS 1977 and ROOTS TV DRAMA-2017
The story of Kunta Kite is one of the most riveting slavery stories that deserve a remake. Adapted from Alex Haley’s novel; Roots, it is an unnerving look at history that has strong social impact today. The 1977 original was a runaway hit and the 2017 mini-series remake still has the same punch. Kunta Kinte is a tribesman in abducted from his village in Gambia and sold as a slave.
The original 1977 film follows 17 year old Kunta Kinte abducted and chained in the hold of a slaver’s ship, his auction at a slave market and how his spirit is broken through torture and severe beating. Maya Angelou unbeknown to many stars in this film as Kunta’s grandmother magnificently. The film went on to win nine awards at the 29th PrimeTime Emmys.
The 2017 remake incorporates more action and inflicts the sorrow of a man ripped away from his family. It delves deeper into the communal relations and does justice to the book showing how slaves were captured and tortured by fellow Africans. An hour of gruesome torture and mental hardship is captured in the ship’s hold as those who refuse to eat are force fed, flogged and called monkeys. With decapitated heads on spikes, and ungodly amounts of blood splashing on the screen, the remake drives home its punch of shock value.
HOW TO CONQUER AMERICA IN ONE NIGHT-2004
Gege is a young Haitian who sets out to Montreal with the goal of seducing a blonde girl he has seen in a magazine. However, his uncle, Fafan in Montreal reminisces about a girl he left back home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After twenty years in Montreal, he still craves all things Haitian. Gege meets up with Fanfan who has given up his dream of being a poet and settled for the taxi cab business. Through humor, the two explore cross-cultural problems of immigration. This movie helps one appreciate the complexity of different immigrant experiences. Gege has come for the diaspora experience in Montreal yet Fanfan yearns for the life back home in Haiti.
There are more independent films made for diaspora Africans and many more in various local dialects. The Caribbean is host to a boiling pot of captivating short films while West Africa boasts of humor-packed Nollywood films that are bound to leave you writhing on the floor with laughter. Ideally, this list serves to showcase well-known films that educate on the African diaspora and have made global impact.