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Research in African Literatures 30.1 (1999) 238-240

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Women Filmmakers of the African and Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity, by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1997. 177 pp. Illustrated.
With Open Eyes: Women and African Cinema, by Kenneth W. Harrow, ed. Special issue of Matatu: Journal for African Culture and Society 19 (1997): 1-263. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997.

Prior to the development of feminist film studies in the early to mid 1970s, most discussions of "women and film" meant discussions of actresses in film. Although early, ground-breaking works like Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape (New York: Holt, 1974) and Marjorie Rosen's Popcorn Venus (New York: Coward McCann and Geoghegan, 1973) did concentrate on women's roles on screen in Hollywood, it was not long before feminists began nothing less than a total re-evaluation of what it means to speak about "women and film" in the first place. Most feminists saw much to criticize in the auteurist approach to film, the dominant critical approach of the 1960s, where the film director—virtually always male—is seen as the most important creative and artistic force in the creation of a film's aesthetic vision. The limitations of auteurism could be read in a variety of ways. Some feminist critics began a process of excavation, looking to reclaim those women directors whose work had been ignored either in film history or film criticism or both. Other feminist critics looked at the work that tended to be described as "women's work" in the film industry—fashion design, cutting and editing, and—to a certain extent—screenwriting. Still other feminist critics were less interested in women's actual contributions to the film medium and more concerned to understand how the dynamics of cinematic representation depended upon very precise notions of gender difference.

However different the approaches associated with feminist theories of film as they have developed from the mid-1970s to the present, they have tended, until quite recently, to assume the omnipresence and universality of Hollywood cinema. Now this makes a certain kind of sense, for Hollywood has defined and continues to define most of the cinematic practices that define what the cinema means for most viewers. Yet there is a way in which critics, by making Hollywood the measure of all cinematic production, turn it into more of monolithic institution than it is. In other words, by ignoring the vast array of cinematic production that takes place far beyond Hollywood, both geographically and metaphorically, film critics—feminist and otherwise—affirm what is ultimately a very narrow range of concerns.

The two volumes under review here contribute both to the documentation of alternative cinemas and to the conceptualization of feminism and film in ways that go far beyond Hollywood. Gwendolyn Audrey Foster's Women Filmmakers of the African and Asian Diaspora surveys the careers of women filmmakers working in the US and Great Britain through their diasporic heritages of tradition and displacement. Kenneth Harrow's edited volume, With Open Eyes, takes its title from Anne Laure Folly's 1993 film, [End Page 238] Femmes aux yeux ouverts, and offers a wide range of essays that explore not only African women filmmakers but also the representation of women in films by African male directors and in films about Africa by directors from Europe and the US.

Foster's book is organized as a survey of the careers of six women directors—Zeinabu irene Davis, Ngozi Onwurah, Julie Dash, Pratibha Parmar, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Mira Nair. While the women differ in their cultural identities and in their approaches to filmmaking, Foster sees nonetheless a connection between them in terms of the similar processes of the revision and reconceptualization that characterize their work. Most importantly, these directors are united in their pursuit, as the subtitle of the book has it, of a "decolonization of the gaze." This decolonization works on several levels. Those familiar with feminist psychoanalytic film theory recognize...


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