- Cinema and Social Discourse in Cameroon
Fourteen years following the publication of Richard Bjornson's The African Quest for Freedom and Identity, a monumental study of Cameroonian writing, Cinema and Social Discourse in Cameroon, with its focus on an increasingly important aspect of the visual culture, not only opens up new and innovative avenues for further research, but, more important, it fills an intellectual gap in Cameroonian studies. The success of putting together an edited collection of critical essays such as this lies in skillful editing, the depth and breadth or, indeed, the quality of contributions, and the text's organizational principle. In all these cases, the finished product has met the challenge.
Structurally, Cinema and Social Discourse is divided into three thematic parts, each with four to five essays. Each essay clearly illuminates, through close analyses, some aspects of Cameroonian cinema and contributes effectively towards addressing the overall thrust of the book, namely, "the aesthetic, ideological, and social problems related to images and their political significance" (4). The essays either generate their own theories or ground their discussions on sound literary, cultural, and visual theories. Moreover, the editing has been handled quite adroitly starting with clearly defined goals of the project, the judicious selection of contributors, and more important, organizing those diverse contributions from different theoretical perspectives and styles to produce an organic whole. One reservation, nonetheless, applies to the piece on "Intermedial Location" whose "unusual post-structuralist approach" (5), though refreshingly innovative, tends to be repetitive and fails to convincingly and effectively articulate the concept of "intermediality" that forms its theoretical framework.
Part 1 on "The State, Images and Cultural Discourses" engages in critical historical, cultural, and sociopolitical commentaries on filmic and other audio-visual media. It deals with early Cameroonian filmmakers, whose pioneering endeavors, while contributing significantly to discourses on their cultures, stand accused of producing "escapist cinema" (22) and of colluding with "The Illegitimate State" in that they treat noncontroversial, apolitical, and neutral issues, and either impose self-censorship or remain deaf to "social cries" and blind to "political silences." Additionally, their techniques have come under criticism for their liberal borrowings from or, indeed, their imitation of the French filmic tradition. Such mimicry, according to the critics, has impacted their productions to the point that their films have been viewed simply as "colonial instruments of alienation" (25) or postcolonial tools of indoctrination and intoxication of the masses. Here also the state-run CRTV (Cameroon Radio and Television) has come under scrutiny for its lack of creativity in developing its own programs, its reliance on old imported programs, its skewed programming in favor of the French language that has led to further "marginalization of English and Anglophones" (51), and its manipulation to serve as the ruling party's propaganda machinery. [End Page 199]
The second part on "Postcolonial (De) Constructions," heavily theoretical, draws from various theories, including Deconstruction, postcoloniality, gender, and cultural studies to discuss the films of Jean-Marie Teno and Jean-Pierre Bekolo, two prominent figures of contemporary Cameroonian cinema. Of significance here are the identification of Teno's shifting landscapes, his innovative use of the "invisibility metaphor" in which African filmmakers, hitherto blanked out, employ this as a "strategy of resistance," as a way of critically gazing back at the oppressor unseen behind the cameras. From this unseen vantage position the filmmaker acts as those occult forces whose invisible powers pervade his films. He is also able to deconstruct hegemonic historical constructions of Cameroon as well as critique postcolonial successive oligarchies in Yaoundé for their contribution to "cultural genocide" and "blatant violations of human rights" (34). Furthermore, he attempts to reconstruct Cameroonian political history by re-historicizing marginalized nationalist figures and giving voice to the subjugated to tell their own stories.
Meticulous analyses of Bekolo's films in this part reveal the filmmaker's questioning of "the cultural identity of African cinema" and some sort of "anxiety of influence" as he searches for new and innovative theories to discuss African cinema, theories that look neither back to African...