- Queer African Cinema, Queer World Cinema
In their wonderfully ambitious and carefully argued book Queer Cinema in the World, Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt discuss the difficulties of defining precisely what queer world cinema is. Citing the limitations of narrow definitions that reduce queer world cinema to productions by or explicitly for queer people, the authors prefer a model that is more capacious and that is free from Western cultural presumptions about what a gay director or gay audience might look like. They argue for an approach that does not "determine in advance what kinds of films, modes of production, and reception might qualify as queer or do queer work in the world" (Schoonover and Galt 2016, 14) and they set out to answer an equally capacious question: given that queer world cinema is such an open-ended category, "where in the world is queer cinema?" (14). Their response takes them to queer film festivals in New York, India and Botswana, and to video stores, bit torrent sites, underground DVD markets in Iran and Egypt and, of course, to sites such as YouTube or Vimeo. Such an itinerary allows them to leave open the definition of cinema, claiming that it is "a space that is never quite resolved or decided" (3), and to side-step the tangled debates about how one defines world cinema. Rather, they opt for a discussion of a queer cinema that "enables different ways of being in the world" and "that creates [End Page 652] different worlds" (5). But to what extent do these claims apply to queer African cinema? Is queer African cinema simply a subset of queer world cinema? Or is it a category that requires new modes of inquiry?
Because the categories of "queer" and "cinema" can encompass so many different forms, it does make sense to follow Schoonover and Galt in keeping the definition of the terms as capacious as possible. Moreover, one must always keep in mind that "the invention of Africa" by colonialists, as V.Y. Mudimbe (1988) puts it, means that "Africa" as an epistemological object of knowledge is also always a bit unresolved. But, nevertheless, I contend that it is also productive and generative to step away from some of the expansiveness, open-endedness, and "worlding" of Schoonover and Galt's project to think more particularly and regionally about queer African cinema and the politics of place. In other words, while Schoonover and Galt write about the difficulties of defining queer world cinema, a different set of questions arises when trying to define queer African cinema, especially considering the paucity of queer-identified filmmakers, the absence of any coherent queer film movement, and the role of state censorship boards in trying to limit or prohibit films with queer African characters. What I argue is that in order to understand the world of queer African cinema, one must pay attention not only to the porousness of categories, but also to the various material and political constraints faced by African audiences and African filmmakers in a global world. Any account of queer African cinema must address the multiplicity of worlds and possibilities, as well as borders, censors, budgets, and geographical and financial limits. Whereas Schoonover and Galt are concerned with locating queer cinema in the world or with locating queer worlds in cinema, I ask two more situated questions: "Where in Africa is queer African cinema?" and "Where in queer world cinema is Africa?" Here are my provisional answers.
Where in Africa is queer African cinema? Questions of spectatorship have long been important to African cinema studies. Before the rise of the Nigerian and Ghanaian popular video film industries in the 1990s, a constant lament among African filmmakers was the absence of their films from screens on the African continent. African movie theaters tended to exhibit Hollywood or Bollywood films or Kung Fu movies, but the films made by Africans were mostly shown at film festivals (only a handful of which were located on the continent), embassies, or art house cinemas abroad. And though the situation [End Page 653] has improved, African celluloid films are still typically more accessible outside of Africa. When one is talking...