- Queer Theory in Film & Fiction, special issue of African Literature Today
(UN)MAKING QUEER AFRICAN IDENTITIES
Reflecting on desiring queer Africans by examining media, memory, and the resulting counter-publics is a vital exercise in realizing queer temporalities and epistemologies within African contexts that can both resist and address. But such a reflection goes further: encompassing intersecting analyses of colonization, [End Page 205] imperialism, homophobia, race, class, media, and intermedial cultures, it allows a shift in the understanding of "queer." In effect, the reflection then becomes a mediation of global frameworks of sexuality and a decolonization of queer studies, as Queer Theory in Film & Fiction, a special issue of African Literature Today guest edited by John C. Hawley, has shown.
Thirty-sixth in the African Literature Today series edited by Ernest N. Emenyonu, this collection of thematic and non-thematic articles, literature, a tribute, and reviews follows editions on Children's Literature & Story-Telling, Diaspora & Returns in Fiction, and Focus on Egypt, indicating a promising epistemological intersection for African studies. The primary thematic focus on queer film and fiction within African contexts is explored through twelve articles that examine queer visibility and representation through a variety of media forms such as documentaries, films, novels, drama, photography, an illustrated work, and an exhibition. The articles focus on different countries from Africa, such as South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya, and on queer identities such as homosexuality and bisexuality. A perspective on the construction of a specific trans- or intersex identity within African contexts, which the edition lacks, would have without doubt been a valuable addition. The contributors come from universities in the US, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa and are creative writers and activists apart from being academics.
There are several themes evident in the collection, adding to that of representation and visibility that are implicit in all the articles. Some continue the discourse on realizing homophobia within Africa as a colonial and imperial import, rather than homosexuality, enabling a postcolonial framework for queer sexualities. This critique of the white gaze also inquires about contemporary representation of queer identities in Africa that tend to alienate black bodies or represent black queer bodies through a white lens. Intersections with the category of race and erasure also extend to the temporality of post-apartheid, which further complicates queer identities and representations within African contexts. There are other valuable intersections in the edition such as those between sexuality and class and sexuality and HIV/AIDS, enunciating the complex history of sexuality in Africa. As much as it looks to the past, the edition also explores the future of queer representation in Africa by considering the failed promises of the digital and the growing consumption of the queer African body for global capital.
Silence as a means for challenging erasure is identified as a constituent of African queer identity, which stands in contrast to the celebratory loudness of queer cultures in Western countries. This is merely one way in which this edition enables a representation of queerness in Africas and Africas in queerness, effectively debunking the myth of a single homophobic Africa. As Hawley writes in his editorial introduction, "Desiring Africans: An Introduction," the project was intended to make "visible various alternative ways of conceiving of Africanness" (4) as much as it was intended to represent African queerness. As a result, the edition resists alienation from both queer studies and African studies.
Hawley's introduction, which sets the tone of the book, opens with a quote by Robert Mugabe on homosexuality, clearly highlighting the political agenda behind the edition—resistance to forms of erasure and enclosure that plague queer lives in Africa. By historicizing an intermedial, intersectional contemporary resistance [End Page 206] in the creation of African queer identities, the book fulfills this agenda and opens valuable intersections and counter-publics for the future of queer visibility.