chapter  7
14 Pages

Griots and talanoa speak: storytelling as theoretical frames in African and Pacific Island cinemas


In discussing a decolonizing, rewriting process for postcolonial cinemas, Ousmane Sembène’s film politics of refusing to mimic the West not only as an ideological stance but also as an ideal in film practice and analysis pioneered the debate and has been influential since the 1970s (Barlet 2000), followed by Teshome Gabriel’s (1982) and Férid Boughedir’s (1983) defining wave of thinking and practice. Filmmakers and critics have kept in mind this historical reality: cinema is a Western invention introduced to much of the non-Western world through colonization, and film aesthetics, philosophies, and even theories and methodologies have been dominated by Western, namely Euro-American, discourses and conventions (Getino and Solanas 1997; Armes 1987; Shohat and Stam 1994; Wayne 2001). As Western cinemas generally model after Hollywood’s commercial films in the invisible style at the service of telling a goal-oriented, three-part story or follow the aesthetics of European art film (Wayne 2001), Sembène’s likening of the filmmaker to a modern griot and an active cultural body engaged in both artistic expression and sociopolitical reform is particularly useful as a de-Westernizing framework in analyzing films from cultures with a strong oral tradition. Various critics have since discussed the relationship between the postcolonial African filmmaker and the traditional storyteller, the djeli or griot, not only as an “ambassador for tradition” but also as a modern-day bard (Barlet 2004).1