I Dreamed of Kenya

It interesting that the title of the video (embedded below)–shot recently by filmmaker Cary Fukunaga and commissioned by fashion brand Maiyet*–is “Sleepwalking in the Rift.” Not just alluding to dreaming, but also, because we are in the realm of genre here, to the film “I Dreamed of Africa.” The genre has its conventions. This reel, as with others in its genre, presents Africa as a dream, a phantasmic space. A juxta-modern space away from the exigencies of modern life. An elsewhere for the modern subject–usually white–to become authentic again.  To embrace the joie de vivre lacking in anodyne modernity.

And because we are in a phantasy here, in a mythopoetic geography, time is affected. The Africa here is a continent in stasis, an ant in amber. Africa is valuable and beautiful precisely because it supposedly resists the vagaries of modernity: it remains timeless. Africa is always birds, open space, sunshine, horizon, a limitless vista. And true to genre convention, there is a plane here, the tool that allows a panoptic view of this wild Africa.

But this view is mediated: notice the missing natives (sic)? The locals are derealized from this phantasmic view. Or if they are seen, they remain in the background, invisible. If going back to nature, to Africa, “appears” the white subject, makes him more visible, it has the opposite effect on the local–usually black–subject. It disappears the local. The local becomes illegible, not a distinguishable individual subject but part of the horde, an accessory to the land and to the white modern subject.

It might be a bit of a stretch, but the figure of the invisible, missing local reminds one of the phantasy of the lost white tribe in Africa. The white heterosexual couple–another convention of genre–can repopulate the land now, a land free of locals.

* You might remember one of Maiyet’s founders: a South African lawyer who parlayed his career at that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission into starting a fashion brand.


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©Africa is a Country, 2016