Why we made a film about images that cast Africans only as victims

Americans need recognize if they want to do good in Africa they need to partner with Africans or work in the US on policies that impact negatively Africans. 

We’re making the documentary film, FRAMED, because we recognize a lot of Americans want to do good in Africa, with the best of intentions, but the way they go about it often doesn’t play out well for Africans. In western pop culture, we’re still seeing images of Africans as helpless, hopeless and without any ideas about how to change their own societies. Yet Africans are politically, socially, culturally engaged in and out of government and they are telling their stories about what they are doing through writing, art, music, political action and social media. FRAMED turns the lens on how the status quo of Africa in need works for westerners.

In the film, Zine Magubane, an educator at Boston College, investigates the motives and rewards of the humanitarian impulse: “unfortunately it’s not establishing a relationship between two people as humans, but rather as a savior and a victim.”

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Featured in the film are writer Binyavanga Wainaina (How To Write About Africa; One Day I Will Write About This Place) and Boniface Mwangi, the young Kenyan photojournalist turned activist who shatters the stereotype of the passive aid recipient.  FRAMED has never been about speaking on behalf of Africans but about finding ways to open up Americans to recognize that if they really want to do good in Africa they need to partner with Africans or support their initiatives or work in the US on policies that impact Africans.  We want the film to speak to young people who have a sincere energy for change, but haven’t considered the questions FRAMED is raising.  We filmed with a young writer named Pippa Biddle who made waves when she wrote a provocative blog piece titled “The Problem With Little White Girls (And Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist” about her experience as a volunteer.

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It has been hard to narrow the story down but we believe that showing how Africans like Boniface engage with their own political spaces as well as how they represent their homes to Americans while also, we hope, showing how Americans are learning new ways to be activists in Africa and at home can push us out of the critique phase into a constructive one in terms of development and humanitarian interventions.

Here’s a link to the film’s Kickstarter page.

Further Reading

The entitlement of Bola Tinubu

The Nigerian presidential candidate’s claim of ’emi lokan’ (it’s my turn) reveals complex ethnic politics and a stagnated democracy. Most responses to it, humor and rumor, reflect how Nigerians enact democratic citizenship.

Father of the nation

The funeral of popular Angolan musician Nagrelha underscored his capacity to mobilize people and it reminds us that popular culture offers a kind of Rorschach test for the body politic.

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Āfrīqāyī

It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.