Zélie Asava

The Voice of the Subaltern: Representations of Feminine Identity in West African Cinema

Year: 2008

Keywords: , , ,


Dundalk Institute of Technology
(at time of presentation)

Personal profile:

Dr Zélie Asava is Joint Programme Director of Video and Film at Dundalk Institute of Technology, where she teaches courses on film and media theory, and national cinemas. Her monograph The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Irish Identities on Film and TV (Peter Lang, 2013), examines racial representations in Irish screen culture. In 2011, she was awarded Young Irish Studies Scholar of the year by Peter Lang.

She has also taught at University College Dublin, Institute of Art and Design, Dun Laoghaire, Trinity College Dublin, examined for NUI Maynooth, and given seminars at NUI Galway.

She is the author of many articles and book chapters in print and online, and has been published by Oxford University Press, Palgrave Macmillan and University of Chicago Press, among others. She has also worked as a freelance journalist for print media, and has spoken at many national and international conferences. Her research covers issues of race, gender and sexuality in Irish, French, American and African screen culture.

Dundalk Institute of Technology Research Profile: https://www.dkit.ie/users/zelie-asava

Twitter: @selieasava



See also:



This paper will explore representations of ethnicity and gender in a selection of films from Western Africa, including Xala [The Curse] (Sembene, 1975, Senegal), Moolaadé (Sembene, 2004, Senegal) and Sisters in Law (Longinotto & Ayisi, Cameroon, 2006).  The documentaries Selbe (Faye, Senegal, 1983) and Reassemblage (Min-ha, Senegal, 1982) will be considered alongside fiction films such as La Noire de… [The Black Girl] (Sembene, 1966, Senegal/France), and Wend Kunni [God’s Gift] (Kaboré, Burkina Faso, 1982).

Shohat and Stam (1994: 191) accuse Hollywood of ventriloquising the world while the global domination of American cinema continues to restrict the distribution of African films.  Nevertheless since the 1960s African filmmakers have been asserting their own voice – linguistically and culturally - and developing an African aesthetic.  This paper will explore their work in relation to postcolonialism, feminism and Trinh T. Min-ha’s directorial concept of ‘speaking nearby’.

Historically the black body formed a metaphorical and literal canvas for Western conceptual theories of blackness: ‘I am overdetermined from without’ (Fanon, 1986: 116).  The continued Western use of the ‘mark of the plural’ has reduced cinematic representations of Africa to: ‘a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity… [resulting in] the dehumanization of Africa and Africans’ (Achebe, 1988: 257), e.g. Blood Diamond (Zwick, U.S.A., 2006).

This paper considers attempts to decolonise film culture.  The films considered interrogate ideas of identity, modernity, history and tradition.  Their various representations of gender represent and reinvent public and private identities within Africa, signalling the changing character of nation and agent in an ever-changing continent.