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Haile Gerima’s Sankofa experience: Man, mission, movie, movement

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The collective memory of the slave experience is imprinted on the minds and hearts of many African descendants in the Americas. However, many do not recognize or acknowledge this memory until it is pricked by an image, story or an experience. Sankofa, the 1993 slave narrative film by Ethiopian director Haile Gerima, did just that. Drawing on press accounts, oral history and critical analysis of Sankofa, this study adopts a Third Cinema framework to explore the distribution and reception of Sankofa with its primarily African American audience. This study asserts that Sankofa’s institutional dynamics contributed to an activist movement around the film. Further, the film’s narrative and form, specifically Gerima’s adoption of five key cinematic strategies, privileged the black spectator in a dialectical exploration of slave history.
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Keywords: Haile Gerima; Sankofa; Third Cinema; black cinema studies; grassroots film distribution; spectator analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Michigan State University

Publication date: December 1, 2016

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  • The Journal of African Cinemas will explore the interactions of visual and verbal narratives in African film. It recognizes the shifting paradigms that have defined and continue to define African cinemas. Identity and perception are interrogated in relation to their positions within diverse African film languages. The editors are seeking papers that expound on the identity or identities of Africa and its peoples represented in film.
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