THIS past week I was delighted to join over a hundred storytellers, performers, funders, partners as well as arts, culture and media organizations at the Africa No Filter Summit which held in Nairobi from 8th-10th November 2023. it was an amazing opportunity to celebrate the continent’s creativity and innovations.
The Africa No Filter Summit is all about the diverse and dynamic stories that are reshaping African narratives beyond stereotypes of poverty, corruption, poor leadership, disease, and conflict. The summit featured performances, panel discussions, one-on-one conversations, and pitching sessions that put storytellers in front of creative experts. It is exactly the understanding of the power and politics of narratives that birthed the iRepresent International Documentary Film Festival fourteen years ago. It is why our focus from iREP’s foundation has been to build a narrative space for authentic stories of Africa, told by Africans, that can find inclusive space in the landscape of global media. And as the well-curated programme of the Africa No Filters summit unfolded, I was soberly reminded that our work to reverse negative narratives and stereotypes of Africa in international media has yet many rivers to cross. And we need to continue to remind ourselves and our public why narratives matter and why stereotypes are not harmless.
In fact, narratives of stereotypes are carefully curated to deliver political and economic advantages in a post-colonial reality. They are the threads that weave together the fabric of collective consciousness. Beneath the surface, lies a complex global political economy where access emerges as the linchpin for resource redistribution. This symbiotic relationship between stereotypes, narratives, and access underscores a fundamental challenge in our pursuit of a more equitable society.
Stereotypes, those ingrained and sometimes pernicious generalizations about particular groups, are not merely reflections of individual biases. They operate as currency within the political economy, influencing the distribution of resources and opportunities. When certain groups are pigeonholed into narrow roles or stigmatized by prevailing stereotypes, their access to resources is curtailed, perpetuating a cycle of inequality.
Narratives, the stories we tell ourselves and others, play a crucial role in shaping societal attitudes. The narratives we construct often reinforce existing stereotypes, creating a self-perpetuating system that further entrenches disparities. Consider, for instance, how media portrayals can either challenge or reinforce stereotypes, thus impacting the perceived worth and value of different communities. At the heart of this complex interplay is the concept of access. Access to global resources in trade, security, diplomacy, education, employment, healthcare, and social mobility serves as the fulcrum upon which the political economy of stereotypes pivots. Limited access for marginalized groups acts as a barrier to resource redistribution, hindering the very essence of a just and equitable society.
Efforts to dismantle this system must prioritize breaking down barriers to access. Educational opportunities that empower individuals to challenge stereotypes, diverse representation in media to reshape prevailing narratives, and policies that address systemic biases are essential components of this transformative process. By redefining access, we disrupt the established economic order built upon stereotypes and narratives that perpetuate inequality. Recognising the political economy of stereotypes demands a nuanced approach that goes beyond individual attitudes. It necessitates a systemic overhaul where access becomes the cornerstone of resource redistribution. Only then can we unravel the threads of stereotypes and narratives, weaving a new fabric that reflects the true diversity and richness of our world. That is the mission of Africa No Filter and I was thrilled to join its community of ‘voices’ pushing for change.
As an African filmmaker and storyteller, I consider that it is important to focus on these narratives and stereotypes for a reason. Here’s what I have said in a previous presentation – We are living today in what has been described as the golden age of storytelling in Africa, and you can see it in the bustling urban spaces of the continent whether it is Lagos, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Accra, or Cairo. The world seems ready to embrace stories of Africa from Africa and by Africans. There is an openness to the nuances of our history, our cultural experiences, our worldview, and what constitutes our ambitions as a people. The massive success of the Black Panther film and the global response seems an inflection point that has awakened something that is prompting deeper conversations about representation and the authenticity of what constitutes an ‘African story’ as against a story from Africa.
The continent is the new bride of content markets. The world seems to hunger now for our stories and are asking us, daring us, to show them the ‘Africa’ we wish to sell to the world. So, the global creative space yawns for authentic representations of Africa – from traditional folklores to urban tales or even the identity crisis that bedevils African immigrants in the diaspora. The authenticity of the African story extends beyond colourful costuming, dance, and drumming, or the appropriation of ancient symbols. The African story is also the story of enterprise and innovation, of exploits in technology, medicine, literature, and sports. It is about acknowledging the complexities of our history, but also firmly and loudly expressing faith in our values as a continent.
This Article was written by renowned Filmmaker and Founder of the iREP Festival, Femi Odugbemi and was first published on NaijaTimes. Check it out here.