In to Africa - films and literature
August 1, 2012 3:38 AM   Subscribe

Are there any new recommendations for books and (especially) films about Africa? I prefer themes other than war and violence if possible.

There was a 2005 question on books and films about Africa. I'd like some more recent recommendations, with a focus on non-violent themes and stories. (While I've seen and enjoyed Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland and Hotel Rwanda, I'd like to diversify my viewing.) Documentaries are especially welcome.
posted by ladybird to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It isn't a recent book, but I remember enjoying Cry, the Beloved Country in High School. It takes place in South Africa but isn't war/violence. It deals with the conditions that lead to Apartheid.
posted by Twain Device at 4:05 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: If you don't mind being aggressively uplifted by your films, The First Grader was quite good. It's the Uplifting Based on a True Story of a former Mau Mau fighter going to primary school when primary school became free for all Kenyans a few years back.

There are some really neat authors coming out of Sub-Saharan Africa nowadays. I really liked Chimamanda Adichie's book, "Half of a Yellow Sun," and she's written quite a few others. That one is set during political upheaval in Nigeria in the 60s, but is about more than that Aminatta Forna's "Memory of Love" was amazing; though the war in Sierra Leone is an important part of the narrative, it's far from the only theme. Binyavanga Wainana's memoir about Kenya "One Day I Will Write About This Place" ... Wangari Maathai founded the Greenbelt Movement, and I like her memoir, "Unbowed." I also like Liberian president Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson's memoir, "This Child Will Be Great." If you're up for an economics-heavy, but very interesting, book, Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid was kind of perspective changing for me (I recommend reading it in conjunction with The White Man's Burden by William Easterly, and maybe The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, as it's sort of a direct rebuttal to some traditional aid ideas, but it's good to get both perspectives).
posted by ChuraChura at 4:11 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Current TV's Vanguard has been doing awesome longform Jounalism in the region:

Season 1
Episode 9, Saving Madagascar (24:26)
Adam Yamaguchi investigates the unique environmental situation in Madagascar.

Episode 10 , Blood Roses and Deadly Diamonds (26:16)
Vanguard heads to Colombia and Sierra Leone to explore the unromantic stories behind two symbols of love.

Episode 15, Lagos la Vida Loca (14:46)
An exploration of the world's fastest growing megacity
Season 2
Episode 3, Modern Day Pirates (25:32)
Kaj Larsen goes on a search for modern day pirates in the straits of Malacca, talking to trackers and sailors before visiting the pirate dens themselves.

Episode 6, Chinatown, Africa (24:29)
An investigation into China's rapidly growing presence in Africa

Episode 14, Beach of Death (23:54)
Christof Putzel and Kaj Larsen travel to Somalia to investigate the worlds most failed state

Season 3
Episode 8, Cocaine Mafia (20:58)
Christof Putzel investigates how Europe's growing appetite for cocaine is funding the growth of West African crime syndicates and fueling a turf war with the Camorra.
Season 4
Female Genital Cutting (7:43)
A look at the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone

Episode 4, Soccer's Lost Boys, Human trafficking of African boys for soccer (44:01)
As South Africa prepared to host the 2010 World Cup, the focus was on many of the continent’s brightest stars in soccer, including Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o. Correspondent Mariana van Zeller explores the dark side to the sport’s global popularity, what has been called “the new slave trade.”

Episode 6, American Jihadi, American-born Somali terrorist Omar Hammami (update)
Vanguard correspondent Christof Putzel explores homegrown terrorism in "American Jihadi." The show chronicles the path of Omar Hammami, a high school student from Daphne, Alabama who became a top commander in an Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group. With the help of Omar's high school friend, Christof retraces Omar's path to extremism -- from Daphne, where he converted to Islam, to Toronto where he immersed himself into the local Somali community, and finally his journey to Egypt and Somalia.
These two posts have the rest of Vanguard's work in other regions, but ChuraChura's list of books is awesome.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:15 AM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Blood River, a fantastic [non-fiction] book by UK journalist Tim Butcher about his journey through the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004 is a fantastic read and a great primer for that neck of the woods. It does cover some aspects of violence, of course, but it's not its primary theme.

I've also just picked up as couple of books by Paul Collier on Africa. Again, non-fiction. I've not read them, but they are very highly regarded: Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places and The Bottom Billion, which looks at poverty, with a strong focus on Africa.

The Power of One is a 1989 novel (and 1992 movie adaptation) about a young white South African in the 1930s. It's a sentimental epic, but was very popular in its day. For a less sentimental novel about a white South African, JM Coetzee's Disgrace is an incredible read. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and Doris Lessing are good go to places for fiction set in Africa.

On a lighter note, The Gods Must be Crazy was a cult film in South Africa at launch, but history has not perhaps treated it quite as kindly.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:20 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also wanted to recommend two few blogs that regularly deal with African popular culture - in particular, Okayafrica, which is mostly music focused, but covers some books and films from across the diaspora, and Africa is a Country, which I believe is South Africa-based, but covers cultural stuff from across the continent.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:25 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Book and TV series: the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. If you are looking for a little bit lighter fare, I enjoyed this series of books and then the television versions that HBO made (though as always I thought the books were better).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:03 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Aya graphic novels may interest you -- they're about a teenage girl in Ivory Coast during the 1970s. They're fictional, but while Marguerite Abouet says they're not autobiographical, they do reflect her experiences there.
posted by darksong at 5:19 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I was pretty fascinated by Nollywood Babylon when I caught it. Pretty sure the whole thing is still online there. Nigeria's film industry is a crazy thing.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:39 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: I realized that there are a couple that I missed

<>Rebels in the Pipeline (26:09) Exploring the causes behind the increasing levels of oil-related violence in the Niger River Delta

Missionaries of Hate (44:47)
Vanguard travels to Uganda to look at the roots of the recent crisis surrounding a potential new law.

Also, I highly recommend Sometimes in April
posted by Blasdelb at 5:45 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An African Election is a recent documentary about elections in Ghana
posted by birdbone at 5:48 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hereby second darksong's recommendation. I love the Aya books. They're brilliantly done. I didn't know they were available in English!
posted by solotoro at 7:40 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just recently watched Fambul Tok, which is about utilizing traditional peacemaking methods in Sierra Leone to bring about healing in families and communities.
posted by brilliantine at 7:41 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dayo Forster's Reading the Ceiling is a novel about everyday life for a young Gambian woman (three different ways, depending on a critical choice).

Ben Okri was mentioned in the 2005 thread, but: Ben Okri. The Famished Road is amazing.

And she's also been previously mentioned, but Chimamanda Adichie's books are great, too; I just read The Purple Hibiscus.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:57 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: Alexandra Fuller's books Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat.
posted by lullaby at 8:02 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: Seconding the support for Ben Okri's The Famished Road---amazing book.

Pandora In The Congo is more about colonialist fantasies of Africa than Africa itself, but it's an incredibly smart novel, and a neat take on the colonialist fantasy.

Deogratias is a chilling graphic novel of the Rwandan genocide---sorry, I know, war & violence, but it's quite good.

I haven't yet read Petals of Blood, but it's supposed to be excellent.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:50 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: If you're at all interested in African cinema, I can't recommend enough the work of the Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako: Bamako, La Via sur Terre (Life on Earth), and Heremakono (Waiting for Happiness) are the most readily available in the West. His films may be "slow" by some standards, but they linger on people and landscapes in a documentary fashion, and (having spent some time in the places he films) they are very authentic to the "feel" of Mali and Mauritania. Plus, great music! I haven't found anyone's films I love quite as much.
posted by mykescipark at 10:05 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: I caught Tsotsi randomly on TV a few years ago and was hooked.

While trying to remember the title of Tsotsi, I discovered that there's a South African version of Michael Apted's Up Series. I can only find 21 Up on Netflix Instant, but presumably there's also a 7 up and a 14 up. If you're a Netflix user, there's also a lot in the "More Like" section at the bottom of the page that might be what you're looking for.
posted by Sara C. at 10:56 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Bolter is about Idina Sackville of the Happy Valley Set. White Mischief (book and movie) are other takes on the scandal. Our own age might be less shocked by her.
posted by BWA at 3:02 PM on August 1, 2012

is another take

(Preview, preview, always preview.)
posted by BWA at 3:03 PM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: I remember really enjoying "A Far Off Place" when I was younger. It is one of Reese Witherspoon's first movies and also stars Ethan Embry (known as Ethan Randall at the time) who was Marc in "Empire Records."

There's a bit of violence near the beginning, but I seem to remember that it was mostly implied. The rest of the film is a trek across the savannah and desert as two young teens try to get to civilization.
posted by tacodave at 4:15 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm currently reading "Africa: A Biography of the Continent", by John Reader. It starts with the formation of Africa three and a half billion years ago and ends with the Rwandan genocide (the book was first published in 1997). Along the way it detours from regular history and archaeology into microbiology, evolutionary biology, virology, and a whole bunch of other -ologies and how they relate to the continent. It's pretty great.
posted by xbonesgt at 8:08 PM on August 1, 2012

Two recent ZA movies that may be worth a watch (with a South African setting, even though the subject matter isn't necessarily Africana:


Then, for some pretty cool modern dystopian fiction with a local setting, check out Lauren Beukes.

For slightly weightier themes and authors, there's André Brink, Antjie Krog, JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Alan Paton, Rian Malan and the others in the standard recommended reading list.

... and of course, the ubiquitous, Oprah-endorsed "Poisonwood Bible" (Barbara Kingsolver)
posted by kreestar at 4:03 AM on August 2, 2012

Mike Resnick and Douglas Adams have some good stories set in Africa.
posted by Jacen at 6:24 AM on August 2, 2012

I don't know if you're still interested in this, but Netflix Instant just recommended I watch The First Grader, a film about an 84 year old Kenyan who wants to learn to read.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 PM on August 16, 2012

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