Weaving together the personal memories, tastes and experiences of 21 Africans and non-Africans with ties to Africa, This Is My Africa is an entertaining and enlightening introduction to the many cultures of Africa. Among the many topics discussed in the film:
Colors - Africa is described as red, green, clay orange, brown, blue and pink. Journalist Jon Snow muses that Africa is "red and orange and then it's green and yellow.... The most vivid awakening to Africa was the sunsets - incredibly warm and hot red and yellows. And
then the intensity of the tropical countryside - the greenness and the yellowness."
First memories - British High Commissioner to South Africa Paul Boateng recalls his first sight of Africa "was from the bow of a ship," adding, "I remember the greenery and I remember the surf lapping on the sand." Another common first memory is the heat, which
playwright Dipo Agboluaje describes as an "assault of heat on my body" and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor says was "boiling." Alternately, DJ Duncan Brooker recalls what it was like, "to be such a tiny speck on such a vast continent. That's really my first memory."
Smells - Many describe the smell of vegetation, of the earth and of rain. Paul Boateng says, "In Lesotho, the blessing, the greeting is 'pula', 'let it rain'.... There's something very special about the smell of Africa after rain." But the smell artist Yinka Shonibare remembers is quite different. "Unfortunately, the smell I can think of is the smell of open drains in Lagos," adding with a laugh, "It's not exactly pleasant."
Food - The cuisine of Africa brings back memories of many more pleasant smells. For filmmaker John Akomfrah it's the smell of "frying, and it's everywhere. Fish, plantains, yams!" Actor Colin Firth recalls an Ethiopian breakfast of raw meat and scrambled eggs:
"That mince meat would make most people want to vomit, but it was absolutely fantastic." Actress and filmmaker Lupita Nyong'o talks about the delicious "Mutura" - stuffed intestines, soaked in blood and cooked on the side of the road.
Books - Favorite books are The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah, Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom, Ben Okri's The Famished Road, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Writer and curator Nana O. Ayim's favorite book is The House of Hunger by Zimbabwean author Dambudzo Marachera. "He's often ignored in the canon even though, for me, he's immensely important," she adds.
Film - Playwright Dipo Agboluaje notes that at first he laughed at the quality of the acting and production values in "Nollywood" films (Nigerian film and video industry), but soon realized "that they're telling us stories that we really want to hear about." Contemporary artist Mustafa Maluka talks about how the South African sci-fi movie District 9 "dealt with a
lot of issues of forced removals that my parents' generation had to deal with."
Dislikes - When asked about dislikes about Africa, interviewees say war, the politicians, and adherence to tradition. Paul Boateng adds, "I'm exasperated by an acceptance of injustice and inequality.... For all I admire the strength and the stoicism and the capacity to overcome some pretty terrible stuff, sometimes I think Africa accepts too much."
Art -John Akomfrah likes Yinka Shonibare (who also appears in this film) because he, "has that thing that all great artists are supposed to have which is a signature. Wherever you see a Yinka you know exactly straight away that that's him." Other influential artists: Owusu Ankomah from Ghana, Kader Attiah from Algeria, and Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan artist living in New York.
Music - Fela Kuti is mentioned by many interviewees as a favorite musician. Colin Firth says he, "Love[s] the fact that you had to make a 10 to 15 minute commitment to these songs. They take forever to get up to speed but by the time you're there it's totally intoxicating." Others mention West African highlife, Congolese dance music, South African jazz, and Swahili hip hop as favorites.
The future - After discussing misperceptions and the necessity of having hope for Africa, interviewees are asked about what they envision for the continent in the year 2060. Dipo Agboluaje says in 2060 he'd like Africa, "to be a home for all black people," while fashion designer Bayo Oduwole says he'd like Africa, "to have an infrastructure that allows people to make the most of their lives, whatever they choose that to be."
CREDITS: In association with the Africa Centre; Directed and Produced by Zina Saro-Wiwa; Edited by Dan Susman and Bert Hunger; Camera and Sound: David Shulman, Bjorn Bratberg, Anne-Marie Lean-Vercoe, Sara de Oliveira Lima; Set Design by Zina Saro-Wiwa.