Hollywood movies depictions of Africans, Black faces and Black skins on the silver screen have been used by the whole wide world to justify racism toward Africans and Black people. Go to China, Japan, India and many foreign lands that have never interacted or ever meet Black people in their lives and already they have pre-conceived notions about people with greater melanin visibility.
How and where did these people learn about Blacks and feed themselves with morbid negativity on blackness? Hollywood and international News media are the culprits.
Let us talk a little about the movie and book named “Tarzan”. In the movie Tarzan, bad and unfathomable things happen to image and humanity of Africans. The hero of the movie was a White man – the king of the Jungle (man and beast) while Africans the owners of the land were depicted as salvages.
“Tarzan is a fictional character, an archetypal feral child raised in the African jungles by the Mangani great apes; he later experiences civilization only to largely reject it and return to the wild as a heroic adventurer. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan first appeared in the novel Tarzan of the Apes (magazine publication 1912, book publication 1914), and subsequently in twenty-five sequels, several authorized books by other authors, and innumerable works in other media, both authorized and unauthorized.”
The great African American actor, Harry Belafonte once described “Tarzan” as the Hollywood most racist movie. He even put Tarzan movies in same category with the venomous D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. This is how Belafonte described his experience with Tarzan movie:
“In 1935, at the age of 8, sitting in a Harlem theater, I watched with awe and wonder incredible feats of the white superhero, Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzan was a sight to see. This porcelain Adonis, this white liberator, who could speak no language, swinging from tree to tree, saving Africa from the tragedy of destruction by a black indigenous population of inept, ignorant, void-of-any-skills, governed by ancient superstitions with no heart for Christian charity.Through this film the virus of racial inferiority — of never wanting to be identified with anything African — swept into the psyche of its youthful observers. And for the years that followed, Hollywood brought abundant opportunity for black children in their Harlem theaters to cheer Tarzan and boo Africans.”
In the 2016 Tarzan movie, a popular Black actor, Samuel Jackson was featured in the movie as second fiddle to Tarzan main character, who is the hero of the movie. Showing a Black face and black body was necessary in 2016 to deny any racism perspective and to avert any backlash that will question Hollywood commitment to racial justice and fairness.
In Hollywood movies, Africa will ever remain the “dark continent” and place of noble salvages that cannot survive without “Tarzan” aid and benevolence. Many Africans can never fathom why the Hollywood gatekeepers chose to depict the cradle of civilization, a continent of more than 55 countries as primitive and without history. But an old habit is difficult to let go.
Thank God for the rise of Nollywood and with it Africans can begin to tell their stories and rewrite many injustices done to them on the silver screen. It is now left for Nigeria’s Nollywood to counteract Hollywood propaganda and tell the whole wide world that Africans can see, hear and talk.
Emeka Chiakwelu, Principal Policy Strategist at AFRIPOL. His works have appeared in Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Forbes and many other important journals around the world. His writings have also been cited in many economic books, publications and many institutions of higher learning including tagteam Harvard Education. Africa Political & Economic Strategic Center (AFRIPOL) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa.