Cameroonian Cinema and the films of Jean-Marie Teno : reflexion on archives, postcolonial fever and new forms of cinematic protest



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This work argues that Cameroonian cinema is in the thick of cultural reclamation and human rights debates in the country. The crux of the problem is this: in a country colonized for over a century by three major western powers (Germany, France and Great-Britain), what is left of Cameroonians and their indigenous culture? Did colonialism demolish them into a mass of emasculated cultural bastards led by self-loathing elites locked into the country colonial archives, or did some withstand that colonial onslaught to reclaim their humanity, from within, consistent with a genuine, homegrown progressive indigenous culture? To answer these questions, this author argues that three propositions have to be considered: first, for any forms of cultural reclamation and human rights, denials of the past mixed with official thought control do not work in the case of Cameroon. Second, within, this logic, only grassroots democratic and marginal media communication theory can help the viewer to understand how Cameroonian cinema interrogates and critiques the naturalizations of a neo-colonial political order through the construction of counter hegemonic voices. Third, it is essential to show how these counter hegemonic cinematic narratives are building new forms of democratic archives out of the colonial ones. Consequently, this author claims that Cameroonian cinema, one of the few independent media of communication, that for decades has both managed to resist dictatorship and thrive, is keeping a steady drumbeat of freedom on behalf of ordinary Cameroonians by consistently targeting the state in order to demonstrate the dangers of an institution uninterested in the work of cultural reclamation by not allowing proper conditions for artists to create original work. These confrontations with the state give Cameroonian cinema a cachet to voice human rights questions as well. As a result, cinema blurs the line between art and social activism. It brings a new mystic to human rights' work because these filmmakers demonstrate that culture and human rights can no longer be consigned to the margin of Cameroonian society. What is at stake, it is the knowledge that the road ahead, Africa’s future, lies with those with the skills to take advantages of technologies and the contemporary global discourse of human rights, democracy and globalization not the same old beaten paths of neo-colonial clientelism and patronage, lower standards of governance, defining actual Cameroon’s neo-colonial state practices. With this background, both filmmakers and human rights activists are forcing the state to take notice. This work indicates that arguing against technologies and global flows in our contemporary world is akin to try carrying a cat by the tail.