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James S. Williams

Feb 8, 2022

Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary African Cinema

The Politics of Beauty

Bloomsbury Publishing 2019

Since the beginnings of African cinema, the realm of beauty on screen has been treated with suspicion by directors and critics alike. In Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary African Cinema: The Politics of Beauty (Bloomsbury, 2019), James S. Williams explores an exciting new generation of African directors, including Abderrahmane Sissako, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Fanta Régina Nacro, Alain Gomis, Newton I. Aduaka, Jean-Pierre Bekolo and Mati Diop, who have begun to reassess and embrace the concept of cinematic beauty by not reducing it to ideological critique or the old ideals of pan-Africanism. Locating the aesthetic within a range of critical fields - the rupturing of narrative spectacle and violence by montage, the archives of the everyday in the 'afropolis', the plurivocal mysteries of sound and language, male intimacy and desire, the borderzones of migration and transcultural drift - this study reveals the possibility for new, non-conceptual kinds of beauty in African cinema: abstract, material, migrant, erotic, convulsive, queer. Through close readings of key works such as Life on Earth (1998), The Night of Truth (2004), Bamako (2006), Daratt (Dry Season) (2006), A Screaming Man (2010), Tey (Today) (2012), The Pirogue (2012), Mille soleils (2013) and Timbuktu (2014), Williams argues that contemporary African filmmakers are proposing propitious, ethical forms of relationality and intersubjectivity. These stimulate new modes of cultural resistance and transformation that serve to redefine the transnational and the cosmopolitan as well as the very notion of the political in postcolonial art cinema.

James S. Williams is Professor of Modern French Literature and Film at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he is also director of the Centre for Visual Cultures.  He is the author of (among others) The Erotics of Passage: Pleasure, Politics, and Form in the Later Work of Marguerite Duras (St Martin’s Press, 1997), The Cinema of Jean Cocteau (Manchester UP, 2006), Jean Cocteau (a ‘Critical Life’) (Reaktion, 2008), Space and Being in Contemporary French Cinema (Manchester UP, 2013), Encounters with Godard: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics (SUNY Press, 2016), and Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary African Cinema: The Politics of Beauty (Bloomsbury, 2019) (winner of the 2020 R. Gapper Prize awared by the Association for French Studies in the UK and Ireland for the best book in French Studies published in 2019)). His most recent book is the edited volume Queering The Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema (Routledge, 2020), and he is currently preparing a critical biography of Frantz Fanon for Reaktion.

This interview was conducted by  Santiago Fouz-Hernandez, Professor in Film Studies and Iberian Studies at Durham University (UK). Santiago's main work is on masculinites and male bodies on film. His interests include contemporary Spanish and European cinemas, queer cinema, LGBTQ+ studies, popular culture, comics and popular music.

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