By Kirsten Laurencia
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 7 of VARSITY News.
Films like Black Panther and series like the CW’s Jane the Virgin have placed a spotlight on the importance of representation in the media. The new Netflix series Shadow, however, is facing much scrutiny because of the inappropriate Western lens through which its story is being told.
I come from a close-knit, fairly traditional Christian Cape-coloured family. Although I have come to accept and embrace the “coloured” label as a part of my identity, I prefer to see myself in the broader context as an African woman. Both of my parents are UCT alum and knew the importance of introducing me to African literature and South African television at a young age. However, as a scholarship kid at a private girls’ school, I often felt the need to straighten and peroxide my hair to fit the Western ideal of beauty. Had I seen more brown-skinned African women with curves and kinky hair represented in media, I would have come to embrace my cultural identity sooner and perhaps might not have modified my childhood accent in order to feel dignified and respected.
Stories hold immense power. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so astutely says in her TED talk on The Danger of a Single Story, “stories have the ability to break dignity and to repair broken dignity”. She also talks about the impressionability and vulnerability of audiences when faced with a story – especially young audiences. Although Shadow has a South African cast and setting, in my opinion, the danger of allowing a Western narrative to tell a South African story is that it removes the authenticity of the tale by showing only one perspective of a multi-dimensional, multicultural nation.
Poet, Rudyard Kipling, once referred to the people of Africa as “half devil, half child”. While I find this statement very offensive, it demonstrates the way in which the Western world often views Sub-Saharan Africa as a negative, dark, impoverished and crime-riddled place. “Out of Africa” stories must be told by people with authentic, lived experiences that are not only about catastrophe but also about community, beauty and hope despite the many challenges in our society. This would empower local talent to believe that there is a place for them as writers, directors, producers and actors in films and media which tell authentic stories of our own creation.
Let us no longer conform to the Western colonial ideals of story-telling in the way that Shadow has done. Let us rather tell our own narratives from the uniquely African lens to protect our valuable heritage and to inspire the people of Africa to share our own stories with dignity and pride.
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