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Hollywood's Africa Subject of Research Development Grant

Dr. MaryEllen Higgins
4/15/2007 —

Studying African cinema has long been a scholarly interest of Dr. MaryEllen Higgins, Assistant Professor of English at Penn State Greater Allegheny. Her 2007 Research Development grant, Hollywood's Africa After 1993, received funding to support her upcoming project of editing a book on the referenced subject.

Hollywood's films about Africa and its continuing crises have often placed Europeans or Americans at the center, a trend recognized by Peter Davis and Daniel Riesenfeld in their 1993 television documentary, In Darkest Hollywood: Cinema and Apartheid. More recently, Hollywood's interest is readily displayed by the various award-winning films produced and distributed since 1993. Examples of these works include Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Hotel Rwanda, and The Constant Gardener, among others.

Higgins labels the debates the recent films provoke about outside intervention in Africa as "refreshing," but, at the same time, these movies often ignore African perspectives and fall into the same stereotypical characterizations of Africans.

The objectives of Dr. Higgins' proposed work are to:

  • ask whether Hollywood's depictions of Africa have adequately represented African perspectives in the post-apartheid period,
  • include essays within the book on films that depict sub-Saharan African countries
  • recognize the cinematic depictions of American and European commercial and military interventions in Africa
  • include the representations of African crises by African scholars and directors working outside of Hollywood.

Dr. Higgins' book will study post-1993 cinema by questioning depictions of African culture and crises. Higgins will also question if the films actually raise the consciousness of the audience or if they continue to repeat tropes which mislead the audience, and why romantic involvement by the lead characters often dominates the narratives.

For an upcoming special session of the Modern Language Association titled "Hollywood's Africa" Higgins has placed a call for proposals for works she hopes to publish in her forthcoming book. To ensure quality pieces, Higgins is soliciting known Africanist scholars across various disciplines to contribute essays for inclusion in the book. Higgins will also author an essay on Blood Diamond and edit the collection of works.

Given the timeliness of the subject and status of many of the African films of the past decade, Dr. Higgins feels the book will have a wide audience of both academics and cinema fans. She expects to obtain publisher interest by Fall of 2007.

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