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2013 S&A Highlights: Films About Black Americans That Are Set Outside The USA

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 3, 2014 at 10:56AM

2013 S&A Highlights: Films About Black Americans That Are Set Outside The USA (Things That Make You Go Hmm...)
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Shaft In Africa

Editor's note: As 2013 ends, and 2014 begins, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the last year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the 13th of many to come, originally posted in March 2013. Happy New Year to you all! 

This is a topic that I brought up a year ago on this blog, but this time, I thought I'd approach it from a different angle altogether. 

I'm constantly pondering the myriad of films we've covered here on S&A over the last few years that feature, most often, a Caucasian man or woman (usually American or from continental Europe) in a non-USA country. We've seen quite a number of films about white Americans or white Europeans either already living in those foreign territories (like continental Africa, or the Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, South East Asia, etc, for example), or visiting one of those countries, in search of something or someone - whether it's salvation, redemption, inspiration, vacation, themselves, their spouses, children, friends, their dogs, cats, apes, whatever; and it's rare that they're villains, nor in positions of inferiority.

Also, those that are historically based usually involve white *settlers* (or remnants of colonialism) who come to see themselves as native to the land that their ancestors once occupied. 

And in thinking further about this, I realized that I couldn't come up with many titles of fictional narrative feature films that center on stories about African Americans specifically, set in countries outside of the USA. It's not like black Americans don't travel right? Or more specifically, it's not like black Americans don't travel to/visit/live/work in other countries that aren't the USA, right? I know more than a few.

Their reality just isn't reflected on our screens, big and small - as is the case for much of the so-called black experience, so nothing terribly shocking here, I know. But I'm just making an observation. I'm speaking in the spirit of what we call Pan Africanism. 

If Hollywood movies are any indication, one would think that white people were the only "race" of people who traveled internationally.

So there I was wondering... it'd be refreshing to see more films about African Americans set outside the USA. Although, let's face it, it'll be just as refreshing to see a wider variety of films about African Americans in America, period

But, with this post, and also as we continue to have discussions about the lack of diversity in how black people are depicted on screen, I'm most interested in films about black Americans that are set in other countries. I couldn't think of many films with that as a basis for the story.

And also, discussions abound about unifying the Diaspora. It's not quite happening in real life from where I'm standing, unfortunately; but at least, in the fantasy, make-believe world of the cinema, we CAN pretend, or show what could (or could not) be..

To be clear, I'm not including documentaries. I'm thinking of narrative fiction feature films with stories centered on black Americans who are either visiting a country (or several countries) outside of the USA, for whatever reason; or who are already living in those countries. And the stories don't have to be specifically about them and their experiences living in those countries. They could be thrillers, with the central character being a black American living in Tokyo, for example.

My question is two-fold: first, can you name any films that fit that criteria? And secondly, if you're a filmmaker or producer who's currently working on a film that fits the above criteria, I'd love to know more about your project, so please email me (obensont@gmail.com). 

And as an aside, we constantly mention co-production markets all over the world, which you can take advantage of. These are essentially initiatives that encourage filmmaking in the specific region where the market is housed. So, you actually might find it a bit easier to raise funds to shoot a feature in another country (offering incentives, and even money, and more) than you would here in the USA... just something to think about.

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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