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Kickstart This: Feature Documentary 'Framed' Investigates the West's Fascination w/ "Saving Africa"

Shadow and Act By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act June 26, 2014 at 2:31PM

In American media and pop culture, Africans remain objects of our pity or moral outrage or fascination.
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FRAMED

In need of your help, via crowdfunding, is a documentary project that speaks directly to criticisms we've expressed on this blog over the years, with regards to the so-called West's magnanimous, if arrogant and condescending relationship with "Africa" (quotes intentional), thanks to a rather limited, short-sighted, uninformed understanding of those who live on a continent that's sometimes regarded as a single country.

So instead of me regurgitating previous commentary on the matter, I'll just let the filmmakers speak for themselves, via the Kickstarter campaign that's been set up to help fund a documentary titled "Framed," by Cassandra Herrman and Kathryn Mathers. The filmmakers need to raise $28,000 by July 12, of which just over $13,000 has been contributed, with 15 days to go until the campaign ends. And since this is Kickstarter (not Indiegogo), if they don't raise the entire $28,000, they get nothing (unlike Indiegogo, which lets you keep what you raises - minus their fee of course).

After reading what follows, and watching a preview of the film below, head over to the project's Kickstarter page here and make a contribution.

So here you go: 

What's behind the West's fascination with "saving" Africa? FRAMED investigates the images and myths that cast a continent as a victim

“Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated” -Binyavanga Wainaina

In American media and pop culture, Africans remain objects of our pity or moral outrage or fascination. The images are deeply disturbing, even enthralling, but they aren’t really about Africans; they’re about us. FRAMED takes a provocative look at image making and activism, following an inspiring young Kenyan photojournalist turned activist who shatters the stereotype of the passive aid recipient. As he challenges American students to focus their efforts close to home, FRAMED turns a lens on popular representations of Africa and Africans, as seen through the eyes of Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina and South African born educator Zine Magubane, who ask a chorus of questions about the selling of suffering.

FRAMED tells the story of Boniface Mwangi's work as an image maker and image changer. From the moment he saw how his own photography could heal Kenyan wounds, he repurposed images of violence to promote reconciliation, and rallied his peers to jumpstart a creative and political youth movement. Visiting an American college, he challenges students to turn their attention to struggling communities around them. “Why do you want to fly all that way, and on your way to the airport you pass poverty, to go and help poverty in Kenya?”

Along the way, we meet Zine Magubane, who was born in South Africa and teaches American college students at Boston College about the portrayal of Africa in American media and pop culture. “When you see celebrity activists in Darfur or elsewhere,” she says, “you'd think there were no African think tanks, no African universities, no African human rights lawyers working on this issue”.

Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina's adolescence was marked by the forces of western development and "aid". Recently described as a "memoirist with a mission" in Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people, Binyavanga is the author of a memoir about coming of age in 1980s Kenya. He remembers seeing "We Are the World" as a 14-year old and discovering what the world thinks it means to be “African.”

Why Should I Care?

We’re making this film because we believe it’s about something that should matter to all of us. FRAMED examines the western relationship to Africa and Africans but it’s also about how we create difference, how we unconsciously make some people more powerful and others weaker, and how it’s often easier to do that than to take a hard look at ourselves. We want this film to spark conversation and debate among students, educators, families, friends and colleagues.

Images reach us faster today than ever: through Facebook, twitter, “voluntourism” dispatches, and branded social causes. Our response to the images we see of Africans makes us feel like good, caring people who can make a difference. We want this film to speak to that sincere intention, by taking a second look at the framing of Africa in crisis, and listening to African experiences and perspectives; to explore how our “saving” ultimately undermines the agency and self-determination of Africans, and how we might be complicit in creating the same inequalities we hope to erase.

As an example, the film features a cautionary tale: The KONY 2012 campaign was a watershed moment for American activism around Africa. Hours after a little-known organization named Invisible Children released a 30-minute film urging the world to help find and capture Lords Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, KONY 2012 was on its way to becoming the most viral video of all time. In one day it hit a million views; six days later, 100 million. African critics dubbed KONY 2012 a “White Man’s Burden for the Facebook Generation,” raising provocative questions about privilege, power, and misrepresentations of Africa. A similar debate erupted recently over the viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

KONY 2012 also presented another line of questioning that we want to pursue in the film: Why did millions of young Americans seem to be angrier about a faraway Ugandan tyrant than two protracted wars, a shattered economy, and social inequality at home? Why is it easier to engage online or overseas rather than in our own communities? At a time when many Americans are struggling to find a job or put food on the table or pay for mounting student debt, we think that FRAMED will inspire young people to tackle social inequality locally and nationally.

From the controversy over hashtag activism and the popularity of voluntourism, we know there is an audience for dynamic stories that provoke us to think about how and where we do good in the world. We believe that FRAMED will be a powerful tool in challenging people to take a critical look at the stories we in the West tell ourselves about Africa. As Zine Magubane says, it's not that we cannot engage with an African crisis, it is how we engage, and how we partner that determine the outcome.

I'm Sold. How can I help?

This is an exciting and critical time for the film and you will play a key role in our production process by helping us raise funding. It's incredibly hard to fund documentary films and we've made it so far on a small grant, our own money and sweat equity. We are confident this film will get fully funded but we need to make it to the crucial next step for that to happen, so we appreciate any help you can give! The Kickstarter funds will be used for: filming in the US with a young former volunteer who has begun speaking out about “voluntourism”; a trip to film additional footage with Boniface Mwangi and Binyavanga Wainaina in Kenya -- we haven't been able to film there in over a year; editing a beginning rough cut of the film (and paying our editor!), a critical step in order to attract major funders. Anything you can contribute will help us get closer to achieving these goals. But in addition to the money we raise, we really need to show funders and broadcasters that there is an audience eager to see this film. If you can spread the word about our Kickstarter campaign to your friends, tweet about it, share our Facebook page, tell people you meet on the street, we would be eternally grateful!

Got it? Good! I couldn't have said all this better myself. 

Now, watch the preview video below, and, again, head on over to the project's Kickstarter page (click within the widget underneath the video), and make a contribution that I'm sure will be much appreciated! 15 days to go to raise about $15,000. So you better hurry!

This article is related to: Fundraising


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