Africa, the Other, and sf

Some items that may or may not add up to more than the sum of their parts:

  • Okay, so there's this new movie called Duma, which the official site describes as "a tale of a young boy's journey to return his pet cheetah to the wild, [...] a thrilling adventure and a moving tale about the power of love, set against the extraordinary landscape of southern Africa." It turns out to be (presumably loosely) based on a picture book called How It Was With Dooms: A True Story from Africa, by Xan Hopcraft and Carol Cawthra Hopcraft, who are related to a college friend of mine who grew up in Africa (though he's white). I haven't read the original book, nor seen the movie, nor read the novelization of the movie (Duma: The Movie Novel), but it looks to me (on cursory inspection of available online materials) like the movie is only very loosely based on the original book; among other things, the setting appears to have moved from Kenya to South Africa. And the plot appears to be entirely different, aside from the fact that it's about a boy named Xan and his pet cheetah.
  • So maybe one version or another of that story inspires you to want to write about Africa. You can learn all about it by reading a short humor piece from Granta: "How to Write About Africa," by Binyavanga Wainaina. (Who, btw, lives in Kenya; presumably he'll live in South Africa in the movie version.) He suggests, among other things: "Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. [...] In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions."
  • Or, if you want to take the project more seriously, you could rush right over to the Aqueduct Press website and buy the new book version of Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward's workshop Writing the Other. I've been hearing good things about the workshop for a while; I'm very much looking forward to reading the book. It's an area where, despite my own vocal advocacy, I'm quite weak in my own writing.
  • And now that I've shifted topics to issues of Otherness in sf, I can link to Pam Noles's essay "Shame" (recently published in The Infinite Matrix) about people of color in sf ("[...] but black people can't be wizards and space people and they can't fight evil, so they can't be in the story," she once told her father when he asked why there were no black people in the sf she loved) and especially about the Earthsea books and the whitewashing of the Sci Fi Channel miniseries. Pam follows up with more thoughts on these subjects; Toby Buckell recommends Writing for the Other; Nalo links to Pam, and she and some of her readers provide further discussion.
  • Finally, if you're interested in discussing this stuff and/or working toward greater representation of people of color in sf, go join the Carl Brandon society. Give them money; nominate works for their awards; read their blog.

(On a side note--not directly thematically connected to the other items in this entry--while you're buying Writing the Other at the Aqueduct site, you could also pick up the new Eleanor Arnason collection Ordinary People, featuring "six stories, one poem, and a WisCon Guest of Honor speech." It includes, among other works, "The Grammarian's Five Daughters," which you can read for free online by following that link (it's one of my very favorite stories ever, and I'm still pleased that Eleanor let us reprint it) but wouldn't you like to have it on paper too, along with other stories by Eleanor? Aqueduct also has a bunch of other cool books: work by L. Timmel Duchamp, Gwyneth Jones, Nicola Griffith, Nancy Jane Moore, et alia.)

12 Responses to “Africa, the Other, and sf”

  1. irilyth

    Where can you see lions?

  2. Anonymous

    I don’t know, but it sure ain’t Norway.

  3. Jed

    For those who have no idea what these silly people are talking about, it’s a silly Flash movie/song that’s (sort of) about lions in Kenya.

    (I’m calling them silly because the movie says nothing whatsoever about cheetahs. 🙂 )

  4. Dan P

    So, something I’ve been thinking about wrt:Earthsea, especially now that there’s a Studio Ghibli adaptation of The Farthest Shore in the works:

    My introduction to A Wizard of Earthsea was on a PBS children’s show. The host would draw quick illustrations (in chalk pastels, I think) of scenes from a book, the camera panning around the developing scene, while reading those scenes in voiceover. After a few choice scenes, the host would give the book’s title and author and encourage us to find it at the library. (And I did.)

    It was phenomenally good television (at least as seen through the misty decades). I would love to have it on DVD now, if for nothing else than the evocative drawings — but most importantly to know what color he used for Ged.

  5. Jay Hartman

    I saw Duma in the theater when it first came out. Story and acting: B+/A- Cinematography: A+

    Duma’s director, Carroll Ballard, also directed a terrific flick called “Fly Away Home,” and another you may have heard of, called “The Black Stallion.” I did not think much of “The Black Stallion,” although some consider it a classic.

  6. jacob

    And Ballard is responsible for the excellent Never Cry Wolf, a terrific (IMO) adaptation of Farley Mowat’s terrific book.

    I should note that the anonymous wise-ass above was me.

    Jed has a point: anyone who can rhyme “giraffe are” and “zebra” should have been able to work in a cheetah.

    Holy crap! Cheetahs!

  7. Tamara Munzner

    Wow, I loved The Grammarian’s Five Daughters. Thanks for pointing me to it!

  8. Anonymous

    “It was phenomenally good television (at least as seen through the misty decades). I would love to have it on DVD now, if for nothing else than the evocative drawings — but most importantly to know what color he used for Ged.”

    That sounds a lot like Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton’s old show. I never saw it, but I can’t imagine him not using an appropriate color.

    Nick Westman

  9. [Jason]

    RE: “How to Write About Africa” that was interesting, thanks for the tip.

    [Note from Jed: This was probably comment spam, so I’ve removed the URL and redacted the “name” that Jason entered in the relevant space on the comment form. Jason: If your purpose in posting this comment was something other than simply advertising your website, then drop me a note in email and we can discuss it.]

  10. Anonymous

    “It was phenomenally good television (at least as seen through the misty decades). I would love to have it on DVD now, if for nothing else than the evocative drawings — but most importantly to know what color he used for Ged.”

    I think the show in question was called Story Time, but I can’t find it anywhere.

  11. Dan P

    Anonymous@11: Thanks for the response! You’ve inspired me to write a note to my then-local PBS station, KCET, to ask if they have any more information on it.

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