“Does a crime against humanity exist only when the victims are white,” asks the Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno in his first feature-length documentary, Africa, I Will Fleece You (original title, Afrique, je the plumerai). I first came across the 90 minute film last Fall in a French course, and I was immediately enthralled. Released in 1992, Africa, I Will Fleece You explores the legacy of colonialism in Cameroon, the only African nation to be colonized by three European powers. The film obscures genre, creating a collage of archival footage, tracking shots of the capital city, reconstitutions, clever skits, and intimate interviews. Throughout it all, Teno’s powerful and poetic narration guides the film. One particular remark focuses the documentary’s subject:
“Someone said at independence,” recalls Teno, “‘the principal victory of colonization was to have perpetuated a real cultural genocide.’”
I was initially drawn to Africa, I Will Fleece You not just because of the film’s thought-provoking visuals and potent narration, but because the film examines the influence of media in post-colonial Cameroon.
Specifically, the film interrogates the many avenues through which colonialism lingers in the currents of media. With his friend Marie, a journalist, Teno visits three cultural centers. He tours museums and libraries, publishing houses and street book markets. At the cultural centers, Teno finds dense libraries filled with thousands of books. He also finds that only a small fraction of the literature was written by an African author. Later in the film, Teno interviews the editor of a state publishing house. As the two discuss Cameroon’s dependence on French publishing, the editor remarks that Cameroon purchases 400 million francs of French literature a year. Teno’s narration interjects shortly after this moment, “We have the capacity in this country to publish books...Then, how can you explain this dependence on France?” he asks. His voiceover continues as he walks among stacks of foreign books in a street market.
Teno explains that the influence of European media on Cameroon could spur “the end of our collective memory—a programmed and organized death.”
Here, he calls out the dominance of European media, and he locates it within the legacy of colonialism.
Africa, I Will Fleece You not only scrutinizes the dominance of certain media in Cameroon, but the film itself is a demonstration of an opposing media. The film portrays an often overlooked, Indigenous perspective. It also refuses Western conventions, creating a collage that blurs genre, envelopes both fiction and nonfiction, and complicates temporalities. Teno situates his film firmly in the oeuvre of Third Cinema and the decolonization movement. In the face of the dominance of French, English, and German media in Cameroon, Teno provides a counter flow, pushing against colonial influences.
Since I first watched Africa, I Will Fleece You, I have frequently returned to the film. Each minute I watch or new sentence I write about the film fills me with a visceral excitement. I have learned an incredible amount from the 90 minute film. Many of these lessons pertain to media literacy. I have learned that media bears power and influence. And often it is a manifestation of power. I have also learned that I must interrogate the larger context and histories that exist around media. Media is not isolated. Every song, post, and film contains multitudes.
I have learned that media is not just a testament to history; it actively creates history as well.
And through Africa, I Will Fleece You, Jean Marie Tenohas created a newfound history.