Western Portrayal of African Disability in Documentary Film
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In this paper, I reflect on my experience as a Western filmmaker producing a documentary in Uganda, Africa. As preparation for this project, I examine the portrayal of African disability in some recent Western produced documentary films. The term "disability" used in this paper derives from sociologist Charles Lwanga-Ntale's definition, which includes poverty and illness in addition to mental and physical disability. Drawing parallels to the common inspirational and uplifting attitudes portrayed in the promotion of Western charitable organizations working in Africa, I explore the possibility that many documentaries showcasing disabled subjects and the organizations who "help" them have presented a shallow and inaccurate view of their influence on the African community. My analyses of recent Western produced documentaries in Africa includes critiques of We Are Together (2006), Emmanuel's Gift (2005), ABC Africa (2001), Angels in the Dust (2008), and Moja Moja , (2006). By proposing a blending of ethnographic methods and filmmaking techniques with the characteristics associated with contemporary documentary film, I seek to create an intermediate genre that promotes collaboration, multiple perspectives, and a deeper context from which an audience can gain perspective of the culture and issues within the film. I then document the use of these techniques in my own documentary project, titled Where We Belong , which follows the daily life and community influence of two Western organizations related to orphan issues in Jinja, Uganda. My analysis of ethnographic and documentary filming techniques concludes with the suggestion to re-examine aspects of the current definitions of ethnographic and documentary filmmaking practice.