Beyond Charitable Imperialism investigates the role of film, digital media, and music in mediating social and political change in conflict regions with specific attention to the aesthetic choices, ethical implications, and lived consequences of audio-visual production in and about Congo. This study intervenes in the discourse on activist African cinema through a bi-directional investigation of (1) increasingly prominent instances of aesthetic and ideological practices in Congolese film that are emerging as central to larger projects of social transformation, and (2) the extent to which humanitarian narratives depicting present-day Congo obscure or expose the ongoing, neo-colonial power struggle between Congo and the West. My research includes critical analyses of temporality, memory, and language in audio-visual representations of Congo, as well as extensive field research investigating embodied instances of the ‘film act.’ In this context I advocate a historically informed reading of the correlation between current cinema practices and contemporary history based on the evolutionary relationship between audio-visual media, politics, and identity. Drawing on frameworks of militant Third Cinema this study interrogates the role of media in the creation and dissemination of ‘Truth’ and thereby draws pointed attention to global consequences that form the basis of what I call charitable imperialism. I offer an anatomy of the particular ways in which film can emerge as a real means of social transformation in the face of conflict and mental colonization. Central to this inquiry is the history of resistance embedded in Congolese musical practices. I suggest that, fortified by intersections with visual technology, the elevated cultural capital of song as a vehicle of social mobilization is reconstituting both music and visual media and increasingly allowing Congolese voices to participate in global dialogues on their own terms. Ultimately I conclude that mediated agency effectively challenges charitable imperialism and repositions Congolese subjects as viable agents of sustainable social transformation.
Social Engagement Work
The Social Engagement component of my dissertation research falls under the umbrella of a project entitled Jazz Mama, which operates through the cultural center Yole!Africa located in Goma, Eastern DRCongo. As a co-producer and founder of the Jazz Mama movement, I am jointly responsible for the conception and follow through of all the activities and events of the movement including management of the Kivu Choir, coordination and production of the Alternative to TV Jazz Mama media pieces, organization of special events including the South Africa Congo women’s exchange and live interactive debates, as well as public interface and grant writing.
Jazz Mama is both a film and a movement inspired by the uncompromising strength and dignity of Congolese women despite the obstacles and violence they face. Jazz Mama aims to bring awareness to gender based violence in Congo without reducing the women to victims whose lives are circumscribed by rape, but instead to recognize that, while sexual violence is indeed a devastating problem, these women are often not only survivors but the pillars of the community.
As a movement, Jazz Mama is simultaneously dedicated to education and community building. We recognize that the conflict in DRCongo is – and has always been – economically driven and is therefore a global conflict in needs of global resolution. We believe that such resolution is attainable only through the development of strong civil society initiatives in Congo and increased – and more accurate – education in the West. In this context Jazz Mama facilitates education and community building through a series of local, national, regional, and international activities that aim to cultivate agency, facilitate dialogue and invite global participation in strengthening both the social fabric of DRCongo and the international economic policies that continue to undermine it. The Jazz Mama movement foregrounds issues experienced primarily by women, but actively encourages gender balanced solutions to the conflict and is therefore open to all members of the community.
Our goal is to both identify and foster leadership in the local community as well as to provide a forum for discussion on the engagement of Congolese women in social transformation. Therefore, this project includes ongoing activities and special events, both with offline and online components. In Africa, where oral communication has such an essential place in the transmission of traditions, stories and knowledge, cinema is one of the most efficient means of expression. Thus it is a perfect tool for developing young peoples’ potential to enact social changes. It plays a vital role in bringing people together in mutual understanding, thus encouraging the first steps toward reconciliation after years of prolonged conflict.
One of Jazz Mama’s main beneficiaries is the Kivu Choir which I helped to establish in 2010 and includes women and men from all sectors of society who are coming together through art to work towards peace and healing in Kivu, Eastern Congo. Kivu Choir provides a regular space for community gathering and encourages unity despite gender, ethnic, economic, social, and religious differences. Kivu Choir also provides a much-needed space for trans-generational mentorship and for participants to pursue dreams that extend beyond violence. In order to maintain Kivu Choir’s objective of being all-inclusive and non-religious, we run the choir by bringing in a rotating series of vocal directors and coaches who give master-classes once a month. Yole!Africa provides rehearsal space for additional choir meetings.
To conclude, Jazz Mama continues to tour internationally and in many cases foreign audiences benefit from a direct discussion with Congo. Therefore Jazz Mama facilitates live interactive debates between Goma and communities world wide following international screenings of the film.