Haile Gerima: A real African voice in Films & Life (part 1)

Part One
Haile Gerima was an Ethio-American independent filmmaker. He is an ardent advocator of the equality and respect for the general interests of the black people in every aspect of life in general and in the film industry in particular. In this short essay I set out to show the works of Haile that makes him an African asset, voice, filmmaker and hero. As well I shall try to point out his contributions for the continent and the lessons he teaches for the rest of African filmmakers specifically.

1. Who is Haile Gerima?: A short Biography
Haile Gerima is born on March 4 th of 1946 in Gondar, Ethiopia. He grew up and learnt the early lessons of fine arts from his priest arbegna father who used to move from place to places in order to show theaters in the nation. In 1967, Haile left his country and moved into the United States of America to study drama. At first he enrolled in Goodman School of Drama in Chicago but later he shifts to the University of California in Los Angeles and studied filmmaking. During and after his studying, he became an activist of ‘decolonizing the film industry’, believing that Hollywood was not a free institution and was against stories of Africans and African-Americans and even themselves. This led him to become one of the central leaders of the Los Angeles Rebellion film movement or also called Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers. The movement focused on the liberation of the black cinema from Hollywood. For Haile and the group, Hollywood was trying to propagate only Western ideas and values and it does not give Africans and their values an appropriate place. Currently, Haile is an internationally renowned filmmaker, activist for race equality, winner of many awards and fellows. He is a professor of film in Howard University with academic excellence and lives with his wife Sirikiana Aina who is also similarly engaged in the film industry.

2. Haile, his Films and Africa
Haile with Ousmane Sembene and Med Hondo is considered to be the greatest and most radical African filmmaker ever. In his feature films and documentary films, Haile has raised many African problems and concentrated on the common yet series challenges especially those related with colonization; slavery; racism; immigration; pan-Africanism; socio-cultural and political setbacks in the continent and in Ethiopia. He also depicts in depth the history and impacts of colonization on the continent. Beyond making his own independent movies, Haile also, in Washington DC, with his wife owns Sankofa Organization which is called after his most internationally celebrated film. The organization focuses on the distribution of films made by blacks independently in African perspectives. It also holds cultural symposiums as well as exchanges in order to help African- American filmmakers. In his own films, Haile also gospels history and facts from the perspectives of Africans. In his most successful film titled sankofa he depicts the life of slavery on the transatlantic slave trade with the goal of telling that history shall not be forgotten as a precondition to prosper in the future. Africa must remember its past and do on its past rather than be far and alien to one’s own history. In short Haile is a filmmaker who produces Africa in his films. At first, at least impliedly he is raising African values, good stories and positive sides to show it back to Africa itself and the rest of the world. Secondly, Haile also advocates for the betterment and independence of Africa and its people. Externally (out of screen) he also has allowed himself to become a critical critic of Hollywood which he found to be against black peoples and raised his voice to tell vehemently that the black people are shining in the entertainment and film industry but not benefiting enough and that there shall be a better system for black fine arts professionals. Even as of today, though many black actors or filmmakers are earning many million dollars in only one piece of film, Haile argues that they are not getting the finest benefits out of what they are doing as the ultimate intellectual property rights of these films and other artistic products of the blacks are owned not by blacks themselves. Among other things, this was why, as we saw earlier, opened the Sankofa Organization. To be continued ...
By Binyam Hailemeskel

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