One of the many impressive sequences in Imani, a film by Ugandan director Caroline Kamya, happens at the beginning of the third act. An elderly black African man is a passenger on a motorbike that's heading deeper and deeper into the slums of Kampala. He is traveling from his employer's home in the affluent quarters of the city to the home of a woman who buys cold and hot merchandise from the most desperate people in the city. He arrives at the buyer's home, announces he has something to sell, is led into the living room, takes a seat, pulls a gold necklace from his pocket ("made of gold in Dubai"), and hands it to the buyer. As the buyer examines the necklace, we notice that the living room walls are covered with mass-produced portraits of a white (almost Scandinavian) Jesus. As the two very black Africans haggle about the price, 30 or so very white Christs crowd the walls. Indeed, the only whites or Europeans in this film are either in pictures or flat-screen TVs.
In one sense, the film is about black skin, its unexplored (or rarely explored) textures and tones. The lighting and cinematography, which are by Andrew Mark Coppin, bring to the surface of the screen the sculpturality of the black face. In some scenes, we lose the course of the story and find ourselves exploring the slope of a nose or the summit of a chin. In another sense, the film is also about the Red One camera. This new technology is able to penetrate one of the poorest societies on earth (according to Wikipedia, just over 50 percent of Ugandans live "slightly below the international poverty line of US $1.25 a day") and connects its black bodies, black villages, black slums to the powerful circuits of the global image industry. And now the poorest Africans can look as beautiful, as stunning as the richest Europeans. The Red is taking us to the promised land of democratic representation.
Lastly, Imani is about the near-non-narrability of postneoliberal space. The three stories in the film are not fixed but float and dissipate like gases. And is this not the condition of Gilles Deleuze's control society? A world that has transformed all stable things (factories, schools, stories) into "a spirit, a gas"? Imani is the most important film to come out of Africa since Tstosi. Harvard Exit, Fri June 11 at 4:30 pm.