Cinema of Ghana

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cinema of Ghana

Early modern film making was first introduced to what is now Ghana by the British in the colonial period.[1][2][3] Since the 1950s, Ghana has had a thriving film industry.[4][5][6][7] Cinemas were once the primary venue for watching films, but theatre attendance has declined due to the rise of home video.[sources 1]


Since the late 1980s a booming video feature film industry evolved in Ghana.[16] While established film makers both within and outside the state-owned Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) found it extremely difficult to generate funds for film production, formally untrained people of various backgrounds — from cinema projectionists to car mechanics — took ordinary VHS video cameras, wrote a brief outline, assembled actors (from TV or just “from the street”), and produced full-fledged feature films which appeared to be tremendously successful in urban Ghana, and especially in Accra. Established professional film makers initially met the initiatives of non-professionals and their use of the medium of video with suspicion. Yet when they noticed the extraordinary success which these productions had in Ghana and realized that screening these films in local cinemas could generate sufficient funds to sustain a viable video film industry, they also turned to film production in the video format. Moreover, in order to improve the productions made by untrained — and, gradually, self-trained film makers, the GFIC offered editing services and other forms of advice to film makers in exchange for the right to show the film in its own cinemas in Accra first. Gradually, production networks and systems of distribution evolved and since the beginning of the 1990s, each year saw the release of about fifty video movies made by private and GFIC producers.

In the course of time, differences pertaining to technical standards of films made by formally trained and self-trained film makers gradually faded. And so did differences regarding their social position in the field of film production. This was above all a result of the decision of the Ghanaian state to sell 70% of the shares of the GFIC to the Malaysian TV production company Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad of Kuala Lumpur in 1996, as a consequence of which the GFIC transformed into Gama Media System Ltd. As this foreign company focuses on TV—productions and shows little interest in cinema, popular movie production came increasingly in the hands of independent producers (both self-trained and formally trained) who all are obliged to make it in Ghana’s newly evolving “showbizz” market. In order to generate funds for the next film and a (usually small) income, film makers solely depend on the taste of the audiences.[17]

One distinctive, recurring feature of Ghanaian movies concerns the emphasis put on the visualization of otherwise invisible occult forces, and the fact that their narrative is usually placed in the framework of the Christian dualism of God and the Devil, who is regarded as leading all “powers of darkness” (see Meyer 1999a). These preferences do not primarily and necessarily reflect the convictions of the film makers, but above all the ideas of their audiences. As such, these films resonate well with what occupies people in Accra and other urban areas in south Ghana and hence form exciting sources for anthropologists. Exactly because of this emphasis on occult forces and their incorporation into the domain of the Christian Devil, popular cinema has been subject to severe criticism on the part of elite film makers and intellectuals. Movies made by private producers are often ridiculed and denounced as imbued in “superstition” — an assault also levelled against their audiences.[18] Moreover, occasionally these films are charged with representing Africans in inferior terms, and thereby confirming racist distortions and subverting the development of national pride. Private video producers are accused of turning a medium meant to serve “development” and “enlightenment” into a vehicle for the expression of ugly matters which should have no place in modern, national Ghanaian culture.

In this essay, I present and discuss two films which are representative of popular cinema in that they foreground how otherwise invisible, occult forces impinge on the visible world. I will show how a quintessentially modern medium like film, which has been used ever since colonial times to educate and enlighten people through images, has been appropriated in order to express people’s concerns about the hidden presence of the occult in modern urban society. I will argue that the visualization of the dark, secret aspects lurking behind the surface of modern city life concerns an “enlightenment” in another sense than usually intended by modernist protagonists. In so doing, I find it useful to follow a distinction proposed by Michael Taussig during the conference on which this volume is based between revelation and exposure. While the notion of exposure is part of a hierarchical perspective affirming the superiority of scientific thinking which unmasks magic as false and based on mere superstition, the notion of revelation criticises magic from within, thereby leaving intact the idiom itself. I will show that, contrary to the elites’ expectations of the medium of film to promote superior forms of knowledge and behaviour leading beyond magic, watching popular movies does not make people go beyond magical imagination towards increased levels of rationality, but rather constitutes, or at least confirms, the domain of the occult at the very moment of its revelation. It brings light into the dark and, at the same time, contributes to establish the domain of occult forces as part and parcel of modern city life (cf. Geschiere 1997). I argue that, in so doing, it brings about a break with colonial cinema and realizes the magical potential of movies which is so often ascribed to this art form in the West.

Cinema in the colonial period

The medium of film was introduced to Ghana by private businessmen[19] who opened cinemas in urban areas and employed cinema vans to tour the country side (especially the cocoa—growing areas) in the course of the 1920s. The Information Services Department of the colonial government however, only began to actively engage in film in 1940. It drove its green-yellow Bedford buses all around the colony and assembled people at spaces in the open air in order “to show documentary films and newsreels to explain the colonial government’s policies to people in towns and villages free of charge” (Sakyi 1996: 9). An important aspect of this information service were propaganda films about the Second World War which were produced by the Colonial Film Unit (CFU) in London (cf. Diawara 1992: 3). After the war, the unit also started to produce educational films and a number of feature films which were screened in Britain’s African colonies. Contrasting the Western and African way of life, these films represented the former as an embodiment of “civilization” and the latter as “backward” and “superstitious” customs to be left behind (cf. Diawara 1992: 3; Ukadike 1994: 44ff.). Film thus was closely related to governmental and imperial interests and employed to create loyal subjects. Placing film in the service of “civilization”, the CFU avoided screening films that criticized or ridiculed aspects of Western life, thereby denying Africans access to the whole field of Western cinematic representation (cf. Diawara 1992: 1).

The Gold Coast Film Unit, which was to produce local films, took up themes particularly relevant to the Gold Coast. These movies, too, were to serve colonial interests and the attention was on “purposes of better health, better crops, better living, better marketing and better human co-operation in the colonies” (Middleton—Mends 1995: 1; cf. also Diawara 1992: 5). As these objectives were thought to be best achieved “on the native soil with native characters” (Middleton-Mends ibid.), from 1948 onward the unit started training African film makers. Similar film units existed in other parts of British colonial Africa, and their products were mutually exchanged and shown to audiences all over British colonial Africa.[19]

In a very interesting publication, Morton-Williams has presented the results of his research on the reception of so-called fundamental education films by rural Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa audiences in Nigeria, which he conducted for the Colonial Office. “Fundamental education”, as the author explains, refers to attempts by the British Colonial Administration “to instill motives and the requisite technical skills to improve the material conditions of life, and to make it possible to apprehend, in some degree, the relationship of the rural community to the rest of the territory and to the world” (1953: xii). Next to brief descriptions of the content of thirty-four films (made by the CFU in England, film units in Africa and commercial producers) which address topics from “clean cooking” to “the circulation of blood”, his study provides detailed overviews of audience reactions to these films. Although this study focuses on Nigeria, I see no reason to doubt that these and similar films would have been shown in the Gold Coast as well and that audiences would have reacted in similar ways.

According to Morton-Williams, the bulk of the films falls into the categories health films, farming films, and village development films. The basic message of all these films, of course, is a demonstration of the superiority of Western knowledge and of how sticking to traditions not only implies backwardness, but also leads to ill health and poverty. Indeed, in the light of Michael Taussig’s distinction explained earlier, it may be concluded that the films sought to establish colonial authority on the basis of the exposure of existing magical beliefs as false. Here, magic was represented as modernity’s other.

Popular genres

Twi films are referred to under the sobriquet of being "Kumawood" films, while other Ghanaian films are sometimes known as "Ghallywood" productions.[sources 2] Films depicting African witchcraft are popular in Ghana, despite criticism being directed towards them.[sources 3] There are numerous low-budget visual effects films produced in Ghana, including the 2010 science fiction film 2016, and the film Obonsam Besu, also known as Devil May Cry.[32][33][34]

Ghanaian actors abroad

Around year 2006 through 2007, Nigerian filmmaker Frank Rajah Arase signed a contract with a Ghanaian production company, Venus Films, which involved helping to introduce Ghanaian actors into mainstream Nollywood. This collaboration eventually led to extreme popularity of certain Ghanaian actors, such as Van Vicker, Jackie Appiah, Majid Michel, Yvonne Nelson, John Dumelo, Nadia Buari and Yvonne Okoro, arguably as much as their Nigerian counterparts. Furthermore, over the years; due to the high cost of film production in Nigeria, Nigerian filmmakers have been forced make films outside Lagos in order to cut costs, mirroring the exodus of filmmaking in Hollywood from Los Angeles to cities like Toronto and Albuquerque, a phenomenon known as “Runaway production”. Several other producers as a result started shooting in cities like Accra, Ghana, channeling the savings into investing in better equipment, many of them trying to get their films onto the big screen.[35]

This development sparked media attention; mostly concerns that Ghanaians were taking over jobs meant for Nigerians.[36] While some industry stakeholders such as Bob Manuel were unwelcoming towards the development, others like Mercy Aigbe, Belinda Effah, and Yvonne Jegede saw it as a welcome development; noting that the industry is big enough for everyone, and that other major film hubs across the world also have presence of other Nationalities. Theresa Edem commented: "A united Africa sells any day, anytime. It's been a great partnership so far. They’ve added colour to Nollywood and they’ve brought about healthy competition.[36] Emem Isong, a Nigerian producer comments: "It fosters unity and integration and that's not a bad thing".[37]

Some Ghanaian media on the other hand described the trend as "Brain drain" from Ghana.[38] However, Ghanaian director Frank Fiifi Gharbin, expressed satisfaction with the development, saying: "there shouldn’t be much fuss about Ghanaian actors in Nollywood. For us it is a good development. It shows that our actors are beginning to gain prominence and are being accepted worldwide".[37]


  • Allen, Robert C. 1995 Introduction. In: R.C. Allen (ed.) To be Continued…. Soap Operas Around the World. London: Routledge. pp. 1–26.
  • Brantlinger, Patrick. 1988. Rule of Darkness. British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914. Ithaca and London: Cornell University
  • Diawara, Manthia. 1992. African Cinema. Politics & Culture. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
  • Geschiere, Peter. 1997. The Modernity of Witchcraft. Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia
  • Gifford, Paul. 1994. “Ghana’s Charismatic Churches”. Journal of Religion in Africa 64 (3): 241-65
  • Gifford, Paul. 1998 African Christianity. Its Public Role. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indianan University Press
  • Gunning, Tom. 1989. “An Aesthetic of Astonishment”. Art & Text 34 (Spring):*
  • Kramer, Fritz. 1987. Der rote Fes. †ber Besessenheit und Kunst in Afrika. Frankfurt am Main: AthenŠum.
  • Landau, Paul. 1994. “The Illumination of Christ in the Kalahari Desert”. Representations 45 (Winter): 26-40.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1995[1964] Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man. London: Routledge.
  • McQuire, Scott. 1998. Visions of Modernity. Representation, Memory, Time and Space in the Age of the Camera. London: Sage.
  • Mensah, G.B. 1989. “The Film Industry in Ghana — Development, Potentials and Constraints”. University of Ghana, Legon: Unpublished Thesis.
  • Meyer, Birgit. 1995. “Delivered from the Powers of Darkness. Confessions about Satanic Riches in Christian Ghana”. Africa Vol. 65 (2): 263—55.
  • Meyer, Birgit. “Make a complete break with the past. Memory and Post—colonial Modernity in Ghanaian Pentecostalist discourse”. Journal of Religion in Africa XXVII (3):316-349.
  • Meyer, Birgit. 1999a. Translating the Devil. Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Meyer, Birgit.1999b. “Popular Ghanaian Cinema and the African Heritage”. Working Paper 7. The Hague: WOTRO-Project “Globalization and the Construction of Communal Identitie”.
  • Middleton—Mends, Kofi. 1995. “Video-Production — Which Direction?” Unpublished Paper.
  • Moore, Rachel. n.d. “Savage Theory. Cinema as Modern Magic”. Manuscript.
  • Morton—Williams. 1953. Cinema in Rural Nigeria. A Field Study of the Impact of Fundamental-Education Films on Rural Audiences in Nigeria. West African Institute of Social and Economic Research, University College, Ibadan.
  • Neal, James H. 1966. Ju—ju in My Life. London: George G. Harap.
  • Pels, Peter. 1999. A Politics of Presence. Contacts Between Missionaries and Waluguru in Late Colonial Tanganyika. Chur: Harwood Academic Publishers.
  • Powdermaker, Hortense. 1950. Hollywood. The Dream Factory. USA: The Universal Library, Little Brown, and Company
  • Sakyi, Kwamina. 1996. “The Problems and Achievements of the Ghana Film Industry Corporation and the Growth and Development of the Film Industry in Ghana”. University of Ghana, Legon: Unpublished Thesis.
  • Sreberny—Mohammadi, Annabelle and Ali Mohammadi. 1994. Small Media, Big Revolution. Communication, Culture, and the Iranian Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Starker, Steven. 1989. Evil Influences. Crusades Against the Mass Media. New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers.
  • Tyler, Parker. 1971[1947] Magic and Myth of the Movies. London: Secker & Warburg.
  • Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank. 1994. Black African Cinema. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
  • Van der Geest, Sjaak. n.d. “Ybisa Wo Fie: Building a House in Akan Culture”. Unpublished Paper.
  • Verrips, Jojada. in press. “The State and the Empire of Evil” in J. Mitchell & P. Clough (eds.), Powers of Good and Evil. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Reference notes


  1. ^ Frindéthié, K. Martial (24 March 2009). "Francophone African Cinema: History, Culture, Politics and Theory". McFarland – via Google Books. 
  2. ^ "Ghana Movies – The beginning of the end? (Part 1)". 24 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Martin, Michael T. (1 January 1995). "Cinemas of the Black Diaspora: Diversity, Dependence, and Oppositionality". Wayne State University Press – via Google Books. 
  4. ^ "Storytelling from the Margins: Accra's Emerging Cinema Shifts National Memory". 7 June 2016. 
  5. ^ "The New Face Of Cinema In Ghana". Globe Entertainment. 13 August 2015. 
  6. ^ Davis, Lauren. "The Curious Art of Ghana's Mobile Movie Posters". 
  7. ^ Frindéthié, K. Martial (24 March 2009). "Francophone African Cinema: History, Culture, Politics and Theory". McFarland – via Google Books. 
  8. ^ Mammadyarov, Riyad. "Watch: Experience the Power of Ghanaian Cinema in Exclusive ‘Nakom’ Trailer - IndieWire". Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  9. ^ Yamoah, Michael. "The New Wave in Ghana’s Video Film Industry : Exploring the Kumawood Model". Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  10. ^ Brown, Ryan Lenora (4 February 2016). "How Ghana's Gory, Gaudy Movie Posters Became High Art". The Atlantic. 
  11. ^ Salm, Steven J.; Falola, Toyin (1 January 2002). "Culture and Customs of Ghana". Greenwood Publishing Group – via Google Books. 
  12. ^ Meyer, Birgit (16 October 2015). "Sensational Movies: Video, Vision, and Christianity in Ghana". University of California Press – via Google Books. 
  13. ^ Saul, Mahir; Austen, Ralph A. (12 October 2010). "Viewing African Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Art Films and the Nollywood Video Revolution". Ohio University Press – via Google Books. 
  14. ^ Hayward, Susan (3 January 2013). "Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts". Routledge – via Google Books. 
  15. ^ Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1 May 1994). "Black African Cinema". University of California Press – via Google Books. 
  16. ^ Dr. Mawuli Adjei (2014). "The Video-Movie Flourish in Ghana: Evolution and the Search for Identity". Research on Humanities and Social Sciences. 4 (17). 
  17. ^ "The Video Film Industry" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  18. ^ Meyer, Birgit; Pels, Peter (31 May 2017). "Magic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and Concealment". Stanford University Press. Retrieved 31 May 2017 – via Google Books. 
  19. ^ a b Dr. Mawuli Adjei (2014). "The Video-Movie Flourish in Ghana: Evolution and the Search for Identity". Research on Humanities and Social Sciences. 4 (17): 61. ISSN 2225-0484. Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  20. ^ "Adjorlolo: Kumawood actors 'not primitive'|Class FM Online". Retrieved 2016-09-26. 
  21. ^ Christie, Marian. "Ellen White: I don't belong to Kumawood". Ghana Live TV. Retrieved 26 September 2016. 
  22. ^ "I'm not a Kumawood actor but rep Ghallywood - Ellen White". 26 March 2016. Retrieved 26 September 2016. 
  23. ^ a b "Ghallywood Opens Up To Media". 28 May 2011. Retrieved 26 September 2016. 
  24. ^ Tamakloe, Aseye. "SOCIAL REPRESENTATION IN GHANAIAN CINEMA" (PDF). Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  25. ^ Garritano, Carmela. "African Video Movies and Global Desires" (PDF). Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  26. ^ "Flex Newspaper – "Action Movies Can Scare Witches"- Ashbowa". 
  27. ^ Ampadu, Vivian E. D. "The Depiction of Mental Illness in Nigerian and Ghanaian movies: A negative or positive impact on mental health awareness in Ghana?" (PDF). Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  28. ^ Badoe, Yaba. "Representing Witches in contemporary Ghana: challenges and reflections on making the ‘Witches of Gambaga’" (PDF). Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  29. ^ "Filmmaker battles to save Ghana's historic cinema - Voices of Africa". 22 November 2013. 
  30. ^ "Samuel Ofori fires producers of 'witchcraft' movies | Entertainment 2016-06-28". 2016-06-28. Retrieved 2017-04-19. 
  31. ^ Adinkrah, Mensah (30 August 2015). "Witchcraft, Witches, and Violence in Ghana". Berghahn Books – via Google Books. 
  32. ^ Lamar, Cyriaque Lama (14 November 2011). "2016, the trailer for Ghana's Predator, is the best thing you'll see all day". io9. Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  33. ^ Carter, Grey (18 November 2011). "Devil May Cry: The Movie". The Escapist. Retrieved 16 November 2016. 
  34. ^ Asiedu, William A. "Ghana news: Graphic Online - Graphic Online". 
  35. ^ "Nollywood: Lights, camera, Africa". The Economist. 16 December 2010. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  36. ^ a b Ebirim, Juliet (22 March 2014). "Are the Ghanaian actors taking over Nollywood?". Vanguard Newspaper. The Vanguard. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  37. ^ a b Enengedi, Victor (23 September 2013). "NET SPECIAL FEATURE: Ghanaian actresses take over Nollywood". Nigerian Entertainment Today. The NET NG. Retrieved 16 February 2015. 
  38. ^ "Brain Drain In Ghana Movie Industry?". Spy Ghana. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Cinema of Ghana"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA