Power and Perception of Africa in the film Yeelen

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Power and Perception of Africa in the film Yeelen As the sun is the giver of life and sometimes the taker, light has come to represent life, death, rebirth, along with both good and evil. In the film Yeelen (1987) it is no surprise that the title carries the most important theme of the movie. Yeelen in English means brightness. Throughout the film, images of light appear, ranging from the most obvious manifestation of the word, the sun, to other, more abstract forms, such as eggs. These images of luminosity highlight the film's major ideas about existence, righteousness, and the circular nature of life. Through the effective use of the camera, lights and colors these concepts are successfully conveyed. One of the first photographic images shown in the film is a burning sacrificial chicken. The chicken is placed on a black background and is very close to the camera. This close up gives a restricted view of the subject and likewise very little space to look away (Kawin 1992:203). The viewer is forced to stare directly at the burning, screeching animal. Although the initial reaction from the western viewer is disgust, after a few moments, the question arises as to why the chicken is being shown so closely. This chicken is a sacrifice to the divine and is also a symbol for mortality. In the flickering of the flames lies the passing of life. It shows that a life can quickly end without warning in a flash of light and it serves as a forewarning that Nianankoro will become a sacrifice later in the film. This bright light also shows the power that can originate from a sacrifice, which signifies the force exuded at Nianankoro's death. Directly following the chicken is a long take of the sun against a barren b... ... middle of paper ... ... traditional African myth in a way that is tangible and entertaining but also includes layers of symbolism which reveal traditional beliefs. For the western audience, "Yeelen enables viewers not just to understand but to experience a traditional African way of seeing the world. Its innovative narrative style captures the Bambara belief in time as circular…always returning to that initial 'brightness' which creates the world" (Diawara 1997:11). Cissé shows the images of this tale in a thoughtful and deliberate way to highlight the importance of the interconnectedness of things, the ambiguity of good and evil and the circle which pulls everything together. Bibliography Kawin, Bruce F. How Movies Work. New York: Macmillan. 1987. Cissé, Souleymane. Yeelen: Mali. 1987. Diawara, Manthia. "Seeing Brightness." California Newsreel Catalog 1997: p.11, 12.

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