UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Extractive practice to decolonial futures : interrogating the 'humanitarian impulse' in nonprofit filmmaking Shaw, Austin


This thesis examines nonprofit documentary films produced within the African continent featuring African populations. Contemporary humanitarian documentary productions by Western constituents frequently commit acts of ideological violence against the African communities they purport to assist through neocolonial tropes and extractive visual aesthetics. Decolonial storytelling strategies are imperative for ethical and holistic narratives to begin revitalizing Western epistemologies about the African context. Drawing on critical humanitarian studies – which critiques the imbrication of humanitarian work with Western national political agendas – I argue that the contemporary nonprofit narrative model draws inspiration from a neocolonial humanitarian history built on inequitable power imbalances between Western imperial powers and their former colonies. African scholars Achille Mbembe and Ngūgī Wa Thiong’o provide theoretical and pragmatic strategies for repositioning African voices in positions of agency, and these strategies will provide an avenue through which nonprofit films can be assessed. Then, by looking to nonprofit films produced by both Western filmmakers and African filmmakers, this research evaluates the requirements necessary to move the nonprofit documentary sector from a neocolonial present into a decolonial future. Considering elements such as language and authorship, I conclude my analysis by discussing how encouraging locally-led cultural production will not only work to actively decolonize the current Western impression of African nations, but also to curb any future utilization of the same tired neocolonial tropes by rising global powers.

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