Zine Magubane

Zine Magubane

Framed: A new film rejects America’s white savior complex.

When it comes to the continent of Africa, only a few stories find their way to the mainstream. While the continent is home to more than 50 countries full of diverse people and cultures, Western media often focuses on issues of war, poverty, disease, and corruption, leading many Americans to believe they must “save” Africa.

We’ve seen it time and time again through seemingly innocent initiatives like the Kony 2012 movement or celebrity-driven campaigns to heal/help/teach Africa. Though the intentions of those who participate in such projects may be good, their willingness to believe they can “save” an entire continent of people who are more than capable of “saving” themselves (if it’s even necessary), is naïve at best, and downright condescending at worst.

After I wrote about Witherspoon’s upcoming film The Good Lie in which she plays a hardscrabble white woman who “saves” a group of Sudanese refugees, filmmaker Cassandra Herrman reached out to me to tell me about her documentary, Framed, which takes a look at America’s savior complex.

Boniface Mwangi speaking to a group of American students.

Boniface Mwangi speaking to a group of American students.

In Framed, Herrman and her team interview Africans from all over the continent to get their take on the West’s savior industrial complex, which has resulted in students, celebrities, and non-government organizations (NGOs) flocking to the continent, because as Binyavanga Wainaina put it, in their view “Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated.”

Here’s more info about film via the Framed Kickstarter page:

FRAMED takes a provocative look at image making and activism, following an inspiring young Kenyan photojournalist turned activist who shatters the stereotype of the passive aid recipient. As he challenges American students to focus their efforts close to home, FRAMED turns a lens on popular representations of Africa and Africans, as seen through the eyes of Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina and South African born educator Zine Magubane, who ask a chorus of questions about the selling of suffering.

FRAMED tells the story of Boniface Mwangi’s work as an image maker and image changer. From the moment he saw how his own photography could heal Kenyan wounds, he repurposed images of violence to promote reconciliation, and rallied his peers to jumpstart a creative and political youth movement.  Visiting an American college, he challenges students to turn their attention to struggling communities around them. “Why do you want to fly all that way, and on your way to the airport you pass poverty, to go and help poverty in Kenya?”

Along the way, we meet Zine Magubane, who was born in South Africa and teaches American college students at Boston College about the portrayal of Africa in American media and pop culture.  “When you see celebrity activists in Darfur or elsewhere,” she says, “you’d think there were no African think tanks, no African universities, no African human rights lawyers working on this issue”.

Framed’s filmmakers are hoping to raise $28,000 to complete production on the documentary; so far, they’ve gotten just over $13,000 in donations and have 15 days left.

Watch the powerful clip of Framed belowVisit the film’s Kickstarter page for more info and to donate.

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  • morninglory

    @Ms.Vee, I felt the exact same way. In fact I sent them an email expressing my indifference, I haven’t heard from them but I will let ya’ll know once I do get a reply. In the meantime this is what I wrote:
    Greetings, great project idea. However, I was a bit confused about the film being that the film’s “creators” are white, and am not seeing the “proof in the pudding”…meaning if this film is to be spoken from the voice of Africans, black Africans (and yes I know there are white Africans as well, but the majority of the ones shot in this trailer were black) where are the black African producers, cameramen, we should see all of the faces behind this project. I wanted to send this out for support…and I still will but it seems like an oxymoron or hypocritical (not sure which one) that the subject of the movie is perpetuated through the production of this film. Many people who I forward this link to are going to wonder the same thing. The first question they will ask will be…”Oh, so who is directing and producing this film?” And the second…”Are they black?” Anyway, just a question asked out of sheer curiosity and concern. Are you white ladies the voice/liaison for those featured in this documentary?

    I will let you all know sooner than later…Peace

    • ALM247

      Please share their response here when you receive it. I wonder if they will even respond. The response should be quite interesting.

    • morninglory

      So, they did respond and here is their response:
      “Cassandra Herrman and Kathryn Mathers says:
      Hi Sarina, thanks for your comments and engagement with our film. FRAMED is not about representing Africans or trying to speak for them, so much as about the desires of Americans to work in and especially to do good in Africa. The focus of the film is on the conversation that we believe needs to happen between these young Americans and Africans who are activists and organizers in their own communities. This is a project that matters to me both as an African and as a teacher of Americans and what we really want to do is to move away from the critiques of aid and development into a dialogue about how Americans and other northerners can support the work of Africans.”

      I urge each of you to write and express your feelings, not sure what it would accomplish but it may let them know that there are others who feel the same way or similar to me. I feel that as a black African born in American life is quite different than a white European born in Africa. There are still hidden and overt privileges that “they” feel entitled to or maybe don’t feel anything at all, IDK, I am not white. Anyway, I am still thinking about my response to them will be. Peace

    • ALM247

      Thanks so much for posting the response you received.

      “….and what we really want to do is to move away from the critiques of aid and development into a dialogue about how Americans and other northerners can support the work of Africans.”

      This part of the response really concerns me. Aid NEEDS to be critiqued. There are countless articles on the human trafficking violations that occur when “aid” comes from Europeans and Americans. Honestly, there is not enough critique. Some of the literature I have read on ngos and peacekeepers who traveled to other nations to “help” made me want to vomit. Some of these folks are doing anything but helping.

      As for supporting the work of Africans, isn’t that the entire point of this film, that Africans are saying that they don’t need all of this “help” from the West?

      Does this concern anyone else, and does anyone else interpret this the same way that I did? Do you all interpret this differently from what I am thinking?

    • morninglory

      I have another response. The first is mine and then Cassandra replied:

      Sarina P
      Jun 27, 2014
      Peace Ms.Herrman/Ms.Mathers: Thank you for your reply. I hear you but it still doesn’t explain the lack of black faces on the development side of it. All in all, when these AID organizations come to Africa they come to the highly BLACK populated areas not the white areas of Africa. Many of the AID organizations don’t come ONLY from America…in fact the colonization of all African countries (except Ethiopia) came from European colonizers/countries. So, to me it seems as if those aid organizations feel now WHITE guilt and want to make amends. Many others feel quite the same way. There is a big difference between being a black African born in American and a white European born in Africa. The difference is our skin and the way we are perceived in this world. So whether you realize it or not you are representing Africa and FRAMED is also a representation of Africa even though it may not be your intention. Peace

      Cassandra Herrman and Kathryn Mathers
      Jun 27, 2014
      Report Spam
      Hi Sarina, it’s a good point you raise: it’s true that the film will exist as a representation of Africa, and our hope is that it will serve as a counter representation to the meme of Africa as victims. Thanks for sharing your perspective. – cassandra

      So, who created the victim meme in the first place…so now they are just “street cleaners” cleaning up the mess left behind by their ancestors…so be it, it is what it is…not sure on my take of it all, I am not a member of their targeted audience

    • mike4ty4

      ” I feel that as a black African born in American life is quite different than a white European born in Africa.”

      And probably a “white European born in Africa” has a different life from a “black African born in *Africa*” as well.

      “”This is a project that matters to me both as an African and as a teacher
      of Americans and what we really want to do is to move away from the
      critiques of aid and development into a dialogue about how Americans and
      other northerners can support the work of Africans.””

      Peculiar — I thought the idea WAS to critique aid…

  • Me

    i read the “why should i care” section of their kickstarter page. this movie is by white people for white navel gazers. it’s all about “why do we keep making ourselves superior to africans, why do we keep treating them like their weak, we should reevaluate our privilege” type of message. NEXT!

    • morninglory


    • mike4ty4

      But shouldn’t “privilege” be re-evaluated? I don’t get it.

    • Ms. Vee