As some of you may have read on our Twitter timeline, we at the R and National Black Programming Consortium had a great time with Dr. Benjamin Talton, who teaches Ghanaian history and politics at Temple University. He took time between classes to give a quick lesson on the politics captured in Jarreth Merz’s An African Election.
Soundbite Culture: You’ve said An African Election began because of questions you had about your own identity. What were they?
Jarreth Merz: One of them was “Why do I see myself as a cliché?” As an actor, I’d ask why am I cast as a terrorist or something exotic? Why am I not cast as something regular and normal? Is it because I am abnormal? What is it?
There’s a lot of doubt within who I am. We all go through that process. They say when you hit 40 you reach a mid life crisis, but for me I think it was more like an identity crisis. I just realised that I was in denial of my African heritage because of all the bad examples we hear about Africa. Or the clichés; everything is so colourful, you dance so well, you’re very chocolaty.
So this was something that motivated me to go back to where I grew up, which was Ghana. To have a closer look and see where I came from and where I grew up. Why was I happy then and oblivious to all this crap going on about colour or identity, and why had I become so wounded? I had to confront my demons and take a look at that. So I went back to Ghana and I was looking for a new reality.
SC: Did you find any answers?
JM: Let’s put it this way, I found enough to start a new journey. Because looking for answers never stops. It’s a part of life and I think it’s a beautiful part of life that you always question. I think it’s important for me at this stage of my life to be able to move on and to accept. In this case, with a very positive example through the film [I made].
SC: How did making An African Election help you in this respect?
JM: I realised that Africa is so full of hope, so full of positive examples. And it was my responsibility to document that, to talk about it, to bring one positive example – and in this case it’s just one – to a larger audience. To show that democracy in Africa can be done and does exist and it can actually be done better. Going through two reruns, and an unprecedented second rerun, where have you seen that before?
SC: How did you feel about what the Ghanaian people had to say?
JM: People wanted change. At the time, Obama was running for President and that was something that inspired African nations. There were pamphlets at the rallies saying “Obama, Obama, Obama!”
It was a time when there was hope that change could really happen, thanks to the example of big brother, America. Ghanaians had been living in the conditions of a third world country for so long and they were sick and tired of it. They want to move on. Ghana is very positive in the sense that it is not a bitter country. People are aware that they have the power in their hands.
We are honored to help the National Black Programming Consortium and Jarreth Merz to promote this important film. Our role is helping with the conversation and the backstory around the events in the film, leading up to its public television premiere on October 1st. We’ll be hosting discussions on democracy, politics, voter enfranchisement, and much more, so watch for the special African Election icon above for our continuing conversation.
By Guest Contributor Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted from Beyond Victoriana
Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.
There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. “Are you scared?” one of the men– presumably a safety guide–asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.
“Yes, I am absolutely frightened,” I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, “You’re lying.” In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: “We’ll soon reach the end.” I felt sorry for her.
Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.