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MIT Global France Seminar presents, Jean-Pierre Bekelo “The Transformative Power of Afrofuturist Cinema”

April 17 @ 5:15 pm - 6:00 pm

How does Afrofuturist cinema, by showcasing alternative African futures, contribute to the evolution of the cinematic art form and postcolonial narratives? 

Filmmaker Jean Pierre Bekolo will present his book Cinema as a Transformative Tool for the Therapeutic Intellectual: Putting Postcolonial Theories in Motion. Drawing on his practice and theoretical work, Bekolo will show that cinema is a platform for intellectual exploration, rooted in the probing question of “What if?” often found in science fiction.” Inspired by Giordano Bruno’s philosophy, Bekolo likes speculating with images, combining “motion telling” and “motion thinking.” A pivotal question thus emerges: Are filmmakers “therapeutic” intellectuals capable of not only fostering understanding but also transforming Africa and the world?

When applying this cinematic framework to Africa, a continent entangled in the collision with the West, Bekolo advocates for reintroducing motion into a narrative that has stagnated, impeding the progress of its history and clouding the way forward.

The pivotal question emerges: How can Afrofuturist cinema, supported by “therapeutic” intellectuals, inject motion – analogous to a “coup” – disrupt its static post-colonial narrative, and recommence the march of history after a prolonged hiatus? Bekolo envisions this approach as a dynamic framework capable of not only fostering understanding but also transforming Africa and the world, revealing novel perspectives and possibilities.

Bio: Jean-Pierre Bekolo emerged as a promising African filmmaker in the early 1990s, alongside Quentin Tarantino. Despite Tarantino’s global recognition, Bekolo’s innovative cinema often went unnoticed. Bekolo embarked on his cinematic journey while studying physics and chemistry at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon. He honed his skills as an editor and directed music videos before furthering his education at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel in Paris, where he also attended semiotics classes taught by Christian Metz at l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

Bekolo continued to develop a rich, multilayered and complex filmography including such classics as Aristotle’s Plot (1996), Les Saignantes (2005)- Africa’s first science-fiction film, and Le président (2013); exploring newer terrains with Naked Reality (2016), Miraculous Weapons (2017) and Nous Les Noirs (2021); and more recently producing a filmic adaptation of Djaili Amadou Amal’s novel Walaandé, the Art of Sharing a Husband (2023), directed by Thierry Ntamack. In addition to filmmaking, Bekolo’s artistic practice navigates the worlds of the gallery and the museum, of knowledge production and dissemination as well as collective action and organizing.

It was clearly apparent, at least since Aristotle’s Plot, a film commissioned by the British Film Institute as part of its celebration of the centenary of the cinema, that Bekolo was, at his core, an essayist in the noblest sense of the term, who sought to work out his interrogations, ideas, thoughts and affects in his own subjectively experimental, tentative and nondogmatic ways. Indeed, since the end of the first decade of the 2000s, Bekolo has been publishing essays, blogs and various forms of reflection both on the significance and relevance of the cinema as well as on the challenges and the destiny of the African continent, including Africa for the Future, Sortir un nouveau monde du cinema (2009) and more recently Cinema as a Transformative Tool for the Therapeutic Intellectual (2023). Together, these writings reveal a mind at once restless, perpetually inquisitive and questioning, always innovative while remaining profoundly dissatisfied with a lenifying status quo both in cinema as a means of representation and with the object of representation itself, i.e. the real, African and otherwise. There is in Bekolo a double impulse to transform the real itself as well as the means to represent it, making his work profoundly philosophically inflected.

Bekolo’s documentaries, including “Mudimbe’s Order of Things” (2015) and “Workshops of Thought,” delve into African philosophy and intellectual discourse. He positions himself as a companion to African scholars like Achille Mbembe and Felwine Sarr, with documentaries like “Africa, Thought in Motion” Parts 1 and 2, available on Amazon, using film as a tool for social transformation. Bekolo taught at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.

His legacy transcends his films, embodying a commitment to challenging norms and amplifying African voices in global cinema. Jean-Pierre Bekolo is the 2024 Harvard McMillan-Stewart Fellow.


April 17
5:15 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


CAMBRIDGE, MA 02139 United States
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Literature Section
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue 14N-407
Cambridge, MA 02139
tel: (617) 253-3581