Phebbie Sakarombe



The Zimbabwean Film Industry originated in a colonial context, with content developed based on often negative racial stereotypes. Although efforts to decolonise film after independence in 1980 bore notable fruit, due to funding constraints, most films started to depend on donor funding linked to Non-Governmental Organizations. In Zimbabwe, the most active NGO was Media for Development Trust. Producers of NGO films used films ostensibly to “educate” and, in the process, broke down and recreated archetypes. Drawing on film theory inflected through gender politics, this paper examines a specific form of character ‘typage’ found within Neria, a well celebrated Zimbabwean film, made with the help of NGO finance. Neria is about the disinheritance of a grieving widow by a cruel male relative. The film was a major hit at the box office and remains arguably the high point of Zimbabwean filmmaking. I revisit Neria in the context of renewed debates about decolonisation and gender. It is my contention that in Neria there is to be observed a type of male character who is represented as if he were naturally cruel and exploitative, and as if cruelty was an inborn male trait. In other words, cruelty and exploitativeness are given a male gender. Or, at least, cruelty and exploititiveness are limited to the DNA of certain males. This cruel male type does not change; moreover, he is unable to change, unlike the women or the ‘compassionate male’ types. Considering the complexity of social relations in Zimbabwe, this portrayal is both limiting and limited. This article argues that the depiction of certain men in Neria is meant to collectively diminish and tarnish, as much as possible, complex African gender norms in favor of a simplistic and untenable vision of social change sponsored by the Media for Development International (MFDI). This vision is one which gives men an untenable choice between being “genderless” and being a “cruel male”. This choice, I conclude, is male-annihilating.


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