Film Guide & Resources
African Films
(Under revision!) COCC Library Media Holding
Cora Agatucci, HUM 211: Cultures & Literatures of Africa

English t
Cameroon, 1992. In French with English subtitles. Run time: 88 minutes.
Director: Jean-Marie Téno (b. 14 May 1954, Famleng, Cameroon - )

Short Cuts: Film Summary | Film Notes | Discussion Questions | Works Cited & Recommended Resources

Film Summary

"Afrique, Je Te Plumerai provides a devastating overview of one hundred years of cultural genocide in Africa. Director Jean-Marie Teno uses Cameroon, the only African country colonized by three European powers (German, French, and British), for a carefully researched case study of the continuing damage done to traditional African societies by alien colonial and neo-colonial cultures. Unlike most historical films, Afrique, Je Te Plumerai moves from present to past (and from color to black & white), peeling away layer upon layer of African cultural forgetting. Teno explains: 'I wanted to trace cause and effect between an intolerable present and the colonial violence of understand how a country could fail to succeed as a state which was once composed of well-structured traditional societies.'  Teno begins with present-day cultural production in Cameroon, examining press censorship, government controlled publishing and the flood of European media and [school] books. He next looks at his own Eurocentric education during the 1960s. 'Study, my child," he was told, "so you can become like a white man.' Condescending [European] newsreels from the 1930s reveal that France conceived its 'civilizing mission' as destroying traditional African social structures and replacing them with a colonial regime of evolues [black Africans, Western-educated and, Teno emphasizes, indoctrinated to accept European colonizers’ language, values and superiority].  Survivors of the Cameroonian independence struggle recall how the French colonial rulers eliminated any popular nationalist leaders, and, on the eve of independence, installed a corrupt, bureaucratic African regime"—neocolonialism-- which continues to serve Western economic and political interests, to pillage the country, and deny democracy and basic human rights to the people. Director Teno tells a story that applies to many "post-colonial" African nations today [note that Teno suggests colonialism is not "post" but has merely taken a new and insidious form in Africa today].

This film summary quotes & adapts California Newsreel film description.
Afrique: je te plumerai, California Newsreel: Library of African Cinema. 2004.

Film Notes

[Part I: The Present]
The film opens with actual newsreel footage from Cameroon’s recent past and contemporary footage of present-day life in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde.

  1. Cameroon achieved independence from France on 1 January 1960, amid great hope and celebration. However, actual newreel images and voice over narration show that hopeful spirit was soon crushed for many when the new black Cameroonian President Ahmadou Ahidjo (5 May 1960 - November 1982) took power over the newly independent nation. Ahidjo was a ruthless, self-serving dictator. [During the two decades of Ahidjo’s presidency, Cameroon was first known as the Republic of East Cameroon (1960-1961); then as the Federal Republic of Cameroon (1961-1972). Then the former French East Cameroon was unified to West Cameroon (formerly a British colony). Since 1972, the nation has been called the United Cameroon Republic.]
  2. Pres. Ahidjo was deposed in 1982, and succeeded by his former minister Paul Biya, whose political excesses, human rights violations, censorship, and ruthless suppression of dissent have, according to Teno, surpassed those of his "mentor" Ahidjo.
  3. After an initial "prologue" of scenes from the dictatorships of Ahidjo and Biya, Teno dedicates his film to all who have died for liberty.
  4. Teno reflects on the dominant dream of many Cameroonians and Africans: to achieve success by becoming "white" through the narrow path of a Westernized education and literacy in the colonizers’ language—a path open to very few Africans.
  5. Teno poses a leading question which his film seeks to answer: Why have African peoples from well-structured traditional societies failed to succeed today as states? Teno will seek answers in Cameroon’s colonial past and his own personal past.  
    From the portion of Afrique you view and your reading of this handout, what answer does Teno finally seem to give to this leading question?
  6. The narrative voiceover reflects on the African writer’s [and filmmaker’s] role: "to record an era, to reveal or deform the reality, to propose an interpretation of Cameroonian history from a native African perspective."
  7. Through interviews and newsreel footage, Teno presents a contemporary historical account of Cameroonian writer Celestin Monga’s attempt to fulfill that role in 1990-91. President Biya responded by imprisoning Monga, censoring the newspaper that published his letter critical of Biya, and ruthlessly suppressing the popular protest demonstrations that resulted. 
    How do you surmise that Teno views the role and responsibility of African writers, filmmakers, historians, intellectuals and artists? What are the obstacles and costs that they face in trying to speak their truths and interpretations in many parts of Africa today?
  8. Teno investigates contemporary cultural politics of TV, film, book publishing and distribution. In a dramatized interview, the TV station manager scoffs at Teno request to air his film, saying that Cameroonian TV viewers prefer U.S. and French TV programming like Dallas (a U.S. soap opera), to African films. 
    Why do you think this is this so?
  9. A flashback to actual newsreel footage produced in the past by the French colonizers, an account of how the French "won" Cameroon from earlier German colonizers. the flashback represents the French "distorted interpretation" of the history of colonization in Cameroon.
  10. Teno introduces his interpretation of Cameroonian history: European colonization has committed "cultural genocide"—a wholesale attempt to eradicate Africa’s traditional cultures, languages, dignity, and cultural identity. Actual newsreel footage presents former French President De Gaulle declaring the end of colonization in 1960, and saying he understands what Africans have been through under European colonization. De Gaulle’s words are mocked by Marie, a Cameroonian journalist. To Teno and Marie these words ring empty,for European colonization has only taken a new and oppressive form: "neocolonialism" under corrupt dictators like Ahidjo and Biyo. Teno observes that Cameroon’s new dictators "have the same perspective" as the former European colonizers.
  11. We hear the French children’s song "Alouette. . . je te plumerai" sung in voiceover, and translated: "Little Lark, I’m going to pluck you . . ," a first allusion to the title of Teno’s film. 
    Consider how the song relates to the title and themes of the film.
  12. The continued dominance of Western cultural influence is demonstrated in subsequent visits to an educational book publishing house, and French, British, German, and the CLE (Christian missionary) libraries. Marie is our guide. Yaounde is a university town, and the book industry is driven by state educational curriculum and textbook adoption policies, which are in turn controlled by the government. European books, rather than African authors, dominate in libraries and school curriculum. They are cheaper and more accessible, though Cameroon has the technology to publish, and plenty of university graduates and writers would like to be published and read.Teno suggests that European interests and Eurocentric perspectives are being served, rather than those of African peoples.
  13. Teno challenges the distorted myths that Africans, coming from oral traditions, cannot or do not want to learn to read. The realities are that books are expensive, and literacy education and libraries are inaccessible to most Africans. We see a child stealing a book from one of the libraries. The second-hand booksellers in the marketplace do a brisk business, a "place of magic" for Teno.

[Part II: The Colonial Past]

  1. Teno flashes back to memories of his childhood school years in the 1960s. Fictionalized autobiographical sequences personalize his interpretation of Cameroonian history and present-day reality. Sequences from the past are presented in black and white. He and his schoolmates learned to read from Western comic books they called "illustrated books." They dream over movies from India. Close-up of a demeaning representation of a black African in a European comic book: the white man demands, "Do you know my language? Answer!"
  2. Classroom scene from Teno’s Eurocentric education: A black teacher (an evolue) militaristically drills the students in a French-language reader recounting African laborers dutifully bearing cacao to market in orderly lines. The children are taught to read and repeat, but not to think. [In this way, Teno suggests, African children privileged enough to be sent to school are still being taught the colonizers’ language and values--and African inferiority.]
  3. Teno remembers the childhood story his grandfather told him to "explain independence": the story about the "larks" [Africans], the [white] hunters, and the "strange breed of larks" the hunters left among them. The melody of the French children’s song "Alouette" (meaning "Lark") ". . . .je te plumerai" (meaning "I will pluck you") is heard in the background.  
    What do you think his grandfather’s story means and how might it "explain independence"? Why did Teno choose the title "Afrique, Je Te Plumerai," based on the French children’s song "Alouette…je te plumerai" for his film?
  4. Scenes of traditional artisans at work in the rural villages of Cameroon. Teno says he wishes he had paid closer attention to traditional village culture, arts and stories during his school years. Compare to Gikandi’s account of Achebe’s early colonialist education. Gikandi states that Achebe did not grow up with a "profound respect" for traditional Igbo culture, and Achebe is quoted as saying that his Christian education taught him to "look down on the others" (pp. xiii-xiv).
    Would this be an example of what Teno calls "cultural genocide"?
    Kenyan novelist and critic Ngugi wa Thiong’o is one of many who believe Africans still need to "decolonize the mind."
    Try to explain what this concept means using Teno’s film and/or Gikandi’s essay on Achebe’s "invention" of African literature.
  5. The misinformation that Africans had no writing traditions before the Europeans came is disproved by Sultan Njoya who, in 1895, invented the Shu-mon writing system for the Bamun people. Directions came to him in a dream, and eventually he simplified the 500+ pictograph system to a phoneme (sound)-based alphabet of 72 characters, easier for his people to master. [Note the contrast to other African "secret" writing systems, only for an initiated few, as explained in AfricanTimeline #1.] German missionaries arrive in 1902 and encourage Sultan Njoya to set up schools to teach his writing system, but after 1910 French colonizers outlaw the Sultan’s schools as conflicting with French colonial schools. Note: Teno, like Achebe in Things Fall Apart, is not uncritical of the African cultural past: for example, Teno tells us that Sultan Njoya was motivated to create his writing system and institute an official language to suppress the language and power of a rival African people in the region, as well as to satisfy the Sultan’s desire for "modernity."
  6. French newreel footage is introduced to present the colonizers’ propagandistic version of Cameroonian history under colonialism, noting their African students are quick and eager students, with some surprise that this "primitive culture" would take so readily to literacy education. In contrast, Teno’s voice over commentary states that the French divided up African peoples, deposed traditional leaders and in their place put African puppets whose only qualification was the ability to speak and write the colonizer’s language. Cameroonians were forced into unpaid labor for the French: a dramatized scenes shows how such laborers were hunted down and forced to comply.
  7. German and French newsreel footage eulogizes the wealth of African natural resources being exported. Teno interviews African historians and elders who explain the "demographic catastrophe" of colonialism: how cheaply African life was treated, laboring under unsafe working conditions, without health care or pay, beaten or killed if they resisted, many fleeing to escape—realities for Africans which the French newsreel footage ignores or hides.
  8. Teno explains another avenue to escape colonial labor: learning the read and write the colonizer’s language French. While this still did not secure for African evolues equality with white people, they persisted in imitating whites with a "disturbing" desire to please their French masters. Still photographs show evolues in Western dress, voice over reads examples of evolue poetry, imitating French models.
  9. An African trade unionist explains he joined the union movement to protest colonial forced labor, a system which accorded Africans "no human dignity." Sequences from French newsreels show Africans laboring in the jungle while a white master is carried on a palaquin. Teno comments that Europeans behaved differently—and badly—in Africa than they did in their distant homeland. In response to French colonialist propaganda, Teno responds: "Pardon me, how about those who live on this land?" Satirically, Teno echoes French rationalizations for their behavior in Africa: that Africans were no more than "animals" and "primitives," and European colonizers had a "civilizing mission" to end tribal wars and bring the gospel to the benighted. Colonization was but a new form of slavery, in Teno’s view: he challenges viewers to consider, "Does a crime against humanity exist only when the victims are white?"
  10. Africans are forced to fight in the Europeans’ "world" wars. French military propaganda films extol the loyalty of its African troups—"when they are understood" by their white commanders—"all children of one nation." This is followed by an African historian discussing African demands for humane working conditions and "equal pay for equal work.
  11. The alternative history of the African anti-colonial resistance movement during and after WW II is told, focusing on the PCU (People’s Camerounian Union), demanding reunification of the two Cameroons (colonized by the French and British) and independence in 1948. Demonized as "Communism," the French ruthlessly suppress the PCU and eradicate opposition. The father of a murdered PCU leader recounts a crooked election, wherein votes for anti-colonialist candidates mysteriously disappear. The PCU is outlawed in Cameroon.
  12. In 1955, the French declared open war on the PCU, and many were assassinated, tortured, beaten, imprisoned or forced to flee. Seeing that independence must come, the French colonizers handover power to carefully chosen puppets, like Ahidjo and Biya; and set out to exterminate or neutralize all effective opposition. Beginning with Congolese nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba, assassinated in 1961, Teno pays tribute to several martyred Cameroonian leaders.

[Film Conclusion]

The organizational "frame" of the film is to capture a contemporary day in the people’s lives of Cameroon’s capital city Yaounde—"cruel city, city of lies"--beginning with scenes from morning (when new hope dawns); and progressing, by the end of the film, to late evening in a Yaounde nightclub, where a comedian humorously and satirically attacks President Biya and Western cultural influences.
Closing shots:

  • Shot of a Cameroonian street vendor teaching his son and daughter to read and write: Teno’s voiceover tells us that the person who is educated has the means to take the floor and ultimately to become free.
  • Shot of a contemporary African popular leader continuing to call for democracy, amid shouting and raised fists. What hope may be found in the succeeding days of the future of Cameroon and Africa, Teno leaves for the viewer to contemplate.

Discussion Questions

1. Explain what you understand Teno to mean by the phrase "cultural genocide."

2. In voiceover, Teno cites a Chinese proverb at one point in the film: A people that have no past, have no present and no future. What is Teno's message in this proverb for Africans today? Why is it important for Africans to write their own history from their own perspectives?

3. Compare Teno’s project to Ali Mazrui's statements about three different approaches to African history (HUM 211 Online Course Pack). What kind of history do you think Teno is trying to (re)make through his film, Afrique, Je Te Plumerai?

4. What do you think Teno’s primary message(s) or purpose(s) are for making this film? Review statements Teno makes in Afrique regarding the role of the African writer (and by extension, the filmmaker). How do these compare to statements Achebe makes about the purposes of his writing and of African literature, according to Gikandi’s essay?

Both Teno and Achebe choose to create their art in European colonizers’ languages—French and English, respectively. Both have been criticized for doing so, for learning and using these languages has been one of the primary means by which Europeans have "colonized" the African mind. . [Note that director Dani Kouyate uses both French and the indigenous language Jula in the film Keita: Heritage of the Griot.]

5. The question of whether to use African or European languages is debated heatedly among African artists and intellectuals—can you see why? Why do you think Teno and Achebe have made the choice to use French and English, instead of writing/filming in indigenous African languages?

6. Who do you think Teno’s intended audience(s) is/are for Afrique, Je Te Plumerai? Do you think Teno had U.S. viewers like us in mind? (Consider how many languages are spoken in Africa, and that both Cameroon and Nigeria have many ethnic groups who speak many different languages.)

7. Teno, Kouyate, and Achebe use Western genres—documentary film, fictional feature film, and realistic novel—but each seeks, in his own ways, to transform or "appropriate" the Western art forms of storytelling to make them speak African truths and realities, from African perspectives. Consider how Teno has used the medium of film to speak his messages in Afrique, Je Te Plumerai.

  • Teno’s style in Afrique, Je Te Plumerai has been called "anti-documentary." Why do you think so? In what ways does Afrique seem to depart from other documentaries you have seen?
  • Teno juxtaposes (places side-by-side) conflicting images, voices, and (his)stories of Cameroon’s and Africa’s colonial past and neo-colonial present. He flashes back and forward between past and present, filming sometimes in color and sometimes in black and white. He mixes actual newreel footage of colonial Cameroon, re-created fictionalized scenes of the past, filmed interviews, still photographs, filmed scenes of contemporary Cameroon--and perhaps other types of film sequences you observed. Assuming that Teno has made all these choices deliberately and bearing in mind that filmmaking is a costly art form--why do you think Teno chooses to compose his film in this way? And what is the effect on you, the viewer, of hearing and seeing these multiple voices and versions of Cameroon’s and Africa’s history of colonialism? Where do you think the truth lies —or is there a single truth to be found?

Critical Commentary on Afrique: je te plumerai

Source: Ukadike, N[wachukwu] Frank. "African Cinematic Reality: The Documentary Tradition as an Emerging Trend." Research in African Literatures, 26.3(Fall 1995): 88 (9 pages). Rpt. Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP: Article A20503127; and EBSCOHost Academic Search Elite (2004): Article No. 9712126215. [Summary and Emphasis added by Cora Agatucci.]

Afrique, je te plumerai "reveals the colonialist and neocolonialist methods of exploitation and subjugation. At times, the artistry renders some of the mesmerizing sequences of torture too ethereal or attractive for the viewer, but it is this enchantment that also compels the viewer to examine, confront and contemplate the real images behind the illusion." The film "is an intensive study of one nation's history - that of Cameroon. However, Afrique does offer a continent-wide critique of colonialism, especially cultural colonialism, and openly calls on Africans to reclaim what is theirs. According to Angelo Fiombo, ‘Africa today is linked to the past by a close cause/effect bond: from colonial violence to the single political party, from repression to intolerance.’ It is from this perspective that Afrique verifies this claim with cinematic pyrotechnics. Fiombo notes: ‘In a skillful melange of contemporary images, fiction, important period documents and precious reconstruction, the director venturing into the corridors, often forbidden, of the memory of his country, with a will to reaffirm that "right to speak" which has been denied too long." . . . ." Afrique employs multiple conventions, mixing elements of caustic satire, comedy, music, straightforward didacticism, and neorealistic camera work. The film does not simply ask Africans to wake up to the challenges ahead, it indicts tyranny through a critique of colonial decadence made comprehensible from colonial and neo-colonial histories." Jean-Marie "Teno, the filmmaker, had originally intended to make a film about African publishing. After witnessing the brutal suppression of public demonstrations in Cameroon, however, he decided ‘to examine language as either a tool of liberation or of domination.’ He goes on to state that ‘in confiscating language, in reducing language to codes accessible only to the minority, it becomes easier to silence and exploit the people.'"

"Afrique inundates the viewer with a barrage of images. They are not collages of images in the usual sense, but historical documents and political manifestoes. This strategy is a calculated way of presenting complex histories. The film is carefully researched, emanating as it does from the filmmaker's understanding of the colonial history before his birth, extending into his present life, and made more incisive from his hybrid stance - his status as an exile living in Paris. Teno creates a metacinema that draws from the archival propaganda newsreel images of the colonial media. This media, constituting an unintentional critique of its own history, is evolved by powerful images compelling the viewer to understand the media's impact upon African consciousness; it shows how that consciousness was eroded over the years, paving the way for the creation of more young evolues.(4) Too often Western news media - including films and documentaries - have failed to probe African problems; rather, they report them in a prejudiced and biased manner:

Quotation from Teno’s voiceover in the film: "’I wanted to trace cause and effect between the intolerable present and the colonial violence of yesterday to understand how a country could fail to succeed as a state which was once composed of well-structured, traditional societies.’"

"The many kinds of presentation within the films, such as dramatic narrative, allegorical monologue, and film within a film, diversify the authoritative voice. These forms are also evocative of multiple voices as in Africa's oral tradition, which appropriates many forms of representation in its abundant use of culturally established . . . codes of explication. Since the inception of African cinema, oral tradition has formed the basis of its cultural and aesthetic grounding." "Afrique . . . position[s] the African filmmaker and his audience in a world dominated by injustice, and offer[s] a vehement and sardonic critique of the oppressive mechanisms of power." using "a variety of cinematic approaches to examine history, the self, and the collective in that history, as do many African fiction films."

top of this page

Works Cited & Recommended Resources

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. [First published 1958.] Expanded edition with notes. 1996. London: Heinemann, 2000.

"African Studies Resources." California Newsreel: Library of African Cinema. 21 August 2004 <>.

Afrique: je te plumerai [English: "Africa: I Will Fleece You"]. Dir., Prod., & Narr.: Jean-Marie Téno. [Videotape.]  California Newsreel, 1992.

California Newsreel:
Internet Movie Database:

"Afrique: je te plumerai." California Newsreel: Library of African Cinema. 2004. 21 Aug. 2004

Cham, Mbye (Associate Professor of African Studies, Howard Univ.). "Film Text and Context: Reweaving Africa’s Social Fabric Through Its Contemporary Cinema." California Newsreel: Library of African Cinema. 2004. 21 Aug. 2004 <>.

Dye, Michael. "Street Sounds: The Changing Face of Colonialization." [Rev. of Afrique, Je Te Plumerai.]  1998. Long Reviews. Culture, Communication & Media Studies - CCMS: African Cinema & TV. Univ. of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. 2001. 21 Aug. 2004 <>.

This Review was formerly offered by African Media Project, Michigan State University

Fung, Karen. Films & Videos. Africa South of the Sahara. Stanford University Libraries. 1994-2004.  21 Aug. 2004 <>.
Pathway: Africa South of the Sahara>Browse by Topics>Film

Direct URL:
[still works as of Aug. 2004 ~CA.]

Gikandi, Simon. "Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Literature." In Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. [First published 1958.] Expanded edition with notes. 1996. London: Heinemann, 2000.  ix-xvii.

Gugler, Josef. African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent.  Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2003.

Keita: Heritage of the Griot [French: Keita! L'héritage du griot].  Dir. Dani Kouyaté.  Perf. Seydou Boro, Hamed Dicko, Abdoulaye Komboudri, and Sotigui Kouyaté.  [Videotape.]  Afix Productions-California Newsreel, 1995.

California Newsreel:
Internet Movie Database:

Téno, Jean-Marie. "Imagining Alternatives: African Cinema in the Year 2000." California Newsreel. 21 Aug. 2004 <>.

Thackway, Melissa. Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan Francophone African Film. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2003.

Ukadike, N[wachukwu] Frank. "African Cinematic Reality: The Documentary Tradition as an Emerging Trend." Research in African Literatures, 26.3(Fall 1995): 88 (9 pages). Rpt. Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP: Article A20503127; and EBSCOHost Academic Search Elite (2004): Article No. 9712126215.

Abstract provided by Info Trac Article A17403897: "African cinematic development is analyzed in terms of its relationship to historical circumstances and general film practice. The deviation from a traditional viewpoint of truth and the gradual acceptance of a reformed view that is closer to reality has marked African cinema for the last two decades. A new documentary tradition has emerged that redefines African cinematic 'reality.'"

Abstract provided by EBSCOHost Academic Search Premier, Article 9509184658: "Examines new African documentary practices and the strategies utilized in the construction of cinematic `reality' of Africa. Dichotomous relationship between fiction and documentary film; Nature of the African documentary; Portrayal of social issues, cultural values and politics; Contextual analysis; Personal/ideological manifestations; Characteristics in documentary film practice."

Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank. Black African Cinema. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1994.

"Viewing African Cinema: Six Pointers." California Newsreel: Library of African Cinema. 21 August 2004 <>.  

top of this page

African Films | HUM 211 Home

You are here:  Afrique, je te plumerai - Study Guide & Resources
URL of this webpage:
Last updated: 02 January 2010

Copyright © 1997-2010, Cora Agatucci, Professor of English
Humanities Department, Central Oregon Community College