Film series: African Languages, Literature, and Film

scene from the film RAFIKI
RAFIKI (2018, dir. Wanuri Kahiu)

The Institute for African Development and Cornell Cinema are pleased to present “African Languages, Literature, and Film,” a year-long celebration of African languages centered on film adaptations of works of African literature. 

The series begins on Wednesday, September 27 at 7pm with a screening of the short documentary Talking Black in America – Roots, which explores linguistic connections among the peoples and societies of West Africa and the African Diaspora. The film is the third program in the Emmy Award-winning series Talking Black in America, which includes five interrelated documentaries on African American language and culture and their transformative influence on the United States and beyond.

Filmed in Ghana, The Bahamas, and throughout the United States, Talking Black in America – Roots follows the unique circumstances of the descendants of the American slaves and their incredible impact on American life and language. Through interviews with sociologists, historians, linguistics specialists, and community leaders, the film traces how speech varieties from the African American community reflect the imprint of African language systems, the influences of regional British and Southern American dialects, and the creativity and resilience of people living through oppression, segregation, and the fight for equality.

Next up on Wednesday, October 4 at 7pm, the series continues with Biyi Bandele’s 2014 film, Half of a Yellow Sun, which is based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s evocative novel about Nigeria’s Biafran war. Set in the late 1960’s, the film centers on two glamorous sisters from a wealthy Nigerian family, Olana and Kainene (played by Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose), whose paths diverge upon their return home from schooling abroad in England and amidst the political turmoil of the Nigerian civil war. After a betrayal amongst the sisters, Olana shocks her family by marrying a “revolutionary” professor, and Kainene pursues a career as a businesswoman and surprises herself by falling in love with an English writer.

Initially preoccupied by their own romantic dramas, the sisters soon become caught up in the events of the civil war, during which the Igbo people sought to establish Biafra as an independent republic, and which ended in shocking violence. This English-language romantic drama—playwright Biyi Bandele’s directorial debut—is a powerful tale of individual lives swept into the promise, disappointment, and trauma of civil war.

This film is also presented in collaboration with the program “Voices & Visions in Black Media: Centering New Directions in Nollywood,” which is curated by Rejoice Abutsa, a doctoral student in the Department of Performing and Media Arts. The program is organized by Samantha N. Sheppard, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, and generously supported by the Department of Performing and Media Arts.

 The fall series concludes on Tuesday, November 7 at 7pm with Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki (2018).  Rafiki English- and Swahili-language film based on “Jambula Tree,” an award-winning short story by the Uganda writer Monica Arac de Nyeko. Bursting with the colorful street style and music of Nairobi’s vibrant youth culture, the film is a tender love story between two young women in a country that still criminalizes homosexuality. Kena and Ziki (played by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva) have long been told that “good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives”, meanwhile, they both yearn for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls encourage each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, Kena and Ziki are forced to choose between happiness and safety. 

Initially banned in Kenya for its positive portrayal of queer romance, Rafiki won a landmark supreme court case that helped chip away at Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation. The film was the first Kenyan feature film to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival 2018 as part of the Official Un Certain Regard selection. The film also features as part of our New Queer Cinema series, which is cosponsored by the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and the LGBT Resource Center at Cornell.

“African Languages, Literature, and Film” is generously sponsored by the Institute for African Development at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

All films are free and open to all. This series will continue in the spring semester with new films added for your enjoyment. 


Talking Black in American – Roots    
Produced by Neal Hutcheson, Danica Cullinan, Walt Wolfram, Renée Blake, 2022
Wednesday, September 27, 2023, at 7 pm

Half a Yellow Sun
Directed by Biyi Bandele, 2014
Wednesday, October 4, 2023, at 7 pm

Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, 2018
Tuesday, November 7, 2023, at 7 pm

Related films

scene from the film HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

Half of a Yellow Sun


Three young men stand smiling and posing on a beach

Talking Black in America – Roots


scene from the film RAFIKI