Murphy D (2014) Lost in Music? Race, Culture and Identity in Rage (Newton I. Aduaka, 2000). In: Bisschoff L & Murphy D (eds.) Africa’s Lost Classics: New Histories of African Cinema. Moving Image, 5. Oxford: Legenda, pp. 161-166. http://www.legendabooks.com/titles/isbn/9781907975516.html
First paragraph: It might well be argued that the cinematic career of Newton I. Aduaka has been a case study in how a filmmaker and at least certain of his films can become lost. Born in Eastern Nigeria in 1966 (in the troubled context of the Biafran War), he moved to the UK in 1985 and soon abandoned an electronic engineering degree to study film at the London International Film School, from which he graduated in 1990. His first big break in cinema came when he was hired to work as sound engineer on Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Quartier Mozart (Cameroon/France, 1992). In 1997, he set up his own production company, Granite FilmWorks, alongside Maria Elena L’Abbate, with a youthful zeal (which he has not lost in his mid-40s) to create personal, cutting-edge, uncompromising films. After a series of short films, he made his first feature Rage (UK, 2000), which was hailed as the first truly independent film by a black filmmaker to gain a national release in Britain. A critically well-received film that explores issues of race, culture, class and identity in working-class south London, Rage was also very successful in international film festivals, winning several prizes, including Best Director at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and the Prix Oumarou Ganda (for the Best First Feature) at FESPACO in 2001. However, instead of carving out a cultural niche as a director interested in liminal, troubled identities in multicultural Europe, Aduaka returned to West Africa for his second feature, the harrowing drama Ezra (2007), about a child soldier from that region’s brutal civil wars of the 1990s (Sierra Leone and Liberia), who attempts to rebuild his life and face up to his past. Ezra made a major splash on the African cultural scene, winning its director the prize for Best Film at FESPACO in 2007. The film also enjoyed a respectable career on the international circuit, its topical subject matter as much as its aesthetics permitting it to reach an audience so often denied to African film. But, then Aduaka’s career took yet another left turn: wary of being called upon less as a director than as a commentator on violence in Africa, he began to make short films (in which race/Africa were not always prominent) often about the bohemian middle-classes in Paris, the new city in which he had settled with his young family. Despite the previous success of Ezra, funders such as ARTE were reluctant to fund his new projects, and he resolved to make his most recent feature film, One Man’s Show (2012), on a shoestring budget, the script workshopped (in French, a language Aduaka admits not to have mastered) over several weeks with a small group of trusted actors, in particular Emile Abossolo M’bo and Aïssa Maïga: this intimate, compelling tale of a black actor’s mid-life crisis has toured the festival circuit but seems unlikely to get a general release in the art house cinemas of Europe or North America, as it appears to defy expectations of what African cinema should be.