Accepted paper:

Cinema as Religious Experience in Ghana: Hindi Films and Biblical Epics in 1950s and 1960s Accra, Kumasi and Tamale


Katherine Young (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation explores the significance of cinema in the construction of urban religious communities, detailing the kinds of wider mediated cultural imaginaries at play when considering religious experience in Ghana’s early post-colonial urban spaces.

Paper long abstract:

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, cinema became a popular pastime in major urban centres throughout Ghana. This presentation examines cinema as an influential force in shaping urban religious experience in Ghana following Independence in 1957. In Accra, Kumasi and Tamale, cinema was caught between shifting segmentations and distributions of populations in rapidly growing cities, with majority Muslim communities living in segregated Zongo neighbourhoods in town centres, while Christian communities developed outside city centres. Lebanese and Sindhi cinema owners and film distributors were careful to cater to emerging communities developing on religious lines: cinemas nearby majority Muslim Zongo neighbourhoods screened Hindi films, including Albela (1951), Aan (1952) and Mother India (1957), that featured Islamicate iconography and key words borrowed from Urdu's Perso-Arabic lexicon (Dwyer 2006; Kesavan 1994). In contrast, cinemas surrounding majority Christian communities played biblical epics, such as Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Ten Commandments (1956), and other stories concerning Christianity, including The Sound of Music (1965). Exploring early urban cinema viewership in post-colonial Ghana reveals a multiplicity of urban communities "thinking religiously about and around film" (Wright 2007). Cinematic experiences, songs and stories encouraged shared recreational dimensions to religious experience in the city for both Muslim and Christian communities. As such, cinema became a significant factor in the development of urban religious community culture in Ghana's early post-colonial urban spaces.

panel P179
Urbanity, Religiosity and Inter-Religiosity in Contemporary Africa