In this essay I discuss the racial discourse underlying the regulation of space, actor movement, and gesture inThe Rose of Rhodesia (1918), whose animation and restraint of black characters, by communicating a message of interracial brotherhood and reconciliation, appear to address real-life tensions between colonial masters and subjects. Shaw’s film is inflected by local as well as global discourses on race and imperialism, and scholars have noted that his South African productions—first and foremost in De Voortrekkers / Winning a Continent(1916)—were stylistically influenced by D. W. Griffith’s epic The Birth of a Nation (1915). My discussion initially focuses upon the similar, yet subtly different, racial thematics of these melodramas, which I situate in two contexts: the regulatory aspects of Sub-Saharan film production; and what I call an imperial ethics of care, a global discourse on race linked to the late-Victorian British media. I then examine the striking way in which the principal black actor, Yumi, appears to have been directed to use a histrionic mode of acting which had been largely abandoned by Hollywood directors. This return to what Roberta E. Pearson has dubbed the “eloquent gestures” of film melodrama, I argue, can be related to two linked problems for white settlers: the supposed inability of Africans to comprehend cinema; and the risk of black insurgency. In directing his African actors to use an antiquated, histrionic style comprised of unambiguous poses and extravagantly courteous gestures, Shaw sought to fix the film’s meaning for black and white audiences alike.
2009. no 26