McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
African Literature, Film, Queer Africa
"'Unorthodox Conduct'" explores positive representations of sexual and gender minorities in African literatures and film from the 1970s to 2010s that dismantle heterosexist notions of African sexuality and work towards what Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o calls "re-membering." I interrogate how literary and cinematic depictions of same-sex sexualities resist contemporary homophobic attitudes, particularly those espoused by government and spiritual leaders. Positive literary and cinematic representations of queer Africans, however, have only emerged in recent years. These literary and cinematic representations are routinely minimized or ignored in academia as valid avenues for the navigation of interpersonal relationships and socio-political strife in queer African communities. Nevertheless, queer African narratives do significant work as they threaten the stability of state-sponsored homophobia and narratives of an authentic and normative African identity. They undermine stereotypes and heterosexist mythologies designed to instill fear and hatred of non-normative identities and sexualities. This project explores several texts: Yulisa Amadu Maddy's novel No Past, No Present, No Future (1973), Chinelo Okparanta's novel Under the Udala Trees (2015), Diriye Osman's short story collection Fairytales for Lost Children (2013), and Laurent Bocahut and Philip Brooks' documentary Woubi chéri (1998). These works provide diverse representations of queer Africa, all of which resist heterosexist notions of a normative "African" identity.
Building upon V.Y. Mudimbe's notion of the "idea of Africa," I contend that at stake in these narratives is control over what "Africa" means and what qualifies as an "African" identity. Tracing the history of queerness within Africa back to Victorian-era anthropological and ethnographic scholarship, as well as Afrocentric thought, I argue that queer African memory has undergone extensive, intentional erasure. Only within the past twenty years have scholars produced rich histories and socio-cultural explanations for same-sex loving and non-gender conforming individuals and communities in various African contexts. Most of this scholarship originates in the fields of anthropology, ethnography, and human rights discourse. I emphasize that literary and cinematic works, too, advocate for the remembrance of queer Africa, though they remain insufficiently studied as effective forms of resistance. Responding to this gap in scholarship, "'Unorthodox Conduct'" centralizes literature and cinema as critical sites of queer African memory as they expand what it means to be African.
Durkin, M. P. (2017). "Unorthodox Conduct": Re-membering Queer Africa in Literature and Film (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/126