The Colony

A film broadcast by Al Jazeera’s Witness explores the impact of Chinese investment on Africa’s cultural traditions:

See also an interview with filmmakers Xiaoli Zhou and Brent Huffman about the making of the film:

APA: What attracted to the topic of your film, The Colony?

Brent: For some reason, the China-Africa stories are not covered in the United States. When I talk about it at Northwestern [University], it’s the first time some people have heard about it, even though China has put billions of dollars into Africa. They’re almost in every country with economic projects — putting money into infrastructure and pulling resources out of the continent. In some of the stories I’ve seen from England, there would be images of Africans and Chinese working together and living together, and I thought that it must be so strange and surreal, because I saw the Chinese and African cultures as two really different cultures. So with The Colony, we were trying to do a personal story about this Chinese colonization, what the daily interactions were like, what the two cultures thought of each other, and what it means in the long-term, as China is expanding into South America and India. That was something that was really, really difficult to do — to gain access to both cultures.

Xiaoli: Getting access to people you want to talk to is always difficult. We chose to go to Senegal, and there have been a lot of European print journalists who have had difficulty interviewing the Chinese there. Generally, Chinese people don’t open up very quickly, and it takes time for them to gain trust. And it’s even more extreme in that area, because, as we were told, a French journalist finally found someone who would talk, and the story ended up being very negative and one-sided. The Chinese saw it and were furious about what happened, and they decided they didn’t want to talk to anyone anymore.

Brent: I think the British perspective is very negative about the topic in general. [In their reports], there would just be these faraway long shots of the Chinese people, because the Chinese would not talk to them. It was almost like the Chinese community was this inpenetrable wall. And it was smart for the Chinese community to be like that, but the stories [that came out of it] were really negative, because they were [seen as] secretive and mysterious.

Xiaoli: It [the China-Africa situation] is a very hot topic right now, and it is very, very complicated. You can talk about it at different levels — politically, financially, economically. You can do a very comprehensive story aobut it, but it’s so complicated, so what we decided to do was to focus one aspect — to see what these individual Chinese are doing there: why did they go, what they are doing, how does that impact the local community, are there conflicts, and where is this heading?