Boobs & Blacks – Malenkaya Vera

africans in russia

Malenkya Vera, Little Vera, or Little Hope is the story of run-of-the-mill teen angst taking vengeance upon the family unit. We are shown the destructiveness of not listening to one’s elders. Rambunctious Vera with her garbled red-herring fancies ruins the lives of her mother, father, brother, and lover husband. She is left with nothing but stark failure and despair as the curtain drops. She has ruined her life as well.

With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, one cannot help but recognize the ulcerous nature of this film. These and other “chernukha”, blackness, films of the era are dots from gastric juices, liver spots, symptomatic of the crumbling superpower. A failure of groupthink on the part of the censors. Or an ocean floor hotspot of Bakhtinian carnivalesque magma.

From this, it follows that Africans in the dormitory, and the small boy seemingly out of nowhere represent simultaneously both the liberation of Soviet society and its upheaval. But how is any of this evidence one way or the other of African identity under colonization in Russia?

First, the dormitory scene. Vera and her new husband Sergei are met with a surprise celebration in the dormitory. While Vera is charmed, Sergei is mortified. Here we must tip our hats to the censors who did not delete the scene, or perhaps even put it in. Remember, the Soviet film industry never ceases to be a machine of propaganda. The reaction of Vera and Sergei is not an artistic statement but a mandate to follow. The audience is being shown the proper way to understand Africans. Like Vera it is acceptable to be amused by their exotic nature. But be skeptical and wary of them like Sergei, they are different, and could be dangerous, keep them at a distance.

The origin of the little black boy, Chistyakova’s brother, goes unexplained in the film. It is never explicitly stated if he is the child of a Russian-African encounter, Africans, or just the Soviet Union.  He seems “Russian” enough and liked, or at least accepted by Vera whom he refers to affectionately as auntie, but the main scene when he sits and watches the Dr. Aibolit cartoon, a sing-song warning children against Africa for fear of crocodiles and gorillas,  is a curiosity. More accurately, a half-baked idea designed to draw attention to itself.

The boy is shown in close-up with food on his face. Is this supposed to show his inferiority, his slovenliness. He is not clean like a pure Russian child? Or do we think of him as just another kid and act on maternal compulsion to wipe off his face. It would be fair to side with the second assertion were he not watching this specific cartoon. He could be watching any number of others but he is not. An African boy is watching a cartoon warning kids not to go to Africa. It’s senseless and mildly absurd. There is no deeper meaning, it’s simply an advertising gimmick. Like minutes earlier when Vera bears her breasts, it is sensational with no intrinsic or artistic value in its own right. The film would not alter in the slightest without this scene.

Africans in Malenkaya Vera are members of an exotic other-world, foreign and alien, “them” not “us”, peculiar beings from outside reality as it is prescribed to be. By promoting their stranger status we are given tacit permission to behave toward them with alternative conventions.

African-Type Dolls

africans in russia

These hand crafted doll sculptures by Inga Butina (site seems to be inoperative) were recently for sale as objects of art at the Moscow Fine Art Fair in the Central House of Artists. From the artist’s statement:

“Hard times penetrate the soul with the sounds of African ethnicity.  Truth stiflingly weeps tears of  timelessness,  covered by the slime of a city indifferent to life, drowned in lamp-light and the wild dancing of black and white thoughts on vitality. And in the mixed song, the sky sings of childhood and the sensitivity hidden in the utmost feminine origins of boys’ creations in your name and image, that look upon the creations of the world.”

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