Malenkaya Vera, The Dormitory Scene

africans in russia

Vera and Sergei are greeted by African students at the dormitory. As mentioned in the previous post about the film.

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.

Genna Visages

africans in russia

Genna Meets Tolya

africans in russia

This image, that I like for Genna’s profile, comes from the scene where Genna first meets Tolya. Here the fighters feel each other out in the first round of their bout. As Tolya is significantly older we have a battle of young vs old, or experience vs naivety as well as black vs white, or us vs them. That a child is used as the point of entry into the discussion on racism should not be overlooked. Cuteness is an easy tool for generating sympathy. Like the Russian girls in the film who find Genna adorable, the viewer is encouraged to feel the same. Does it work?

Taking at face value that the film aims to raise awareness of racism in contemporary Russia. A contradiction arises in that Genna’s cuteness precludes him from being a serious subject. While the subject is not trivial, the main character is, and there is less of a compulsion to take racism seriously.

Gagarin’s Grandson – Van Gogh

africans in russia

What can I say, the choice of placing Genna with an artist as adopted parent immediately condemned my appreciation of the film as cliche. Why does Fedya have to be an artist? He could  be anything, truck driver, banker, anyone. By the law of averages he should be some type of engineer, but no. He is a spiritual adviser, a missionary whose artistic calling is meant to uplift Genna by teaching him to cherish the sublime.

In today’s Russia only an artist with creative personality, on the fringe of the mainstream with an outsider’s outlook on life is capable of proper interaction with a black kid. After all suffering is the way to achievement in art. Increasing the the artist’s burden is an even more surefire way to salvation. Is that what we are meant to understand?

Van Gogh who lopped off his ear to a higher cause is an obvious choice for turning Genna the ignorant miscreant into Genna the enlightened. The complex mysterious personality, the suffering, these are things Genna can relate to as an outcast. Genna is not shown a diamond encrusted skull of Damien Hirst, nor a monograph of Turner Prize winners. A false syllogism is being propagated, you who suffer Genna, are an artist such as he, you just haven’t quite understood it until now.

Africans in Soviet and Russian Films

africans in russia

I am going to begin looking at popular perceptions and ideas about Africa contained in Soviet-era and modern Russian films.  I will post TV screen photographs and my commentary on what I find important, or what it seems the filmmaker thought was important.

This is image is from Gagarin’s Grandson. In addition I plan post images and analysis from Maximka, Circus, Little Vera, Fifteen-Year-Old Captain, Little Red Devils if I can find a copy, and anything else that gets uncovered in the process.