A cognitive-hermeneutical approach to audience reception of 'Sisters in Law'

Ayisi, Florence and Brylla, Catalin ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0602-5818 (2011) A cognitive-hermeneutical approach to audience reception of 'Sisters in Law'. In: Women and Film in Africa Conference: Overcoming Social Barriers, 19-20 Nov 2011, London, UK. (Unpublished)

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This paper is based on a pilot audience reception study using focus group research in an African context. We aimed to explore how Cameroonian women respond to, and interpret Sisters in Law (Florence Ayisi & Kim Longinotto, 2005), and thus establish the kinds of meanings and debates generated in the process of actively watching and discussing a documentary film within a specific socio-cultural context. Sisters in Law was funded by Channel 4 Television and has been distributed and exhibited widely around the world in festivals, cinemas and on broadcast television.

Within the wider context of the life cycle of a film text (production – exhibition – reception), our study focuses on the premise that the way audiences interpret a film is directly related to the film text itself. Consequently, this paper will evaluate the responses of the individual focus groups in relation to how film language generates and conveys meaning, and also take in consideration the demographic background of the respective groups. This neo-pragmatic perspective within film hermeneutics ascertains a degree of “textual facticity rather than infinite elasticity or malleability,” (King, 1998) and acknowledges the importance of the audience’s background, as well as the form and aesthetics of audio-visual representation. Thus, our study will encompass close readings of the film, considering notions of narrative structuring, character identification and phenomenology.

In addition, our paper politicises the study of audience reception and places it into a post-colonial and transnational context. Given that this documentary was not targeted to the local (Cameroonian) market, our study aims to also explore how the indigenous audience understands a transnational representation of their own society. This objective is situated within the wider discourse of decolonization of culture, and also what Mahoso (2000) calls a “valuable opportunity that allows the postcolonial ‘silent audiences’ to explore their own consciousness, their own memory, their own space”. Therefore, the wider scope of this reception study is to establish Cameroonian women as cultural readers, and to find out what kinds of debates, dialogues and meanings are generated from their experiences of actively watching a non-fiction film that reflects ‘real’ issues, people and places that they can connect with in relation to identity, gender and religion.

The results sketch a portrait of differing reactions, views and interpretations based on the different socio-cultural and economic backgrounds of the respondents. The conclusions will be expanded to a media-political sphere where we argue that Ideological State Apparatuses (Althusser, 1970) need to embrace more self-reflexive and pluralistic practices, whereby the representation of African women and culture becomes a conscious ideological discourse.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Film and television
Depositing User: Catalin Brylla
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2016 21:26
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:19
URI: https://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1624

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