This website follows a series of multi-media projects in which artists, journalists and everyday people report and connect on-line around global soccer in Africa.
Black Star: The People’s Game
a film directed by Jesse Weaver Shipley
Black Rage Productions
Chinua Achebe Centre for Global Africana Arts
Black Star: The People’s Game is a documentary film shot in Accra, Ghana and Johannesburg, South Africa follows players, coaches, fans, artists, and business people as the National team, the Black Stars prepare for and participate in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Through the eyes of Ghanaian participants we follow the drama on the field and behind-the-scenes at the worlds largest sports event, which will be held on the African continent for the first time. Exploring the cultural life of African football provides a little-known perspective on the passions of nationalism, youth aspirations through football and business, and conflicts over resources.
Since the early 1980s Ghana’s relatively peaceful political landscape and developing service industry infrastructure have been seen as a positive example of privatization and structural adjustment. President Obama chose Ghana as the first African country to visit in the early months of his presidency, explicitly highlighting Ghana’s relative stability, development, and free market potential. As Obama expressed in Accra, Africa has vast and often unrealized potential. This notion of Africa’s latent potential is especially pertinent as the World Cup in South Africa is seen as a chance to attract tourism, economic investment, and attention for young African soccer players from European clubs, scouts, and fans.
Ghana like much of Africa is passionate about the sport. When Ghana beat the United States in the 2006 World Cup, the country turned into one giant street party driven by national pride as well as fueled by its resentment of global powers like the US. The win was seen as a mark of national pride and seemed to raise the hopes and confidence of the nation. Because of Ghana’s national history as a center of Pan-Africanist unity, the national football squad is seen by many South Africans, African Diasporans, and others to represent ideals of black unity. This is reflected in the Ghanaian team’s name, the Black Stars. Issues of racial and national identity are often manifested through the team’s success and failure. With Ghana’s good showing in the last Cup and its success at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, Ghana gained an international reputation as a potential giant killer.
In South Africa
The World Cup in South Africa will provide a lens to examine human rights issues and changing understandings of Africa for global audiences through the personal dramas of players and other related participants. The Black Star’s recent success puts them at the forefront of this African-based World Cup. As soccer is seen, paradoxically, as both apolitical and highly politicized, the World Cup provides a space for direct and indirect conversations about histories of colonial oppression and political corruption. The sport is popular across class, ethnic, and political lines in participating countries and has often been seen as one of the few activities that can supersede local conflicts. The World Cup is being explicitly marketed as an opportunity for the African continent to represent itself, its history, and its cultures to a global audience that usually focuses on the negative aspects of life in Africa or continues to see the continent as trapped in an exoticized past. Soccer is the most popular international sport, but with larger-than-life players being paid inordinate amounts of money it also highlights global disparity through the poverty and inequality in countries like Ghana and South Africa. Football on a global scale provides regular people with images of success and possibility. Ghana’s team with both young local players and huge international celebrities embodies many of those hopes and beliefs.
Many around the world doubt South Africa’s ability to host a successful Cup. South Africa has been in the news for rising rates of HIV/AIDS, political corruption, violence, and crime. Recently a company was criticized for scaring away potential fans by marketing “stab-proof” vests to potential World Cup visitors to South Africa. Hosting of the Cup is seen by many in South Africa as a chance to rise above local and international stereotypes about crime and present the nation as a leader in Africa and an international destination. The country has spent huge amounts of money in attempts to construct transportation infrastructure and stadiums for the event in the hopes that this will lead to economic stimulation. The state has struggled to maintain control over informal economic sectors, especially sex work, that are a part of major events like the Cup. With xenophobic violence in South Africa in 2008 against workers from other African countries the stage is set for the World Cup to present a flash point for loyalties and conflicts from across the continent as well as the potential to imagine Pan-Africanist and nationalist loyalties through soccer success.
This film provides the chance to present complex research questions to a popular audience: How does the presence of the World Cup in Africa affect perceptions of life in Africa? What do success, celebrity, and aspiration mean for African youth? How do cosmopolitan Africans negotiate racial and class differences? How does the media shape the way that fans and participants understand the disjuncture between the home country and other places through football? How are the increasing ties between Africa and Europe through football affecting the possibilities for young African players? What is the role of internet and electronic media in linking dispersed publics around the sport? How are the historical links and disjuncture across African countries and Europe re-imagined with the increasingly incorporation of African players, teams, and sponsors into a Euro-centric football imaginary? How is masculinity shaped through a valorization of football? These questions will be covered and answered through the interviews and view points provided by the characters in the film.
The film is intended for popular audiences in Ghana and around the world to bring global attention to youth and sport in Africa and to document Ghana’s recent rise in international soccer prestige. This film uses Ghana’s participation in the World Cup as a frame, it focuses on the people who revolve around soccer. While most sports oriented films focus on stars, we look at the grassroots social aspects of why soccer is the world’s most popular sport. It highlights the concerns of local fans, t-shirt sellers, journalists, and the mass of young Ghana-based amateur players who aspire to stardom and often understand the world through the lens of soccer. Soccer’s immense popularity across Africa—indeed it is often referred to as a religion of the people—gives insight into how a new generation of youth imagine their place in the world.
This film and multi-media projects involves a series of interwoven travel narratives showing how various characters dealing with widely divergent struggles intersect around the World Cup. We follow Ghana’s participation in the World Cup through the eyes of a number of Ghanaians invested in sport from multiple cultural, economic, and emotional angles. This film interweaves verite footage and formal interviews following the narrative progress of the nation as Ghanaians prepare, train, argue about, photograph, write songs, scheme, make business plans revolving around the Black Star participation in the World Cup. From May-June we will film in Accra and from June-July we will film will in South Africa. After the end of the World Cup we will do follow-up shoots in Ghana, South Africa, and Europe with players and others to see the effects of the World Cup after the excitement has died down. We will look at both the Ghanaian community in South Africa and the large West African contingent who will go to South Africa for the event. We will provide an on-the-ground perspective on the Cup through the eyes of visiting Ghanaian media representatives, fans, coaches and players. Our central question is what tensions and conflicts arise when a major international event with mass commercial and media appeal and its images of hope, unity, and aspiration comes into local spaces of South Africa dominated by intense economic struggles. South Africa represents the economic hopes of the continent as well as the inter-continental violence of recent years. So the World Cup is poised as an event that will bring together the most potent possibilities and disasters from across Africa. We have set up a number of characters and will continue to follow them. How well Ghana does at the World Cup and unexpected personal conflicts and successes, will dictate the direction of our story. Most of the characters below have been given small HD cameras to record informal footage over a period of time when we are not shooting more formally. This is being collected and edited to post on our developing website to give the characters a web-presence and help an audience become familiar with their struggles.
A central conflict in the World Cup is between young aspiring African players who have been successful at making it to international club teams and local youth who desperately aspire to play and travel abroad. Young fans and players try to raise money to travel to South Africa in hopes of making international connections to help their career. Young Ghanaians watch the World Cup with incredible sophistication, understanding global economics through their knowledge of football politics and the aesthetics of play.
Most African national team players also play for foreign club, mostly in Europe. Tension develops between national sentiment and support and jealousy. Events around the World Cup highlight conflicts between local people suffering and the wealth of European football. Local youth desperately plot to take advantage of this unique opportunity and gain exposure in front of those from abroad. Also managers and scouts try to take advantage of naïve youth to make money on shady player trades. We have begun to follow these clandestine stories and established inside connections with players, managers, and journalists that will allow us to develop this more clearly.
The World Cup is seen as a major financial opportunity. There is a desperate, anxious sense that everyone must take advantage of what possibilities present themselves. Team jersey and gear sales are big business and selling jerseys legally requires official approval from the Ghana Football Association. Sponsorship from major global corporations like Coca-Cola, Guinness, MTN, and Goldfields inject large sums of money into Ghana for name recognition. Sex traffickers are also taking young girls from rural South Africa, West Africa, and across the continent and “preparing” them for work around South Africa’s major centers.
Radio DJ’s, who are well-known national figures in Ghana are promoting the World Cup and will be hosting parties and broadcasts from South Africa. Ghanaian hip hop/hiplife musicians are writing songs for the team. Photographers and journalists are important public figures in Ghana. Following them and their conversations and struggles to link international events to local audiences will help show our central conflict between local and international worlds and what happens when they come together in close proximity. The National Supporters Union with corporate support organizes musicians and supporters to travel with the national team.