Gendering Decolonial Counter-Visuality in Joris Postema’s Stop Filming Us: The Marginalization of Congolese Women’s Oppositional Gaze

Younghoo Yoo

Keywords: intersectionality; counter-visuality; oppositional gaze; black female spectators; androcentrism

Participation: presential

"Why are you photographing us? Where are you going with our photos?", shouted a group of Congolese women, covering their faces with scarves to resist being photographed by a local male photographer. Photography, to these women, was associated with Belgian colonial and neocolonial legacies. To the male photographer, however, it meant a decolonizing strategy to take “positive” local images that subverts the "negative" Western depictions of Congo. This is a scene from the documentary Stop Filming Us (2020), specifically where Dutch director Joris Postema filmed a Congolese male photographer taking pictures of unwilling Congolese women in a market in the city of Goma. Throughout this meta-documentary, Postema follows and interviews Congolese photographers, filmmakers, and artists who collectively struggle to decolonize the negative Western- produced humanitarian images of Congo, by representing a positive local counter-image. The Dutch director himself is a co-filmed subject, his act of filming itself decried within the film as “neocolonial” by the Congolese. My paper frames such Congolese resistance against the Western filmmaker as practices of “decolonial counter-visuality”, a concept proposed by visual studies scholar Nicholas Mirzoeff. The film stirred international controversy; the Dutch director was charged with neocolonial approach because he was filming the Congolese who requested him to “stop filming us”. However, the critics overlook that the Congolese' positive counter-image is produced at the cost of silencing another cry of “stop filming us” coming from within, those of the Congolese women; The indifference to women's resistance to being filmed was justified by the Congolese and Dutch male filmmakers' decolonial purposes. This inattention reveals neglect for gender within decolonial struggles. My gendered approach traverses the dichotomy of what I call “the West versus the vernacular” to address the politics of race and gender in decolonial strategies. Drawing on bell hook's notion of the oppositional gaze, I expose the androcentrism of decolonial counter-visuality practice; how a distorted imagination of a unified collective "decolonial resistance" marginalizes black female spectators by neglect for gender. I argue that Congolese women are mobilized for a positive counter- image of Goma but silenced and exploited in decolonial strategies of Congolese men. I demonstrate that an intersectional approach incorporating the perspective of gender is critical for analyzing decolonial strategies. Moreover, I show how such intersectional questioning of decolonial resistance intensifies the critique of the neocolonial visual economy. Specifically, attention to intersectionality reveals how the neocolonial visual economy systematically replaces the potential of a black female oppositional gaze with a forced Western humanitarian gaze. An intersectional decolonial perspective magnifies and deconstructs not only racialized but gendered structures intertwined in the neocolonial visual economy. My examination into the gendered “periphery” within decolonial image-making discourse in Congo implies that the “vernacular” character of the decolonial image alone does not guarantee an equitable representation. Decolonial studies should not assume its subject to be immune from inequalities within. To examine beyond the mere importance of vernacular counter-images and knowledge, we must inquire into the politics of their gender domination for which an intersectional approach is critical.


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Younghoo Yoo is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Seoul National University. Her research interests include gender intersectionality, decolonization, and media anthropology. She is particularly interested in decolonizing visuality with intersectional perspectives. She was elected the leader of the 2021 ASEAN-Korea Youth Summit, organized by South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. In that capacity, she led 100 international youths in proposing a recommendation to governments on the issue of digital inclusion. She was also the leader of Art&Sharing, Seoul’s non-profit organization that held art exhibitions and performances to raise the voices of the youth on social issues. Her passion for visuality and media comes from her teenage experience in organizing a local film festival that has featured her own film.