Pornography of Poverty: The Pity Games

What are the first three words that come to mind when thinking about Africa? Poverty? AIDS? Genocide? Better yet, what are the first three images? Having grown up during the rise of the tear jerking, white guilting and money demanding “Sponsor a child in Africa” commercials, I had my perception of Africa drawn up for me. I was convinced at an early age that Africans were the definition of the “third world”.

Remember this guy?
Remember this guy?

But, over the years, these commercials lost their impact. I became numb and unattached, even to the most depressing Ken-Burns induced imagery. But Why?

The answer is Poverty Porn.

Angelina Jolie photo accused of poverty porn

Poverty Pornography has had critical implications on international development because it alters the western world’s perception of the third world. Poverty Porn is any media form that exploit’s impoverished people’s condition in order to gain sympathy from the viewer and increase charitable donations. This term is most associated with black, poverty-stricken Africans, and focus mainly on helpless children. This damaging pornography (what pornography isn’t damaging?), has painted the picture of a feeble, dependent and pitiful continent.

Somali pirates in Captain Phillips
Somali pirates in Captain Phillips

In addition to the stereotypes of needy villages, Africa has another media fueled image: The Angry African Man. When the western world see African men, it is mainly through the Hollywood lens. With viral videos like Kony 2012, award winning movies like Captain Phillips and white-man-savior-archetypes like the Machine Gun Preacher, African men are nothing short of bloodthirsty and war crazed villains. Many Hollywood productions exploit the western world’s lack of knowledge of Africa and instills pity and fear of the unpredictable nature of Africans. This isn’t the 17th century, so why are we propagating “fear the inferior” propaganda in our media?

Well, it is time to reimagine Africa.

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 9.56.58 PM

“Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential.”

 This is the mission of the California-based organization, Mama Hope.

“We started this series so you could begin to reimagine Africa. It is only when people are no longer seen through the stereotypes of poverty that we can begin to see we are not so different from each other. We wanted our supporters to see that Africa is full of progress, potential, and hope. The “Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential” video campaign is our first step towards building a global society based on hope and connection. If you agree with us, join our movement and raise awareness!” – Mama Hope’s Mission Statement

The Mama Hope series began with this viral video:

Released on the heels of the Kony 2012 video explosion, this video works to revitalize a relationship between the viewer and the organization’s goal, providing a platform for African voice and personality. Nyla Rodgers, the founder of Mama Hope, created the nonprofit in order to help develop education, health, and children’s programs in Africa. Using this positive mentality, Mama Hope is using intelligent, socially responsible and culturally aware native people to illustrate the bigger picture of Africa. And they’re funny too. When asked about Mama Hope’s lack of negative perspective, Mama unicefHope’s blog responded in saying:

“While such tragedies do affect certain populations of the large continent, they should not be used as a defining tool or marketing strategy. It’s just plain inaccurate.”- Mama Hope Blog 

Mama Hope is an organization that has changed the way many people see Africa and African’s potential. The organization doesn’t want support because you feel sorry for them, they want support because you believe in them. This refreshing marketing strategy allows Africans to take back the image of themselves

and their country. Using this campaign, hopefully Mama Hope can help to stop the western media’s negative representations of Africa and it’s people.

Another fun video from Mama Hope, highlighting an African’s view of Americans based solely on Hollywood stereotypes:



3 thoughts on “Pornography of Poverty: The Pity Games

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s