The African Perspective: Ras Mutabaruka on Telling Nuanced African Stories


The African Perspective: Ras Mutabaruka prefers to tell African stories from the sidelines. However, at Culturs, we’re about uncovering voices hidden in plain sight. So, this extraordinary Rwandan filmmaker, community builder and activist did not miss our radar. Mutabaruka’s story shows how living in between cultures can be harnessed for good.

Ras Mutabaruka — Who is he?

Ras Matabaruka Self Portrait. Photo courtesy of Ras Mutabaruka
Self Portrait of Mutabaruka. Photo courtesy of Ras Mutabaruka.

The African Perspective

From a young age, Mutabaruka recognized the diversity within the African experience. He left Rwanda for Kenya during the genocide. Doing so, he had to expand how he saw Africa. He notes that his experience as a refugee in the Congo and Tanzania and then later living in Nairobi was the catalyst. It made him eager to tell nuanced African stories.

“When I moved to Canada for the first time, I had access to a computer and a TV. It was the first time I knew how other people viewed people like me. I guess I was angry about how Africa was often portrayed in the media.”

“We’d see these images of African children and people impoverished. And when I went to university, it was all about corruption, poverty and disease. I don’t like to feel defeated, so instead of complaining, I started writing stories about different people and that’s how The African Perspective was born.”

Showcasing the African Perspective

The African Perspective - Ras Mutabaruka conducting an interview. Photo courtesy of Ras Mutabaruka.
Mutabaruka conducting an interview. Photo courtesy of Ras Mutabaruka.

The African Perspective—or TAP—is a digital and print communication hub bringing diverse African stories to a global audience. TAP TV, which is the company’s film wing, released the widely acclaimed documentary, “Homecoming.”

The eight episode documentary series follows five young African female entrepreneurs. These women leave the West to start businesses in their homelands. Mutabaruka references how a conversation at the African Union Diaspora in Khartoum sparked his idea to focus on women and their returnee experiences.

Adding New Depth

“I was interviewing the lady who runs the directorate. She mentioned how in the diaspora space, young women are a not always present. It’s a space that’s full of old men. It was very intentional to show how young women are returning home. And among young people, women are the ones who are leading the movements I’m aware of.”

“Homecoming” is as a great example for how those of us living in-between cultures can embrace our legacies while we create new ones. The film does highlights how African women integrate into their ancestral culture. While also maintaining culturally fluid perspectives.

The African Perspective - Mutabaruka on the set of Homecoming with returnee Chrital Beek. Photo courtesy of Ras Mutabaruka.
Mutabaruka on the set of Homecoming with returnee Chrital Beek. Photo courtesy of Ras Mutabaruka.

Shifting the Narrative

Mutabaruka speaks about the need for more stories that show the complexities of Afro-Diasporic identity.

“I think we’re one of the biggest communities unrepresented in media. I don’t think our contributions are matched by any other institution or people. We contribute more money than the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank. We contribute our skills and knowledge.”

“I wanted to start a trend of telling African Diaspora stories because there are so many rich experiences.” He also wanted to tap into the hidden community of African returnees leaving the West to challenge the belief that all immigrants are eager to leave their homelands.

“There’s this narrative that every African wants to jump in a boat and cross over to Europe or America. To some extent there’s truth to that, but there are thousands of people who want to go back to the continent. And this story is always missed. Since I’ve been in Canada I have yet to meet a young African person who doesn’t want to move back to their country.”  

Mutabaruka filming Homecoming in Ghana. Photo courtesy by Ras Mutabaruka.

Charting a New Pathway

Discussing the multifaceted topic of migration, The African Perspective reveals heartache that can come from dreams deferred. Black immigrants often express sadness. From navigating systemic racism, economic insecurity and culture shock. The pervasiveness of these realities can crowd out the hope people enter into their new countries with. Keeping a positive attitude can be difficult when it feels like no matter your skill and talent “there’s a metal ceiling.”

He notes how the past decade has forced many Black immigrants to grapple with the racial injustices they navigate in the West. Acknowledging this reality has led many to identify with a global Black movement where they can find comfort while looking for solutions.    

“What happened to George Floyd and Trayvon Martin. You can almost argue that these institutions are not built with us in mind. Some of us decide that instead of dealing with this mental stress and fatigue, it’s better to go somewhere where we can find a pathway.”

A Nuanced African Story  

Africans are creating new pathways to find opportunities while advocating for meaningful change from their specific locales. More poignantly, the idea that success is only attainable in the West is steadily shifting.  

The last few years has given us canonical works from the likes of Blitz Bazawule, Chimamanda Adichie, Dennis Ansah, Edwidge Danticat, Jidenna, Mutua Mathenge, Burna Boy, Beyonce and Elsa Majimbo. These artists have brought important conversations about our common threads and differences to the mainstream. Marvel’s Black Panther ignited a global discussion about Wakanda while we excavated our shared and complicated histories.  When Mutabaruka says, “it’s an exciting time to be an African creative,” it’s because he knows more important dialogues will emerge from this vibrant renaissance.

In 2021, the African story is about presenting narratives of nuance that allows a multiplicity of experiences to take center stage. The filmmaker applauds how the convergence of social media, movement-building and youth culture is showing the world that people of African origins are fundamentally a multicultural people.

“There are all these voices ready to uplift the African story. I think Africa is one of the most diverse places in the world. When you add all these other communities; African-Americans, Colombians, Jamaicans, everyone that has African heritage wants to be a part of this movement.”

Listening Across Difference

The work of amplifying underrepresented communities is about the long haul. Many artists understand this. Mutabaruka, true to his self reflective nature, calls on everyone within the African Diasporic community to continue listening to each other.

“Sit back and learn and embrace others. Hopefully, when COVID is done we can travel. Meet people and see their experiences. I want to go to Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and to any space where there are people of African descent. I want to amplify our voices together.”

Ras Mutabaruka is a Rwandan/Canadian entrepreneur, media maker, and community-builder. Mutabaruka has dedicated his work to changing the way the world sees and thinks about Africa. One story at a time.

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  1. Having insight and personal experiences coming from people from those specific cultures allows for the elimination of Eurocentric and westernized perspectives. Not having these mindsets and mentalities provides genuine education and understanding of these cultures and can allow for the reader to discern the comparisons and contrasts from their own culture. When it comes to Africa and the countries within that continent, there is a negative connotation and assumption towards it and how developed they are as a society and culture. Providing these stories from people who have lived in these countries and also have experience with other cultures provides insight for people who are not knowledgeable and are uninformed to know better from their assumptions and to acknowledge that they are still human and developed within those countries.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this article. I hate that there is less representation among African culture but it excites me that there are working efforts to put some of these incredible people in the limelight. I also liked that women’s roles and the amount of importance they hold were addressed. I think when there’s multiple under-appreciated people within one minority group, it is hard to fight for each marginalized group within these underrepresented areas; therefore, I think it was a positive attribute to the article that the author included. I look forward to hearing more about this topic and I can’t wait to see how the shift in narrative affects society.

  3. I think there is so much underrepresentation in the media about many cultures and African culture is one of them. While I was reading this article I was reminded of Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk on the Danger of a Single Story. A lot of what Ras Mutabaruka feels seems to be very similar to what Adiche had mentioned in her Ted Talk. I think it is great to see more representation of different African culture and I am very interested in watching “Homecoming”.

  4. This really opened up my eyes. it is really sad that people of color have to deal with these types of situations. racism is a thing that has become normalized and i feel like the more people that stands up the better it will get.

  5. It’s disappointing, to put it mildly, that popular media has perpetuated the idea that “success is only attainable in the West.” It’s been great that we have seen more representations of successful people from African backgrounds, but even better are the ambitions of people like Ras Mutabaruka that want to continue creating new pathways and positive, complex representations through media. It’s an inspiring and encouraging thought that as society tries to climb out of the dark times of rampant racism, a “vibrant renaissance” of art and creativity could guide us towards a brighter, more accepting world.

  6. The establishment of TAP is a valuable attempt to make Africa been heard by the world. As mentioned in the article, Africa has long been portrayed as a poor place. However, after reading this article, I realized that this opinion is prejudice. Many Africans are also longing for their homeland. mutual understanding is necessary for mutual respect. TAP is a platform to present the charm of Africa. It would also enhance the pride of Africans in their homeland. To achieve positive communication among various cultures, an effective channel for presentation is necessary. I am so glad to read this article and find that there are a group of people who struggled to speak for Africa.

  7. Growing up in America, I would always see Africa being portrayed as a poor, impoverished country that needed saving. This is how Africa was portrayed in the media and even in churches. Churches would often celebrate their ability to go on a mission to Africa to help the children. However, I’m just starting to hear of what Africa is truly like, and I’m a college senior. I believe The African Perspective is important and needs to be heard by everyone. The African Perspective challenges the idea that success can only be made in America and that all Africa’s natives want to flee their country.

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