Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's 'Under the Skin of the City' animates an essential question of political filmmaking: how to balance fidelity to social reality with the often more compelling and convincing dictates of dramatic fiction. In the opening scene of the film Tuba, a late-middle-aged woman, stares with bewilderment into the lens of a documentary crew's camera and is unable to answer their questions about an upcoming election. She and her fellow gray-haired, shawl-covered factory workers are too involved in the problems of their everyday lives to be concerned. She says that she hopes the politicians will address these issues. Her coworkers' voices join hers, creating a cacophony that seems to chase the image away as the screen fades to black. We continue to hear their voices while the opening titles roll. When the image returns, it is in the midst of a fictional world, or at least a world where the camera does not acknowledge its own presence.
The failure to build a black African film industry during the 1970s and into the 1980s--despite the valiant efforts of individual film-makers and a number of governments--is hardly surprising in view of the fact that modern industry of any kind in Africa dates only from World War II when, as John Iliffe points out in 'The Emergence of African Capitalism' (London, Macmillan, 1983, pp. 64-65), 'several circumstances came together to change the old pattern of exported raw materials and imported manufactures': colonial governments seeking to diversify their economies, local European settlers aiming for greater autonomy and foreign firms seeking commercial advantages. As late as 1950 in Nigeria, which was later to become something of an economic giant in black African terms, Iliffe notes (p. 65) that the manufacturing sectors still provided 'only 0.45 per cent of GNP, (the smallest proportion of any country producing statistics).' To the problem of late capitalism was added that of foreigner control: since the initial industrialisation occurred under colonial rule, early industrial enterprises tended to be owned by foreign capital. All Third World film industries have been created by indigenous capital attracted by the profits to be derived from catering to the entertainment needs of the new audience composed of those drawn into the cash economy by urban industrialisation and the rural exodus.