Arts + Culture

African Hardcore: Behind the Continent's Porn Explosion

From Mapona to Afrocandy, African porn is just taking off. We look at who's making it and, more importantly, who is watching it.

When I was barely a teenager, I found a stash of old porno magazines in my house. I ripped out some of the pages and used them for months to stimulate my sexual curiosity. When my mother eventually found them, she gave me a proper hiding. There was never an open door for us to discuss my sexual urges—something which, when I later spoke with friends, I found out was pretty much the norm. For many young men of my generation, our sex lives began with a dirty American magazine mistakenly passed down from an elder.


For years, my interaction with pornography was coloured with shame. So much so that I began to wonder if there was an African articulation of the primal sexual desires I encountered in American pornography. An articulation that was not so shameful and saturated with dishonour. As I ventured into film criticism I also became acutely aware of the visual language of porn and how it shapes sexual interaction.

There is little writing about African pornography by African academics either from a gender studies or film studies perspective. But while the last seven to nine years have seen a decline in the global output of professionalised porn films, on the African continent the opposite is true.

Porn films from the continent are not immune to the identity questions that plague the wider film community of the region. The very notion of African porn is disruptive because it is not merely geographic. The hyphenated identities of those who categorise themselves as African transcends definitions or geographic binaries and often spills out to the diaspora and beyond.

In the simplest terms one can define African porn as sexual material that is concerned with the sexual pleasure of Africans and is made primarily with those living on the continent and the diaspora in mind.

The reality that most consumers on the continent consume their porn via blue-toothed cellphone videos, bootlegged DVDs and streaming “tube” sites like YouPorn, RedTude, XVideos and PornHub has meant that production values have been severely compromised even as production output rises. But despite this the world is hungry for African pornography. One example is the South African hit Mapona, which has been viewed over seven-million times on XVideos alone and has sold thousands of copies on DVD.

With the growing consumption of pornography also comes an emphasis on locality.

They are tapping into a tradition of storytelling that is part and parcel of the DNA of the genre. Although the films are unapologetically intended for sexual pleasure this does not mean they compromise on storytelling. Mostly influenced by the American camp and highly stylised flicks of the mid to late nineties, films coming out of what is now known as Nude Nollywood as well parts of East and Southern Africa, are narrative driven.

In an impatient world where increasingly the penetration is the only means to an end, African porn films are making an argument for the entertainment value that can be created around the spectacle of sex as opposed to the act itself.

Car chases and tales of witchcraft live side by side with scenes of sex and seduction. Films like AfroCandy's four-part Destructive Instinct series are a prime example of this visual style as well as its popularity.

On the African continent, as is the case with much of the world, sex and money are interlinked. Wealth and access as a direct pipeline to sexual pleasure is also a recurring trope in the visual aesthetic of African porn. The films seem to suggest that uninhibited sexual pleasure is a luxury only available to the rich. Most of the professionally sanctioned pornography that is shot on the continent takes place in settings of pristine beauty. Even with low production values, poor quality sound and a lo-fi look, simulated wealth is the engine that drives African porn forward and gives it urgency.

Usually the rich man is allowed to have his selection of multiple girls whichever way and wherever he would like. One of the most telling moments in Mapona comes at the tail end of a threesome where a pot-bellied man has been having his way with the two younger housekeepers, post-climax and out of breath he says, "It's nice to have maids."

Where pornography is often pure escapism, African porn can also be anthropological. Another example of this is the way in which African porn films address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A condom is used in most films coming from the continent and unlike in American productions where the act of putting it on is often cut away, we see it happen in real time in these films, adding emphasis to the fact that this is an act of safe sex.

Fetish porn and the exploration of sub-genres is almost non-existent in the region perhaps because of the economic realities and the desire of filmmakers to hit as wide an audience as possible. But the lack of fetish porn also speaks to a sexual conservatism that still exists on a wide scale.

This is a natural byproduct of the men and women involved in these films coming of age in the 90s and early 2000s and their sex lives coming to be in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. An era where gratuitous sexual pleasure and certain death were seen as connected dots.

The films are also more and more being forced to respond to the habits of increasingly savvy consumers. According to a report by Pornhub, Africa has 65 percent more searches of the term BBW—”Big Beautiful Women”—than any other part of the world. The bulk of this traffic can be traced back to West Africa.

Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania also have an above average interest in porn with pregnant women compared to the rest of the world. Another report revealed that Rwandans, for instance, frequently used "Uganda," "Congo" and "Nigerian" in their porn searches, a clear indication of the interest that Africans have in the way other Africans engage sexually.

Porn consumption in parts of the continent is also not just a male affair. According to the same Pornhub study, South Africa has one of the highest porn consumption ratios by women in the world. 35 percent of the porn streaming traffic from the country is driven by women. The world average is 24 percent.

The porn industry along with its consumers are subverting western expectations about how black bodies behave in sexual states as well as shifting our understating of black love and transactions of intimacy. African porn is making sex ordinary and celebrating the black body in its diversity.

It’s not unusual to see men with stretch marks, broken teeth, scars and big bellies being sexual with women with husky voices, flabby arms and curvy butts. The way that African porn is writing black sexuality into a previously oppressively white space is not just radical, it’s afro-futuristic without being a gimmick.

Having seen what is possible with the increased presence of people of colour in digital spaces like Reddit and Twitter and witnessing the decolonisation of memes over the last two years, it’s impossible to not get excited by African pornography finding its swagger and having a wider reach, not only for economic reasons but because a billion people finding their sexual voice could be the greatest sexual revolution ever.

 

Bio: Sihle Mthembu is an award-winning South African journalist who wants to write books, to make films and to die without shame. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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