The analysis of documentary stories about individual geographic regions is often built on standard research patterns when milestones in history and key achievements are mentioned. The video Africa’s Great Civilizations: Cities directed by Mark Bates and presented by Henry Louis Gates Jr. cannot be included in the list of such documentary stories for several reasons. The episode has a vivid picture in which a rich landscape and versatile shooting methods reveal the uniqueness of ancient African cities. The video contains accurate information about years and other numeric data, which increases the credibility of the work done.
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The references to important historical events that influenced the history of African cities are also valuable components of the episode. Finally, the intersection of cultural and political aspects complements the overall narrative and gives viewers a break from dates and facts by immersing them in authentic medieval African culture. The purpose is to critically assess Africa’s Great Civilizations: Cities based on its content and the quality of the director’s work, and one can note the value of the episode from practical and cultural perspectives.
Visual presentation is one of the greatest strengths of Africa’s Great Civilizations: Cities. While describing historical events, the narrator mentions the geographical features of the continent, which are complemented by bird’s-eye views. According to Bates, “Africa, during Europe’s Middle Ages, was dotted with powerful cities built on the trade of the riches of the continent’s natural resources,” and these include forests and water areas of Africa (00:00:51-00:01:00).
The camera work is professional and allows conveying to the viewer all the beauty and grandeur of the places in question. This, in turn, makes the perception comfortable and contributes to satisfying the aesthetic needs of the public. The brightness of the color range reveals the rich nature of the continent, which is important for obtaining an objective picture. As a result, the video is comparable to a well-edited fiction film in terms of shooting quality, despite the documentary nature of the episode.
The credibility of the documentary is largely achieved due to the mention of accurate information about the years and other numeric data concerning the history of ancient African cities. In some parts of the narrative, the values are presented with precision to indicate to the public the scale of the architects’ work of that era. For instance, when considering a particular building, the narrator notes that “the massive outer wall is over 800 feet long,” which is an achievement for that era and reflects the skill and work of medieval builders (Bates 00:20:34-00:20:39). While analyzing the surviving buildings, Henry Louis Gates Jr. notes that some of them were built within ten years, which was also an achievement for that time (Bates). Thus, the accuracy of delivering information is the practical value of this episode and increases its practical reliability.
References to Important Historical Events
The narrative would be incomplete without useful references to important historical events that influenced the history of ancient African cities. This aspect is valuable for understanding the general discourse of development and explains the corresponding changes that occurred in the territories under consideration. For instance, the statement that “in 1505, a fleet of 11 heavily armed Portuguese ships carrying 500 men dot the kill one” highlights the significance of some nations influencing the history of African cities (Bates 00:36:32-00:36:41).
In addition to increasing credibility, this approach allows the viewer to compare historical milestones and assess how strong the influence of other states might have been. As a result, by following the style of documentary narration, the episode uses relevant techniques to convey the credibility of the events in question, particularly external influences on the development of African cities.
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While mentioning the factor of exact data, one should pay attention to the cultural sub-theme that Africa’s Great Civilizations: Cities contains. Foreign policy feuds and the struggle for commercial dominance are complemented by the assessment of aesthetic values that are important to African and world heritage. For instance, by describing one of the largest cities of that era, Henry Louis Gates Jr. notes that “Gondar became a flourishing center for the arts,” which confirms the emphasis on cultural life (Bates 00:49:25-00:49:29). For ordinary viewers who watch this episode, such mentions do not distract from the main topic but, conversely, complement it, making the story less boring and more interesting. Therefore, the cultural aspects touched upon in the video broaden the understanding of ancient African cities and allow for a deeper analysis.
The topics discussed in Africa’s Great Civilizations: Cities are not only about political and geographical aspects but also about cultural phenomena, which makes the narrative more varied and less boring. Visual presentation is one of the strengths of the episode due to professional camera work. The accuracy of the data presented and numerous references to important historical events increase the credibility of the described facts and allow ordinary viewers to get comprehensive information on the analyzed topic.
Bates, Mark, director. Africa’s Great Civilizations: Cities. Public Broadcasting Service, 2017.