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Studying *Kid 'in' Africa*

by Steven L. Berg

Kid 'in' Africa (1933) is a short film from the Baby Burlesk series. The film can be used to spark conversation on issues such as ethnocentrism, racism, and cultural imperialism.

In an introductory lecture on preparing students to be film critics, I screen Kid 'in' Africa and then ask students ways in which a critic could approach the film in order to set it some type of socio-historical context. While considering the United States in 1933 is an obvious answer, I want students to push themselves to come up with as many approaches as possible that could serve as a focus for a critical analysis.

Some possible approaches to Kid 'in' Africa might include considering

it as a black and white film

it in relation to other Baby Burlesk films

costuming differences between characters based on race


cultural imperialism

what it means to be civilized


the development of Shirley Temple as an actress

stereotypes concerning African and Africans

Kid 'in' Africa works well for this exercise because it it more accessible than Frauennot-Frauengluck (1929) which I screen earlier in the lecture. Frauennot-Frauengluck is a silent film where the ideological argument is not clear.  Students also have trouble following the plot of the film and some miss a key fact that the protagonist had an abortion.  Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that students do not have the background to fully analyze the film.  This is not a criticism of the students.  For pedagogical reasons, I screen Frauennot-Frauengluck because I know that the film is challenging and because I do not expect them to have a background in 1920s Russian communism, Soviet Montage, Sergei M. Eisenstein, and several aspects of film history.  As part of the discussion of Frauennot-Frauengluck, I introduce students to these aspects of film.

Students can easily follow the plot of Kid 'in' Africa. They also have enough background in American history to identify issues on which they can focus as critics. The racism, sexism, and humor also evoke strong reactions from the students.

Kid In Africa (1933)

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Kid 'in' Africa (1933) is a short film starring Shirley Temple and Danny Boone, Jr. The premise of the film is that Madam Cradlebate has gone to Africa to civilize the cannibals; something she is able to do with the assistance of Diperzan.

from Kid In Africa (1933)
Creator: Jack Hays
Distributor: Fox Film Corporation
Posted by Steven L. Berg