Clothing and Gender in Lumumba

Clothing plays an important role in Lumumba. The men throughout the film wear suits and other Western clothing, particularly for political events. Unless it is a very casual instance, Lumumba himself mostly wears dress shirts and slacks, if not full suits. Clothing is a form of assimilation, and the fact that so many Congolese wear western clothing is a sign of how assimilated they are. I find it a little ironic that Lumumba, who rails against the intrusion of Belgium in their lives, always wears western clothing. If anything, Mobutu is a little less assimilated, as he wears some nonwestern clothing. However, by the end Mobutu is wearing all-white suits that just emphasize his opulence and westernization.

What I find interesting is the women’s fashion throughout the movie. I’m not an expert on Congolese fashion, but I know that what the women are wearing in the movie is not traditional fashion for western women in the 1950s and 60s. There are very few shots in the movie that have western women, but even from those few one can see the difference. The women’s clothing is most likely more traditional to what women wore before colonialism, though there are definitely some western influences.

I find this interesting in connection to what we talked about with Nervous Conditions and the portrayal of gender there. We discussed in class that women in Nervous Conditions were symbols of tradition. While the men advanced and became westernized, women were expected to uphold tradition. I believe that the difference in fashion between the men and women in this movie reflects that theory.

Another interesting point is that Lumumba’s daughter seems to wear very westernized clothing in the movie, unlike his wife and other Congolese women. She even wears a very white, lacy dress that to me seems very European. I’m curious as to what this represents – if Lumumba wishes for his daughter to receive an education and be westernized as he was, or if it calls into question his anti-colonial mindset, or something else entirely. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

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Posted on September 18, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I think this post does a very good job of pointing out and analyzing an important part of the movie that might typically be overlooked. I agree with the theory mentioned above, that the difference in dress for women and men is a symbol of the women being expected to uphold tradition while the men lean more towards western assimilation. In regards to Lumumba’s daughter, who clearly does not wear traditional Congolese dress, I would theorize this to be primarily because he wishes for his daughter to become a part of the educated upper class of the country and while he holds an anti-colonial mindset, he recognizes that the only way for his daughter to achieve this goal is for her to be westernized and receive European schooling.
    Another part of the film, in relation to clothing, is whenever the Congolese men wear suits they are almost always solid black. We see the contrast to this at the round table discussion, where the Belgian men are wearing lighter colored suits such as tan, grey, and white. Another example is King Leopold, who wears a white suit during his speech. I believe this is meant to draw a line between the Congolese and the Europeans, stating that even if the Congolese speak/act/dress more western they are still not quite up to par with the Europeans, they are still seen as ‘African’ and possibly nothing else. One counter example to this is Mobutu at the end of the film, who is wearing a completely white outfit. My theory is that by helping the west and working with the Belgians and the US to get rid of Lumumba, Mobutu (in the eyes of the West) had completely changed sides, and he (unlike the other Congolese men in suits) was no longer seen as simply an ‘African’ but as a comrade.

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