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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.