This film is held by the BFI (ID: 115099).


'"How better ways of feeding children came to an African village".

A Story told in the traditional idiom of an African folk tale. Why so many babies die - and what to do about it if you want the babies to live. Foriwa has a baby. Like many women's children in the village, her elder child becomes sickly after it is weaned, and is given starchy food. Foriwa ignores her educated sister's advice to take the child to a clinic, for she believes the sickness is caused by the spirit of a dead child now haunting her daughter. She consults a medicine man, then a fetish priest, but the child dies. Only then will she listen to her sister's advice.' (Gold Coast Film Unit Catalogue, 1954-55).



In 1951, A.R.G. Prosser, the Chief Social Development Officer for the Gold Coast wrote an article in the Community Development Bulletin outlining the ways in which the Gold Coast Public Relations Office (P.R.O.) had used Amenu’s Child as part of its mass education campaigns within the area.

Prosser stated that the P.R.O immediately recognised the value of Amenu’s Child as an ‘instrument of propaganda and instruction in Child Welfare’ and called a meeting with the Medical Department, the Public Relations Officer and the Social Development branch of the Department of Social Welfare, at which they decided to co-operate in forming a Mass Education Team. Prosser clarified how this collaboration worked: ‘The Public Relations Officer made available a Mobile Cinema and crew; the Medical Department made available a trained Midwife and notes for the instructors on Child Welfare; the Chief Social Development Officer contributed two Assistant Mass Education Officers’. This team would then use Amenu’s Child to ‘train village leaders in Child Welfare’ (Prosser, 1951, 52).

The team trained at the School of Social Welfare and at the P.R.O. cinema, where they discovered that the film was ‘far more effective as a medium of instruction if the story of the film were first told to the audience’. The instructors used stills from the film to stress pertinent points – for example one poster on the board read ‘Wash your hands always’ – before showing the film, and then leading a discussion afterwards. Amenu’s Child was one of the earliest films (and first ‘story’ film) produced by the Gold Coast Film Unit, and thus its success, and the experiments in exhibiting the film, had an enormous influence on the P.R.O.’s use of subsequent GCFU films. Indeed, Prosser concluded, in light of Amenu’s Child, that ‘films made in Africa for the African are going to prove the most potent factor in the present drive to eradicate ignorance, poverty and disease, and contribute to the prosperity and happiness of the people’ (Prosser, 1951, 54).

Amenu’s Child was initially shown in the Trans-Volta area as part of a course in childcare and nutrition. ‘A village called Kpetoe was made the headquarters’, Prosser explained, ‘and invitations were sent out to one hundred surrounding villages to send two women from each village to attend the courses’. Prosser claimed that the response was ‘magnificent’ and recognised the ‘tremendous value’ of the film within this one-week course. ‘Seeing their own people facing up to situations of which the course members were all too well aware, and solving the problems made evident in the film, was an experience that imprinted itself deeply on their minds’, he added, noting also the number of traditional midwives who attended. The team subsequently visited each of the villages represented on the course, with the film now used as a means of propaganda to generate enthusiasm for the work (Prosser, 1951, 54).

The film was subsequently shown all over the Gold Coast. For example, the Colonial Office reported its widespread use by women’s groups in the Fante region (Gold Coast, 1952, 17). It was also screened extensively in Nigeria in 1952 as part of Peter Morton-Williams’ research into African audiences. Morton-Williams argued though that the film was too elaborate as a pedagogical tool and ‘was not in itself a strong enough stimulus’ to bring about change. The film played at the meeting of the United Nations Trusteeship Council in June 1950 and was widely used to demonstrate the use of film in visual education – for example at a UN seminar in Messina, Italy in 1953 (Visual Aids, 1952).

Amenu’s Child also played at international film festivals, winning awards at Edinburgh and Venice in 1950, after which an Italian company ‘acquired the rights for five years’ (Commonwealth Survey, July 1951, 28). Commonwealth Survey claimed that ‘this is the first time a film produced by a Colonial Government has been shown commercially’ as it was also reviewed and presented in England, and then in America in 1955 through British Information Services (Commonwealth Survey, July 1951, 28). Reviews praised the depiction of African life – ‘shot in three months in Togoland, the intimate pictures of African village life are human, veracious, and singularly moving’ – and The Times argued that the film ‘has a dramatic quality which might well appeal to a wide audience in this country’ (The Times, 23 May 1950, 3). Film Forum noted the personnel involved in the production, reporting that ‘here, as in Malaya, the intention is to train native technicians, but progress has been slower, and most of the names on the credit titles are British’. The publication concluded though that ‘Amenu’s Child brings warmth and affection to its educational purpose’, labelling this an ‘encouraging experiment’ (Film Forum, November 1950, 7).



Amenu’s Child is an early example of the ways in which the Gold Coast Film Unit, and indeed the Colonial Office, looked to use film as a tool for social development. The Colonial Office records, UN reports and the comments of Community Development officers all indicate the ways in which the film was used within broader educational programmes. Although those credited on the film were still, as Film Forum noted, predominantly British, the film sought to address and cater for a specifically African audience, and used African narrative traditions, and an all-African cast. Yet, in many respects the film represented a familiar British perception of African culture – for example in its depiction of religion and superstition. The film also endorsed the continuing adoption of western modes of social development and, in privileging modernity over tradition, promoted a form of colonial governance predicated on social welfare and hygiene.

Promotional materials and reviews emphasised that Amenu’s Child was presented in the ‘idiom of an African folk tale’. The film is set up as a folk-tale from the start, as the African commentator urges the viewers to ‘gather round, gather round’, before explaining that the story ‘may be true, it may not be true’. The narrative is introduced in the traditional language of a fairytale – ‘Once upon a time there was a village’ – and concludes ‘here ends my story and who says it is not true may tell another’. Indeed, the commentator displays a self-awareness throughout – ‘you know how time passes in stories’ – and, as in other early GCFU productions (for example, The Boy Kumasenu), recites the dialogue of each character himself.

The film, symptomatic of many GCFU productions, sets up a clear dichotomy between tradition and modernity, and ultimately emphasises the need for development within rural Africa. Village life is presented as undeveloped and unchanging – ‘a year passed. Life in the village went on as before. Few houses fell down, a few more were built. Children were born and children still died’. It is defined almost entirely by custom: ‘mama gave water as was the custom’, ‘now was the time to exchange customary greetings’, Saewa, one of the two mothers in the story, ‘as was the custom called on every house in the village’. The villagers are superstitious and visit juju men, who provided ‘powerful and strange concoctions’, as well as a fetish priest, who is also presented, in European terms, as part of a mysterious cult; ‘now the evil spirit that was in Essi will enter the fowls and be killed by the Priest’s powerful magic’. In contrast, Saewa travels to a town ‘far away’ where she learns new methods of health and nutrition for her children. She is rejected by her community – ‘who put these mad ideas into your head?’ – yet she is ultimately vindicated.

Having illustrated the validity of these modern, European methods, the final act serves as an instructional film presenting and teaching them to the African audiences. Under the guise of a series of local meetings, the film shows the methods of food preparation, while the commentator now offers specific instructions (‘when a baby is one month old, start giving it fruit juice once a day’). The film presents a female African instructor, Saewa, and in a film with an all-African cast, promotes a message of self-responsibility – ‘it’s up to you to make your children strong’. Furthermore, while the film is entitled Amenu’s Child, the principal protagonists are the two mothers, Foriwa and Saewa.

Although Amenu’s Child was produced for West African audiences, Peter Morton-Williams’ research suggests that the film was more ‘complex’ than other Colonial Film Unit productions. The CFU – and, in particular, William Sellers - emphasised the different filmic techniques required for African audiences, yet Amenu’s Child, as with The Boy Kumasenu two years later, sought to bridge this perceived gap as it also played to international audiences in Europe and America (West Africa, 28 October 1951, 986).

Tom Rice (March 2009)


Works Cited

Commonwealth Survey, July 1951, 28.

‘Amenu’s Child’, Film Forum, November 1950, 7.

Gold Coast, Annual Report of the Department of Social Welfare and Community Development, 1952 (Accra: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1952), 17.

Gold Coast Film Unit, Gold Coast Film Unit Catalogue of Films 1954-1955 (1955).

Morton-Williams, P., Cinema in Rural Nigeria: A Field Study of the Impact of Fundamental-Education Films on Rural Audiences in Nigeria (Lagos: Federal Information Services, 1952).

Prosser, A.R.G., ‘An Experiment in Community Development’, Community Development Bulletin Vol. II No. 3, June 1951.

Smyth, Rosaleen, ‘The Post-War Career of the Colonial Film Unit in Africa: 1946-1955’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 12, No.2, 1992, 163- 177.

‘Film of African Village Life: “Amenu’s Child”’, The Times, 23 May 1950, 3.

Visual Aids in Fundamental Education: Some Personal Experience (Unesco, 1952).

‘Power of the Film’, West Africa, 28 October 1951, 986. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
37 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film

Production Credits

Associate Producer
NOBLE, George
Production Company
Gold Coast Film Unit
Story Consultant







Production Organisations