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Africa’s Last Romantic

The Films, Books and Expeditions of John L. Brom

Olga Brom Spencer and Glenn Reynolds

Africa’s Last Romantic: The Films, Books and Expeditions of John L. Brom captures the drama and excitement of John L. Brom’s film expeditions from 1949 to 1962 through sub-Saharan Africa. Brom was the only explorer to follow the footsteps of Henry Morton Stanley and in a documentary interviewed the two last survivors of Stanley’s expeditions from 1874 to 1890. In 1955 he also interviewed the famous nineteenth-century East African slave trader Tippu Tip’s grandson, who defended his grandfather’s trade. Brom’s expedition was the basis for his bestseller 20,000 Miles in the African Jungle, which was translated into eleven languages. Brom managed to interview and film the rulers and tribes he encountered before they were decimated in the civil wars of the Congo after independence, and his historic films are now preserved in the Human Studies Film Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. Over 500 articles were published on Brom’s work on both sides of the Atlantic during his lifetime. Africa’s Last Romantic is a useful addition to college courses in Third World cinema, cinema studies, and African history.
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Chapter 10: Finishing 20,000 Miles through Africa


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When Brom left the Congo, he was pleased that his odometer indicated over 13,000 miles, and that he had completed enough footage for at least one full-length documentary movie. But upon entering Uganda, he felt that he was suddenly entering another world. While the Belgian Congo was a colony, Uganda seemed more a country of black men who owned land and private enterprises; and in spite of the title “English Protectorate,” white people there were mostly serving in secondary positions, such as teachers and technicians. Here, black men were addressed as ‘sir,’ while in the Congo they were addressed as ‘boys.’ Most women in Uganda’s capital of Kampala wore beautiful European dresses and looked quite modern.

Brom traveled through Queen Elizabeth Park and the Kageru Reserve, where he filmed animals in the wild and surprised a lion family after a kill. He also went to Victoria Lake, fed by waters from Ruwenzori, which produce Africa’s longest river—the mighty Nile—at 4130 miles long. Brom’s camera soon proved that one of the origins of the Nile, called the Blue Nile, is indeed named for its bluish hue.

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