Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Reel Pleasures
Cinema Audiences and Entrepreneurs in Twentieth-Century Urban Tanzania

By Laura Fair

Winner of the 2019 Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize for best book in East African studies.

“Fair’s superb social history of cinema in Tanzania is rich with keen insights into urban life in East Africa throughout the twentieth century.…[Her] impressive versatility means she is equally at ease discussing midcentury international film distribution networks as she is explaining the local appeal of obscure Indian movies.”

Foreign Affairs

Reel Pleasures serves as a powerful reminder that African pastimes are not only sources of pleasure and profit, but they also enrich and expand cultural imaginations and transnational affinities … Fair’s book enriches and expands the fields of African cultural history, urban popular culture, and the expressive arts.”

African Studies Review

“Fair masterfully integrates the diverse and complicated elements that define a comprehensive examination of film: economic and business history, political history, and the histories of social change, media, and popular culture. A landmark work in both history and film studies.”

Charles Ambler, author of Kenyan Communities in the Age of Imperialism

“Tanzania had more cinemas and a more cosmopolitan cinematic experience than the whole of French West Africa. With a long urban culture exposed to influences from across the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, its people saw Indian, Egyptian and western films that cut across racial and gender divides from as early as the 1920s. Laura Fair’s new book is a fascinating and perceptive study of urban popular culture in Tanzania.”

Abdul Sheriff, author of Dhow Cultures and the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce, and Islam

Reel Pleasures brings the world of African moviehouses and the publics they engendered to life, revealing how local fans creatively reworked global media—from Indian melodrama to Italian westerns, kung fu, and blaxploitation films—to speak to local dreams and desires. In it, Laura Fair zeroes in on Tanzanians’ extraordinarily dynamic media cultures to demonstrate how the public and private worlds of film reception brought communities together and contributed to the construction of genders, generations, and urban citizenship over time.

Radically reframing the literatures on media exhibition, distribution, and reception, Reel Pleasures demonstrates how local entrepreneurs and fans worked together to forge the most successful cinema industry in colonial sub-Saharan Africa. The result is a major contribution to the literature on transnational commodity cultures.

Laura Fair author of Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community, and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945 and Historia ya Jamii ya Zanzibar na Nyimbo za Siti binti Saad. She teaches at Michigan State University.   More info →


Review in International Journal of African Historical Studies


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To request instructor exam/desk copies, email Jeff Kallet at

To request media review copies, email Laura Andre at

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Retail price: $36.95, S.
Release date: January 2018
47 illus. · 472 pages · 7 × 10 in.
Rights: World except Eastern Africa

Retail price: $90.00, S.
Release date: January 2018
47 illus. · 472 pages · 7 × 10 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: January 2018
47 illus. · 468 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Reel Pleasures

“Through copious interviews, Laura Fair recounts the experiences of Tanzanian audiences who flocked to the cinema in greater numbers than anywhere else in East Africa and what it was they loved about the films they saw. She tracks the business of cinema for the entrepreneurs who ran them and how film screenings differed dramatically across the nation. The result is that Reel Pleasures is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the history of cinema we have in African studies.”

Brian Larkin, author of Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria

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