Senegal: Ousmane Sembène At 100 – a Guide to the Life and Work of the ‘Father of African Cinema’

The influence of filmmaker Ousmane Sembène’s work shouldn’t be understated. His movies, made inside the neorealist style, had been worried with working-class individuals and tended to make use of non-professional actors. This allowed him to symbolize African life on its very own phrases, specializing in African characters as distinct, pondering and speakme persons past predictable stereotypes. He was additionally the primary to make a movie in an African language. For this, he’s viewed the “father of African cinema”.

Famously stating “Europe is not my centre“, he was a main voice amongst a bunch of filmmakers, regularly referred to because the “pioneers” of African cinema, who emerged inside the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s.

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Sembène (1923-2007) was deeply motivated by a want for political and social change. He was equally a fierce critic of colonialism and its legacies, the post-independence realities throughout Africa, as properly because the strictures of “tradition”. These themes characteristic closely throughout his 9 characteristic movies made between 1966 and 2004.

As we rejoice his a hundredth yr and rediscover his movies, we will reap a higher understanding of Sembène, and the themes of his work, by searching on the turns his life took that led him to cinema.

He was born inside the buying and selling port of Ziguinchor, inside the Casamance location of colonial Senegal. His adolescence included working as a fisherman and a range of guide jobs. He then enlisted as a serviceman inside the French colonial military. Known as tirailleurs, he joined a variety of mild infantry reserved for colonials inside the French military.

Following service inside the second world struggle, Sembène took on an activist position again in Senegal inside the burgeoning labour motion. By the late Forties, notwithstanding, he was again in France, engaged on the docks in Marseille. Here, into the Nineteen Fifties, his engagement with commerce union pastime and radical left-wing politics grew substantially. This activism would converge with a developing curiosity in literature and anti-colonial politics.

In France, Sembène was inside the business enterprise of Black writers such because the African American Richard Wright, the Jamaican Claude McKay, and the Haitian Jacques Roumain. In this business enterprise, he would publish his first novels Le Docker Noir (The Black Docker, 1956) and Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God’s Bits of Wood, 1960).

Le Docker Noir attracts on his experiences as a Marseille dock employee and Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu on his involvement with employees taking industrial motion inside the seven-month Dakar-Niger railway strike of 1947-48.

Sembène would write a complete of six novels, 4 novellas and a set of brief memories. Many of those had been tailored by him for the cinema, and are amongst his considerable filmography over six a long time.

As his official biographer Samba Gadjigo has stated, Sembène “made films by any means necessary”. This takes on a particular significance inside African societies rising from colonialism from the Nineteen Fifties onward.

Having achieved relative success together with his writing, he was stimulated to transfer closer to the cinema by the opportunity of reaching a wider viewers, especially those that didn’t converse French. Paired together with his anti-colonial political dedication, Sembène amongst others of his technology prioritised the importance of getting movies made by Africans.

After a yr on the Gorki Studios in Moscow, he returned to Senegal, rising in 1963 with the authentic brief movie Borom Sarret. Among his most critically celebrated movies are La Noire de … (Black Girl, 1966) and Mandabi (The Money Order, 1968), which have each lately been restored.

Pivotal works

For those that discover Sembène’s again catalogue, right here are 5 acclaimed movies as a temporary introduction to his work. They reinforce him as arguably the foremost essential African filmmaker of the twentieth century.

1. La Noire de… (1966)

Colonialism takes on a brand new and traumatic dimension by the penalties of migration from Senegal to the Paris metropole. The movie follows Diouana, a younger Senegalese girl, as she strikes to France together with her colonial employer to proceed working as a nanny. It focuses on the trauma of her exploitation and alienation in France – for Diouana, the fact is tragic. The script relies on a brief story from Sembène’s 1962 series, Voltaique.

2. Mandabi (1968)

Returning to the theme of migration and its paradoxes, this movie follows an unemployed man in post-independence Senegal who receives a cash order for a considerable sum from his nephew working as a avenue cleaner in Paris. In his tries to money the cash, the person ought to battle Kafkaesque paperwork and unscrupulous city dwellers who regard him as an alternative for his or her very own short-term survival. This was the primary ever movie made in an African language.

3. Xala (1975)

Probably Sembène’s most generally seen movie, Xala straight addresses the idiosyncrasies of post-independence states like Senegal and the impotence, each metaphorically and actually, of their elites. The movie is centred round a profitable businessman, El Hajj, who in celebration of his new standing inside the governing physique of the newly unbiased state, decides to take a 3rd spouse. His incapability to consummate the wedding together with his a lot youthful bride results in spiralling humiliation as tries are made to discover a treatment (or xala) for his impotence.

4. Camp de Thiaroye (1988)

The historic occasions that unfolded at a transit camp for African servicemen (tirailleurs) close to Dakar, Senegal in 1944 are dramatised on this movie. These troopers had fought for France inside the second world struggle however, on returning to Africa to await their demobilisation, are confronted with poor residing situations – their severance pay being first delayed after which drastically reduce. This results in a revolt towards the French authorities which has bloody penalties. Here, Sembène affords a subtext of pan-African solidarity in response to fascist atrocities, colonial injustice, and common violations of human rights.

5. Moolaadé (2004)

Women’s empowerment inside the midst of controversial circumstances is a preoccupation in Sembène’s work, and his final movie focuses on feminine circumcision. Moolaadé examines the complexities of each “tradition” and “modernity” in relation to gender roles and the politics of the exercise. The movie strikes by the complicated features of the prevailing debates throughout each gender and generational traces.

Imruh Bakari, Senior Fellow in Department of School of Media and Film, University of Winchester

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