SENEGAL MOURNS: OUSMANE SEMBENE

Last Updated: June 17, 2007By Tags:

By ALI NADERZAD – June 16, 2007

Ousmane Sembene, the father of Senegalese cinema and one of the most important writers of Sub-Saharan Africa, died this past weekend in Dakar after a long-term struggle with disease. He was 84. His film Moolaade (2004) won people’s hearts in Cannes and earned the Un Certain Regard Award. Moolaade is about a group of young women facing female circumcision–a barbaric procedure that leaves its victims maimed for life—that seeks refuge from this so-called rite of passage with one of the village’s shunted women, who has magical powers. Strife within the village ensues as the passage of tradition must be assured and unassailable.Sembene was the first African filmmaker to achieve recognition on an international plane. He conveys Frantz Fanon and Jimmy Hoffa wrapped into a truculent, package. His films, poignant quasi-documentaries on Africa’s struggle for supremacy, are informed by the momentous events he participated in, from labor strife to wars. In 1942, when he was in his mid-twenties he joined the free French Forces in combat. In 1947, he helped organized the great railway strike in Dakar, Senegal. Before becoming a filmmaker, however, Sembene was known as a successful author, writing in a voice reminiscent of Frantz Fanon’s. Sembene was an avid cinema-goer, however, and understandably saw film as a more efficient device than the written word for shaking up the status quo and mobilizing his compatriots. Throughout his filmmaking career Sembene remained in political step with the issues affecting his continent, taking on the case of ancient tribal customs and changing mores, the class struggles, the incursion of Islam and colonialism upon Senegal, etc. His most well known film is Ceddo (1977) about the tensions in a village between traditional life and the pervasive influences of outside religions like Christianity and Islam. Sembene was a member of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1967, the Berlin Bienniale in 1977 and Venice in 1983. His death leaves behind a resolutely large gap for African cinema to fil. Read James Leahy’s article in Senses of Cinema.

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