The first ever movie made in the Wolof Language, Mandabi, by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene is considered a seminal work in the dream of creating a cinema about and for Africans.
1hr 31min | Movie, Drama | 1968
An unemployed Senegalese Muslim, Ibrahima Dieng, lives with his two wives and seven children in Dakar. His nephew, Abdou, sends him a money order from Paris worth 250 francs, which he has saved from working as a street sweeper. Ibrahima is to keep some of the money for himself, save a portion for his nephew, and give a portion to his sister.
However, Ibrahima faces numerous difficulties trying to obtain the money order. Not having an ID, Ibrahima must go through several levels of Senegalese bureaucracy to try to get one, only to fail after spending money he does not have. Meanwhile, neighbors come over asking for money and Ibrahima is further indebted. In the end, he is swindled by Mbaye, a Senegalese businessman, who promised to cash the money order for him. Mbaye sells Ibrahima’s house to a French man and steals the money order, saying that he was pickpocketed. The film leaves Ibrahima in debt and without a home. The film explores themes of neocolonialism, religion, corruption, and relationships in Senegalese society.
Ousmane Sembène was born in 1923 in southern Senegal. He chose not to follow the profession of his father, who was a fisherman and instead became a mechanic, then a mason, joined the French Army in 1942, and later became an active militant in the labor movement. In 1948, he left for France, where he worked as a longshoreman and helped to organize the African dock workers in Marseille. He published his first novel in 1956, Le Docker Noir, based on these experiences. Realizing that much of his target audience was illiterate, he decided to become a filmmaker and went to study in Moscow. Upon his return to Africa, Sembène began a long and illustrious career as a filmmaker.
He is often regarded as the “Father of African Cinema,” a title befitting the first African to make a fiction film distributed outside Africa, Borom Sarret (1963). His novels and films examine the many faces of a continent emerging from the colonial era, at grips with the tensions of independence and modernity. His work is an impassioned history of Africa’s political and social transformation throughout the 20th century.
Ousmane Sembène passed away in 2007 in Dakar, Senegal. After two short films, he wrote and directed his first feature, La Noire de… (1966)(Black Girl). Received with great enthusiasm at a number of international film festivals, it also won the prestigious Jean Vigo Prize for its director. Shot in a simple, quasi-documentary style probably influenced by the French New Wave, Black Girl tells the tragic story of a young Senegalese woman working as a maid for an affluent French family on the Riviera, focusing on her sense of isolation and growing despair. Her country may have been “decolonized,” but she is still a colonial — a non-person in the colonizers’ world. Sembene’s next film, Mandabi (1968) (The Money Order), marked a sharp departure. Based on his novel of the same name and shot in color in two language versions – French and Wolof, the main language of Senegal – The Money Order is a trenchant and often delightfully witty satire of the new bourgeoisie, torn between outmoded patriarchal traditions and an uncaring, rapacious and inefficient bureaucracy. Emitaï (1971) records the struggle of the Diola people of the Casamance region of Senegal (where Sembène grew up) against the French authorities during WWII. Shot in Diola and French from an original script, Emitaï offers a respectful and unromanticized depiction of an old culture, while highlighting the role of women in the struggle against colonialist oppression. In Xala (1975), Sembène again takes on the native bourgeoisie, this time in the person of a rich, partially Westernized Muslim businessman afflicted by “xala” (impotence) on the night of his wedding to a much younger third wife.
Many of Sembène’s other films deal with the themes explored in the aforementioned films and have inspired generations of African and diaspora filmmakers. Ousmane Sembène passed away in June 2007 at the age of 84 in Dakar, Senegal.
Borom Sarret (1963)
The Songhay Empire / L’Empire Songhaï (1963)
Black Girl / La Noire de… (1966)
Mandabi / The Money Order (1968)
Polygamie [Traumatisme de la femme face à la polygamie] (1969)
Employment Problem [Problème de l’emploi/Les Dérives du chômage] (1969)
Olympic Games in Munich [Jeux Olympiques de Munich/L’Afrique aux Olympiades, Basket africain aux J.O. de Munich, RFA] (1971)
Xala / The Curse (1974)
Camp de Thiaroye (1987)
Faat Kiné (2000)