Ousmane Sembène's oeuvre, in many ways, grants African feminism a legitimacy of its own, denying recurrent attempts to fit it within valorized, largely Western, templates for liberation. Not surprising, Faat Kiné (2001) and Moolaadé (2004), the first two films in a planned triptych that, according to Sembène, honor everyday heroism, challenge certain assumptions about African womanhood, and remarkably demonstrate a range of contexts and indigenous precepts from which alternative modes of dissent, being, and liberation can spring. By and large, these heroines, Kiné (of Faat Kiné) and Collé (of Moolaadé), are not "spit-and-polish" characters shone to perfection in the virtual world of imagination or the screen. Firmly anchored within the quotidian, Sembène significantly imbues their experiences and radical potentials with necessary qualifications. Relevant here, too, is Sembène's concept of cinema as night school, a vision of African cinema firmly tied to a transformative function. As such, Sembène's creative intervention does not depend on self-conscious puttering with narrative forms but in advocating an explicitly elucidative, provocative, activist cinema. Not surprising, Sembène attempts, in both films, to register the meanings and nuances of social transformation. As will be argued, therefore, opening up the women's cultural worlds to concerted critical reappraisals affords Sembène the necessary latitude to formulate transgressive frameworks with which [End Page 177] to explore certain exigencies of culture as well as broader questions about creativity and dissidence.
The status, struggles, dreams, desires, resilience, and strength of African womanhood, as they negotiate the demands of culture and social realities have been noted by Françoise Pfaff (1984), Sheila Petty (1996), and David Murphy (2000), among others, to be a key feature of Sembène's art. In fostering new approaches, angles, and spaces for the representation of African womanhood, Sembène poses difficult questions about their social worlds and, importantly, introduces alternative ways to engage and experience these worlds. At the heart of these more sophisticated narratives about African womanhood lies a dissident vision that is neither beholden to nor regulated by convention but involves the will or capacity to imagine alternatives and, especially, instigate new thinking. Not surprising, Sembène's women characters are usually dynamic, active negotiators, defining themselves in engaging ways. The centrality of dissent to Sembène is particularly powerful in his engagement of African traditions. This is so, perhaps, because tradition is intrinsically always under pressure from the dynamics of its constitutive society. In habitually taking on certain internal contradictions or paradoxes within tradition, Sembène is not so much occupied with the past (where tradition is often housed willy-nilly), or for that matter fixated on the present, but is concerned with the future, especially its possibilities.
This is important because during the anticolonial struggles for independence, for instance, and more so after that, African nationalists saw tradition as a reflecting pool of sorts from which they must sip, occasionally, for sustenance as well as to look into for answers to certain issues and to (re)constitute their senses of selves. As such, tradition features in African cultural production, not merely to sketch coherent pictures of who we are or specify qualifications for membership within an idealized notion of community but, more crucial, as a hermeneutic compass, a means of organizing meanings around and structuring the expressions of the inevitable transformations within African cultural fields. Uniquely, Sembène favors a dissent that cultivates syncretic dispositions and radical possibilities. With Sembène, therefore, dissent is essential to the development of African cultures or, at least, new facets of these cultures (see Gadjigo et al. 1993). [End Page 178] This abiding concern for change that, fundamentally, involves unremitting inquiries into the nature of history, culture, tradition, the contemporary, and the social relations they generate finds confluence in his representation of African femininity. It is also noteworthy that dissidence...