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  • Dossier 2:Ousmane Sembène
  • Samba Gadjigo (bio) and Sada Niang (bio)

This dossier includes key works by Ousmane Sembène as well as tributes to him, including a discussion of the documentary Sembène! considering his life's work.

  1. 1. Introduction by Samba Gadjigo and Sada Niang

  2. 2. "Vigil for a Centennial" poem by Ousmane Sembène

  3. 3. Cinema as Evening School by Ousmane Sembène

  4. 4. Statement at Ouagadougou by Ousmane Sembène

  5. 5. "Art for Man's Sake": A Tribute to Ousmane Sembène by Samba Gadjigo

  6. 6. On "Mediated Solidarity": Reading Ousmane Sembène in Sembène! by Michael T. Martin

  7. 7. Ousmane Sembène: An Annotated Gallery, curated by Cole Nelson

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Figure 1.

Caricature of Ousmane Sembène. Artist unknown. Courtesy of IU's Lilly Library.

[End Page 450]

  • Sembène's Legacy to FESPACO
  • Sada Niang (bio) and Samba Gadjigo (bio)

On June 9, 2007, late in the evening, a news item reverberated throughout Senegalese radio stations: "Ousmane Sembène, the world-renowned father of African cinema, has died in his Yoff residence on the outskirts of the capital city Dakar." The next morning, in the state-run newspaper Le Soleil, Abdou Diouf, then president of Senegal, stated: "Africa has lost one of its greatest filmmakers and a fervent defender of liberty and social justice."1 The prime minister, Macky Sall (Senegal's current president), called on the nation "to pay respect to Ousmane Sembène, who fought for freedom and dignity and who leaves behind an exceptional legacy." Cheikh Omar Cissokho, then secretary-general of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) declared to Agence France Presse, "African cinema has lost one of its lighthouses" before boarding the first flight out of Bamako to attend Sembène's funeral.2 On June 11, in an interview with the New York Times, Manthia Diawara, a film critic and professor at NYU, stated: "He really is the most important African filmmaker, the one that all subsequent filmmakers have to be measured against."3 The chorus of praise for Ousmane Sembène was aptly summed up by Michael Atkinson: "If a film won't matter on a fundamental level to his countrymen, as films rarely matter here, Sembène won't make it. … Sembène represents the dying heritage of political films still possessed of a virginal faith in social change, a faith not in films for profit's sake or even film's sake, but for man's sake."4

A prolific militant writer and filmmaker, Sembène was born in 1923 in Casamance, in southern Senegal. Expelled from school in fourth grade and sent to Dakar, the former capital of the French West African empire, young Sembène discovered literature, comic books, and the cinema. He was drafted into the French colonial infantry unit in 1944 and served on the war front in Niger, an experience that broadened his horizons and deepened his understanding of his status as a colonial subject. In 1947, the young unemployed veteran traveled to Marseilles, in southern France, where he found employment as a dockworker. [End Page 451]

Soon immersed in the fervor of union and political activism of the early postwar era, Sembène became an active member of the left-leaning labor union Confederation General du Travail (CGT) and took membership in the French Communist Party (PCF). By 1952, Sembène had become a powerful spokesperson within the radical arts and political movements of the region. An avid reader, he devoured the writings of Karl Marx, Pablo Neruda, Jack London, Birago Diop, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, Richard Wright, and Ernest Hemingway. Having "discovered literature like a blind person who discovers light," soon Sembène realized that Africans were largely absent from the texts he was reading.5 Even in books and poems on the Negritude movement, there was a lack of diversity. "Nowhere did I find the voice of the working class, of the farmers, the wretched of the earth; in sum, Africans were rare in the Western canon and African literature was reduced to complaints of the black elite caught in the straightjacket of their...


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