Ousmane Sembène on Cinema as Activism

It wasn’t until the second half of his life that Senegalese master Ousmane Sembène dedicated himself to cinema, with his debut feature, Black Girl, premiering in 1966 when he was forty-three. Already an acclaimed novelist, Sembène had lived in France after World War II, working on the docks of Marseille and immersing himself in Marxist ideology and the French labor movement. Throughout his career as an artist, his work demonstrated an unwavering political commitment, and his desire to catalyze social change led him to view literature, his preferred art form, as “a luxury” and film as a more effective tool for galvanizing wider audiences. In his liner notes for our release of Black Girl,critic Ashley Clark writes that the director sought to use a visual medium to “fulfill his role as a griot in the West African tradition—a man of learning and common sense who is the historian, living memory, raconteur, and conscience of his people.”

The clip above, excerpted from Manthia Diawara and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Sembène: The Making of African Cinema, a 1994 documentary included on our release, features Sembène explaining the importance of cinema as a vehicle for activism.

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