Sembene! is a poetic documentary woven together through the perspective of narrator Samba Gadjigo, a Professor of African studies at Mt. Holyoke College and author of previous works about the life of Ousmane Sembene. Described as the father of African cinema, Sembene was the first director to create films of his countrymen with “their own identity, their own culture”, says Gadjigo, in contrast to previous depictions that created caricatures of the African identity. Senegalese-born and now American-based, Samba Gadjigo’s life was utterly inspired and driven by Ousmane Sembene’s representation of Africans, and through this film he navigates that admiration and understanding of the artist’s voice along with the wider historical importance of his work.
When Sembene returned to Senegal after an important time of artistic growth and education while working on the docks in Marseille, he had a clear vision to create work that gave his peers a voice to challenge a system designed to suppress. With no formal cinematic training, no budget, no precedent or context within which his work could be viewed, Semebene made art that was empowering to Africans such as Gadjigo, that challenged the political system and critiqued the social class.
Watch the video here.