Ousmane Sembène & Post Modern Action

Ousmane Sembène died last weekend and A. O. Scott wrote an article for the New York Times which depicts Sembène as a man with vision and drive, a ‘thorn’ in colonial and post-independence status quo. Sembène, a director, had a ‘filmmaking style that was populist, didactic and sometimes propagandistic, at once modern in its techniques and accessible, at least in principle, to everyone’ (see also wikipedia)

For me Sembène had a special kind of post modern passion. (for more info see works by Arturo Escobar) Scott says that ‘Like Sékou Touré and Frantz Fanon, his allies in the radical wing of the anti-colonialist movement, he believed that Africans would experience true liberation when they threw off European models and discovered their own, homegrown versions of modernity… Manthia Diawara, a professor of Africana studies at New York University who grew up in Mali in the 1960s [says] “He valorized African languages over French. He began to say that independence had failed. He celebrated the equality of Africa with Europe. And it was very good for us to see a man who was self-taught, who did not come out of the French educational system…” (A. O. Scott)

I was lucky enough to meet the man at his NYC showing of Moolaadé (2004). A film about female circumcision. He was passionate and in rare form, still a simple man who believed that Africa was not a static definition you could look up in a book.

I remember thinking all those things that I wanted to change about my ‘culture’ were okay to change. That it is okay, to demand more of our values, beliefs and all that is the fabric of our current social contract, that it is okay to ask for social change, profound social change. I once had a professor who studied social movements in international development and he said that best he could tell, at the very least, development entails profound social change.


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