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The Shadow & Act Filmmaker Series: Let's Discuss Ousmane Sembène's 'Black Girl'

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act March 9, 2013 at 2:45PM

First, a recap for those just joining us, or if you missed my previous announcements on this. NOTE: If you already know what we're doing here, feel free to skip ahead all the way down to the last few paragraphs, starting with "So, to kick things off..."
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Ousmane Sembène's 1966 classic "La Noire de…" ("Black Girl")
Ousmane Sembène's 1966 classic "La Noire de…" ("Black Girl")

First, a recap for those just joining us, or if you missed my previous announcements on this. NOTE: If you already know what we're doing here, feel free to skip ahead all the way down to the last few paragraphs, starting with "So, to kick things off..."

I first tried out this idea 3 years ago, on the old S&A site, but it didn't quite take off; so I killed it. 

I'm introducing it again, 3 years later, since the site's readership has grown tremendously over that time period - meaning, hopefully, participation will be much stronger than it was the first time around.

In short, I thought it'd be worthwhile to start what we could call a "Filmmakers series;" essentially, we pick a filmmaker of African descent - focusing especially on those filmmakers who aren't as widely known and appreciated, and thus are rarely talked about, even though the importance of the work that they've done demands that they are given more attention, and don't get lost in the annals of history.

We'll watch all their films in succession, and discuss on this blog. It'll be a bi-weekly thing - meaning, every 2 weeks, a film from the selected filmmaker's oeuvre will be assigned, and we all (those who want to participate in the discussion anyway) would then have 2 weeks to watch it. The following week, we'll talk about it collectively.

Hopefully, many of you will participate. It's kind of useless if it's just me yapping on in a post. It's supposed to be both an educational and an entertaining process. I certainly don't know everything, and I know some of you are even bigger cinephiles than I am, so it'll be a learning experience for me as well. And even if you aren't a cinephile, your opinions are still welcomed and embraced.

I'm starting the series with a non-American filmmaker, to shake things up a bit, since we tend to cover black American cinema more than any other part of the Diaspora, even though the mission of the site is to represent the entire Diaspora as well as we can (we're getting there, so hang on).

And what better filmmaker qualifies given my above criteria than Ousmane Sembène (a man often referred to as the "Father of African cinema").

It's a name that I hope most of you are familiar with - especially if you've been a regular reader of this blog since its inception.

But you may actually learn more about him via his films.

In the future, I'll try to pick filmmakers whose films can be readily accessed, and I know some of Sembene's films aren't on DVD just yet (not in the USA anyway) - notably Ceddo and Guelwaar, but some of them are. In fact, 3 of them are on Netflix's "Watch Instantly" feature, so within a few clicks, you can watch them right now (or put the DVDs on your Netflix queue).

Amazon also has some of them for sale.

Between those two sites, as well as your local indie video rental store (although they're a dying breed right now), you'll get access to most of Sembene's films.

So, to kick things off, we're starting with his first feature-length film (although it's only 66 minutes), La Noir De (aka Black Girl) - a film I'm sure some of you have already seen. It's a Netflix "Watch Instantly" option, so those with Netflix accounts should have seen it, and can still see it if you haven't.

You had until this past weekend to watch it, so, if you did watch it, or if you'd already seen it, let's get into Black Girl, shall we?

I'll just first intro it, and then you guys can jump in. I'll also participate in the comment section.

I've seen the film about a dozen times - so much that, in watching it again last week, I caught myself reciting Diouana's interior monologue in unison with the character.

Underneath the deceptively simple story of a Senegalese maid, Diouana (played by the lovely Mbissine Thérèse Diop), and her relationship with the white French couple she works for, reveals a film rich with symbolism and complexities that are essentially reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism - a recurrent theme you'll find in much of Sembène's work, as well as the untapped strength in African women.

At the center of Black Girl is Diouana's plight in Southern France, played out almost like a documentary, capturing the everyday mundanities of her monotonous life, and the resulting mental anguish she suffers, leading to the film's tragic conclusion.

I'll stop there for now, and turn things over to you all, and we'll see how this goes.

What were your reactions to the film? Even if they were *negative* feel free share, and include reasons why. Maybe for you the film raised more questions than you had answers; maybe there is one specific scene, sequence, or line of dialogue, or aspect of the film that confounded, inspired, or impressed you. Maybe the film upset you; maybe it challenged you; maybe it informed and enlightened you.

Whatever you felt about it, or want to share, or questions you want to ask, etc, please, by all means, jump right in. I'll try to play moderator.

And like I said, don't be shy, or feel like you have nothing to contribute.

I could write a dissertation on the film, but I'd rather hear what you have to say about it first, whether it's comments, questions, overall observations, general thoughts, etc. So, if you have anything to share, go right ahead!


This article is related to: Ousmane Sembène


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