By Joanne Laurier
17 January 2006
Ousmane Sembène, Senegalese author, scenarist and film director, has been making films for over 40 years.
New Yorker Video has recently released two of Sembène’s earliest and most remarkable cinematic works on DVD: one short film, Borom Sarret (1963), and Black Girl (1966), which also holds the distinction of being Africa’s first feature film.
Born in 1923 in southern Senegal, Sembène, the son of a Muslim fisherman, migrated as a stowaway to France in 1947 to escape the ravages of a war-torn colonial economy.
Having joined the French Communist Party in 1950 and the anti-racist movement MOURAP in 1951, he was working as a dock worker in Marseilles in 1960, the year Senegal declared its independence.
Within a few years, Sembène had established himself as a novelist and short story writer in France.
On a trip back to Senegal, Sembène was struck by or reminded of the high levels of illiteracy.
This convinced him to turn to film rather than literature as a means of communicating with wide layers of the population.
An unusual personality, at this point in his life Sembène combined profound opposition to capitalism and colonialism with a deep feeling for artistic work.
He immersed himself in world literature, including the work of left-wing (or former left-wing) writers like Americans Richard Wright, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, the Chilean poet Pablo Néruda, the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, the Jamaican-born, African-American writer Claude McKay and others.
He also became involved with the left-wing theater Le Theâtre Rouge.
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