African Scriptwriters: Senegalese Scriptwriters Ousmane Sembene and Djibril Diop Mambety

Ousmane Sembene

Ousmane Sembene was a Senegalese scriptwriter, film director, producer and author. He is one of the filmmakers Africa has ever had and is often referred to as the ‘Father of African Films’.

Before going into the filmmaking business, Sembene was an author, one of Africa’s first authors. He wrote his first novel Le Docker Noir (The Black Docker) in 1956. This was followed by O Pays, mon beau people! (Oh country, my beautiful people!) in 1957. But his most famous work as an author was brought forth in his third novel Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God’s Bits of Wood) in 1960. The book is a fictionalized real-life story of the railroad strike on the Dakar-Niger line that took place from 1947 to 1948. This book earned him international recognition. Other books from him Voltaique (Tribal Scars), I’Harmattan (The Harmattan), Le mandate,precede de Vehi-Ciosane (The Money Order and White Genesis), Xala and Le Dernier de I’empire (The Last of The Empire), his last novel, in 1981.

His work as an author inspired him to become a filmmaker and his first film was an adaptation of one of his stories. He reasoned that his written work would only appeal to an audience with literary skills while those without the ability to read would never read his work. This prompted him to make films with the aim of reaching a wider audience. He travelled to Moscow, Russia, where he studied filmmaking for a year.

Ousmane Sembene made his scriptwriting, directing and producing debut in 1963, with his first film, Borom Sarret. The 18-minute short film is considered the first film made in Africa by a black African. In 1966, he wrote and directed his third film and first feature film, Black Girl (La Noire de). This was also the first feature film made by a sub-Saharan African director. With this film, he won the Prix Jean Vigo award in 1966. There was no stopping from there. He made more films, both feature and short which include Mandabi (1968), Xala (1975), Ceddo (1977), Camp de Thiaroye (1987), Guelwaar (1992), Emitai (1971) and Moolaade, his last film, in 2004. He received several awards for his film work like the Honorable Prize award at the 1979 Moscow International Film Festival, a FESPACO award and one at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

Sembene’s work received so much praise and recognition since it resonated with his audience. His films and books revolved around the topics of colonialism, failings of religion, the strength of African women and critique of African modernisation.

He was one of the members of the 27th Berlin International Film Festival in 1977.

Sembene died in 2007 at the age of 84. But his work still lives on.

“We must build a dynamic and independent Africa, where everyone is allowed to express themselves.”

Djibril Diop Mambety

Djibril Diop Mambety was a Senegalese screenwriter renowned for his films’ originality, experimental cinematic technique and unconventional narrative style. Just like Ousmane Sembene, his work revolved around a commentary on the social and political conditions in Africa. But what distinguishes his work from most African filmmakers of his time, is his non-use of traditional didactic, social realist narratives. He embraced post-independent Africa’s complexities and contradictions and incorporated these themes in his films to explore the diversity of real life. He believed he had a role to “reinvent cinema” through the transformation of mixed and conflicting elements into a usable African culture.

Other than being a screenwriter, Mambety was also an actor, poet, composer, orator and film director.

His first film as a screenwriter and film director was Contras’city in 1968. This was a short fictional documentary film on the contrasts of cosmopolitanism and unrestrained ostentation against the modest, everyday lives of the Senegalese people. Badou Boy, also a short film, followed suit in 1970. The film celebrated an urban subculture while parodying the state.

He made his feature film debut as a screenwriter and director in 1973, with his film Touki Bouki (The Hyena’s Journey). The film, considered by many as his most important and most daring film explores the hybridization of Senegal in depth, a theme that is evident in all of Mambety’s films.  Touki Bouki was screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and awarded the International Critics Award. It also won the Diploma award and the Prix FIPRECI at the 1973 Moscow Film Festical. In 2010, the film was ranked at number 52 in the list of “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema” by Empire magazine.

His other films include short documentary film Parlons Grand-mere (Let’s talk Grandmother, 1989), feature film Hyenes (1992), Le Franc (1994) and La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil (1999). In total, Djibril Diop Mambety wrote and directed 2 feature films and 5 short films.

He died in 1998.

“One has to choose between engaging in stylistic research and the mere recording of facts. I feel that a filmmaker must go beyond the recording of facts. Moreover, I believe that Africans, in particular, must reinvent cinema.”







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