Talking points: Ousmane Sembene's “Mandabi” and “Xala”
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Senegalese filmmaker and author Ousmane Sembéne helped establish cinema within Africa. Two of his films, Mandabi and Xala , have become classics within African cinema through their usage of African languages and depiction of African realities. Escaping from Western constructs of cinema, Sembéne used the cinema militantly in order to educate his audience. Cinema, while a form of recreation and entertainment, is equally an educational tool. Sembéne, appropriating cinema’s educational value, demanded and required his audience to participate in after-film discussions in order to clarify or extend his, as well as his audience’s, concerns. Mandabi and Xala still stand up thirty to forty years later, and they still demand audience participation. To use Sembéne’s terminology, cinema is a “night school” for the working and poor, and, through cinema, Sembéne produces mass education in form of questioning societal normality. Explicitly stating that one film cannot overhaul society, Sembéne used film to open discussion, and, possibly, open thoughts of positive progress. Focusing on aspects of language, audience, as well as the role of food in relation to E.P. Thompson’s concept of a “moral economy,” I will discuss the relationship between language and audience as well as between language and character construction. I will also be using the textual versions of both films throughout the paper so as to provide a fuller interpretative background. Additionally, I’ll briefly discuss African cinema’s history and the history of cinema in Senegal. The works of Ousmane Sembéne demand our repeated re-examination and, throughout this thesis, I hope to explore a few issues that Sembéne explored throughout his lifetime.