Africa’s Greatest Filmmaker Has Been Unavailable to Africans — Until Now

29 June 2018


I imagine it’s a thrill for any filmmaker to share a documentary with an audience. Since the premiere of our film “Sembene!” three years ago, I’ve had the luck to be able to do that many times. But not all screenings are equal. This weekend, the experience of showing the film had a much deeper impact on me. This weekend, when looked into the audience … I saw myself.

“Sembene!” tells the story of Ousmane Sembene, Senegal’s most influential writer and filmmaker. Our film has won awards, been broadcast in more than a hundred countries and helped introduce new generations to the man known as “the father of African cinema.” Only rarely, however, has it been seen by the audiences most important to me: Africans.

Before making the film, I knew how far our global media culture tilts away from the so-called “developing world,” or global south, and towards Europe and the U.S. The stories Africans receive are, for the most part, conceived and built in New York, Los Angeles, and the European capitals. Since the birth of the moving image, Africans in particular, and people of color in general, have been largely invisible. We are extras in an ongoing show of Western power.

As “Sembene!” began screening, I felt the powerlessness of the modern African storyteller in a much more personal way. “Sembene!,” available everywhere in North America, South America, and in most of Asia, was almost impossible to find in Africa.

Watch the trailer below

Sembene 291

Last weekend, for the second year, we produced a program that offers a small way for Africa to reclaim some of its stories. Sembene Across Africa gives micro-grants to local schools, cultural centers, libraries, activists, NGOs, educators, and filmmakers (and this year, we even partnered with a military camp), along with copies of our documentary and one film by Ousmane Sembene. This year, it was the classic satire “Xala.” Along with study guides and marketing support, we also provide free streams of the films in Africa. Funding has been provided by the Ford Foundation, the Sundance Institute, Kickstarter supporters, Frances Cassirer, and other donors committed to supporting African culture. Read the full article in Indiewire here.