Renowned African writer and the black continent’s film pioneer, Sembene Ousmane definitely no longer needs to be introduced. Here are ten things you may not know.
Published April 19, 2016
Source: Servan Ahougnon, Ecce Africa / April 18, 2016
SEMBENE OUSMANE ONLY HAD PRIMARY EDUCATION
Sembene Ousmane had a rather short schooling. At 13, in full colonial era, he slapped the headmaster of his school who wanted to force him to learn Corsican. He was then expelled the school where he had not even finished his primary curriculum. He would never again take that path leading through formal education.
HE WORKED AS A MECHANIC, MASON AND FISHERMAN
After leaving the school benches, Sembene Ousmane earned his living working as a mechanic and bricklayer. Apart from these two trades, he fished, like his father before him, to earn a little more money.
IT WAS SENEGALESE TIRAILLEUR
In 1942, the Senegalese were mobilized by the French army for the 2nd World War and included the famous Senegalese riflemen.
HIS NOVEL “THE BLACK DOCKER” IS BASED ON ITS OWN HISTORY
In 1946, Sembene Ousmane sailed clandestinely to France and arrived in Marseille. Unemployed, he had to live by odd jobs. This will include working as a docker at the port of Marseille for nearly ten years. His novel “The Black Docker”, published in 1956, recounts his personal experience on the docks of Marseilles.
LÉOPOLD SEDAR SENGHOR CENSORED ONE OF HIS FILMS FOR NEGLIGENCE IN SPELLING
In 1979, Sembene Ousmane released ”Ceddo”, a film that tells the revolt of Ceddos, valiant warriors with traditional animist beliefs, against the Christian and Muslim religions in the 17th century. But the film was banned in Senegal by President Léopold Sédar Senghor. The latter justified censorship on account of a spelling mistake. According to him, the term ceddo is only written with one “d”. In fact the Senegalese government, thus, tried to appease religious leaders, including Muslims, who felt their faith was being attacked through this film.
HE WAS UNABLE TO COMPLETE HIS LAST TRIPTYQUE ON WOMEN HEROISM
In 2000, Ousmane Sembene directed ” Faat Kiné,” a feature film paying tribute to African women. This film is actually the first part of a triptych on women’s everyday heroism. It was followed in 2003 by “Moolaadé” that denounces the practice of excision of young African girls. This would be his last film. The last volume of the triptych, which he was just finishing writing, would never be realized. It was to be called “The Brotherhood rats”, but the Senegalese died before shooting could begin.
HIS FILM ON THE THIAROYE CAMP WAS CENSORED IN FRANCE FOR TWO YEARS
In 1988, though his film “the Thiaroye camp” has won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival, it was banned in France. Indeed, more than a tribute to the Senegalese riflemen, the film is an especially damning denunciation of an episode for the French colonial army. The French authority which the censorship to its release, eventually allowed it in theaters in 1990.
HE HAD PLANNED FILM ON SAMORY TOURÉ BUT THE FILM WAS NEVER RELEASED
In 1980, Sembene Ousmane began writing a screenplay about the African hero Samory Touré. He planned to shoot a six-hour epic on the African hero. But the filmmaker never found the financial means to adapt his script which was “as big as three phone books.”
HE STILL REFUSED TO PARTICIPATE IN FESPACO TO GIVE A CHANCE TO YOUNG FILMMAKERS TO MAKE THEMSELVES KNOWN
In 1969, Ousmane Sembene was one of the guests of honor of the first edition of FESPACO (Panafrican Festival of Cinema and Television of Ouagadougou) .If the years following, he mainly focused on participating in the organization of the festival at which he always present in his lifetime, it was because the Senegalese refused to participate in a competition in which he believed that young African filmmakers should be promoted. He categorically turned down suggestions from the festival organizers who, repeatedly, asked him to include his films.
HE PERSONALLY PARTICIPATED IN THE WAR OF THE RAILWAY WORKERS, WHICH HE DESCRIBED IN “BITS OF GOD’S WOOD ”
After his demobilization from the French army and return to his native Senegal, Sembene Ousmane was affected by the social condition of the population of his country. He participated, alongside the railway workers, in the famous 1947 strike. It was this strike, the first in Africa, which inspired his novel ”Bits of God Wood”.