Francophone West African Cinema, 1955-69 : false starts and new beginnings

Murphy, David (2014) Francophone West African Cinema, 1955-69 : false starts and new beginnings. In: Africa's Lost Classics. Legenda, Oxford, pp. 50-62. ISBN 978-1907975516

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Abstract

The pioneering Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene has long been fêted as the ‘father of Africa cinema’ and with good reason: his short film Borom Sarret (Senegal/France, 1962) is generally considered the first work by a sub-Saharan African to have been filmed in Africa itself; La Noire de / Black Girl (Senegal/France, 1966) has been celebrated as the first feature film by a sub-Saharan African; while Mandabi / The Money Order (Senegal/France, 1968) was the first feature film in an indigenous African language. However, the paternity of African cinema was not attributed to Sembene solely because of this series of firsts but rather because his work was retrospectively seen to have established an aesthetic and thematic template that would go on to dominate the first two decades of Francophone African filmmaking. The primary aim of this chapter is to challenge the way in which Sembene’s films have at times been used to construct a somewhat truncated version of West African film history. This approach is not designed to question the significance of Sembene’s pioneering work — on the contrary, I will argue that the richness and variety of his filmmaking has often been overlooked — but rather to understand better his aesthetic and thematic contributions within the wider context of some of the other films that were being produced in Francophone West Africa during this period.