The Films of Ousmane Sembène: Discourse, Culture, and Politics by Amadou Fofana – Discussion Questions

The Films of Ousmane Sembène: Discourse, Culture, and PoliticsThe following are discussion questions that the author, Professor Amadou Fofana, helpfully compiled for those who would like to use his book,  The Films of Ousmane Sembène: Discourse, Politics, and Culture, for course adoption.

(There are no discussion questions for chapter 1, which is an introductory chapter.)

Chapter 2: Contextualizing Ousmane Sembène

1) How did the specific time period of Sembène’s life, from 1923 to 2007, influence his films?

2) Using at least one example, explain the psychological impact of colonialism on the colonial subject.

3) Why were the films Emitaï and Camp de Thiaroye such important films?

4) Describe and analyze examples of colonial violence as depicted in Emitaï and Camp de Thiaroye?

5) What is “Negritude” and how was it perceived by Sembène?

6) Define “La Francophonie” and explain Sembène’s views of it?

7) Explain the origins of the tension that existed between former president Leopold S. Senghor and Sembène?

8) Using examples from the chapter, explain what makes la Francophonie an important political force not to be brushed aside as Sembène suggested.

9) Why was Sembène disappointed with the Senegalese political elite?

10)  After already enjoying an illustrious career as a writer, why did Sembène turn to making films?

Chapter 3: Ousmane Sembène, A Screen Griot 

1) What is the significance of oral tradition in Africa and how does oral tradition differ from the Euro-American writing tradition?

2) What are griots, and what do they compare with in Euro-American societies?

3) Explain why in Borom Sarret the cart driver gives away all his daily earnings to the griot.

4) Given the description of the traditional role of the griot in this chapter, do you believe  that griots still have a place in modern Africa? Explain why or why not.

5) In what ways are the roles of the griot and the filmmaker similar and dissimilar?

6) Of all possible professions, why did Sembène choose to call himself a griot?

7) In Niaye, suicide is at the core of the plot.  Explain how an act such as suicide can be treated as a proud and honorable action in the film Niaye.

8) At the end of Niaye, the daughter who is the victim of incest is banned from the village.  She heads to the city with her baby. Is there reason to believe, as the narrator does, that they will be better off there? Explain why.

9)What else might the incest represent in Niaye?

10) Is the griot portrayed differently in Borom Sarret than in Niaye? Justify your answer.

Chapter 4: Language Matters

1) How does the language you use to communicate shape your conceptions of self and your particular world view?

2) In a multilingual environment, what might determine an individual’s preference for  learning or speaking one language as opposed to another?

3) Given that one of Sembène’s chief aims was to establish a dialogue with Senegalese people who were not schooled in French—the vast majority of the country’s population throughout Sembène’s life—why did he make his first four films in French and not in indigenous Senegalese languages?

4) In both Xala and Faat Kiné, several characters speak almost exclusively in French rather than in their maternal African languages. What advantages are conferred upon those who learn and speak French in Senegal?  What inconveniences are associated with speaking French?

5) What drawbacks do you see in designating one indigenous language to be the official language of a multilingual country, as Sembène suggested for Wolof in Senegal?

6) Why does Sembène choose to deny the protagonists in Borom Sarret and La Noir de… the ability to speak? 7) Explain the divergent views of Senghor and Sembène with regard to the French language.

8) In Manda bi and Xala, how does Sembène use language to illustrate the perpetuation of colonial power structures in Independent Senegal?

9) Why do you suppose in his second to last film, Faat Kiné, Sembène  chose to break away from his pattern of making films predominately in Wolof?

10) Over 2000 different languages are spoken in Africa today. In political and economic terms, consider the advantages and disadvantages of such a highly multilingual continent.

Chapter 5: Sembène on Religion

1) What patterns can you identify in Sembène’s representation of Islam in his films?

2) In Faat Kiné Sembène conveys a sense of tension between Islam and Christianity through his use of symbols and sound. Describe how he conveys religious tensions in his other films.

3) How does Sembène portray indigenous African religions as compared to how he represents Islam and Christianity?

4) Describe how in the film Ceddo, Sembène links the international slave trade to organized or monotheistic religions?

5) As discussed in chapter four, Sembène merges several significant historical processes together in his film Ceddo. Given his declared goal of educating his audience, what opportunities or problems do you see with his collapsing of time in this way?

6) Using examples, describe the various ways Sembène depicts Islam and Christianity in his film Guelwaar.

7) How does Emitaï contribute to reinforcing long-held stereotypes of indigenous African religions?

8) How does Sembène’s representation of religious pluralism shape your perception of religious tolerance in Senegal today?

9) What is syncretism and in what ways does Sembène show it in his films?

10) Given the great social influences of organized monotheistic religions in Africa in the past and still today, what do you suppose Africa’s religious landscape will look like in the next century?

Chapter 6: Women in Sembène’s Films

1) What patterns do you see in Sembène’s films regarding women’s positions in society and relations between women and men?

2) With particular focus on his films La Noir de… and Moolaade, describe how Sembène addresses, the plight of women in Senegal and West Africa, more generally.

3) Compare the portrayal of Diouana in La Noir de… in 1966 and of Faat Kiné in Faat Kiné in 2001. How does the comparison between these two women reflect changes in Senegalese society?

4) Sembène depicts polygamy quite differently in Xala and Moolade. Explain these differences.

5) Explain how the character of Faat Kiné might be perceived differently among women and men, younger and older people, and those with different economic status and levels of education?

6) What serves as a catalyst for the liberation of women in Moolaade and other films by Sembène?

7) Explain how prostitution is represented in Guelwaar. Is it a paradox that Guelwaar proudly opposes international food aid but readily accepts support from his prostitute daughter?

8) Describe what Sembène calls “daily acts of heroism” in the two films he specifically dedicated to women: Faat Kiné and Moolaade.

9) On the surface most Senegalese societies have long been and still are highly patriarchal.  Yet through his films Sembène often calls attention to the inconsistencies and contradictions in this form of rule in Senegalese society. Provide two examples.

10) Patriarchies are upheld when resources, domination over sacred realms, and control over women’s bodies are concentrated in men’s hands. Considering Sembène’s depictions of the character Faat Kiné and her female peers in Faat Kiné what might he be suggesting for the gender distribution of power in Senegal in the future?

Chapter 7: Global Issues in Sembène’s Cinema

1) Sembène  is obviously attentive to the concerns of many of his compatriots with regard to the growing influence of the media in inculcating Western values. Explain how he addresses this concern in Moolade.

2) In what way was Sembène prescient with regard to international labor migration?

3) Describe some of the material and psychological challenges Diouana of La Noir de… faces after she migrates to France?

4) How do you interpret Diouana’s suicide at the end La Noir de…?

5) Why is Sembène so critical of international food aid?

6) Why do the people in the village in Moolaade prefer to consume French bread as opposed to their own traditional foods?

7) Provide examples of ways Mercenaire in Moolaade encourages consumerism?

8) Explain the idea of the internalization of oppression and describe how it is conveyed in Faat Kiné. In Faat Kiné how do the values represented by Mr. Thiam threaten traditional African values as represented by Alpha?

9) In what ways does Sembène express his inclination towards Pan-Africanism?

10) How does Tontine compare to saving money in the bank?


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