Ousmane Sembène, a famous Senegalese filmmaker known as the “Father of African Cinema,” was born January 1, 1923 and died June 9, 2007. During his childhood and early adult life, Sembène worked as a brick layer and mechanic before fighting with the Free French forces in both France and Africa. (For those who don’t know, the Free French was a military group established during World War 2 to fight against Germany and the Axis powers as a part of the Allies.) After the war ended, Sembène worked in France in factories and along the docks while beginning a successful writing career and gaining international fame with his literary works. However, Ousmane – with his love of films – realized that a better way of reaching non-literate Africans was through the use of storytelling through films, and thus went to film school in Moscow in order to learn how to become a filmmaker. Returning to a post-colonial Senegal, Ousmane began making films about Senegalese and African stories, experiences, and myths (both pre-colonial and post-colonial).
Many of his literary and film works are meant to shed light on African experiences and lifestyles, both in African cultures and societies as well as an immigrant in Western countries, cultures, and societies. The stories follow characters who deal with racism, corruption, disease, political injustices that spark political protests, colonialism, religion, new caste and class systems within Africa, and the inner strength found within African women. Throughout his career, Sembène’s films caused controversy, won international film awards, and are known throughout the international film community. While some uncensored films of his are available internationally, they are banned in certain parts of French West Africa as a result of controversial topics presented in the films.
Despite that, his films helped to bring about change in local, national, and even international societies – for example, his film Moolade was made around the time that Senegal banned the practice of female genital mutilation, and is rumored to have been an influencing force in the shift of seeing genital mutilation as a negative and harmful practice. Sembène’s films remained a political force to be reckoned with, and were often made to educate people on the political issues of the time as well as a call to action to have the political climate of the time change for the better. As the Father of African Film, Ousmane Sembène inspired other filmmakers across the continent of Africa to film their own experiences, stories, and myths found in their cultures and in their countries.