Ousmane Sembène’s ‘Black Girl’ Turns 50
By A. O. SCOTT MAY 17, 2016
The Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, habitually described as the father of
African cinema, was a lifelong critic of patriarchy. An avowedly political artist — he
had been a labor organizer and a novelist before turning to filmmaking — Mr.
Sembène grounded his attacks on colonial oppression and post-independence
corruption and compromise in a feminism that could be both subtle and blunt.
“When women progress, society progresses,” he remarked late in his career —
he died in 2007 — and the suffering and stoicism of women figure in all phases of his
work. His penultimate feature, “Faat-Kiné” (2001), is the portrait of a defiantly
independent entrepreneur in Dakar, Senegal, a single mother who refuses the
melodramatic options of pity or shame that would have been her conventional
cinematic fate. Mr. Sembène’s final movie, the indelible “Moolaadé” (2004),
followed a group of women in a rural village organizing to stop the traditional
practice of genital cutting. The empathy and the radicalism that animate those films
were present much earlier, in “Black Girl,” his first feature, which begins a weeklong
run at BAM Rose Cinemas on Wednesday before its release on DVD by Criterion.