Telling Africa’s Own Stories – A Mount Holyoke Professor’s Quest
"When we own our own stories, we define ourselves,” Professor Samba Gadjigo reminds us.
For the third year in a row, Professor Gadjigo, Mount Holyoke’s Helen Day Gould Professor of French, has again led The Sembene Across Africa Project to present his award-winning documentary, “Sembène!” to African audiences, old and young alike.
The internationally-lauded biopic explores the life and legacy of prolific Senegalese author and filmmaker, Ousmane Sembène. Hailed as the “Father of African Cinema,” Sembène was a revolutionary voice and visionary for workers, women, and the powerless exploited under colonial rule in French-speaking Africa. In post-colonial times, Sembène sought to use his art to promote freedom, pride, social justice, and dignity among his people. He brought world cinema to Africa and Africa’s narratives to the world. He represented Africans in their reality, not as outsiders perceived (and misunderstood) them.
But despite his public presence, his ten books and eleven films, Africans have had little exposure to Sembène. Professor Gadjigo is changing that. His project is bringing Ousmane Sembène’s story to thousands of Africans––including students of all ages––in nearly forty countries, and plans to expand its reach well beyond.
In lockstep with Sembène’s vision, Professor Gadjigo believes that when Africans embrace and tell their authentic stories, they are more able to unite around common issues, grow, and innovate.
“Story is as essential to the human spirit as breathing,” he said.
Even in remote villages with no running water or electricity, Gadjigo shows the film with the use of a generator. Audiences are often mesmerized as they learn and share a history that is theirs too, and imagine spirited possibilities for their future––which is the promise of storytelling.
“You could hear flies in the house, it was so quiet,” Gadjigo said.
In 2015, Sembène! made its world premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and was shown in New England for the first time on Mount Holyoke’s campus.Professor Gadjigo’s scholarship, The Sembene Across Africa Project, and his long career at Mount Holyoke continues to deepen our global knowledge and scholarship.
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