One of my favorite writers and directors, Sembène Ousmane, about whom I have previously posted when he passed away last year, directed a movie called “Camp de Thiaroye” which is coming out on DVD on November 11th. I am so excited that I even pre-ordered it.
Normally I wouldn’t shamelessly plug something, I’m a fairly mellow consumer, but to most people, African cinema is so obscure that I feel like if speak up, there might be a couple more people in the world that know they have another choice besides a Hollywood flick for their entertainment.
There are a lot of reasons that these movies stay obscure. People don’t like subtitles. Non-Hollywood movies tend to move slower and so spectators used to rapid-fire action can’t sit still ’til the end. These movies aren’t widely available (I haven’t checked Netflix) but you have to know someone to borrow them from or else order your own copy through Amazon (definitely worth owning!) The budget that an African director works with is so much smaller than what is available for a Hollywood film that the movie’s set, costumes and such sometimes seem amateurish compared to what spectators are used to. And sometimes, people don’t want to view a new perspective of the world in a movie, they just want the same rehashed plotline with more cleavage and a bigger explosion.
But there is so much that the average American doesn’t know about the history of the world. Did you know in the 1880’s the big European nations got together for the “Berlin Conference” and agreed who got which part of Africa, so that they didn’t waste their energy fighting each other over parcels but could focus their efforts on suppressing (that is a nice word for killing and enslaving) the indigenous African populations? Did you know that many African nations got their independence in the 1960’s, but that Europe and the US essentially maintained control over the countries through puppet dictatorships (which Sembène shows clearly at the beginning of his movie “Xala”)?
The movie coming out in a couple of weeks, called “Camp de Thiaroye,” tells another important, and true, story, that of the soldiers from Senegal who fought alongside French soldiers against the Nazis. The movie exposes what happened when the Senegalese soldiers returned home and were “rewarded” by the French.
I can’t say much else without spoiling the movie. I wish I could hold a screening in my living room and invite everyone. I feel it is so important for us to get outside our comfort zones and our narrow points of view and see the world through totally new eyes. Sembène achieves this result, plus entertaining us, making us laugh, endearing us to characters, and amazing us with things we’ve never seen before. Making us think and realize a new truth are just the icing.
If you somehow get a chance to see it, I highly recommend this movie.