Cinema in Senegal: A Brief History

Cinema came to Senegal as early as 1902 with the screening of L’arroseur arrose (The Sprinkler Sprinkled) in Dakar. Occasional screenings by French colonial authorities and missionaries occurred throughout the colonial period. When sound came to cinema in the late 1920,s however, the French who were conscious of its influential powers proactively created a law to control its production as well its exhibition in its colonies. Thus, in 1934, the then governor of the colonies, Pierre Laval, signed a decree that came to be now as the laval decree requiring French government permission to shoot and show films in their colonies and banning colonized people from filming themselves. The decree remained in effect until 1960 when the colonies became independent.

It comes as no surprise then that Ousmane Sembene’s Borom Sarret (1963) is admittedly generally associated with the birth of Sub-Saharan African cinema. Even though other films were produced by African filmmakers prior to Borom Sarret, namely Mouramani (1953) by Guinean filmmaker Mamadou Toure and Afrique sur-Seine (1955) co-produced by Jacques Mallo Kane, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, Mamadou Sarr, and Robert Caristan, these were not commercially released. Besides, the prohibition being in effect, Afrique sur-Seine was entirely shot in France as the film was about the experience of Africans in France. Even so, it was only at the World Festival of Black Art that Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegalese poet and President, hosted in 1966, that the first feature length black African film ever was premiered. It was Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl (1966).

Although Sembene is credited for being the first black African to have made films in Africa, it is important to acknowledge that the French have made a number of films in their colonies; films that for the most part aligned themselves with the colonialist mindset of representing colonized people in a demeaning way.

Willamette University

French and Francophone Studies

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