By: Melina Gills
On October 8, a group of undergraduate and graduate students, from fields as diverse as Engineering and Women and Gender Studies, gathered in Tillett Hall to watch the 1966 Senegalese film widely considered to have ushered in “African cinema.” Forty-nine years later, with a restoration that screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Black Girl (La noire de…), directed by world-celebrated filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, has lost none of its emotional punch and political power. In the midst of enjoying the pizza generously funded by the GSA, we were quietly enraptured by Sembène’s rhythms, images, and thought-provoking juxtapositions.
With the haunting image of a mask that travels from Senegal to France, back to Senegal again, Sembène paints a vivid world of loneliness, suffering, and the bonds between living and dead that ultimately stand as an unscathed form of resistance to the oppressive forces that will be undone by their own inhumanity. The final breaking of the fourth wall epitomizes Black Girl’s challenge to any spectatorial detachment, emphasizing the need for communal viewing and debate. After the screening, we eagerly discussed the film, especially marveling at its still very relevant portrayal of a woman’s experience in a country from which she is barred as an equal, welcomed only as cheap or free labor, an advanced form of slavery.
What changes between colonialism and its supposed “post” era? This is one such question rigorously addressed by the film and one that will be raised at the Comparative Literature department’s upcoming annual graduate conference, which will explore “decolonial thought.” This semester, the screenings of the Comparative Literature Film Series, of which that of Black Girl was the first, anticipate the central ideas and concerns to be discussed at the conference. Future films include Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011, Thailand) and a still undecided film.