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The Shadow & Act Filmmaker Series Discussion: Ousmane Sembène’s ‘Mandabi’

The Shadow & Act Filmmaker Series Discussion: Ousmane Sembène's 'Mandabi'

Continuing on the with the series… if you’re just joining us, and are intrigued, please click HERE to catch up on what the series is about.

The film in the series we tackled was Ousmane Sembene’s first feature-length film (although it’s only 66 minutes), La Noir De (aka Black Girl). If you missed that entire discussion (which I believe continues) click HERE.
We continue the series with our discussion of Sembene’s second film, Mandabi, which was released in 1968, 2 years after Black Girl.
As an aside, one reader suggested that this series would be better served in a live conversation, like via a podcast. And I agreed to that! It’s actually a good idea and something that I plan to make a reality eventually. But for right now, we’ll continue in this blog format. Thanks to all those who chimed in on Black Girl! There were some good comments.
Let’s see what you made of Mandabi. Let me also just say that the point of this, really, is to encourage you all to watch these early Diaspora films by the masters, who came before the names we all know about today. They were making films at a time in our history when being of African descent and a filmmaker was far more challenging to accomplish than anything black filmmakers struggle with today. And I believe that these films and filmmakers from yesteryear, especially those who aren’t talked about as much, but deserve to be, should be recognized and their work not forgotten
All that said, let’s discuss Mandabi.
Mandabi” translates as “money order” in English. The film tells the story of Ibrahima Dieng, a pompous, foolish Senegalese man who receives a large money order from a nephew working in Paris. However, he can’t cash it, because he lacks proper identification, a problem he spends days trying to rectify – a journey fraught with cheaters, liars, and worse, who have their eyes set on the money as well, after the man’s wives unknowingly help leak the information. 

Mandabi, unlike Semebene’s last film we discussed, Black Girl, is a comedy – a humorous social critique, we could say; though like Black Girl, deceptively simple and direct on its surface, but more layered and complex underneath. 
Like most of Sembene’s films, it’s essentially commentary on, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism, as our hero is forced to leave the safety of his traditional community, in which he is dominant, and thrust into an intimidating Neo-Colonialist bureaucracy, where he finds himself a victim; and the money order sent by his Paris-based nephew ends up being more of a burden, than the invaluable aid it was meant to be. 
It’s at times painfully humorous, as Sembene essentially holds a mirror up to his beloved country.
I think of Kafka of all people, and the hopelessness and absurdity that are common themes in his works.
So, did you watch it, as requested? You had 2 long weeks to do so. And if you did, or if you’re already familiar with it, share your thoughts, comments, questions, observations, etc, in the comment section below, and let’s discuss.
For those who haven’t seen it, and who are interested in joining the dialogue, the film is on Netflix, both on DVD and is also streaming, so you’re a few clicks away from watching it. You can also pick it up on Amazon if you prefer.

Here are the first 2 minutes of Mandabi, which I think set the tone for the rest of the film:

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