La Noire De . . . - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

Senegal-France, 1966

Director: Ousmane Sembene

Production: Les films Domirev (Dakar) and Les Actualités Françaises (Paris); black and white, 35mm; running time: 70 minutes. Released March 1966, France; English version released 1969, New York.

Producer: André Zwobada; screenplay: Ousmane Sembene, from a short story by Sembene first published in Voltaïque (1961); photography: Christian Lacoste; editor: André Gaudier; assistant director: Ibrahima Barro; second assistant: Pathé Diop.

Cast: Thérèse N'Bissine Diop ( Diouana ); Robert Fontaine ( The patron ); Momar Nar Sene ( Friend ); Anne-Marie Jelinek ( The patroness ); Ibrahima Boy ( Boy with mask ); Philippe, Sophie, and Damien ( Infants ); plus the voices of Toto Bissainthe, Robert Marcy, and Sohie Leclerc; Bernard Delbaro; Nicole Donati; Raymond Lemery; Suzanne Lemery.

Awards: Prix Jean Vigo, Paris, 1966; Festival mondial des Arts nègres, Antilope d'argent, 1966; Journées cinématographiques de Carthage, Tanit d'Or, 1966.



Vieyre, Paulin Soumanou, Ousmane Sembene, cinéaste: Première période 1962–1971 , Paris, 1972.

Vieyre, Paulin Soumanou, Le Cinéma africain des origines à 1973 , Paris, 1975.

Martin, Angela, editor, African Films: The Context of Production , London, 1982.

Moore, Carrie Dailey, Evolution of an African Artist: Social Realism in the Works of Ousmane Sembene , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1984.

Pfaff, Francoise, The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene , Westport, Connecticut, 1984.

Armes, Roy, Third World Filmmaking and the West , Berkeley, 1987.

Peters, Jonathan A., Ousmane Sembene: Contemporary Griot , Boulder, 1987.

Gadjigo, Samba, and Ralph Faulkingham, and Thomas Cassirer, and Reinhard Sander, editors, Ousmane Sembene: Dialogues with Critics and Writers , Amherst, 1993.

Petty, Sheila, A Call to Action: The Films of Ousmane Sembene , Westport, 1996.


Morgenthau, H., "On Films and Filmmakers," in Africa Report , May-June 1969.

Mortimer, Robert, "Engaged Film-Making for a New Society," in Africa Report , November 1970.

Paquet, A., and G. Borremans, "Ousmane Sembene: Les 'Franctireurs' senegalais," in Cinéma Québec (Montreal), March-April 1973.

Perry, G. M., interview with Ousmane Sembene, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1973.

Weaver, H. D., Jr., interview with Ousmane Sembene, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 6, no. 1, 1973.

Cheriaa, T., "Ousmane Sembene, Carthage, et le cinéma africain" and "Problematique du cinéaste africain: L'Artiste et la révolution," in Cinéma Québec (Montreal), August 1974.

Ghali, N., "Ousmane Sembene," in Cinématographe (Paris), April 1976.

Bonnet, J.-C., interview with Ousmane Sembene, in Cinématographe (Paris), June 1977.

Grelier, R., interview with Ousmane Sembene, in Image et Son (Paris), November 1977.

"Ousmane Sembene," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 June 1979.

Bosseno, C., interview with Ousmane Sembene, in Image et Son (Paris), September 1979.

Landy, M., and others, "Ousmane Sembene's Films," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), July 1982.

Film Library Quarterly (New York), vol. 16, no. 4, 1983.

Atkinson, M., "Ousmane Sembene," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1993.

"Sembene, Ousmane," in Current Biography (Bronx), vol. 55, no. 4, April 1994.

Niang, Sada, "Interview with Ousmane Sembene," in Research in African Literatures (Austin), vol. 26, no. 3, Fall 1995.

* * *

La noire de . . . , by the Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, is the first feature-length film to come out of sub-Saharan Africa. Technically flawed, it is nevertheless a cultural and cinematographic achievement, and it marks an important date in the history of African cinema. Based on a short story of the same title, written by Sembene and published in Voltaïque (1961), La noire de . . . tells the story of a young African woman who goes to France to work for the French couple who have employed her in Dakar. Filled with joy at the prospect of the trip, she soon becomes disillusioned, and finally, feeling imprisoned and isolated from the support of her own community, kills herself.

The film is remarkable in several ways. The force of this tragic tale, itself based on a real-life incident, is developed with considerable skill, especially for a filmmaker with only two short subjects to his credit at the time. The visual impact is great—an accomplishment that is especially noteworthy when one considers that Sembene first told the story in another form, then adapted it into a film that stands completely on its own merits. Sembene's ability at adaptation distinguishes this work from unsuccessful film adaptations in general and marks his progress from the making of his second film Niaye , in which the original literary text is still respected to the detriment of the visual presentation. One major difference between La noire de . . . and the original short story is in the powerful emphasis placed on an African mask, raising it to the level of a symbol. We see the mask first in its African context, then see it given joyfully by Diouana, the African maid and central character, to the European couple after she begins to work for them. It appears again in Antibes, hung on a very white wall in the couple's apartment. When Diouana breaks into open revolt at her dismal situation, she reclaims it, and we see the two women—one white, one black—fighting over the mask. The mask is returned by the Frenchman to Diouana's family, along with her other belongings, after her death. The film closes with a wonderfully dramatic sequence in which the dead woman's younger brother, wearing the mask, pursues the Frenchman out of the African residential area, as the music in the background rises in pace and intensity.

The conditions of the making of this film are unusual, if not unique, and speak directly to Sembene's vision of cinema as both art and politics: the African actors, including the woman who plays Diouana, were all non-professionals. The film sequences—despite the extensive use of flashbacks—had to be shot in strictly chronological order because of the lack of experience and sophistication with regard to the medium, and this circumstance engendered further problems with lighting in the film. In addition, the sound was dubbed in France. Despite all of these difficulties, the film succeeds admirably in conveying, through the life of one otherwise unremarkable African woman, the brutal realities of neo-colonialism on the African continent.

Sembene's conception of his role as African artist is central to an understanding of his work. Known first as a writer of novels and short stories, he was moved to study cinema at the age of 38 by the realization that, for several reasons, his French-language writings were reaching only a minute segment of his African compatriots. Film allows him to reach many more people, and he sees it as the best way to educate the masses: he claims that he can reach more people with cinema than are likely to attend all the political rallies, all the Christian and Muslim religious gatherings. The fact that La noire de . . . is in French shows that the metamorphosis was incomplete at this point in his career. Le mandat (Mandabi) , his next film, would be in Wolof, a language spoken by some 90% of his fellow Senegalese.

—Curtis Schade

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