Pfaff, Francoise. Cinema of Ousmane Sembene, a pioneer of African film. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984.
In chapter 2 of Cinema of Ousmane Sembène, Pfaff decribes Ousmane Sembène’s exquisite skill as a storyteller, calling him the modern equivalent of the traditional African griot. A griot is an individual that specializes in storytelling, legends and family histories. Sembène certainly fits the bill, but what makes him even more authentic as the first African international herald was the fact that he was self-educated, opinionated and critical of post-colonial rule in Africa. The author elaborates upon the popularity and effectiveness of griot storytelling in African heritage, and how this heritage gave Sembène’s films such a distinct style when compared to Western films. Griot-style stories were often allegorical in nature, and we see the same style in most of Sembène’s films. Pfaff uses Xala, for instance, to show how individual character psychology is not as important as character stereotype – each character representing a distinct worldview.
I think the relation between this chapter and Xala is rather obvious. Sembène uses Xala, to tell the story of post-colonial Africa. The film has elements of allegory, and certainly has a strong political and cultural agenda, as would be expected coming from a griot. The film was recorded in French so that Sembène could tell the story to an international audience, in hopes of spurring outside political pressure and accountability for African governments.
Mushengyezi, Aaron. "Reimaging Gender and African Tradition? Ousmane Sembene's Xala revisited." Africa Today 51, Number 1 (Fall 2004): 47-62.
Aaron Mushengyezi’s Reimaging Gender and African Tradition? Ousmane Sembène’s Xala revisited is written in direct response to Ousamane Sembène’s film Xala. The article challenges Sembène’s polarization of Western and African influences in post-colonial Africa, setting out to raise questions about the director’s vision for the country. The author argues that Sembène romanticizes and idealizes as he reimages Africa for foreign audiences, demonizing Western modernity and idolizing the “purity” of African tradition. It critique’s Sembène’s views of gender, his reimaging Africa and the symbolism of the Xala in an attempt to uncover the director’s worldview.
The article questions whether Sembène includes gender in his list of polarized worldviews, as he depicts males as incompetent, greedy and weak, and females as redemptive, wise and more “masculine” in spirit than their physiological counterparts. Although each of the female characters is comparatively strong, they individually represent different point on the continuum between African traditionalism and Western modernism. The author gives special attention to Rama, Sembène’s idealized heroine - educated yet untouched by Western corruption, speaking her mind, both true to her African heritage and disapproving of her father’s polygamy. The author, however, cites Rama as the primary example of Sembène’s idealism. He argues that such a person does not exist in Africa. The author questions Sembène’s criticism of the paternal system of family and government, hoping to determine what he would suggest in its stead.
The article does admit that Xala raises important questions as to whether Western modernity is solely to blame for the impotence of post-colonial African government. At its conclusion, it explores the paradoxical metaphor of the xala as both a curse and a redemptive force in cleansing El Hadji, the main character, of his Western and African fetishes.