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Born in Ziguinchor, southern Senegal, in 1923, Sembène is widely acknowledged as a seminal figure in both African literature and film.
As with Bâ, Emecheta, Nuruddin Farah, Head, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Yvonne Vera, Sembène’s work, on both page and screen, is centrally concerned with the cultural practices and political discourses surrounding the female body in Africa.
Before his death in 2007, Sembène won critical acclaim for Moolaadé (2004), a film that offers an uncompromising exploration of female circumcision.
It was a suitably provocative end to a life and career dedicated to the belief that art should play an interrogative, consciousness-raising role.
Alongside his scores of films, Sembène is probably best known for his second novel, which translated from its original French into God’s Bits of Wood (1960), as well as Xala, a novella written in 1973 that evolved into a film of the same name.
In their distinctive yet equally defiant ways, both texts attack political hypocrisy, whether colonial or neocolonial, while also critiquing the excesses of an often violent patriarchal culture.
For readers and viewers on the African continent and beyond, Sembène’s achievements and influence are enormous.