Reflection on African Cinema

African cinema has been developing through the years. Though they are not as accessible as films from other continents, some titles remain their reputation to be favorites. To commemorate the beauty of African cinema, we carefully selected some films (previously discussed at Secret Movie Saturday).

1 | Yeelen (1987, Souleymane Cissé)

Reflection on African Cinema
Yeelen (1987, directed by Souleymane Cissé). Credit: Contact for credit

Country: Mali

It is unfortunate that Yeelen did not really put this subgenre of African fantasy adventure movies on the map, and that Souleymayne Cisse only went on to make two more feature films since then (one in 1995, and one in 2009). Hopefully with the success of recent movies such as Black Panther, which borrowed a lot of elements from traditional African cultures and myths, and package them in a futuristic superhero flick, there will be an increased demand for high budget fantasy epics that take place in this vast but relatively unknown continent in the context of pop culture. And hopefully one day, what we see in Yeelen won’t seem so weird or exotic anymore, but just entertaining and relatable.



2 | Touki Bouki (1973, Djibril Diop Mambéty)

Reflection on African Cinema
Touki Bouki (1973, directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty). Credit: Cinegrit/World Cinema Foundation

Country: Senegal

Djibril Diop Mambety directed this film as if he’d never get the chance to direct another film, and indeed, he’d only direct one more feature film 19 years later before his death at the age of 53. Touki Bouki is a movie best remembered for what it was, not what it was about. it is heavy in symbolism, yet never pretends that it has more substance over style. It is a celebration of youthful ideals, a critique of mass-market Westernization, a contemplation of loss in a globalized society, and a captivating cinematic showcase. This film is part of restoration projects initiated by World Cinema Foundation.


3 | Borom Sarret (1963, Ousmane Sembène)

Reflection on African Cinema
Borom Sarret (1963, directed by Ousmane Sembène). Credit: Cannes

Country: Senegal

The story centers on a day in the life of a man, descendant of a warrior tribe and ex-war veteran who now drives around a horse carriage taxi to earn a living for himself and his wife. Shot mostly silent, our man’s internal monologue serves as a commentary of post-independence Senegalese society that is rampant with socioeconomic equality, changing sexual norms, and job scarcity.

Borom Sarret (1963, Ousmane Sembene), despite its short duration of only 20 minutes, has singled out the issues that will be further explored and expanded in post-independence African Cinema. It was a glimpse of the literary richness that’s to come.


Yusgunawan Marto

Jakarta Cinema Club

Photo by Breston Kenya from Pexels

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