Ousmane Sembene is widely considered Africa’s most important filmmaker. He burst onto the scene in 1966 with Black Girl, a riveting feature that explored Africa’s relationship to colonialism through the story of two women. Since then he has continued to mine the theme with masterpieces like Camp de Thiaroye and Guelwaar. And now, at the ripe age of 81, Sembene has made his most accessible film yet.
Moolaadé, which premiered to rave reviews at Cannes, takes place in a West African village. Four young girls who are to be circumcised flee the “purification” ceremony and take refuge with Colle, a woman who is infamous for not allowing her own daughter to be circumcised. When the older women of the village come to confront Colle, she invokes an ancient protective spell called the Moolaadé. This sets the village into an uproar, as the elders try to figure out what to do. They can’t abide this affront to their authority, but they also can’t revoke the Moolaadé without Colle’s permission.
What ensues is a provocative story about the roles of men and women in African society. Though the hot-button topic of female circumcision provides the starting point, Sembene is more interested in how the forces of globalization and modernization are changing Africa. It’s especially interesting that Sembene doesn’t settle into any easy categories. A hilarious subplot regarding radios in the village will challenge anyone who thinks the global media is always a bad thing.