Film Review – NEGRITUDE: A DIALOGUE BETWEEN SENGHOR AND SOYINKA. 52 mins; USA.
Manthia Diawara is one of the significant scholars of African cinema, and this has been further established recently with the publication of the African Studies Review in December, 2015, essentially devoted to the African films and built upon the backdrop of the myriad concerns and concepts espoused by Manthia Diawara himself to the commitment of producing scholarly works on African films. Kenneth Harrow, the editor of the Film Review Unit of the international Journal of African Studies Review in last December edition emphasized that for many years the scholar’s (of African filmmaking) work has guided scholars and students in African cinema in multiple ways. “His study of cinema production in various African countries, African Cinema: Politics and Culture (1992), set the stage for many major critical approaches. Among other contributions he promoted the use of archival research into the directions taken in Anglophone, Lusophone, and Francophone cinema”. It is not surprising that Diawara, in spite of his foray as a scholar has also tried his hands on the art of making films specifically documentaries that come in form of “cine-essays” through the genre of the “biographical or autobiographical films, in the process establishing his own familiar deep voice as guide commentator”. The recurring element of the guide commentator reflects in his recent trial titled: Negritude: A Dialogue Between Senghor and Soyinka. With Manthia Diawara as the narrator the work is a critical visual critique on some of the exegesis and tenets of Negritude, which Leopord Senghor espoused during his lifetime, and how Soyinka both critiqued and further transformed the concept in view of a universal appeal without subverting the earlier claims of late and former president of Senegal. The film opens up with an old footage of an international gathering where Wole Soyinka’s speaking on, several issues which included issues of African culture, history and of course Negritude. The work is divided into ten parts or episodes and each given equal treatment on Negritude and the various derivations that are essentially connected with culture, history, social history of Africa, colonial and postcolonial matters, issues of democracy, politics, political economy, capitalism, dictatorship and so on. Very rich in form and content, Diawara juxtaposes old, archival footages of interviews with Senghor on the dialectics and practices of Negritude, with real time interviews of Soyinka, in order to create a meaningful parity of an essential dialogue. To further negotiate a meaningful dialogue between the two figures on the same issue, Manthia Diawara balances these dialogues by picking up a an issue that is connected with the subject matter and tries to use the figures to delineate the subtext of each of the subject matters. While the concept and its controversies kicked off during the 20th century, it is interesting to note as observed in the documentary, that Diawara deliberately tackles the facts of the dialogue as he presents Soyinka in the 21st century, revisiting some of the highpoints of Negritude and how it has played out as a global phenomenon in various places of the world in spite of the glaring and observable tropes of hegemonic features. Diawara plays the role of the cultural courier by showing the elements of the African world, and subversive transforming elements of modernism or postmodern lifestyle in an already threatened cultural ambience. For instance, while he depicts the notions of the African Negritudinal idiosyncrasies through the theatrical performances, or the griot performer on the boat playing his local guitar, there is a sense in which he fuses these traditional tropes of art with the frames of daily life in the cities and the constant transformation that comes with globalization. Another aspect that even demands a crucial mention is the fact that the footages of Senghor’s interviews were done in French, and while those of Soyinka were done in English which clarifies that measure of authenticity in the old passion for Negritude, and constant hegemonic existence and survival of the English language. Diawara’s decision to make this documentary was inspired by an essay Wole Soyinka wrote and included in the book titled, The Burden of Memory,Muse of Forgiveness. The essay reads like a critical tribute to Senghor and his commitment to Negritude and Wole Soyinka’s dense understanding of the concept and how it has managed to exist with us, even as a global phenomenon and cultural practice. The documentary is of profound intellectual dept. Much like any other seriously made work, it traces the historical development of a tradition from its earliest beginnings, to our present times and this “present times” establish also that Negritude in itself is a phenomenon that wields social history, and social histories can only trace the development of a phenomenon that has the potential to exist and influence generations for a very long time. Diawara’s Negritude: A Dialogue Between Senghor and Soyinka came fully made. We must think highly of it. Tunde Onikoyi IREP Media Team