Francophone culture finds a warm welcome here at Bentley

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Written by: Dan Merica

As part of a New England-wide celebration of Francophone culture, Bentley students and staff came together to welcome Professor Samba Gadjigo of Mount Holyoke College to campus on March 25. Gadjigo, an expert on the renowned Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene, screened the 1975 film Xala and captivated the crowd as he presented them on topics ranging from the history of Sembene to French colonialism.

Francophone, a term that refers to “French-speaking”, is used to describe the worldwide spread of French culture.
“Very often we send students out to become international, this is an opportunity to stay on campus and bring the international here,” said Jane Tchaicha, Chair of the Modern Language department and organizer of the event.
According to Gadjigo, Ousmane Sembene, called the father of African film, believed that an artist had the responsibility to not only entertain, but a social and political responsibility as well. “They cannot stand behind the fence as if they are not part of society or say they are writing just for themselves,” said Gadjigo.

In speaking with Tchaicha, she exuded excitement in bringing Gadjigo to campus. “He can offer a prospective about Ousmane Sembene that we can’t find anywhere.” Throughout his career studying African film and especially Sembene, Gadjigo had the opportunity to interview and interact with the late director and discuss his numerous productions.
The film Xala is the story of a Senegalese businessman who is taking his third-wife around the same time that the period of French colonial rule is ending in Senegal. After taking his third wife, the protagonist, El Hadji is struck with a xala – a curse of impotency. The movie is his quest to lift the curse, taking El Hadji on a deep look into post-colonial Senegal.

Senior Katy Hoover, a student who worked closely with Professor Tchaicha, believes that Xala “asks the question, ‘How does a country move beyond colonization?’”Hoover has participated in two short term programs with Tchaicha, one to Morocco and one to Senegal.

Hoover went on to say that she believes that Xala and the discussion with Gadjigo’s is not only beneficial for French students and students who are interested in Senegal, but for all business students as well. “This film is actually about the transformation from colonization to modernization and that is something as business students that we have to be aware of these opportunities in developing countries.”

Gadjigo evidenced through his discussion that while Sembene’s work speaks directly about Africa, it can resonate with the entire world. “He was born in Senegal, but the world was his home,” said Gadjigo.

“Although he talks about Senegal, talks about Africa, I think he also talks to all the people around the world who have been marginalized,” said Gadjigo, “whose voice has been stymied and who are in search of self-representation and self expression.”

Gadjigo also discussed his upcoming book, “The Making of a Militant Artist,” a biography and discussion of the life of Ousmane Sembene, his contribution to African film and his lasting contribution to society.

“I am very proud that Bentley can be part of the celebration,” concluded Tchaicha, “It makes us past of this international community.”

Both Tchaicha and Hoover were direct in their hopes that events like this that bring international discussion to Bentley, will continue. “Events like this continue to bring unique insight to the Bentley community,” concluded Hoover.

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