Xala (1975)

The Senegalese film Xala directed by the father of African Cinema Ousumane Sembene centers around a government official named El Hadji who marries a third wife after the French Colonial government officials leave Senegal. Every one of El Hadji’s wives represent a woman in Post-Colonial Senegal. Xala critiques both colonialism and polygamy.

The first wife represents the traditional woman who does whatever her husband orders and wears conservative African garb. The second wife represents the westernized woman who buys into consumer culture. The third wife is the symbol for the objectified women who are literally silenced. She does not speak a word for the entire film. El Hadji’s third wife is treated like a sex object. She is sold to him by her mother in exchange for a car. The mother I believe has internalized sexism.

El Hadji’s daughter Rama represents the liberated educated African young woman. She even goes to college.Throughout Xala everybody speaks French expect for Rama who speaks the native Wolof language. Rama rejects her father’s patriarchal role of dominance over his daughters and wives. She refuses to go to the third wife’s marriage because she believes polygamy is wrong. Rama stands up for her mother who’s the first wife by telling El Hadji that her mother should divorce him. El Hadji slaps his daughter, but that does not stop her from being a symbol for a liberated mix of the West and Africa.

I recommended Xala to my followers who are interested in dramas that critique colonialism, sexism, polygamy and consumer culture. The great thing about this African drama is that the film reveals how polygamy creates problems for both men and women. Please check out African Cinema.

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