Djibril Diop Mambéty (1945-1998) was a world-renowned Senegalese film director, composer, and actor. He was known for his distinct surrealist style, and his fascinating portrayal of themes like politics, power and wealth, and social conditions in Africa. He received international acclaim for his experimental and unconventional films, and he still remains an important influence in the present and future of African filmmaking.
Mambéty was born January 23, 1945 in Colobane, Senegal. As he grew up, he studied drama and worked for some time as an actor, but had no formal training in cinema. In the end, he was expelled from the Daniel Sorano National theater for his ‘undisciplined’ behavior. However, despite this rejection, Mambéty refused to give up and instead found only more motivation to pursue his dreams.
After this, he began raising money and making his own films. His first two films, Contras’ City (1968) and Badou Boy (1970), failed at the Senegalese box office but were critically acclaimed by several film festivals around the world. These two films explored Senegalese society and culture in very experimental and satirical ways.
It was not until 1973 that Mambéty released his first masterpiece: Touki Bouki (meaning “the hyena’s journey”). This film, which follows a reckless Senegalese couple trying to find a way to run away to Europe, is “considered one of the foundational works of African cinema” (Indiana University Press). This film features themes of wealth and delusion with strong political and sexual imagery, and makes use of very striking and experimental filmography throughout, including elements of music, sound, color, and so on. Among many other awards, Touki Bouki won the International Critics Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Despite Touki Bouki’s success, Mambéty did not make his second (and final) feature film until 1992. This film, Hyènes, explored themes of human breed, neocolonial relations in Africa, and the corruption in consumerism and materialism. During an interview about this film, Mambéty explains his recurring imagery of animals (particularly hyenas):
“You know in the beginning I kill [the elephants]. You have elephants going away with the wind. They are the time. They are the life going on, and between the elephants at the beginning and the elephants at the end, you have the kingdom of Hyenas. Hyenas are not the time, elephants are the time and during that time Hyenas like you and I will try to survive. You know the Hyena is a terrible animal. He is able to follow a lion, a sick lion during all seasons. And during the lion’s last days it comes down and jumps on him and eats him, eats the lion peacefully. That is the life of the World Bank. They know we are sick and poor and we have some dignity. But they can wait, wait for the last days when you say OK, I know my dignity is meat. I want to survive. Please take my dignity and kill me with your money” (Southern African Film Festival).
After Hyènes’ release, Mambéty had achieved international attention and acclaim as a filmmaker. He then began work on a trilogy of short films; however, he unfortunately died of lung cancer during the editing of the second film. He passed away at the young age of 53 in a Paris hospital.
Mambéty’s legacy lives on forever in his passionate films and these last insightful quotes:
“I am interested in marginalized people, because I believe that they do more for the evolution of a community than the conformists. Marginalized people bring a community into contact with a wider world.” (The Hyena’s Last Laugh)
“[The style of my films is] the way I dream. To do that, one must have a mad belief that everything is possible—you have to be mad to the point of being irresponsible. Because I know that cinema must be reinvented, reinvented each time, and whoever ventures into cinema also has a share in its reinvention.” (The Hyena’s Last Laugh)
“Cinema was born in Africa, because the image itself was born in Africa.” (The Hyena’s Last Laugh)
- “Djibril Diop Mambety: The Prince of Colobane” by Meserette Kentake. http://kentakepage.com/djibril-diop-mambety-the-prince-of-colobane/
- African Success. http://www.africansuccess.org/visuFiche.php?id=57&lang=en
- Interview with Djibril Diop Mambety at Southern African Film Festival, 1993. http://itutu.com/djibril/Interview.html
- “The Hyena’s Last Laugh: A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety” http://newsreel.org/articles/mambety.htm
- Indiana University Press. http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=808285
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djibril_Diop_Mambéty
- YouTube (for clips)