Poster of Mère-bi (2009) a film about Annette Mbaye d'Erneville by Ousmane William Mbaye
Annette Mbaye d’Erneville, veteran journalist, communications specialist, media activist, critic and writer, is the pioneer of Senegalese media culture. Born in the Sokone region of Senegal in 1926, she studied in Paris in the late 1940s where she immediately plunged into the intellectual life of the 1950s and was actively involved in the African independence movement. The first Senegalese to earn a degree in journalism, she returns to Senegal in 1957 to serve her country.
Avid feminist, deeply proud of her culture, she is the founder and director of the Maison de la Femme Henriette Bathily (The Henriette Bathily Women’s House) located on Gorée Island, Senegal, created in 1994. She was the director of RECIDAK, Rencontres cinématographiques de Dakar for many years. An annual film festival that she initiated in 1990 and with which she continues to have close ties. The 1996 edition of RECIDAK, Femmes et Cinéma (Women and Cinema) paid homage to African women. She was also a founding member of the Association Sénégalaise des Critiques de Cinéma (ASSECCI) created by filmmaker and critic Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and journalist Djib Diedhiou.
Reflecting on the role of women as cultural producers, she declares: "The goal is to allow women to express themselves, to be witnesses to their era and to reflect a realistic image of Africa in their own lives."
Madame Annette Mbaye d’Erneville carries with aplomb the name that her son, Ousmane William Mbaye attributes to her in Mére-bi, a documentary film that he made about her life. Below is a French to English translation of an interview with him regarding the film, along with the video clip from TV5Monde.
Translation from French by Beti Ellerson
Patrick Simonin TV5Monde: Ousmane William Mbaye, Senegalese filmmaker, has made a documentary film about his own mother. Welcome to the show.
This film is dedicated to your own mother, why devote an entire film to this amazing Senegalese personage?
Ousmane William Mbaye: It is not just a portait of my mother, it is a film about the first Senegalese journalist, who is at the same time my mother.
Patrick Simonin: She has always been independent, and she is still with us…
Ousmane William Mbaye: Yes she is, knock on wood. And very independent as you stated. But what really interested me was her journey. Here is a woman who has lived through three generations, who fought for the emancipation of women, who was a media innovator, who initiated the first center for women. She has the mindset of openness and tolerance, which has been fascinating for me.
Patrick Simonin: Ten years to make this film about Annette Mbaye d’Erneville, we will see excerpts of the film, and in its entirety tomorrow on TV5Monde. She opened up to you…
Ousmane William Mbaye: She opened up to me, inspite of herself. I filmed her during a ten-year period with my video camera, though at the beginning she did not take me seriously. I have 150 hours of footage, scenes and sequences that no one else could have had. Because of my proximity and intimacy with her, I could have real situations.
Patrick Simonin: Let’s look at the atmosphere in the film…
Annette Mbaye d’Erneville: “I was raised with a great deal of affection…at 9 years old I did not speak a word of French, at home my aunt taught me how to read, as I spoke impeccable Wolof, amid this mix-raced milieu of St. Louis…”
Patrick Simonin: It is a family album and at the same time the history of Senegal, as well as the history of an Africa fighting for its existence.
Ousmane William Mbaye: It is a history of an Africa that stands tall, of its fight for independence, (as we are speaking about its 50th year of independence), of this generation of men and women. She was not alone, there is an entire generation that forged it. Hence, they have a mentality of “fighters”, though perhaps at present they are older and perhaps a bit weaker, they continue.
Patrick Simonin: She enters this colonial world and liberates herself. She goes to Paris and discovers for the first time that she can be served by white women in the cafés.
Ousmane William Mbaye: Yes, during the colonial period, the image of white people was as superior. When she arrives in Paris in the late 40s among which are other African students, she finds that there are white people who are streetsweepers, waiters in the cafes and and most important for her, that there are white people who are not racist, there was a type of harmony.
Patrick Simonin: There were white people who were not part of this cadre of colonialist, and for her there is a feeling of harmony…
Ousmane William Mbaye: There is the intellectual movement in France in the 1950s whose members are both white and African.
Patrick Simonin: She meets Senghor and becomes part of a group…which becomes a kind of Africa outside of Africa.
Ousmane William Mbaye: Yes, they created the Federation of African Students in France. And these students return to Africa in 1957 to become part of the African independence movements.
Patrick Simonin: She also becomes involved in music and dance…
Ousmane William Mbaye: Yes, there is not a barrier between the intellectualism and culture, she meets Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Sartre and Senghor, it was this type of harmony. I wanted to show in 2010 how Africans lived in Europe in the 1950s. I think there are important memories to preserve and show.
Patrick Simonin: It’s outstanding! We will return to watch some images from the film. You stated that she, among others, saw the importance of returning to their country.
Ousmane William Mbaye: She uses the expression: “to serve my country”. This was a generation who believed in the development of Africa. Rather than stay in Europe, no, they wanted to return to Africa, to Senegal to develop it. I want the young people of Africa today to have this same sentiment.
Patrick Simonin: Thus to serve, and to remember. We see in these images that she has been rewarded for her efforts, for all of Africa. This is an extraordinary woman, she is a role model.
Ousmane William Mbaye: I want to also say that I did not make the film alone, a few others were involved, though we were not many. Laurence Attali was the editor and co-producer of the film, she brought a great deal to the project, as well as musician Doudou Doukouré…
Patrick Simonin: But was it not she who brought the most, she is being herself. You filmed it in a certain way. You followed her as she lived from day to day.
Ousmane William Mbaye: I followed her, she had to endure the contant presence of my camera. And there were moments also when she forgot about the camera. When I wanted to put on the lavalier she resisted.
Patrick Simonin: She is still a rebel.
Ousmane William Mbaye: Yes, she is still a rebel, still active with the Henriette Bathily Women’s House and its exhibitions.
Patrick Simonin: She continues forward, and TV5Monde will present these beautiful images of her. The film is called Mere-bi, The Mother. It has won international prizes…So you feel this is Africa?
Ousmane William Mbaye: Yes, she is the role model for Africa…
Patrick Simonin: And women…
Ousmane William Mbaye: And for women. Because African women as they are viewed in the West do not conform to their reality…