Rama Thiaw’s Revolution:
The Camera as a Weapon
“I wanted the camera to replace the adversary, to face it head on.”
Already as a student of economics Rama Thiaw was an idealist, wanting to understand the capitalist system in order to know how to dismantle it, and the world economic structure in order to change it. But soon she realised that it would not be as an economist that she could make change, but rather, through the image: “Even if one does not understand the language, one understands the image. Hence the image is a means that can be used to change attitudes.”
Yet, the idealism of Rama Thiaw was nurtured by the “boulfalléism” of her youth. “You make your own way and don’t give a damn about anything,” loosely translates the Wolof expression Boul Fallé. For Rama Thiaw, a child of the Boul Fallé generation, this motto was in many ways her own story growing up. Even as a young child coming from Mauritania, she had to make her own way and not succumb to the insults that were hurled at her once in Senegal. Coming from Pikine, in the outskirts of Dakar she has always had to assert herself. Again in France she continued to find her own path as an outsider. And this attitude has stayed with her as a filmmaker. As a role model the Senegalese wrestling star Mohamed Ndao Tyson was her inspiration someone “who came from nothing, bringing hope and showing the way forward. By dint of determination and hard work he became a success.” Therefore, the attitude of finding one’s own way and not expecting anything from others was a motto that she adopted as her own. In many ways it was a natural continuation of ideas that the focus of her first feature documentary was about wrestling, as sport and metaphor for fighting in the struggle. The title, Boul Fallé, la voie de la lutte, the latter phrase, that translates from French to “the path of struggle”, derives from the French homonym “lutte”, which means both the sport of wrestling and struggle—especially in the sense of engagement.
Hip hop was another role model that she embraced while growing up, as she was also influenced by the social movement brought about by the Senegalese activist hip hop group Positive Black Soul (aka PBS) who popularized the expression Boul Fallé, the name of their 1994 song. Hence, it is also not a coincidence that her second feature documentary incorporates the elements of hip hop as a conceptual framework and symbol for change. Her film, The Revolution won’t be televised shows her direct influence by Gil Scott Heron, the godfather of social and political hip hop activism. Rama Thiaw describes Senegal as an oral society, and hence, music is a way to convey information traditionally, for instance the griots recount history orally, which include music and singing. Even politically, music is integrated into the introduction of politicians, for example. She further explains the significance of hip hop, which is very wide-spread among young people in Senegal. And hence, it had a significant role to play during the “constitutional coup” of Abdoulaye Wade: “although 54% of the population cannot read, thanks to the lyrics, people throughout Senegal, including in the rural areas, were able to know what was going." In Revolution Rama Thiaw’s camera goes behind the scenes of the political revolution Y’en a Marre (translated from French, “we’re fed up”), ignited by the hip hop group Keur Gui and journalists Cheikh Fadel Barro and Aliou Sané in Senegal in 2011. In the film she shows “how one lives a revolution from day to day, with all the dangers, uncertainties and joys that it brings."
In so doing she also questions the notion of being committed, of what it means to be a socially committed artist: “It is easy to do so when you have money and live in a villa somewhere, but when you have nothing, that is when the act of commitment takes on all of its meaning.”
Interview mit Rama Thiat und Cheick Oumar Touré (In French)
Rama Thiaw- L'Afrique a tendance à se sous-estimer - Ciné droit libre - Droit de vivre
Rama Thiaw, jeune réalisatrice en lutte - Slate Afrique
Rama Thiaw talks about the “Making of” The Revolution will not be Televised - African Women in Cinema Blog
REPORT BY BETI ELLERSON