From A.O. Scott in the New York Times:
Widely seen as the father of African cinema, Mr. SembÃ¨ne took up filmmaking in the 1960s, in part because he believed that film could reach a wider and more diverse African audience than literature. â€œBlack Girlâ€ (1965), his debut feature, is commonly referred to as the first African film. Combining realistic narrative techniques with elements of traditional African storytelling, it tells of a young woman named Diouana who commits suicide after traveling to Europe with her French employers.
Diouanaâ€™s identity crisis foretold some of the central themes of Mr. SembÃ¨neâ€™s later work â€” he directed 10 features and numerous shorts â€” and of the nascent African cinema more generally. The tensions between tradition and modernity and between newly independent African nations and their erstwhile colonial masters are sources of drama and comedy in his films, which are nonetheless focused on the lives of ordinary people, frequently women.