Every society stratifies its members. Some societies have greater inequality than others, but stratification is universal. Social stratification persists over generations and involves not only inequality, but also an established belief system to support itSocial stratificationstratification is defined as the act, process or condition of being arranged into classes or social strata within a group. Class stratification is the tendency of groups to be divided into separate classes. This paper will analyze social status, class and race in Ousmane Sembene’s, “Faat Kine”, “Xala”, “Black Girl”, and “Mandabi”.
Faat Kine manages a busy gas station in Dakar, Senegal, drives a fancy car, and worries about her children’s education. She is an unwed mother of two, and takes pride in her children’s individuality. Kine’s life is complex; she enjoys the compassion of many friends, yet struggles for respect and independence in a male dominated world. She wants to own an oil company and send her children to Europe for travel and study; however, she is not financially stable to undertake both. Kine aspire for her children to succeed, she was once a student too, with ambitions of becoming a lawyer, but all that changed after an affair with a married professor, who fathered her first child. Nonetheless, the father of her second child abandoned her while pregnant, and stole her life savings. These adversities help develop her into the “new African” that Ousmane Sembene envisions. However, society is too traditional for Faat Kine, who sees more for herself than what society constructs for her.
Faat Kine evaluates Africa’s gender and social issues, and considers classism and sexism practiced against African women. Sexism is implied when Kine tries to get a loan. The loan officer tries to give her an outrageously high interest rate, but Kine quickly realizes the prejudice, she tries to negotiate a lower interest rate and leaves empty handed, hoping to use her own resources. The social status of women in Dakar is seen as subordinate and inferior to that of men. Kine’s character challenges this belief. Furthermore, Kine ponders on her life, the life of her mother, and the future of her daughter in order to revitalize the difficulties facing women and the attitudes that institutions have restricted on them. This represents the present, past and future social status of women in Africa.
Like Faat Kine, Xala deals with Sembene’s common themes of social class, status race, and gender. Xala deals with African independence, post colony polices, race, greed, polygamy, social hierarchy and status, and economic inequality. The story centers on El Hadji, a wealthy middle-aged businessman who learns that power and prestige comes at a price. Moreover, Sembene illustrates the African privileged and the underprivileged and defines a fine distinction between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.
Xala, the curse of impotence ultimately starts when El Hadji takes the large sum of money given to him by the new government and spends it on a weeding for a third wife. After the wedding ceremony, El Hadji is unable to consummate his marriage. This incapability is probably favorable for his other wives. Nonetheless, the practice of polygamy is a part of the African culture, and is usually regarded as a sign of wealth, and seen as a luxury, reflecting affluence and prestige. In Senegal, it is okay for a man to have up to four wives. Nevertheless, all of El Hadji’s wives live in separate villas, exemplifying his ability to pay the means of their living.
Xala begins with an interesting take on post colonization, starting with local businessmen inside a government building, who take power from the European officials. The elite businessmen want to control their own destiny, and prove their status. One of the men takes a white statue and sits it outside on the stairs. The president of the group articulates, “Before our people we must show ourselves capable like other people in the world. We are businessmen; we must take over all the business, even the banks. We can’t turn back. Our struggle for true independence is finished. This is an historic day. It’s a victory for our people. Sons of the people are leading the people on the people’s behalf.” This speech looks good, but by the end of the film, the businessmen are just as corrupt as their European precedes.
Moreover, the national middle class, who takes over power at the end of the colonial regime, is an underdeveloped middle class. It has practically no economic power, and in any case, it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country it hopes to replace.  This perception is illustrated after the businessmen’s economic victory meeting. As they leave the building and enter their Mercedes and Rolls-Royce, one of the three cars hesitates and cuts off. This symbolically illustrates their impotent power and social status, when compared to the “mother country” it tries to substitute.
Xala plays on the notion of assimilation and class division, using El Hadji’s character to illustrate the two. Xala represents a culture changed by Europeans. This is shown in El Hadji’s demeanor and attitude of being untouchable. El Hadji initially refuses superstitions of his culture until the curse of xala. Moreover, because of his wealth and power, he alienates those in lower social classes. He turns his back on the poor men in the community and treats them like his inferiors. El Hadji’s disposition inevitably represents the social hierarchy of power, whereas, the dominant class controls the larger subordinate class. El Hadji has economical and social capital, until the curse of xala prevails, leaving him with nothing. Xala ends with the underprivileged class spitting on El Hadji. This ridicule suggests that Africa’s middle class is doomed to lose it power unless it stops aping the Western world in a state of complacent economic dependency, and identifies with the social needs and aspirations of all Africans. 
In Sembene’s, Black Girl the same social inequalities of status, class and race exist for the underprivileged. Black Girl focuses on Diouana, an African from a poor neighborhood in Dakar, who dreams of going to France to escape her deprived environment. Her dreams come true when her employers transfer her to the French Rivera. In France, her dreams of acquiring status and a new identity, deems chilling. The France she imagined is not the reality. Diouana finds herself working for a brash married couple – Madame and Monsieur. She sweeps their floor, scrub the bathtubs, and cooks. Diouana slowly realizes that her employed position resembles that of paid oppression. Although Diouana is not physically restrained in her employers’ apartment, she is mentality is torn. Her illiteracy only complicates an already horrible status.
Diouana tries to be optimistic, when she wears elegant heels to work, but Madame does not permit her that right. Madame demands that Diouana removes her shoes, her only ecstasy. Nevertheless, Diouana becomes a captive, no longer free, no longer self-worthy, and no longer human. This feeling leads to exploitation, loneliness, and humiliation, which predictably leads to her suicide.
Black Girl takes the aspects of race, social class and status to another level, not depicted so graphically in Faat Kine or Xala. Moreover, Black Girl takes racism and classism and illustrates this oppression from an individual and structural perspective. Individual racism and classism is demonstrated when the Madame and Monsieur dehumanize Diouana because of her race and African ethnicity. Likewise, structural racism and classism is observed when the prejudice behavior or discrimination is deemed “common” or “normal”. Together, these aspects marginalize people from lower classes and depict the cultural, economical, and social division between different classes.
The division between classes is also seen in Sembene’s Mandabi. Mandabi trails the life of a poor Senegalese Muslim, Ibrahim, who hopes to cash a money order sent from his nephew in France. Like Xala, Mandabi illustrates polygamy. However, the main differences between the two is that Ibrahim, unlike El Hadji is destitute and has two wives, who live in the same house. Mandabi, literally means, “The money order”, and therefore has some connotation of formalities. This schema is what befalls Ibrahim, who finds himself in a bureaucratic catch-22. Ibrahim finds himself experiencing one obstacle after another in trying to cash the money order.
Mandabi takes place in Dakar less than a decade after the independence of Senegal, in a world in transition from agrarian poverty to the poverty of industrialism, capitalism, and consumerism. It shows what money “orders” and the perils, which may befall a simple man with “sudden money” in such a society. An example of this social and class divide is shown between Ibrahim and his more affluent cousin Imam. Iman and Ibrahim are polar opposites, whereas, Imam is modern and liberated, while Ibrahim is conventional and conservative. Likewise, Iman is an intellectual with a middle-class income, and Ibrahim is illiterate with an underclass income.
Mandabi reflects the nature and function of money. The upper class and middle class have money, the working class and the underclass long for it, yet when they get a hold of it, they still cannot enjoy it. Furthermore, money generates power and respect for the wealthy and impotence and scorn for the poor. Ibrahim discovers that money cannot buy happiness. At the end of the movie, Ibrahim is in more debt that ever, but not all is lost, since he learns the corruption of bureaucrats and his own vulnerability.
Nevertheless, Ibrahim’s situation goes beyond him. He thought he was somebody in his own neighborhood where everybody knew him. As Ibrahim goes out of his own traditional culture and into a modern one, he discovers the significance of identification, and renovation. According to Sembene, Mandabi was primarily geared to a Senegalese audience, “the thing I was trying to do in it was to show Africans some of the deplorable conditions under which they themselves live. When one creates, one does not think of one’s country. It is, after all, the Africans who will ultimately bring about change in Africa – not the Americans, or the French or the Russians or the Chinese.” 
FaatKine, Xala, Black Girl and Mandabi all projects Ousmane Sembene’s passion and desire for social change and process in African life. The recurrent themes of social status, class and race in Sembene’s films are significant because they illustrate an African reality from an African perspective. Perhaps, in the modern world the race inequality is a part of the class disparity. Likewise, wherever there is a race problem, there is probably class trouble. Nevertheless, Sembene, a progressive filmmaker acknowledges the scope of the difficulties, yet delivers an expressive awareness to society. Sembene remains true to himself and refuses to be anything but optimistic about his perception of Africans, and the future of Africa. Without Sembene’s sense of social structure, sense of realism, and sense of keen vision, Africa’s authentic veracity could be lost.
Black Girl (Noire de La) (1966)
Production Company:Filmi Domirev
Mandabi (The Money Order) (1968)
Production Company:Comptoir Français du Film Production (CFFP)
Director: Ousmane Sembene
Screenplay: Ousmane Sembene
Production Company:Films Domireew
Producer: Paulin Vieyra
Screenplay: Ousmane Sembene
Editor: Not Available
Faat Kine (2000)
Production Company:Filmi Domireew
Director: Ousmane Sembene
Screenplay: Ousmane Sembene
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Unit 7: Social Stratification. Glenn Hoffarth. 2002. Students of Economics. December 11, 2006 >
 Unit 7: Social Stratification. Glenn Hoffarth. 2002. Students of Economics. December 11, 2006
 Chapter adopted from Francoise Pfaff, “Three Faces of Africa: Women in Xala,” Jump Cut, n 27 (1982), pp. 27-31.
 Francoise Pfaff. The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene: A Pioneer of African Film (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984), pp 162.
 Francoise Pfaff. The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene: A Pioneer of African Film (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984), pp 127.
 At the beginning of Emitai, the following words appear on the screen: “I dedicate this film to all the militants of the African cause.”
 Roy Armes, Third World Filmmaking and the West: Ousmane Sembene (California: The Regents of the University of California, 1987), pp. 292.