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“They Drew an Entire People after Them”

Jilani, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-0024-4801 (2021). “They Drew an Entire People after Them”. Interventions, 24(4), pp. 586-602. doi: 10.1080/1369801x.2021.1892515


Ousmane Sembène’s 1975 film Xala, a searing satire about the post-independence Senegalese elite, has received wide scholarly attention for its critique of crony capitalism masquerading as African socialism. This essay seeks to examine how Xala approaches the under-studied question of subjectivity under these circumstances, seeking to trace the film’s key concern with the effects of such neocolonial conditions upon the wider populace. Proposing that the central allegory of Sembène’s film – the native elite as complicit against and/or unable to spearhead national decolonization – is not the final but the starting point of the analysis it offers of the relationship between subjectivity and arrested decolonization, this essay argues Xala centres land dispossession as the primary issue in post-independence Senegal, both because it sabotages the redistributive promise of independence, and because it strips people of the material moorings of their sujectivities. In three interconnected discussions of sartorial self-fashioning, the politics of La Francophonie, and the kinship networks broken by land theft, I propose that Xala is an exposé of how structures and subjectivities are inseparably bound under conditions of neocolonialism, with the futurity of national decolonization dependent on transforming both.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. Sarah Jilani (2021) “They Drew an Entire People after Them”, Interventions. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: African film, decolonization, postcolonial studies, Sembène, Ousmane, subjectivity, Xala
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Media, Culture & Creative Industries > English, Publishing & Creative Writing
Text - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.

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