An adaptation of Ousmane Sembène’s own 1973 novel, XALA offers a hilarious, caustic satire of political corruption under an inept patriarchy. On the night of his wedding to a third bride, government official El Hadji Abdoukader Beye (Thierno Leye) is rendered impotent. After suspecting that one of his other wives has placed a curse (xala) on him, and after enlisting a local marabout for a cure, El Hadji must face the possibility that he deserves the infliction for his part in the embezzlement of public funds and for helping to keep Senegal in French hands. When even uglier reasons are revealed behind his loss of manhood, El Hadji endures a final ignominy from a group of disenfranchised citizens that he has conveniently overlooked. Adeptly combining elements from African folklore and popular cinema, Sembène uses XALA to indict the immoral hubris of entitled male authority figures and Senegalese sellouts.
“Sembène depicts a corrupt system that replaced white dictators and profiteers with black ones; the symbolic ending, a glimmer of revolutionary hope, is as gratifying as it is implausible.” —Richard Brody, New Yorker