Tag Archives | Senegal

Western media portrayal of “poor Africans.”

Jeremy Teicher, Director of TALL AS THE BAOBAB TREE:  s

I really strove to truthfully represent the villagers and their culture, countering the one-dimensional approach taken by many other media representations of rural Africans.  I wanted to avoid contributing to the “othering” of rural Africans…all the lingering, uncomfortable feelings of guilt that I’d picked up from the Western media portrayal of “poor Africans.”

Abdoulaye, our valued translator with Jeremy

My own feelings  with the villagers quickly shifted to respect—respect for their culture, their optimism, and their work ethic. Respect for the students, only a few years younger than me, who were pursuing a formal education against incredible odds. The contrast between my expectations and the reality I encountered was profound. The film shares this and I hope it will spark positive cross-cultural dialogue and help us embrace our shared humanity.

The film’s inspiration

Grand comme le Baobab builds on work I began in 2009, when I traveled to Senegal to direct an independent documentary short nominated for a Student Academy Award in 2011.

I worked with  a teenager named Dior who shared a story about the girls in her village who are forced to marry between the ages of 8 and 12. As the first generation with access to formal education, Dior and her peers are divided between those whose parents sent them to school and those whose parents chose to follow the deep-rooted tradition of arranged marriage. Dior’s experience living between the world of school and the world of tradition deeply resonated with me. We worked together, along with some of the other students, to develop a fictional script that spoke to their personal experiences on the leading end of this cultural change. Through a narrative story, we felt we could most effectively capture the emotions of the old and new worlds colliding.

Grand comme le Baobab explores the tensions, quiet victories, and heartbreaks that come with this change.

First feature-length narrative in Pulaar language.

I communicated directly in French to those younger cast members that spoke French, but had to rely on my local translator, who did not speak any English, to translate from French to Pulaar for the other cast members. Then I would translate any instructions into English for my American camera crew, who were unable to speak directly to my Senegalese crew. Gestures and smiles saved us.[excerpt from Jeremy Teicher’s personal diary]

Check out our behind the scenes video here .

Excerpt from Director’s personal diary

On my first trip to the village almost 4 years ago, I brought with me all the lingering, uncomfortable feelings of guilt that I’d picked up from the media portrayal of “poor Africans.” These feelings dissipated as my relationship with the villagers shifted from one of pity to one of respect. Respect for the students —not so much very younger than I — who were pursuing a formal education against incredible odds; respect for the elders, who radiated an aura of peace and wisdom; respect for the wives, who seemed to always have smiles of their faces; and most of all, respect for the unbelievable determination I saw in each and every villager to develop their community. The contrast between my expectations and the reality I encountered was profound. I was deeply touched by their stories.

[excerpt from Jeremy Teicher’s personal diary]