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May 4, 2017

‘The Revolution Won’t Be Televised’ is a raw visual journal of youth in revolt

Boul Fallé Images/Hollywood Reporter

Rama Thiaw’s documentary, “The Revolution Won’t Be Televised,” screened at the University of Massachusetts on April 5 in the Isenberg School of Management as part of the 24th annual Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival. The film hands us a picture of politics as most American university-level students never see them – non-Western political activism, reworked with a creative flair.

The film’s observational style is what makes it like a window for our viewing, while the cinematography sets the tone for its intimate and powerful message. The documentary centers around two Senegalese rappers and their protest movement, “We Are Fed Up,” which was created in response to President Abdoulaye Wade’s seeking of a third term in office (which violates the term limits enshrined in the Constitution of Senegal) in 2011.

Senegal had been ruled by the elusive Wade since 2000. Wade, while certainly not perfect, was a fairly well-regarded leader until his own promises to the Senegalese people were not kept. In order to be eligible as a candidate for a third term, he violated the constitution, sparking an uprising that sent many to the streets.

What sparks the advocacy of the people is a movement birthed by rappers Thiat and Kilifeu, known as Y’en a Marre (“Fed Up”). The two rappers represent the hip-hop group, “Keur Gui,” and are the brains of the operation that Thiaw focuses on in this powerful documentary. Between them and Thiaw, we see a documentation of their concerts, protests and everyday conversation, which functions as a comprehensive look at activism in the modern age.

The politics of African countries rarely get publicized in a global media that so often caters to a Western agenda. The spotlight this film shines on a political movement in that continent definitely makes the film feel refreshing. Through it, we can examine social change through an entirely new lens. Thiaw captures the rappers through quiet observations and narrative construction that isn’t necessarily guided in any specific direction. We watch people raise their voices in dramatic, solemn settings where they pour their heart out. They speak with passion on their visions for the country as they plea for political representation in a time of unprecedented repression.

The most enthralling part of this documentary is how it constructs its world. The universality of music is used as lynchpin that produces the winds of change. At times, the muted silence of Thiaw’s cinematography speaks more volumes than having the sort of cloying, overly sentimental question and answer segment that documentaries of lesser stock often employ. Other times, the effervescence of revolution is shown in the moments where the Senegalese people come together in opposition of an embattled government.

As Thiat and Kilifeu voice the collective grievances of their generation, there is a sense of insurrection. The blend of defiance and music is as poetic as the cries heard in the protests of racial injustice in America. The power in their lyrics and the pulsating soundtrack acts as a catalyst for the chain reaction of change that pulsates throughout this movement. Thiaw is able to captivate the viewer with her visual articulation of the resistance through fragments of the narrative.

The compelling nature of a documentary so heavily charged by politics and music is something that makes a young person want to stand for the change they wish to see, which is exactly what Y’en a Marre does. The bridge between creative expression and vocalized activism is especially important during times in which it becomes the people’s job to influence their government for the greater good. Thiaw’s superb filmmaking and genuine desire to show the progressive actions of her home country leaves a burning mark on the viewer’s mind.

Gil Scott-Heron’s legendary poem and song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,”­ (from which the film derives its name) is relevant more than ever in the face of political change. In Heron’s words, “The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will be no re-run brothers/ the revolution will be live.” Thiaw’s documentary only gives a taste of a revolution that broke barriers like no other.

Ariya Sonethavy can be reached at asonethavy@umasss.edu.

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