“Nafi’s Father” director Mamadou Dia and producer Maba Ba found the inspiration to make their film — which is Senegal’s entry in the Oscars International Film category — out of the desire to show how the roots of extremism start small but can cause long-term damage.
The film, set in a small Senegalese town and filmed where Dia grew up, follows the fight between an Imam and his powerful brother over their children’s marriage. The story becomes a metaphor for the insidious nature of extremism that invades the village and shows extremism — be it political, religious or cultural — is a global problem that must be addressed before a crisis happens, not after.
A panel discussion of “Nafi’s Father” was truly an international event, with Dia connecting virtually from Dakar in Senegal, Ba weighing in from Brooklyn, New York, and TheWrap’s editor in chief Sharon Waxman moderating in Los Angeles. The creators noted that the virtual connection was reflective of the fact that extremism is a global issue.
The filmmakers said that although Senegal has not yet become a center for religious extremist events, they have noticed that Timbuktu, Mali and West Africa have, at times, fallen under the sway of Jihadists. And that’s not all they noticed. “This started not only from Senegal but also from the U.S.,” Dia said, adding that he doesn’t see too much difference between Mali and the U.S. embracing extreme views in recent years.
“I have worked as a journalist traveling around Africa…and I just remember how Timbuktu people and Malians were so peaceful and nice,” Dia said. “But I was in America in 2016, studying at NYU when Trump got elected, which to my mind, is also political extremism. Those two moments that happened hit me really personally, and hit everyone around me. I said, ‘We should talk about that. We should talk about not only what happens when it is too late, but how do we get to that point.'”
Marriage is used as a metaphor in the film, which Ba said is rooted in truth. “(Extremists) marry into communities to infiltrate them; I thought this was a subtle way to show it,” he said. ” When it comes to onscreen depictions of extremism, if you think about it, we only see the part with the AK-47s out, but you don’t see how they infiltrate the communities.
“Nafi’s Father” is only the third film from Senegal to be entered into the Oscar competition. “I am not sure it is because of a lack of industry…I think it is more a problem of structure, and that’s why we want to bring a better structure,” Ba said. “The talent is definitely there.”
Ba has a very personal stake in nurturing the art of filmmaking in Africa, as he lost his father to COVID-19 just four days before the panel. “We keep talking about these numbers, and it sometimes takes away from the actual lives COVID definitely hit us hard, ” he said.
“But it puts things into better perspective, especially in the art world and the films that we are making and our legacy, because he was a filmmaker, and a big champion of pushing Senegalese and African film, So it kind of put all the work that we do in perspective, the importance of it.”