With a flair for dramatic interruption that evokes late 60s Jean-Luc Godard, relative newcomer Rama Thiaw’s The Revolution Won’t Be Televised bursts vibrantly onto the screen, shouting its defiant message at the top of its lungs. A disjointed timeline somehow solidifies the radical themes present in the picture — scattered thoughts echoing the actions of the multifaceted subversives — while the first-hand accounts from the movement’s leaders display a genuine sense of humility rarely seen in any beloved commanders.
Founded in 2011, Y’En a Marre (“We are fed up”) was created by Senegalese revolutionaries/artists Thiat and Kilifeu as a protest against then-president Abdoulaye Wade. Thiaw’s documentary follows the two men and their growing anti-establishment movement as they travel across Dakar and its surrounding villages, spreading a message of freedom and emphasizing the importance of voting. Intimate conversations in the group’s headquarters and loud outrageous rap concerts are intercut with a message from activist/filmmaker Khady Sylla and moments stripped from revolutions of the past. Spending almost two hours with these charismatic leaders, I left the screening feeling like I had experienced my own internal revolution and witnessed the future hope of West Africa.
Thiaw’s control of frenetic, vibrant energy dictates every frame of The Revolution Won’t Be Televised. Overlaying spoken-word/rap onto the nervous and frightened excitement of protests brings the marches to cinematic life without provoking an invasive sense of alteration. Creative editing leads us into and out of bold moments of bravery, as well as quiet moments of reflection. Like the organizers, the audience also needs time to regroup from the delirium of these miniature revolts, and Thiaw knows when to offer up a reprieve.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the documentary is the consistent attitude taken by Y’En A Marre’s leader, Thiat (“Lastborn of the family” in Senegalese language Wolof). Vowing to never become a state spokesperson or to take any kind of political office, the defiant artisan sticks to his word during meetings with presidential candidates, through stints in prison, and in front of crowds of thousands of adoring fans. Thiat’s endorsement is not something that can be bought nor is it something that can be earned. He will always rebel against the status quo, and his vote will always lean away from those in power. Keur Gui (the rap-duo formed by Thiat and Kkilifeu) are an incredible counterpoint to the familiar pop culture artists in Europe and America. With their refusal to sell out and their lyrical focus on social activism, the music arouses memories of rap’s earliest roots and feels like a reversion to the powerful instrument for change that it once was.
The Revolution Won’t Be Televised is a smart and energetic documentary that highlights a corner of the globe often left in the dark. Despite the slight irony in the title, Thiaw’s decision to use Gil Scott-Heron’s pioneering activist rap as the motto for her film stands strong. When Black Africa’s revolution begins, it will not attract the cameras of the Arab Spring — it will have come from within the hearts and minds of the people, and it will be won with votes instead of bricks and bombs.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.