Hondo, Med (1954–)

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Hondo, Med

Abid Mohammed Medoun Hondo, known as Med Hondo is a filmmaker from Mauritania who has been making films for over forty-five years and today remains one of the leading West African filmmakers working on the continent, in Europe, and the United States.


Name: Med Hondo (Abid Mohammed Medoun Hondo)

Birth: 1936, Ain Ouled Beri Mathar, Mauritania

Nationality: Mauritanian

Education: Little formal education. Studied theater in Paris with Françoise Rosay where he played roles in numerous theatrical productions by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Kateb Yacine, Aimé Césaire, and Brecht


  • 1958: Immigrates to Paris, begins theater work and founds his own theater company, Shango
  • 1966: Acts in Costa Gavras's film Un homme de trop (One Man Too Many); makes the short film Balade aux sources
  • 1969: Makes the award-winning film, Soleil O; acts in John Huston's film A Walk wth Love and Death
  • 1974: Makes film Les Bicots-nègres vos voisins
  • 1976: Makes film Nous Aurons Toute la Mort pour Dormir
  • 1983: Makes film Camera d' Afrique: 20 Years of African Cinema
  • 1986: Makes film Sarraounia Sarraounia won the prize for best film at FESPACO (Festival Pan-Africain du Cinéma)
  • 1994: Makes Lumière Noire
  • 1998: Makes Watani, un monde sans mal
  • 2001: Makes Antilles-Sur-Seine
  • 2003: Stages play by Algerian Kateb Yacine, La Guerre de 2,000 ans (The War of 2,000 Years)
  • 2004: Makes Fatima, l'Algerienne de Dakar


Hondo, was born in 1936 in Ain Ouled Beri Mathar, in the Atar region of Mauritania. His father was Senegalese, and his mother Mauritanian. Hondo had little schooling before immigrating to Paris in 1958 to look for work as a dockworker in the south of France. After moving to Paris and working as a waiter, he attended drama classes. Also during this time he founded the first African performance group known as Shango, named for the Yoruba god of thunder. In the 1960 he began his film career. In 1966 Hondo made his first short film, Ballade aux sources (Walk to the Source), the story of a disillusioned African man who returns to his homeland after living for years in France in abject poverty. In 1965 he wrote the now infamous film, Soleil O (Sun O), which was made into a film in 1969.


Hondo's film Soleil O was one of the first films made by an African filmmaker. It reveals the dismal plight of immigrant workers in France. Metaphorically, the film represents the entire history of French colonization in West Africa. Soleil O is set in an unidentified French colony in West Africa. Africans there are baptized by force by white priests who have no regard for their culture. For Hondo, the effacement of Africans' identity was the principal means used by the colonizers to subjugate and later keep the Africans out of the socioeconomic wealth of the world's economy. The film juxtaposes colonial history with that of the colonized immigrant in France. According to Hondo, these immigrants succumb to the idea that they will be able to profit from a better life in France, but in reality they become slaves to unemployment and menial jobs in a racist society. Soleil O was selected for the prestigious Critics Week award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969, much to the dismay of French government authorities who considered the film to be too negative. The film was banned in many African countries due to concern over the possible damage to diplomatic ties with France. Stylistically and thematically, Soleil O calls to mind the works of Hondo's contemporaries, notably famous filmmaker and author Ousmane Sembène. His films Le Docker Noir (Black Dockworker; 1959) and Black Girl (1968), similar to Hondo's Soleil O, give a voice to the nameless thousands of France's immigrants who live in miserable situations.

Hondo has never been deterred by the criticism he received for his controversial films. He maintains that he is dedicated to messages condemning white hegemony and the continual neocolonial status quo that has disenfranchised Africans in Europe. Later films, Lumière Noire (1994, Black Light) and Watani, un monde sans mal (1998, Watani, a Life without Pain) seek to show the effects of economic disparities between Africa and the West with the goal of bringing the realities of Africa to European audiences, as Hondo expressed in an interview with Françoise Pfaff: "I wanted to explain myself and explain Africa and the Africans. I wanted to explain the causes, structures, and consequences of immigration to audiences whether French, European or universal. Yet above all, I wanted to gear my message to the Africans and the black world" (1986, p. 45).


Since the 1980s, Hondo has worked with other African and international filmmakers, including: Ousmane Sembène (Senegal), Paulin Vieyra (Senegal), Souleyman Cissé (Mali), J. M. Tchissou Kou (Congo), Karamo Lancine (Côte d'Ivoire), Abacar Samb (Senegal), Safi Faye (Senegal), Ola Balugun (Nigeria), Haile Gerima (Ethiopia), and Julie Dash (USA). These filmmakers formed the Comité Africain de Cinéastes (CAC; African Filmmakers Committee) that, since the 1980s, has sought to resolve the pressing questions of funding, distribution, and marketing for African films.


Since Soleil O, Hondo has made thought provoking, engaging full-length feature films as well as documentaries, including Fatima, l'Algérienne de Dakar (2004, Fatima, the Algerian Woman of Dakar), Antilles-Sur-Seine (2001, Antilles on the Seine), Watani, un monde sans mal (1998, Watani, a World without Pain), Lumière Noire (1994, Black Light), Sarraounia (1986), Camera d' Afrique: 20 Years of African Cinema (1983), Nous Aurons Toute la Mort pour Dormir (1976, We Will All Have Death to Sleep), Les Bicots-nègres vos voisins (1974, The Black Wogs, Your Neighbors). Sarraounia won the prize for best film at FESPACO (Festival Pan-Africain du Cinéma) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Hondo's work reflects the true, social-realist style of many African filmmakers, such as Sembène, Gaston Kaboré, and Safi Faye. These cineastes strive to show not only Europeans but also Africans the reality in which they live. African realities for these filmmakers include revealing both the negatives and positives of the continent as well as the legacies of colonialism, historically and contemporaneously. According to film scholar Manthia Diawara, social realist films

draw on contemporary experiences, and they oppose tradition to modernity, oral to written, agrarian and customary communities to urban and industrialized systems…. The filmmakers often use a traditional position to criticize and link certain forms of modernity to neocolonialism and cultural imperialism. From a modernist point of view, they also debunk the attempt to romanticize traditional values as pure and original. The heroes are women, children, and other marginalized groups that are pushed into the shadows by the elites of tradition and modernity. (1992, p. 141)

One of Hondo's most impressive social-realist works is Watani (1998), his first feature film shot in video. Wantani compares the destinies of two men in Paris, one a black African street sweeper and the other a white executive who works in a bank. Both men lose their jobs on the same day, yet both handle this upheaval differently. The white man keeps up appearances by lying to his wife and drinking himself into oblivion in the local bar. He eventually tags along with a gang of thugs whose passion for beating up immigrants and people of color leads him down a spiral of violence with no redemption. The black African, however, never loses his dignity even though it means he and his family must accept charity in order to survive. They find community support in their immigrant neighborhood and goodness in other immigrants who have had to accept similar fates. Hondo was derided by critics for the film's violence, which he protested was a mirror of the reality that African immigrants face every day in the streets of France.


Today, Med Hondo as well as his African contemporaries in postcolonial Francophone West Africa face a multitude of difficulties associated with the technical side of filmmaking. These adversities are coupled with the socioeconomic hurdles that are particular to the region and the larger continent. Contemporary challenges to the African filmmaker present themselves as a plethora of problems stemming from a dearth in natural resources to economically and socioculturally determined obstacles. They all impede the production and distribution of films and audiences' access to them. One such obstacle is the lack of available theaters in West Africa in which to screen African films. As of 2007, there are only thirty-five remaining viable theaters in the region of former French-colonial West Africa (these include the countries of Benin, Burkina-Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo). The few theaters that do exist predominately show American films. A paucity of resources, as well as internal conflicts in numerous countries, are hurdles never faced by Western European and American filmmakers, as Hondo emphasizes in an interview:

We can't make films like Europeans…. African filmmakers have to fight a double front to reach people. They have problems with their president, their cultural minister, and with multinationals. Most African countries' policies do not see the film industry as a way to awaken people, yet we can't develop our country if we don't develop the people's consciousness. (Reid, 1986, p. 48)

In an effort to find new models that reflect a particular African view of the world, Hondo, with other filmmakers, formed the Fedération Panafricaine des Cinéastes (FEPACI), an association dedicated to inspiring pan-African ideals that are positive and forward thinking. The FEPACI have focused their efforts on encouraging "an African film style, which in its process of decolonizing … also question[s] the images of Africa and challenge[s] the received narrative structure" of Western cinema (Ukadike, 1994, p. 91).

New models in African filmmaking are certainly evident in recent films by Sembène (Moolaadé, 2005) and Moussa Sène Absa (Madame Brouette, 2002). Most particular to their advocacy of pan-Africanism is these filmmakers' dedication to changing their societies for the better, but on African terms. Hondo and others have challenged their societies to think about a plethora of subjects, ranging from issues such as AIDS prevention and women's rights, to static traditionalism and religious practices that have impeded their cultures from moving forward to engage necessary societal transformations.


It is not up to Europe to solve African problems, but it's up to the Africans themselves. If we attack U.S. multinationals, it's because they collect a lot of dollars in our African countries, with no bilateral relationships or exchange.



Bakri, Imruh, and Mbye B. Cham, eds. African Experiences of Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1996.

Diawara, Manthia. African Cinema: Politics and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Givanni, June, ed. Symbolic Narratives/African Cinema: Audiences, Theory and the Moving Image. London: British Film Institute, 2001.

Pfaff, Françoise. "The Films of Med Hondo: An African Filmmaker in Paris." Jump Cut 31 (March 1986): 44-46.

Reid, Mark. "Med Hondo, Working Abroad: Interview." Translated by Sylvie Blum. Jump Cut 31 (March 1986): 48-49.

Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank. Black African Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

                                        Valérie Orlando