Akin Adeṣọkan at The Current:
Birago Diop was a brilliant high-school student in Senegal. During his final exam, he made the unusual mistake of misconjugating a French verb, an error that was to prove fateful for his career. With a wry, self-deprecating smile past the camera, Diop, now an acclaimed poet and short-story writer, declares that what happened to him followed “the law of destiny.” The professional paths open to colonial students in the French system were narrow: they could become teachers if they passed a critical test, or doctors or civil servants if they didn’t. Diop went on to study veterinary medicine in France, and his collections are filled with animal tales.
Sitting behind the camera and listening to this story in Birago Diop, conteur (1981), Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, the Beninese-Senegalese filmmaker, historian, critic, and bureaucrat, must have heard something of his own travails. The two men, both outstanding artists, achieved renown despite the constricting educational system of the French colonies.