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Senegal: Omar Sy presents new film about African soldiers during WWI

Omar Sy, producer and actor of the film Tirailleurs, speaks during a press conference in one of the Pathe cinema halls in Dakar on December 20, 2022.   -  
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Movie star Omar Sy presented in Dakar Monday (Dec. 19) his latest film "Tirailleurs" by Mathieu Vadepied.

The movie is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Africans who fought for France during the World Wars. 

The story is about a young man in Senegal named Thierno who is press-ganged into the French army, prompting his father to enlist voluntarily to keep an eye on him. "We have a foot in each country and for our construction this story there it is important," explains the French actor of Senegalese descent.

The 44-year-old actor highlighted the impact and value of this historical episode: "I think today’s generations need this story. We need to face History to know how we can build ourselves precisely in relation to France and Senegal [...]"

Over 200,000 Africans served in the French armed forces at that time.

Many were tirailleurs or riflemen sent to the front-line infantry where losses were often devastating.

"We tell the story of these soldiers who arrived in France and were uprooted from their lands. They arrived in a country they did not know, whose language they did not speak. They were completely isolated. It was also important to show how complicated it was for them to communicate even among themselves," Sy said.

Indeed the corp known as the Senegalese riflemen corps or Tirailleurs Africains/(African riflemen) was comprised of soldiers from different backgrounds and African countries.

They oculd be from West and Equatorial Africa as well as North Africa.

The Senegalese riflemen corps was created in 1857 by a decree of French emperor Napoleon III. From that date until their abolition in the 1960s, the Riflemen took part in all the colonial campaigns conducted by France.

The French actor himself shot in Fulani: "Since [it] was the only African language that I speak, it was easier", he confessed in a smile.

During the press conference, the movie’s director Mathieu Vadepied expanded on what inspired him to work on that film.

"There mainly was this desire to tell that these people were trying to survival. That they are human beings who found themselves. There were people from different African countries so, where many people who did not understand each other, who did not speak the same language, who were strangers to each other."

Vadepied said the film and choosing Dakar for the launch were a tribute to "all these soldiers who took part in these wars."

"Tirailleurs," or "Father & Soldier" in English will go on commercial release in France and Senegal in early January 2023.

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