Yes, Oui, Cannes: Film Director Mati Diop Becomes First Black Woman Ever to Win

Illustration for article titled Yes, Oui, Cannes: Film Director Mati Diop Becomes First Black Woman Ever to Win
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

On Saturday, French-Senegalese director Mati Diop became the first black female filmmaker to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Independent reports. She was also the first black female director to ever have a film compete at Cannes.

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Diop, 36, took home the Grand Prix, the festival’s second-highest award, for her film Atlantics. Set in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, the politically astute drama is both a ghost story and a love story about young Senegalese workers seeking a better life.

“That film touched us in our hearts,” said U.S. actress Elle Fanning, a juror, after the awards presentation, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It deals with issues, but it also felt quite personal and vulnerable and very emotional and just quite precious.”

Interestingly, the idea of the “precious” nature of Diop’s film was a cause of anxiety for the filmmaker. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, Diop reveals, “I began to ask some questions, like, Was my film really being accepted for what it was? Was it being heard for what it had to say? Or was the fact that I’m a woman filmmaker also a factor that played in this process?”

Diop also spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about learning of the racial implications of her Cannes entry through the media:

Diop is one of four female directors in the festival’s 21-film lineup, still a low percentage but a marked improvement from recent years, when the festival came under fire for its lack of female representation. Her inclusion marks another significant milestone: She is the first black female director to be accepted into the competition lineup in the festival’s 72-year history — a fact Diop was not aware of until she saw it reported online. “I discovered it myself, reading the article,” she says. “It was a rather odd experience for me because I approached it almost as somebody learning this, as an outsider. What I represent exceeds me and does not belong to me.”

Diop’s father (jazz musician Wasis Diop) is from Senegal and her mother is French. Diop was born and raised in Paris, although she visited Senegal often as a child. “In France, we have a very different relationship in terms of defining blackness. I’m not called black — I’m called a Frenchwoman,” she says. “But I have noticed that in America, as soon as you have a little — even 10 or 20 percent of blackness — you become black. Being black is not something I think about every day when I wake up. I don’t think of myself as white or as black. I just think about me as me.”

Still, according to the Independent, Diop also said she was a “little sad” to make history as the first woman of African descent to screen at Cannes.

“It’s pretty late and it’s incredible that it is still relevant,” she said. “My first feeling to be the first black female director was a little sadness that this only happened today in 2019. ... I knew it, but it’s always a reminder that so much work needs to be done still.”

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Correction: Sept. 16, 2019, 10:17 a.m. ET: This article has been edited to clarify that the Grand Prix is Cannes’ second-highest award. It has also been edited to remove unattributed text and add fuller sourcing.

DISCUSSION

marthajones30
TheRealMarthaJones3.0

“In France, we have a very different relationship in terms of defining blackness. I’m not called black, I’m called a Frenchwoman.” Nah, not true, unless she’s been living in a bubble in the country side.

“Being black is not something I think about every day when I wake up. I don’t think of myself as white or as black. I just think about me as me.”

This is offensive one because it’s not true. In an article I wrote for this very site, I met with a french black man that was at a meeting to SPECIFICALLY find out how AfAm deal with interpersonal/structural racism in order to take it back to France for organization and coalition building. Black french people KNOW they are black.

Unambiguous, non biracial black french women actresses talked EXTENSIVELY about the racism and colorism they faced at Cannes last year.

Let me ask a question, what would happen if for two seconds we did not treat these one black grandparent on one side of their family, i don’t identify and as black i am just me, people like special snowflakes poised to break at any moment and challenged them and held them accountable for their words? Would the world actually end?