First black woman to show film at Cannes in its 72-year history

Actress Mati Diop attends Bing Presents The "Simon Killer" Cast Cocktail Party At The Bing Bar during the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2012 in Park City, Utah.
Actress Mati Diop attends Bing Presents The "Simon Killer" Cast Cocktail Party At The Bing Bar during the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2012 in Park City, Utah.
Image: Anna Webber/Getty Images for Bing

While much has been made of the number of female directors represented in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, there are only two filmmakers of African descent rep resented in the main competition, but for one of them this is indeed a historic moment.

Mati Diop, niece of legendary Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty, is the first black woman to have a film in competition at the festival in its 72-year history.

Diop’s film Atlantiques – the story of a young woman from Dakar thrown into the hard-hitting realities of the refugee crisis following the disappearance of her lover –was co-written by the director with Olivier Demangel and stars local Wolof speaking Senegalese actors.

Together with Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly, whose film Les Miserables is also in competition, Diop’s labour of love is already expected to be one of the festival’s breakout and most talked-about films. The festival got under way on Tuesday.

Diop, who has previously directed a short film, has described her feature film debut in a statement as retelling, “The legend of the bird that rises from the ashes… Here the phoenix is a young woman. After devoting a short film to the men who leave by sea, my current interest is in the women who stay behind, the ones who wait for a brother, a lover, a son to come back.”

The festival ends on May 25.

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