French Senegalese actor Mati Diop has created history, she become the first woman of African descent whose film Atlantics, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, on Thursday. This was the first time that it has happened in the festival’s 72 year history.

She was; however, a bit disappointed to know that she is the first ever black woman to achieve this feat. The movie “It’s pretty late and it’s incredible that it is still relevant. My first feeling to be the first black female director was a little sadness that this only happened today in 2019. I knew it as I obviously don’t know any black women who came here before. I knew it but it’s always a reminder that so much work needs to be done still.” she told BBC.

“My first feeling to be the first black female director was a little sadness that this only happened today in 2019.”

The film is competing for Cannes top honor, the Palme d’Or. Atlantics focuses on women left behind in Dakar when many of the local men flee Senegal for Spain by boat, as a result of being unable to make a living at home. Though the movie is her first feature as a director, she has previously made five short films namely, Last Night (2004), Atlantique (2009), Big in Vietnam (2011), Snow Canon (2012), Mille soleils/A Thousand Suns (2013).  Her feature film Atlantics is based on one of her short documentary film Atlantique that was released in 2009. However, the concept behind Atlantique was different; here a young man was pushed into a dangerous migration.

“It was 10 years ago that there was this whole wave of a young generation who were trying to flee. They went toward Spain and many of them disappeared. I needed to tell this story.”

Mati Diop is the daughter of Senegalese jazz musician Wasis Diop and niece of the pioneering Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki). Therefore, she links her connection with Senegal as a filmmaker right since her birth. “I was myself a witness of the situation, quite a close witness,” said the Paris-based Diop, who 10 years ago visited her family in Senegal. “It was 10 years ago that there was this whole wave of a young generation who were trying to flee. They went toward Spain and many of them disappeared. I needed to tell this story. I had already dealt with it in my short film but I felt I wasn’t done with it.” she adds.

Wanted to see people of colour on screen

The 36 year old first black woman director says, “As a black woman, I really missed black figures and black characters. This is why I needed to see black people on screen and hence needed to make this film. It was an urgent need for me.”  Diop hopes that her historical feat will encourage and produce more opportunities for other black women to bring their stories to the silver screen. “When you feel your own little story meets the bigger story, the feeling is that it doesn’t belong to you, which is quite moving really. If for some young black female film directors I can represent a new dynamic, I’m obviously extremely happy.” adds a hopeful Mati Diop.

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