Cannes 2019: Mati Diop ‘a little sad’ to make history

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Atlantics director Mati Diop and (l-r) actors Mame Sane, Nicole Sougou and Mariama Gassama.

The first black female director in competition at the Cannes Film Festival has said she was inspired by her “need to see black people on screen”.

French-Senegalese star Mati Diop made history on Thursday when Atlantics became the first film made by a woman of African descent to be screened in the event’s 72 year history.

Diop revealed she was “moved” but also “a little sad” at the achievement.

“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 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 added: “As a black woman I really missed black figures and black characters.

“It’s why I needed to make this film, I needed to see black people on screen – it was an urgent need.”

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Diop (centre) and her Atlantics cast attended the film’s premiere

The Wolof-language movie, loosely-based on her documentary of the same name a decade ago, tells the haunting tale of a group of boys lost at sea off the coast of Dakar, seen through the eyes of a troubled young Muslim woman, Dana.

Actor Ibrahima Mbaye, who plays a troubled local detective, joked that he thought the film would only reach as far as Senegalese TV.

Diop hopes her historic feat will afford more black women the opportunity 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.

“I’m a bit sceptical towards ‘proudness’ towards identity.

“But if for some young black female film directors I can represent a new dynamic, I’m obviously extremely happy.”

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