Director Mati Diop is the first black woman to win an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in its 72-year history. Making further history, she is also the first ever black woman to even have a film screened by the festival.
Diop, the French-Senegalese director took home the Grand Prix – the equivalent of a silver prize – for her film “Atlantics,” a Senegalese drama highlighting sexual politics among young migrants.
The movie, which is shown in the Wolof language, is loosely based on her documentary of the same name that she released a decade ago. It tells the haunting tale of a group of boys who decide to leave Dakar for a better life by boat after working on a construction site of a futuristic tower for months without pay. Seen through the eyes of Dana, a troubled, young Muslim woman, they end up lost at sea and a mysterious fever starts to spread.
Diop admitted that, in 2019, making history in such a way makes her “a little sad,” as it highlights the stark lack of representation and opportunity for people of colour in the industry.
“My first feeling to be the first black female director was a little sadness that this only happened today in 2019,” she said. “It’s pretty late and it’s incredible that it is still relevant,” she continued.
Diop hopes that her historic feat will afford more black women the opportunity to have their stories shown on the silver screen and pave a more inclusive path for the next generation of directors.
It recently came out that Netflix had acquired worldwide rights to “Atlantics” (excluding China, Benelux, Switzerland, Russia and France), meaning that the movie will be extremely accessible—an opportunity for people of colour to see more representation of themselves and for non people of colour to have a window into a world that may have previously been blacked out.
Another first at the festival came from South-Korean Bong Joon-ho, who became the first Korean director to win the top prize, the Palm d’Or for his satiric film “Parasite.” The raucous tale shows a poor family hustling to stay afloat who end up working for a rich family. Joon-ho is also the director of the heartwarming Netflix hit, “Okja” which received critical acclaim in 2017.