Black women staged a bold protest at the Cannes film festival this week to call out racism in French cinema.
On Wednesday, 16 French black and biracial actresses stood together on the red carpet of the international film festival to denounce the lack of representation of black actors in French films, reported Agence France-Presse.
The women ― led by French actress Aïssa Maïga, of the 2006 critically acclaimed film in France “Bamako” ― linked arms as they marched under the rain toward the red carpet. Once on the steps before the media, they stood together and raised their fists in the air.
The actresses recently collaborated on a book called Noire N’est Pas Mon Métier, or Black Is Not My Job, in which they provide anecdotes of the racism they’ve faced in their movie careers.
Actress Nadège Beausson-Diagne ― who starred in 2008 in France’s biggest-ever box office hit “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (“Welcome to the Sticks”) ― recounts in the book how a director once asked her if she spoke “African.” She was also once told at a casting call: “For a black, you are really very intelligent. You should have been white,” reported Variety.
Another actress involved in the book and protest, Rachel Khan, wrote a HuffPost blog in March, describing how casting directors often offer her roles of stereotypical characters, like house cleaners or prostitutes.
“We can’t be silent anymore,” Khan wrote. “Our own children already ask us ‘why?’ when they look at our screens.”
Recent statistics have highlighted the stark lack of representation, and recognition, of black people in French cinema. The first black person to win best actor in France’s César awards (an Oscars-like annual ceremony started in 1976) was Omar Sy in 2012 for the hit film “Les Intouchables.”
A 2016 analysis from France Info looked at the previous decade of César awards ― specifically the top eight award categories from 2005 to 2015 ― and found that only two black people had ever won: actor Omar Sy in 2012 and filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako in 2015 (for the hit film “Timbuktu”). There were only eight black nominees out of 479 over that decade.
After the Cannes protest this week, Maïga told reporters that quotas “could become one of the possible options” to fight against the “invisibility” of people of color on screen ― though, she noted, people will be resistant to the idea.
Wednesday’s protest came on the heels of another female-led demonstration days earlier at Cannes: On Saturday, 82 women, including director Ava DuVernay and actress Cate Blanchett, linked arms and stood together on the festival’s red carpet to protest gender inequality in the film industry.