Mati Diop on being the first black woman director in Cannes


CANNES, France (AP) — Mati Diop was initially disappointed when she, by reading a news article, discovered that she was the first black female filmmaker in the Cannes Film Festival's prestigious competition in its 72-year history.

"I hadn't realized myself. I didn't know," the 36-year-old French-Senegalese filmmaker said in an interview. "My first reaction is that I found it quite sad. I thought, 'Oh, is it?' So there's still a long way to go before it becomes something completely natural and normal and something that's not noticeable, the fact that I'm a black woman."

Diop's milestone has been enthusiastically celebrated in Cannes, where she on Thursday premiered her feature film debut "Atlantics." The film, which is competing for Cannes' top honor, the Palme d'Or, focuses on the women left behind in Dakar when many of the local young men flee Senegal for Spain by boat, unable to make a living at home.

But for Diop, her unique position in Cannes is a perplexing distinction.

"What I realized, and I'm not used to this feeling, is that it happened to me. I'm not responsible for that. I haven't done anything specific for that. I've just made the film I wanted to make," said Diop. "I'm not embarrassed. I'm not proud. I just take it as a pure fact."

"Atlantics" marks Diop's first feature as a director, but she's previously made five shorts, one of which was the basis for her Cannes entry. That 2009 short bore the same title but a different perspective, concentrating on a young man forced into a dangerous migration.

"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 but I felt I wasn't done with it."

Diop links her reconnection with Senegal to her birth as a filmmaker. She is the daughter of Senegalese jazz musician Wasis Diop and niece of the pioneering Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty ("Touki Bouki").

Diop's 2013 documentary "A Thousand Suns" examined her uncle's legacy and his 1972 film, considered a cornerstone of African cinema.

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