Last weekend, on Saturday 12th May, Australian actress, and Cannes 2018 Jury Member, Cate Blanchett, led 82 female filmmakers in a march up the steps of the infamous Palais des Festivals, in Cannes, France. The number was to signify the number of female directors who had been invited to the festival in the history of Cannes, highlighting the contrast to 1,866 male directors. The figures are staggering. One could not help be moved by looking at the images of diverse Hollywood, decked in regal gear, women arm in arm as they stared defiantly ahead while Blanchett read her fiery speech. But of course, as a woman of colour, I could not help but consider all the WOC’s who were even further out of reach from success or recognition at international film festivals like Cannes. The journey for women and specifically women of African descent may be long, but we must acknowledge those who are pushing the movement forward.
Here is our list of 3 women Of Africa that have significantly contributed to ‘the culture’ during this year’s Cannes Festival.
Khadja Nin is a Burundian singer and was a Cannes Jury member this year alongside Ava Duverney, Cate Blanchett and others.
Khadja is an African treasure in her own right, responsible for hits Sambolera and Wale Watu sung in Kirundi, Swahili and French. Beyond her music career, she has been a vocal human rights activist, most recently calling for peace after the skirmishes during the Burundian elections. She is a UNICEF and ACP Observatory on Migration Goodwill Ambassador and was awarded the “Prix de L’Action Feminine” award by the African Women’s League in 2016.
The Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu has broken several records at Cannes this year. Her’s is the first Kenyan film to be invited to Cannes and it is the only film from the entire continent to have been invited in 2018. Despite those incredible achievements, Wanuri’s home country has infamously banned the movie, Rafiki, described as a Lesbian romance, from ever showing in any public theatre.
Despite not being seen, the film’s very existence has re-sparked necessary debate in Kenya on LGBT+ issues.
Aissa is a Senegalese born French actress who has been working in French cinema and theatre for over 20 years and became the first black actress to be nominated for Best Actress Cesar. She later won the Globe de Cristal award. Throughout her career, Aissa has been deliberate in advocating for more diversity in French cinema and more nuanced portrayals of African women.
On Thursday, May 17th, Aissa and fifteen other black and mixed race women who work in French cinema attended a press conference on race issues in France. “Le noir n’est pas mon Metier” or “Black is not my Profession”is the name of the book that the sixteen women, led by Aissa, co-authored and it confronts the many racist realities of being a black actress in France. It was the first time that many black and mixed race actresses had gathered at a single Cannes red carpet event. They stood arm in arm, allowing the powerful moment stand for itself.
As we celebrate the initiative of the 82 women silent March, we must not forget to ensure that even those spaces are inclusive. These three women of African descent have taken on the mantle of African women in cinema, and are ensuring that we all, to quote Viola Davis’ Emmy speech, make it over ‘the line’.
We should follow them, support their work and speak their names.