French-Senagalese director Mati Diop has become the first black female director to win an award in Cannes’ 72-year history.
Diop took home the Grand Prix – the equivalent of a silver prize – for her film Atlantics, a Senegalese drama about sexual politics among young migrants.
The 36-year-old had previously said she was a “little sad” to make history as the first woman of African descent to even have a film screened at the festival.
“It’s pretty late and it’s incredible that it is still relevant,” she said at the time.
“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 said she had had an “urgent need” to feel more represented on screen and see more people who look like her behind the camera, telling fresh stories.
“As a black woman I really missed black figures and black characters cruelly. And that’s also why I made this film: I needed to see black people on screen — huge, everywhere,” she laughed.
“It’s also something new. I can’t believe when I go to see a Jordan Peele movie… I can’t even believe what I’m feeling,” she said, referring to the Oscar-winning African-American film-maker behind “Get Out” and “Us”.
“I’m so excited, I’m looking at how many black people are in the room — I almost count them… it’s a little hysterical.”
Diop said Cannes as the world’s biggest film festival had the power to help transform the industry by knocking down barriers for previously excluded groups.
“Hopefully it will be more and more common that black people are in front of characters of the same colour. Inshallah (God willing),” she said.