Mati Diop Becomes the First Black Woman to Win Award at Cannes in 72 Years

Director Mati Diop took him the Grand Prix at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, which is the equivalent of a silver prize.

Diop, who is only 36 years old, is the first Black woman to win an award in the 72 years that the famous film festival has been around – and she’s a “little sad” about it. The festival is held in Cannes, France each year.

“It’s pretty late and it’s incredible that it is still relevant,” Diop said at the time.

Diop’s prize-winning film, “Atlantics,” is a Senegalese drama about sexual politics among young migrants.

“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,” Diop said.

Cannes Film Festival has been attracting attention in recent years for its blatant lack of interest in gender or race diversity. In the entire history of the festival, only one woman has ever won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor. In 1993, Jane Campion became the first woman filmmaker to ever receive it, and she had to share it with director Chen Kaige.

But there are people who are trying to make a difference at the prestigious festival.

U.S. event producer and entertainment publicist Yolanda Brinkley started her own movement in 2010 after she went to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time.

“The Cannes Film Festival is an elitist, hierarchical event reserved solely for film industry professionals… Your attendance at the festival is most certainly what you make it. As for me, at the conclusion of my first trip, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever return. I felt like an outsider and wasn’t sure I belonged,” Brinkley said.

Instead of giving up, Brinkley started Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes, an independent global filmmaker movement occurring annually in France, with the goal of expanding the network of Black filmmakers and helping films that are not headed by wealthy white men to get produced, financed and distributed.