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‘We Are Done with Cliché Roles’: French Black Actresses Take a Stand Against Racism at Cannes

In response to the lack of diversity in the French film industry, more than a dozen Black actresses linked arms, held up their fists and danced in protest at the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday.

Actress Aïssa Maïga led the May 16 charge as she promoted the book she co-wrote with 15 other actresses highlighting the discrimination they’ve faced titled, “My Profession is Not Black,” according to Variety.

“It was beyond my wildest dreams,” Maïga said of the demonstration at the “Burning” screening, which she called “a historic moment.” “For 20 years, I’ve been acting, and I’ve never felt like this. This was a statement we wanted to make to the entire world.”

“We would like the world of cinema to understand we are done with cliché roles, we’re done with bad offers and disrespect and it’s about time to get moving,” actress/director Sonia Rolland tells FRANCE 24 English.

Maïga told the outlet she landed the role of a girl in a romantic comedy and once the film poster debuted, she saw she wasn’t on it.

Stories included in “My Profession is Not Black” includes one from  Nadège Beausson-Diagn, star of the smash-hit French release “Welcome to the Sticks.” She said a director asked her if she spoke, “African.” Other insults included being told, “For a Black, you are really very intelligent. You should have been white” and that she was “not African enough to be African.”

“You can’t play her, she’s a lawyer,” The Guardian reported Beausson-Diagn was also told, along with, “Luckily, you have fine features and you are not negroid, not too Black.”

As for solutions to the diversity issue, Maïga told Euroupe1 that quotas “perhaps become one of the possible ways” to combat “invisibility” of Black actresses on screen no matter if “the word reacts epidermically” at first.

However, commenters have trashed the group’s push for inclusion.

“They are the real racists claiming racism… what a shame,” someone said on Facebook.

Another stated, ” I like how people don’t work off their own merits but off the color of their skin and demand stuff.”

“Funny how other races like south and East Asians don’t cry racism because they aren’t well represented in Caucasian films,” someone else said.

“How awful, only 6 percent of roles were for Black actors in a country with a Black population of between 3 and 7.5 percent,” another said of the statistic that of the 2,617 roles offered in French cinema, only 171, or 6.5 percent, included Black actors. “That’s some hardcore racism.”


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