An actress speech from France’s 45th César Awards has gone viral for its comments regarding the lack of diversity in France’s film industry. Actress Aïssa Maïga made the comments during the Feb. 28 awards program in Paris. The César Awards is akin to the Oscars.
“Whenever I find myself in a big business meeting, I can’t help but count the number of blacks in the room,” said Maïga from the stage, according to English translation. “I did the accounts and I think there are about 12 of them.”
“When you are in decision-making bodies, where funding goes, think about inclusion,” she added, “It’s not my job. Really, it will pass through you too, because we are not numerous enough and we do not have all the keys.”
Maïga then urged those responsible for making casting decisions to go outside the stereotypical box that Black actors in France are placed in — an issue she said she won’t let go of, nor will other talent.
“We survived whitewashing, blackface, tons of dealer roles, housekeepers with a Bwana accent, we survived the roles of terrorists, all the roles of hypersexualized girls,” Maïga explained. “We’re not going to leave French cinema alone.”
“We are a family. We say everything, right?” she then asked the crowd. “All of you who are not impacted by issues related to invisibility, stereotypes or the issue of skin color, the good news is that it will not happen without you. Think inclusion. What is played in French cinema does not only concern our very privileged environment; it concerns all of society.”
Maïga’s speech came one day after 30 of France’s biggest actors of color wrote an open letter and blasted the country’s film industry for placing Black people, those originating from North Africa and people of Asian descent in small, stereotypical roles.
“Actors of color are given insignificant parts which would never justify them getting a César,” the letter read in part. “Urgent measures on inclusion have to happen if the industry wants to avoid positive discrimination being forced on it. It is time to open the doors and the windows of French cinema, because talent, like emotion, has no color.”