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Interview with Maïmouna N’Diaye, member of the Feature Films Jurys

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Documentary film director and socially committed actress, Maïmouna N’Diaye is called the “Heroine of African Cinema”, which she represents as part of the Feature Films Jury, headed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Maïmouna N’Diaye talks about her commitment and fight for women’s rights, and the representation of African cinema abroad. 

CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 014: Jury President Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (C) and Jury members Alice Rohrwacher (L), Elle Fanning (2nd L), Maimouna Ndiaye (2nd R) and Kelly Reichardt (R) pose during the Jury photocall at the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France on May 14, 2019. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Will your career as a director and socially committed actress influence the way you’ll view this selection?

I’m going to watch the films as just a simple film-lover and wait to see what touches me most. I’m going to give free rein to my feelings and approach the films with a wide open heart.

The Competition includes an African film, Atlantique (Atlantics). The film’s director is also the first African woman to be selected, and she’s from Senegal, just like your father. What does this represent for you?

It’s good, it’s a start. It’s obviously not enough, but I’m really proud to see the first African woman selected In Competition. I hope that this start will leave the door open for more films from the African continent. A distinction must be made, however, between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, and I think the latter should be represented a little more.


CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 22: Maimouna N’Diaye attends the screening of « Matthias Et Maxime (Matthias and Maxime) » during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Where do you think this imbalance comes from?

I wouldn’t talk of an imbalance, but I think that it’s linked to the history of cinema on our continent where, unlike in the West, cinema is very young. In Africa, we tend to think that there are more pressing matters to deal with than cinema. To the contrary, I think that culture, and in particular cinema, can help to fully resolve societal problems. Cinema is a mirror to the world, a universal language. It’s true that each culture has its own particularities, but this helps to provoke change.

And more generally, what do you think about African cinema’s representation internationally?

It’s not represented enough, that’s for sure. This is perhaps due to the lack of financing and production in proportion to the size of the continent. But I think that with time, especially thanks to the new generation of filmmakers that is emerging, there should be more. These filmmakers are making films about their own times, which are adapted to their own reality. Films that make you dream, reflect and ask questions. It’s important to make films that resemble us.


For me, cinema is a weapon of mass reconciliation.


Injustice is a theme that runs through your filmography. Do you consider cinema as a new form of resistance?

For me, cinema is a weapon of mass reconciliation. I use this art to show or say, on a grand scale, everything that minorities can’t express. In this sense, I’m very committed, and this pleases me.

Can you tell us about your role as a lawyer in Œil du Cyclone (Eye of the Storm)? What image does this convey of the African continent?

Since the beginning of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of interpreting roles of strong women. This is important because in Africa the “stalwart” side of women is not shown enough. We don’t try very hard to demonstrate the importance of their role in social and family cohesion. I constructed this role of a lawyer bit by bit from the play from which the film is adapted. For this character, I had to interview female African lawyers, who explained to me that a lot of men don’t want women to defend them since they don’t believe them to be capable. I really enjoyed this role. It shows that women can stand on their own, that they are capable of doing things in the same way as men. We have a tendency to think, especially in Africa, that giving power to women is tantamount to lowering oneself to their level. To the contrary; this allows us to converse and progress together. Until now, all the roles given to women in Africa represent women without power, who are submissive and not given the opportunity to speak. Whereas in a true traditional society, the women have the power. We must realize that we will only get better by working together.

Can you tell us about your projects?

I recently wrote a monologue called “Mots pour maux”, which is the story of a woman who lost confidence in herself after being subjected to violence as a child. I was inspired by all the testimonials of women I met while filming my documentary “Le Fou, le Genie et le Sage”. At the end of a few performances in Ouagadougou, I received messages from women who recognized themselves in this story, and that gave me renewed confidence. This is how I realized that my job had become a commitment.


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