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French cinema is still refusing to face its racism

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16.03.2020

"Imagine televisions in this country exclusively transmitting images of Black people, telling stories of Black people, for Black people … Imagine, our dear compatriots, being absent, invisible … But rest assured, it is us who are absent. And this is not a fiction."

In February 2000, actor/director Luc Saint-Eloy and novelist Calixthe Beyala gate-crashed the 25th annual Cesar Awards Ceremony in Paris and walked on stage to deliver a powerful speech on the lack of black representation in French cinema and television.

The unexpected disruption to the stream of pleasant, congratulatory speeches left the predominantly white audience of the "French Oscars" speechless. They were all frozen in surprise and discomfort.

A lot has changed in French cinema in the two decades that followed, at least on the surface. We see many more black and brown faces in French movies and television shows these days. Saint-Eloy and Beyala are no longer in the mainstream public sphere, but the problem they highlighted in that landmark speech 20 years ago is still not resolved. The few black actors and actresses active in the industry struggle to find parts that do not reduce them to racial stereotypes.

This is why another person of colour felt the need to call out the lack of diversity on French screens once again this past February.

Aissa Maiga took the stage at this year's Cesar Awards to present the best female newcomer award looking every part the elegant, beautiful and smiley actress she is expected to be. As she........

© Al Jazeera