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22 May 2009

African Women at the Cannes Film Festival

African Women at the
Cannes Film Festival
updated January 2023

As the excitement around the Cannes Film Festival reaches its peak, what a great occasion to highlight the history of African women in cinema at the festival. In his report on the African presence at Cannes, French critic Michel Amarger notes the visibility of Africa at the very first Cannes Festival in 1946 with representation from Egypt, for the film Daria by Mohamed Karim. Following African independences in the 1960s an African cinema by Africans emerged--reflected at Cannes with a spurt of films during that decade, including: Lamb (Senegalese Wrestling--National Sport of Senegal) by Paulin Viera of Senegal in the Official Selection in 1964. In 1966, also from Senegal, La Noire de…by Ousmane Sembene was selected in the Semaine de la Critique /International Critics’ Week, a parallel section of the Festival created in 1962: “Historically, International Critics’ Week is the first “parallel” section of the Cannes Film Festival. It has steadfastly remained true to its tradition of discovering new talents. Critics’ Week was conceived by the French Union of Film Critics…to showcase first and second feature films by directors from all over the world.” In 1969, also in La Semaine de la Critique were Cabascabo by Oumarou Ganda of Niger and La Voie by Algerian Mohamed Slim Ryad.

Women followed in the 1970s with the selection of Monangambee in 1971 by Sarah Maldoror for the country Angola in the Quinzaine de Realisateur/Directors’ Fortnight. This parallel section created in 1968, “is distinguished by the independent judgment displayed in the choice of films, the “cinéphile” standards and the accessibility to non-professional audiences at the festival. In fact, the Directors’ Fortnight is the non-competitive program at Cannes that is open to the general public.” In 1976, the film Peasant Letter by Senegalese Safi Faye, was screened; and in 1979, her film Fad’jal was selected in A Certain Regard, a part of the Official Selection introduced in 1978. At the 40th Cannes Film Festival in 1987, the “Panorama du Cinéma Sud-Africain Independant” was a first-time programming of South African independent films, featuring anti-apartheid themes by progressive South Africans. Films by women included in this category were: Last Supper at Hortsley Street by Lindy Wilson and Re tla bona, (We will see) and Sharpevelle Spirit by Elaine Proctor.

Fast forward to 1994, Les Silences du palais by Moufida Tlatli of Tunisia is selected in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. In 1996, Senegalese Safi Faye returns on the Croisette with Mossane in Un Certain Regard, while British filmmaker Ingrid Sinclair, who also has Zimbabwean citizenship, presents Flame in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. The first decade of the 2000s continues to show an African women’s presence at Cannes. In 2002 Rachida by Algerian Yamina Bachir-Chouikh is selected in Un Certain Regard. In 2005, the film Sisters in Law, co-directed by British filmmaker Kim Longinotto and Cameroonian Florence Ayisi, wins the Prix Art & Essai (CICAE) in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. Also in 2005, Rahmatou Keïta of Niger presents her film Al’leessi…an African Actress, selected in the Cannes Classics. A sidebar of the festival, the Cannes Classics “celebrates the heritage of film, aiming to highlight works of the past, presented with brand new or restored prints.” The selection of Al’leesi is appropriate as it highlights the legacy of early filmmaking in Niger, which had been all but forgotten.

At the 61st Cannes Film Festival in 2008, Comorian Hachimiya Ahamada presents La résidence Ylang Ylang in La Semaine de la Critique. Djamila Sahraoui was also present, invited by ACID (Association du Cinema Independant pour sa Diffusion) to present her film, Barakat. ACID "presents nine films at Cannes during the festival. Most of them do not have a distributor. The aim is to give visibility and public release to new talent.” Also during the festival, the Pavillon Les Cinémas du Sud/Cinemas of the South (renamed Cinemas du Monde/Cinemas of the World) gave homage to women in cinema of the South. Les Cinemas du Monde, “welcome[s] all filmmakers, from wherever they may come, and all films, without frontiers, and to give them recognition and support.” As well as providing a space to screen their films, two roundtables were organized to discuss relevant issues. The first roundtable highlighted the cinematic journey of three "emblematic" women: Moufida Tlatli of Tunisia, Ingrid Sinclair of Zimbabwe and Nadine Labaki of Lebanon. The second roundtable brought together filmmakers, producers and actresses from Africa, Brazil, Iran and Iraq to discuss the theme: “Cinema and engagement: a feminist, artistic and/or political engagement?" The invited participants included:

Rakhsan Bani Etemad - filmmaker (Iran), Tan Chui Mui - filmmaker (Malaysia), Fatoumata Coulibaly - actress (Mali), Angèle Diabang Brener - filmmaker (Senegal), Fatoumata Diawara - actress (Mali)
Mati Diop - filmmaker (Senegal), Taghreed Elsanhouri - filmmaker (Sudan), Dyana Gaye - filmmaker (Senegal), Marianne Khoury - producer (Egypt), Nadine Labaki - filmmaker (Lebanon), Osvalde Lewat - filmmaker (Cameroon), Angie Mills - producer (South Africa), Teona S. Mitevska - filmmaker (Macedonia)
Lucia Murat - filmmaker (Brazil), Awatif Na'eem - actress (Iraq), Joséphine Ndagnou - filmmaker (Cameroon), Bridget Pickering - producer (Namibia), Hend Sabry - actress (Tunisia), Naky Sy Savané - actress (Côte d'Ivoire), Ingrid Sinclair - filmmaker (Zimbabwe), Rahel Tewelde - filmmaker (Erythrea)
Moufida Tlatli - filmmaker (Tunisia), Ishtar Yasin - filmmaker (Costa Rica)

At the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in 2009, three women from Africa are invited at the Pavillon des Cinemas du Monde: Tunisian Nadia el Fani, Marie Ka of Senegal and Algerian Djamila Sahraoui—to discuss their films. Nadia el Fani is invited to present Ouled Lenine at the Marché du Film; Didi and Gigi by Marie Ka is showing in the Short Films Corner; and Djamila Sahraoui discusses Ouardia Once Had Sons, a project under development.

As part of the Cannes Classics 2011, Sugar Cane Alley (1983) is screened as a special tribute to Martinican filmmaker Euzhan Palcy. In addition, Chika Anadu from Nigeria is among the twelve young directors selected to participate in this year's Festival Residency. She attended the 21st session from October 2010 to February 2011.

In 2014, several films by women are included in the Short Film Corner: Gabonese Samantha Biffot's 9-minute fantasy drama Return to the Source, Jìn'naariyâ ! by Rahmatou Keïta of Niger and Peau de Colle by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hénia, whose film is supported by the Fonds Francophone. The filmmaker is also in the prestigious ACID selection, with her first feature film Le Challat de Tunis, which also benefits from the support of the Francophone funding. In addition, four women are among the 5 young Ethiopian filmmakers selected to attend Cannes : Adanech Admasu, Hiwot Admasu, Hermon Hailay, Yamrot Nigussie. “From Addis To Cannes” filmmakers were chosen from a significant group of applicants from Ethiopia’s promising film community through a targeted search focusing on emerging and mid-career filmmakers looking to further their careers and create international partnerships. Slso, Senegalese Angèle Diabang is attendance at the Fabrique des cinémas du monde with her film project "So long a letter".

In 2015, Malian singer and musician Rokia Traoré joins co-presidents Joel and Ethan Coen on the 68th Cannes festival jury, along with the other members Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, French actress Sophie Marceau, American-British actress Sienna Miller, Spanish actress Rossy de Palma and Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.

In 2016 Houda Benyamina’s directorial debut is awarded the Caméra d'Or, an award of the Cannes Film Festival for the best first feature film presented in one of the event’s selections. Also in 2016, Tapiwa Chipfupa  of Zimbabwe and Angolan Pocas Pascoal are in attendance as part of La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde.  Tapiwa Chipfupa presented her film project “The Other Half of the African Sky”, while Pocas Pascoal discussed her film project “Girlie”, (2nd feature film). La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde, a professional programme helping talented young directors from emerging countries increase their international exposure. Each year this programme, developed by the Institut français, in partnership with France Médias Monde – RFI, France 24, Monte Carlo Doualiya- with the support of The International Organization of La Francophonie, invites ten directors working on their first or second feature films to attend the Festival de Cannes along with their producers.

In 2017, Tunisian Kaouther Ben Hania's Beauty and the Dogs is selected in Un Certain Regard as well as Zambian Rungano Nyoni with I am not a Witch which she developed at the Cinéfondation du Festival de Cannes in 2013. Moreover, South African Twiggy Matiwana's The Bicycle Man is included in the Festival Corner.

In 2018, Rafiki by Wanuri Kahiu and Sofia by Franco-Moroccan Meryem Benm'Barek are part of the Official selection of Un certain regard. In addition, Safi Faye's Fad,Jal returns to Cannes, restored by the CNC, presented at Cannes Classics.

In 2019, Mati Diop receives the Grand Prix for her film Atlantique. Maimouna N'Diaye is member of the Cannes Jury. Moroccan director Maryam Touzani's first feature film, Adam, is in competition in the category Un certain regard, competing for the Camera d'or.  Djia Mambu comes to Cannes in two capacities: at the invitation of the We Build Change programme and as jury member of the Semaine de la critique. 

In 2020, Ayten Amin from Egypt comes to Cannes with her feature film Souad, which is part of the Official Selection.

Iman Djionne (Coura + Oulèye) : La Fabrique 2020 - Les Cinémas du monde 

In 2021 the Cannes festival includes a selection focused on the environment which includes Aissa Maiga's Above Water, "raising awareness and defending the planet will also take place on the silver screen."

In 2022, Kaouther Ben Hania of Tunisa is president of the Semaine de la critique Jury. Erika Etangsalé's Lèv la tèt dann fenwar | In the Billowing Night is awarded the Prix Doc Alliance - Doc Day. Sudanese Suzannah Mirghani's Cotten Queen receives the Cinéfondation ArteKinoAward. Maryam Touzani of Morocco's Le Bleu du Caftan is selected in the A Certain Regard. In the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, Tunisian Erige Sehirir's Sous les figues is awarded the Prix EcoProd. La Fabrique Cinéma de l'Institut français includes three film projects produced and/or directed by African women: the feature fiction Benimana directed and produced by Marie-Clémence Dusabejambo (Ejo-Cine) the feature documentary, Djéliya, Mémoire du Mandingue produced by Mamounata Nikiéma (Pilumpiku Production) and directed by Boubacar Sangaré from Burkina Faso; from Egypt, the feature fiction, Aisha Can't Fly Away Anymore produced by Swasan Yusf (Bonanza Films) and directed by Morad Mostafa. DEENTAL at Cannes: ACP women among the producers participating at the week-long training/workshop/meetings during the 2nd edition include Khadija Mahfou of Cote d'Ivoire and Kady Traoré of Burkina Faso. Fatou Cisse's Hommage d'une fille à son père. A tribute to the Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé, is part of the Cannes Classics. Cannes cinéma, curated by Angèle Diabang, is a series of shorts broadcast in September 2022 during the Cannes Cinema season in partnership with Ciné-Club, Voir et devoir, les Jeudis, or in the context of Rencontres Cinématographiques de Cannes. Her selection of shorts:  Hary Andriaminosoa & Joel Rakotovelo: The unusual kinky quaint peculiar weird strange rum queer odd and bizarre day of a shadow man; Saa Kessas: La Voie d’Henriette; Djelika Mama Traoré: Ma Passion; Audrey Toboe: N’tcholo; Fatoumata Bathily: Taajabone; Kevin Mavakala: La Star. Rahmatou Keita presents a Masterclass at the African Pavillon, a parallel event during the festival. Diversity at Cannes, also a parallel structure, holds A Celebration of Black Women in Film. 

Report by Beti Ellerson

Articles about African women at Cannes on the African Women in Cinema blog:

Cannes 2023 : African Women at Cannes | La présence africaine au féminin

Rosine Mbakam: “Mambar Pierrette” - Cannes 2023 - Quinzaine des cinéastes

BFI partners with Diversity in Cannes to celebrate Black women filmmakers during the Cannes Film Festival

Africa - Women - Cannes 75e 2022

Under the fig trees : de l'amour à l'ombre des figuiers | Love under the shade of fig trees - a review by Falila Gbadamassi (

Cannes 2021. Aïssa Maïga: Marcher sur l'eau | Above Water (Cinema for the Climate | Le cinéma pour le climat)

Iman Djionne (Coura + Oulèye) : La Fabrique 2020 - Les Cinémas du monde

Cannes 2019: Mati Diop receives/reçoit le Grand Prix

Cannes 2019: Maïmouna N'Diaye, member of the jury | membre du jury: interview/entretien by/par Falila Gbadamassi (AfriqueFrance Télévisions)

Mati Diop: "It was very important for me to dedicate a film to this ghost generation" | "C'était très important pour moi de dédier un film à cette génération fantôme". Interview/Entretien by/par Falila Gbadamassi (Africine, Cannes 2019)

"Papicha: Mounia Meddour in resistance mode" | "Papicha : Mounia Meddour en mode résistance" analysis/analyse by/par Falila Gbadamassi (Africine)

Djia Mambu, journalist and film critic | journaliste et critique de cinéma (Cannes 2019)

Cannes 2019: Maryam Touzani's "Adam" (Morocco)

Mati Diop’s "Atlantique" – In the foam of the "Atlantic” | Dans l'écume de l' "Atlantique" analysis/analyse by/par Falila Gbadamassi (Africine)

Mati Diop : Atlantique (Cannes 2019)

Cannes 2019 : African Women at Cannes | La présence africaine au féminin

Safi Faye : “Fad,jal” (Cannes Classics 2018)

Sofia by/de Meryem Benm'Barek : Cannes 2018 - Un Certain Regard (Morocco)

Rafiki by/de Wanuri Kahiu : Cannes 2018 - Un Certain Regard (Kenya)

African Women | Les femmes africaines au Festival de Cannes 2017

Cannes 2016: Houda Benyamina - "Divines", la Caméra d'or

Cannes 2016 - Short Film Corner - Ama Anie Noïa Kouadio : C’est pas mon papy, c’est mon papa! | That’s not my grandpa, that’s my dad

Tapiwa Chipfupa (Zimbabwe) : La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde (Festival de Cannes) 2016

Pocas Pascoal (Angola) : La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde (Festival de Cannes) 2016

Rokia Traoré: jury member of the 68th Cannes festival | membre du jury du 68ème festival de Cannes

Cannes 2015 : Rokia Traore, la voix africaine du jury | the African voix of the jury

Directors Kaouther Ben Hania and Samantha Biffot selected at Cannes | Les réalisatrices Kaouther Ben Hania et Samantha Biffot sélectionnées à Cannes

Four women among the 5 young Ethiopian filmmakers selected to attend Cannes Film Festival | Quatre femmes font partie des 5 jeunes cinéastes Ethiopiens selectionnés pour assister au Festival de Cannes - "Addis to Cannes Workshop"

Rahmatou Keïta : Jìn'naariyâ ! – Cannes – Short Film Corner

Dyana Gaye: The Cinéfondation Atelier, Cannes 2012

Angèle Diabang: Une si longue lettre | So long a letter – Cannes - Fabrique des cinémas du monde – Projets | Projects

A Glance at Cannes: The Festival Residency

A Glance at Cannes: Cinema and Diversity

A Glance at Cannes: Short Film Corner

A Glance At Cannes: A Tribute to Euzhan Palcy

A Glance at Cannes: Cinémas du Monde Pavillon/Cinemas of the World Pavilion - Egyptian Ayten Amin

Showcasing Marie Ka at Cannes 2009

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