Racism has been a long age issue, an issue that has affected negatively the peaceful cohabitation of humans as a result of skin colour. The recent force in constant rise of this long lived problem has caused many to rise up and speak against it. Many have become racial discrimination advocates. Meet one of them:
Aïssa Maïga is a Senegal-born French actress, director, writer, producer, and activist. Maïga has worked with major auteurs like Michael Haneke, Abderrahmane Sissako and Michel Gondry, and recently starred in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut.
Maïga is an advocate for inclusion and has been vocal about racial discrimination in the film industry throughout her career. Maïga was inspired to speak out and create the DiasporAct collective after realising she was often the sole performer of colour to receive top billing and awards season attention—despite the abundance of diverse talent around her.
Maïga landed a role alongside Yvan Attal in Denis Amart’s Saraka Bô in 1996, her acting was well received and she went on to play a rebellious young girl in Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown in 2000 and his later film Caché in 2005. Her work in Cédric Klapisch’s Russian Dolls in 2005 cemented her role as a notable performer in French cinema.
Maïga was nominated for a César Award for Most Promising Actress for her role in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Malian drama Bamako (2006) and became the first French actress of African descent to ever receive a nomination, thereby becoming the most visible black actress working in France. That same year, an anthology film called Paris, je t’aime (2006) was also premiered at Cannes and Maïga was the female lead in the short film directed by South African filmmaker Oliver Schmitz. Maïga was joined on the Cannes red carpet by Oliver Schmitz and producer Danny Glover.
Bianco e nero (2008) starring Maïga and Favio Volo was the first successful and mainstream Italian film to tackle interracial romance. In 2009, Maïga won Best Actress for Bianco e nero (2008) at the Festival du Cinema Italien de Bastia.
Maïga co-starred with Chiwetel Ejiofor in his joint film with Netflix set during the Malawian food crisis in the 2000s, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019). She was the lead female character—Agnes Kamkwamba—and the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was added to Netflix on March 1st, 2019
Maïga and the DiasporAct collective held a peaceful anti-racism protest as they went into the premiere of Lee Chang-dong’s FIPRESCI Prize–winning film, Burning at the 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival in 2018. The group of women stood at the top of the red carpet steps at the festival and raised their fists while dancing joyously to the Rihanna song Diamonds to protest the racial bias and discrimination that is rampant within the French film industry. During a press conference that featured the group, Maïga told Agence France-Presse that setting up a racial quota in the French film industry is a potential option for combating the lack of onscreen diversity, and acknowledged that this could spark strong opposition in France. All members of the group wore matching black and white ensembles created by Balmain’s mixed-race designer Olivier Rousteing who told Vogue:
“I think we are really at a huge turning point in every industry, whether film, or fashion, or music. We are living in a world where we are trying to break from the past and define what we want from the future. I believe in the power of women, I have since I was a little boy, and this moment means a lot to me.”
The clear message of the protest, combined with the recently released book to back it up, was met positively—the consequent media reports talked of their beauty, style and courage and the group hope that the industry will continue to evolve to be more inclusive.