Written by Kianna Best on May 23, 2023. Posted in General Interest

Black women filmmakers ask “Cannes you see us” on BFI and Diversity in Cannes panel

On 20 May, a panel of Black women international filmmakers came together to discuss the issues facing the marginalised group in the environment of international film production, challenges facing funding, distribution and the need for community. Moderated by Diversity in Cannes founder Yolanda Brinkley, the panel featured the testimonials and industry nuggets of wisdom from filmmaker and Collectif 50/50 board member Johanna Makabi, writer and director Zoey Martinson, writer and producer Kelley Robins Hicks, and Ida Rose CEO and producer Shantelle Rochester.


“After an overwhelmingly positive response to a very informal coming together of Black female talent at last year’s festival, it became clear how rare opportunities to celebrate female filmmakers of colour are,” commented Melanie Hoyes, head of inclusion at the BFI. “It has been a pleasure to shape this programme with our partner Diversity in Cannes, supported by the British Blacklist and Times Up UK; organisations who have been championing historically marginalised communities for so many years. We hope the events, coupled with supporting a group of UK filmmakers to travel to Cannes, offers a chance for international Black female filmmakers to develop creative pathways that serve their own voice and artistic practices, while operating in a structures that often presents them with barriers.”


Spotlighting and celebrating filmmakers form this underrepresented background, the panel recounted many of their experiences that led them to breaking points and recognizing the need to find remaining focused in the face of adversity. Paris born and raised Makabi is the product of Senegalese and Congolese parents, unavoidably bringing her heritage to the projects she involves herself with and allowing such to bleed into her own lived experience. Makabi commented on her journey towards finding a way to putting joy in her work when the realities towards bringing it to fruition doesn’t reflect that.


From left: Kelley Robins Hicks, Zoey Martinson, Johnna Makabi, Shantelle Rochester, Yolanda Brinkley


Whilst a shift has been made with the representation of Black filmmakers at Cannes, this year only saw the second Black woman to have directed a film in competition in the history of the festival. But with Rochester proclaiming “finding balance between joy and strife? Black females are doing that in life,” such a reality is not a new hurdle but rather a driving force to implement change. Robins Hicks, executive producer on HBO sketch comedy show Random Acts of Flyness supported Rochester stating that “joy always comes when you stand in who you are,” and keeping focused on the goal.”


“Black women directors have been grossly underrepresented and have gone unrecognised at the Cannes Film Festival since inception,” stated Brinkley. “In 76 years, there's been only two in competition, Mati Diop in 2019 and Ramata-Toulaye Sy this year. While I celebrate and uplift Sy, the Cannes Film Festival still has work to do. However, I have zero interest in fighting the patriarchy, as you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. Instead, I will use the Diversity in Cannes platform to honour global black women in film at the Cannes Film Festival, indefinitely, and I’m excited to partner with Melanie Hoyes and the BFI to amplify their voices.”


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