R. Nyoni (240598)
Credit: Contributed

There wasn’t a single film by a Black director screening work at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. And not just in the competition, where a film by a Black director hasn’t been in the running for a staggering four years, since Abderrahmane Sissako’s stunning “Timbuktu.” There literally wasn’t a single film by a Black director screening in Cannes at all. A last minute addition of Zambian-born Rungano Nyoni’s “I Am Not a Witch” added one whole film by a Black director to the festival.

Emphasized at the festival’s news conference was the ongoing need for a more diverse range of storytellers.

Not far from Cannes’ film fest is the Marche du Film (Film Market), the festival’s business counterpart and one of the largest film markets in the world, where one country, South Africa, was richly represented.

Since its arrival in Cannes 20 years ago, South Africa has become a global player while branding itself as the gateway to the continent.

Among South African films in the market was “The Number,” by acclaimed director Khalo Matabane, a hard-hitting look at the origins of the ruthless gangs operating in the South African prison system, and “Asinamali!,” an iconic anti-apartheid musical, produced by renowned playwright Mbongeni Ngema and Oscar nominee Darrell Roodt (“Sarafina!”).

The absence of Nigeria—the world’s second largest producer of movies—was observed with regret by film reporter Onoshe Nwabuikwu.  “Nigeria used to feature prominently at the festival,” Nwabuikwu recalled, “but she didn’t adequately utilize that platform to push the country—not as possible location for film producers, not for her rich culture and not even as a tourist destination.”

At a parallel event from May 11 to May 14, the Nollywood Paris Film Festival screened new films and directors for the People’s Choice Award.

“Perhaps, then, we’re back to the age-old problem of there simply just not being enough Black directors out there, both in France and globally,” commented Grace Barber-Plentie in the online mag Dazed. “But, given that 2017 is a year that’s given us not just ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Get Out’ but also ‘Fences’ and ‘I Am Not Your Negro,’ I’m not sure this is a justifiable answer anymore.”

She continued, “It’s undeniably difficult for Black filmmakers to fund and make their projects, but in the age of the internet, work is being produced in all manner of mediums, exactly the kinds of work that deserves to be nurtured at festivals. A showcase in Cannes and the funding that follows could help make a filmmaker’s career.”