The youngest Senegalese screenwriter and director, Ramata-Toulaye Sy, 36, is making waves with her first feature film, “Banel & Adama,” at the Cannes Film Festival.
She follows in the footsteps of Mati Diop, a fellow French-Senegalese filmmaker, as the second Black woman to compete for the Palme d’Or award since the festival’s founding 76 years ago.
The young director was born in a suburb of Paris to Senegalese immigrants. Her parents are illiterate, and they refused to even take her to the movies when she was a child. According to Variety, Sy recalls that they were not related and shared no passion for the arts or culture.
“I really hope that soon, all this will be taken for granted – that we won’t be counting the Black directors, that we won’t be counting women,” she remarked before taking the stage for the Cannes Film Festival debut of her movie. It indicates that something is still off, that something hasn’t fully returned to being normal and natural.
Sy attended La Fémis Film School in France for her studies. She started out as a director, co-writing “Our Lady of the Nile” with Atiq Rahimi and “Sibel,” with agla Zenciri and Guillaume Giovanettti for the Locarno competition selection. More than 80 international film festivals screened “Astel,” her debut short film.
According to Africa News, her feature film, which brought her greater popularity at the Cannes Film Festival, depicts the tale of a young couple named “Banel & Adama,” whose love is tested by the customs of their hamlet in northern Senegal, close to the Mauritania border.
According to Sy, who said that she created the primary female character, Banel, as the antithesis of the oppressed, Black African woman who wants help that everyone is used to, she wanted to “really deconstruct the vision of Africa and cinema in people’s minds.” She continued by saying that the character’s lack of sympathy makes it tough for people to like her, but this makes it all the better.
Speaking to Cineuropa, the young director explained that she chose to set her picture in Africa in order to alter the register. She also revealed that the screenplay was written during her final year at La Fémis. She claims that she wrote French-set scripts during the first three years of her career, but this time she felt the need to return to her roots in Africa.
The French-Senegalese filmmaker set a goal for herself to develop a story that was more literary, more lyrical, and had a lot of poetry in it to demonstrate that she wasn’t just a product of this background. Sy, who has a mixed origin, said she felt entirely French and Senegalese.
She admitted that she thought all movies about Africa dealt with poverty, terrorism, and violence when she first started writing the script for the movie in 2014. As a result, she refers to this chance as a “political gesture.”
She received the Share Her Journey prize for her short film “Astel” at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival as a result of her journey to date. According to AllAfrica, she also took home the SACD Award and a Special Jury Prize at the 2022 Clemont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival.
Establishing that she knew her worth even before international recognition, Sy said, “I know that in the articles, people always say ‘Who is she? We don’t know her. ’” She added, “But I know myself, I have been here for a long time. I work and have worked to be here. I didn’t just end up here yesterday, in fact. I studied film, I was at university, I went to La Fémis, I co-wrote features. So you didn’t know me. But today, you know me.”