Atlantics’ haunts its audience with a Senegalese story of love, class and capitalism
Mati Diop knows what it’s like to be surrounded by towering artistic voices.
Her father, Wasis Diop, is a popular jazz musician. Her uncle, Djibril Diop Mambéty, is best known for the influential Touki Bouki, which won the International Critics Award at Cannes in 1973. And before Mati Diop began directing, she was an actor, starring in French director Claire Denis’ 2008 drama 35 Shots of Rum.
Now, Diop has released her first feature film, Atlantics, a brooding, supernatural meditation on love, migration, capitalism, and class in postcolonial Senegal. After a brief theatrical run, the film is streaming on Netflix.
This year, Diop, whose mother is French and white and whose father is Senegalese, became the first black woman to have a film accepted into the main competition of the Cannes Film Festival. Atlantics was awarded the festival’s Grand Prix, which is second only to the Palme d’Or (won by Bong Joon-ho for Parasite). Diop also won the inaugural Mary Pickford Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which “recognizes an emerging female talent who is making groundbreaking strides in the industry.”
Atlantics centers on a teenage girl, Ada (Mame Bineta Sané). She is in love with her boyfriend Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who is fed up with being exploited by a developer named Mr. Ndiaye (Diankou Sembene). Realizing that challenging Ndiaye is fruitless, Souleiman decides to leave Dakar with a group taking a small boat to Spain. Meanwhile, Ada has agreed to marry a much older and wealthier man, Omar (Babacar Sylla) at the urging of her friends. Ada doesn’t love Omar, but he’s her best shot at a life of comfort. Diop follows Ada and the women who the migrant workers leave behind as they cope with their anguish, anger, and grief when they learn the boat carrying the men has capsized in the Atlantic.
I spoke to Diop about casting Ada, creating a stirring work of cinema, and not being intimidated by the artistic legacy of her family.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.