Aïssa Maïga says being told to “go back to Africa” is no insult to her—which is one of the many reactions the actress received since her impassioned speech on diversity at the César Awards earlier this year.
Maïga, an award-winning French actress with a 20+ year career, called out the lack of diversity in cinema before presenting an award at the French Oscars. But it wasn’t the first time she stood up for representation.
In May 2018 she authored Noire N’est Pas Mon Métier (My Profession Is Not Black), a compilation of essays about sexism and racism women of color experienced in the entertainment industry. Maïga and her contributors walked the red carpet in solidarity at the Cannes Film Festival. Their photo, 16 Black women of varying shapes and sizes fiercely dressed in Balmain, was seen around the world. Maïga tells ESSENCE of the moment, “For us, it was really a moment of pride. It was powerful.”
Still, it wasn’t enough.
Two years later Maïga saw her opportunity at the César Awards as another teachable moment. “I knew that I couldn’t stand before the audience in this televised ceremony without telling something about diversity because what I witness is injustice,” she says.
“It’s not just about giving roles in front of the camera; it’s about giving a representation of the French society. It’s about giving equal opportunities,” says Maïga, who is also the president of 50/50, an inclusion and equality collective.
The aftermath of her speech included backlash and support from around the globe. Reactions included the aforementioned “go back to Africa,” hurled on television by a French politician. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind actress wasn’t surprised by the backlash or the lack of support from fellow actors.
“The biggest support I had was from the people on social media. It was massive. And it really helped me understand that the bigger my audiences, the bigger the insults. And I don’t care. I’m not afraid,” says Maïga.
Check out Maïga’s video interview to hear why she’ll never stop standing up for diversity and her next steps to promote inclusion in French cinema.