Mati Diop, director of “Dahomey”: “The announcement of the restitution of works of art to Africa was like a slap in the face”

Documentary film with a fantasy fiction feel, Dahomey , by Franco-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop, 41, received the Golden Bear at the Berlinale on February 24. This film of rare density (1 hour 07 minutes) was born from a shock: that felt by Mati Diop when the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, visiting Ouagadougou on November 28, 2017, declared: “ African heritage cannot only be in private collections and European museums. » He continued: “Within five years, I want the conditions to be met for temporary or definitive restitution of African heritage in Africa. »

Dahomey , which will be screened at the opening of the Cinéma du Réel in Paris (March 22 to 31), will be released in theaters on September 25. The film follows the return of twenty-six Beninese works, from the Musée du Quai-Branly, in Paris, until their arrival in Cotonou, Benin, on November 10, 2021. Mati Diop, Afro-descendant and niece of Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty (1945-1998), recounts the making of this hybrid work, whose aesthetic is strongly connected to the postcolonial issues of “restitution”.

How did the idea for this film come about?

The idea came the day after Emmanuel Macron’s speech in 2017, the French president suddenly announcing that all African heritage would have to be returned within five years. The announcement of the restitution of works of art to Africa was like a kind of slap in the face. The slap in the face was realizing that the question of African heritage, monopolized by European museums, had remained unthought of for me. Or at least it wasn’t the first postcolonial issue that came to mind. I was more sensitive to the question of the migration of young Senegalese people, to which I have dedicated several films.

Despite all the deconstruction work that I have undertaken since 2008, with my short film Atlantiques [2010] , the medium-length film Mille soleils [2013 ] , then the first feature length Atlantique [2019, Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival ] , questioning migrations, there was a huge part of the problem that I had not grasped. And yet, this word “restitution” precisely characterizes my approach as a filmmaker for ten years, by giving, or rather giving back, a voice to migrants.

In 2018, after the publication of the report by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy on the restitution of African heritage, the Minister of Culture of Senegal, Abdou Latif Coulibaly, demanded the return of 10,000 objects, and only one was returned, in 2019: the so-called saber of El Hadj Oumar Tall, kept at the Army Museum in Paris. As a Franco-Senegalese, did you want to delve into this question?

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