Hello, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’d like to firstly ask what the film is about?
It is the story of a young teenager who wants to become French. However, her father is opposed to it as he has some matters to settle with this country. It is a familial conflict as well as a fight of generations.
Do you think the experience of black people in France is different from any other country in the world?
It depends on the place you are living. I travelled a lot and there are as many experiences as there are people. In France, however, there is a common experience for black people. Every one of them has been a victim of discrimination. When they are not, they are reduced of their skin colour. Often I hear: “you are black and you made a movie”. I answer that I am a filmmaker and I am black. This is the heart of the subject: being perceived in a fair way, for what we are. I am not choosing to highlight my skin colour in some situation. People are seeing me this way. When I go to the bakery or to an audition for a job, I am the same. I am black. My condition changes in the eye of the other. His problem then becomes mine. Many people underestimate themselves or suffer from inferiority complexes because of it. I dealt with this and also with the fact of being a woman. Behind all of this, there is, of course, questions of representations and a lot of others that deserve some time spent on them.
You’ve previously directed several documentaries -how does directing a documentary compare to a short movie?
It is quite different. In a documentary no one will ask the main character to play a part. There is no comparison between them, even if I believe that the amount of work needed as well as the research should be the same. Live-action movies teams are bigger as well. It is another mood, less solitary. It is a real teamwork.
How do you feel about the reception your film has received from critics?
It is a movie that moved a lot of people no matter their age, origin or religion. This moves me a lot. While writing it I didn’t realized its emotional potential and even less its universal impact.
Do you feel that French policy can be divisive towards people of colour?
A system is by nature aiming to a mass. From the moment there is a mass there is a majority and therefore a minority. When the minority doesn’t have access to power there is an unbalanced situation that the majority (laws of segregation in the USA) or the minority (Afrikaners in South Africa) will try to sustain in order to keep control of the power, the territory and the wealth. Therefore yes, the French system can sometimes divide the country. But I like this country, it is mine and I also like to believe that together its citizens are working together to create a new system. We have to make progress despise the burden of History. Cinema is a great tool for this purpose.
What was your reaction to the film being nominated for an Oscar?
I was proud. Lots of my comedian and director friends had to go to United-States before getting any recognition in their own country, France. As if betting on someone and his talent became a risk that some people don’t want to take anymore here. French cinema also has some recognition in the United-States. It is always an honour to embody your own country around the world. It has a special taste. And it doesn’t happen every day so I am happy about it.
The film deals a lot with identity and fitting into society – do you think society is becoming more inclusive?
Everywhere in the world, fear of losing your job, of sharing a piece of your own land or your own bread, life conditions and many other things are increasing our fear of others. If we add to this ignorance and lack of knowledge it leads to ugly things such as xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia and more. So yes society is becoming more inclusive. You can see nowadays in France the reaction to this phenomenon, racist acts and speeches increasing or the knee on the ground in the US during sport events or concerts.
What was the casting process for the film like?
It was quite normal. We used small ads and a casting director. The hard part was to find a young comedian, with something deep in her personality, introvert but still shining. I found her thanks to my producer who advised me to search in the Paris Conservatory. Grace was there and had everything I was looking for.
What would you say to young directors who wanted to make a film like French?
Besides working with the right people, I would say, to have professional people reading your scenario, to accept your producer as someone who does more than finance your movie, to be honest with your own self and to make a movie if it is absolutely necessary. But this is my own philosophy. It is a life path and everyone has to find is own.
Finally, I’d like to ask what projects you’ve got coming up in the future?
I am writing a short movie as well as a feature film. It is hard but thrilling.
With thanks to Josza. You can read my review of French here.