Marie-Clémence Paes

Originally published in Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film Video and Television by Beti Ellerson. Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ,  2000. Interview by Beti Ellerson during FESPACO 1997, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in February 1997.  Translated from French.

Could you talk about your background, yourself in general, and how you became interested in cinema?

I was born in Madagascar of a Malagasy mother and a French father.  Well, actually, throughout my entire childhood in Madagascar the question of being of mixed race was a real problem.  All my Malagasy cousins would always say to me: "Anyway, you will never understand anything because you are white, you can never understand."  And for a long, long time I wished I could go live in France.  I thought that once I was in France all of this would be over.  As an adolescent I went to live in France, and on the first day of school I was told:  "Hummm, you are not quite French, where are you from?"  And there it began again.  Adolescence is already a period that is particularly difficult, one does not always feel comfortable in one's body or with the experiences during that time, so that being of mixed race was truly a problem for me.

When I met my husband, Cesar Paes, who is Brazilian, we went to live in Brazil.  Never again did anyone ask me was I French, Malagasy, or what I was.  Right away everyone saw me as Brazilian.  That experience was a great discovery for me.  It was, in fact, in Brazil that I learned that to be of mixed race was not a handicap but a blessing.  It allowed me to live just as well inside water as outside of it.  To know many things was not a handicap but wealth, a richness.

Cesar and I quickly decided to make films in order to talk about this experience.  He is Brazilian, from another continent and another culture.  We wanted to talk about countries of the South in another way than what we had seen, what we had lived.  We lived in Brazil, but shortly afterwards we left for Paris.  Paris was the compromise between Brazil and Madagascar, it was at the midpoint.  The idea was to go in the South and see the things that we could bring out in a new light regarding its reality.  We wanted to make films other than about economic problems, droughts, underdevelopment, children of the streets.  We wanted to go look for the riches of the South, to bring out the things that we had lost in the countries of the North.

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