Thérèse Mbissine Diop

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 in Paris, France during the Racines Noires [Black Roots] Festival in July 1998.  During the festival M’Bissine Thérèse Diop was profiled as a pioneer African actress.  Translated from French.

M’Bissine Thérèse Diop, your place as an actor is very important in the history of African cinema.  During your career you played the role of Diouana in the film La noire de... by Ousmane Sembene.  This film marks the first feature film of African cinema.  Before this film, made in 1966, African cinema did not actually exist.  Could you talk about this period?  What was it like to be an actor in Africa at that time?

    In general, the milieu of cinema is very difficult.  It was very difficult for me at that time. Oh, if I could have come in contact with someone then who could have assisted me…but no, there was no one!  Even in the neighborhood where I lived, to see a black woman in the cinema! As I said, it was very difficult for me.  After the film La Noire de..., when I passed by mothers in the neighborhood where I lived, they would turn the other way.  Some people were also very critical of me.  This period in my life coincided with the 66-68 period in France.  Having just returned from France, I wore traditional clothing as well as clothing designed with the “Mao collar.” Of course, that did not help matters, for there were people who said that I had communist ideas, something which I did not even understand.  There were those who also said that an African woman who acted in the cinema was a loose woman.  Others loved the film, but I was highly criticized.  People talked all around me saying, "That girl who acted in La noire de... is Sembene's woman, they are going to get married."  They did not understand at all!  In other words, having acted in the film people saw me as belonging to Sembene.  It was difficult for me to understand this reaction.  Even my own mother—normally a mother supports her child when the latter is in difficulty.  However, in my own family, I did not get this, I was not given support.  No one encouraged me.  There were months that passed when my mother did not speak to me because of the film.

Read the entire interview