This vibrant mix of emerging actresses, directors, and musicians discuss the persistent problem of gender inequality in the arts, advice they would give to their younger selves, and their professional dreams for 2017. Shot by Stephanie Lou. Interviews and text by Jaclyn Bethany.
Last year, I purchased tickets to a film called The Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) that was playing as part of London Film Festival’s First Feature Competition. The film follows a group of teenagers who form a kind of moving sex party, or “le bang gang.” I had no idea what to expect as I took my seat. Despite the controversial nature of the subject matter, the director, Eva Husson, somehow managed to render the film as beautiful and romantic, as opposed to revolting or contrived. I was also strongly impressed by the female leads, Daisy Broom and Marilyn Lima (who also feature in this issue.)
Broom, who played Laetitia, related to her character’s “naiveté.” But she clarifies that Laetitia significantly evolves throughout the film. Since Broom was playing a 16-year-old girl, her own life experiences lent perspective and contributed a sense of maturity to the role. Having worked as an actress since she was 16, Broom played a small role in another prolific filmmaker, Céline Sciamma’s, film, Girlhood. “Regarding the lack of female directors in the film industry,” she says, “I'm afraid that it isn’t changing much. There is still a problem with being a woman in the arts; they are not considered just artists, but [specifically] “women” artists. In the case of The Bang Gang, it was obviously considered a film directed by a woman, not just as a [film in its own right]. I'm sure that the shoot would have been different if it had been directed by a man.”
When she’s not working, Broom enjoys exploring Asian cuisine and Paris’s vintage clothing scene, and lucky for us, she shares some of her favorite spots. “I would suggest a vintage shop like Mamie Blue in the 9th Arrondisement or Vintage 77 on rue de Menilmontant. I love Vietnamese food, and I live near Belleville, an Asian district, so I often go to Dong Huong to have a pho… In Le Marché des Enfants Rouges, a market with lots of different food stalls, there’s a Japanese stall that does amazing bentos. For a night out, I like La Mano for dancing. I like to go to rock gigs to La Mécanique Ondulatoire or Espace B. I’ve seen great bands there.” When asked about her future plans, Broom says she looks forward to traveling to Venice and China. It’s clear that this young actress is not only a lover of cinema, but also of life itself.
CREDITS: Teen Spirit (2007), Leaving (2009), Girlhood (2014), Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (2015)
On her childhood and being discovered for her role in The Bang Gang:
I am from Bordeaux, France. I had a lovely childhood full of joy and tough teenage years. I have two older sisters. Being discovered by Tumblr (for the film) is something quite unusual for an actress. My photography is showcased on my tumblr, as well as photos of myself. I started taking silver-based photography four years ago. I now own about forty different cameras. I would have never thought of embracing an acting career if Eva Husson had not contacted me for this role. She was determined.
On working with director Eva Husson:
In my daily life, I’m not modest. However, my role in the film required that I trust the other actors. Therefore, Eva made us stay together and rehearse the love scenes many times over months before the actual shoot to facilitate our movements and relationships. These scenes were entirely choreographed and scripted. I would have never done this film if Eva had not directed it. Her work method was really an asset. I think that nudity in film is becoming less and less taboo, especially with [the work of] directors like Gaspard Noe, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Larry Clark. People are starting to appreciate this kind of cinema, and for me, it’s all about art. For [my character] George, I approached her instinctively and head on. George is the instigator of the “Bang Gang” game sessions, but she only participates in it once, which ends fatally for her.
On the themes explored in the film:
Of course I was aware of the true events (of the Bang Gang), which inspired Eva. I don’t find them shocking; for me, the story was mainly about discovering love, senses, and the notion of each other. “Bang gangs” have always existed. What could be surprising, though, is the way youth [can be] consumed by love, relationships, drugs, and sex—it all goes very fast. Young people no longer take the time to appreciate [these new experiences]; they move very fast. For me, the real issue comes from the lack of parental presence; they seem unconcerned by their children’s issues.
Marilyn wears a dress by Alessandra Rich and her own boots
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Pauline. Where are you originally from and where are you currently based?
Pauline Étienne: I originally come from Belgium, but now I live in Paris.
JB: You performed your first film role at age 18. How did your balance the end of your teenage years with your career in film?
PE: Yes, I did my first movie when I was eighteen, but it was just for two months; afterwards I went back to my normal life and school, etc. I really started performing after [I finished] school. And performing helped me in my life. It still helps me now. Each film is a reflection, and each character has its own way of seeing life.
JB: You have been nominated for many awards thus far, including the Lumières Award and the César Awards. How does it feel to be recognized for your work, and what have been some of the highlights of these experiences for you?
PE: It is quite cool to be recognized by the profession. The Césars and the Lumières really help young actors. Of course, they place you in the limelight with photos and interviews. And you can meet some big actors and directors! I met so many people through them, and it’s the most beautiful gift these awards can give to you.
JB: You played the lead role in The Nun (2013) directed by Guillaume Nicloux. Tell me about the story, your character, and working with Isabelle Huppert.
PE: The film is about a young woman in the eighteenth century. Her family puts her in a convent, but she wants to escape—she wants to discover the world and be free. But the convent doesn’t want to let her go. So it’s about her fight for freedom.
And working with Isabelle was incredible! She is an actress that I really love. I was very nervous. I thought that I couldn’t do it, but the director told me something that really helped—he said, “Remember she is here for the same reason as you. Acting, performing…” He was right. I try to remind myself of that fact every time I work with a big actor.
JB: What it was like to premiere the film at The Berlin International Film Festival (a.k.a. Berlinale)? What do enjoy about that festival in particular?
PE: The premiere at Berlinale was really moving. The audience was really into the movie, and by the end, the applause was so warm, so big. It was impressive. At the after party, I saw a part of the German crew; I was so happy to see them! We went through a lot of things during the shooting. It was freezing cold weather—like -20 °C. It’s inhuman to work in those kinds of conditions, so it helps to facilitate very strong relationships with your collaborators.
JB: You also worked with Mia Hansen-Løve, one of the most prolific up-and-coming French filmmakers. What was it like to work with her on Eden?
PE: Mia’s working method fits really works for me. She makes you redo scenes as much as possible until she gets exactly what she wants in terms of results, even if it takes four hours. I find the method to be very constructive, because it allows time to try new things and various interpretations. I admire Mia a great deal; she is very attentive and meticulous. She is also very smart—when she asks for something, she knows she can get it.
JB: Before you made Tokyo Fiancée (2014)—such a quirky, enjoyable story—did you know anything about Japanese culture? What was your research process like for the role?
PE: I knew Japan through my grandparents before shooting there. They loved Japan and traveled there frequently. They always brought back paintings, sculptures, etc. I did a lot of prep work for this film; it was the first time I was playing a comic role, so that in itself was challenging for me.
I also tried to learn Japanese, which was quite a challenge! When I arrived there, I suddenly felt as though I had been projected into an unknown world that was so different from Europe—everything I knew floated away.
We shot the film in different cities, so I had the chance to travel within the country and to discover it more in depth. Japan is so fascinating—the people, their culture, the pressure that they all have on their shoulder to respect the rules, their sense of duty. Ultimately, it’s a country full of contradictions and I loved it.
JB: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers, and artists based in Paris or elsewhere?
PE: Susanne Bier, Sólveig Anspach, Jane Campion, Claire Denis, Kathryn Bigelow, Mia Hansen-Løve, and Céline Sciamma,
JB: Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming projects: Old Boys, Espèces menacées, Le Le lion est mort ce soir, etc.?
PE: Old Boys is English director Toby McDonald’s first feature film. It’s based on Cyrano de Bergerac, and takes place in the ‘80s. My character (Agnes) is a young French girl who arrives with her father, who’s a teacher at an English boarding school for boys. It’s also my first English film. I met incredible actors while filming: Alex Lawther, Jonah Hauer-King and Denis Ménochet.
Espèces menacées is Gilles Bourdos’ next feature—I have a small role. It is a very beautiful, moving ensemble film with actors I like a lot, including Vincent Rottier, Alice Isaaz, Alice de Lencquesaing , and Éric Elmosnino.
Le lion est mort ce soir is by Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa. I co-star alongside Jean-Pierre Léaud, Maud Wiler and some kids from the south of France. The film is a hybrid: It’s a mix between a biopic and narrative film. It was an incredible adventure.
I am also currently at work on the television show Le Bureau des Légendes.
JB: What are your thoughts on the persistent problem of inequality within the film industry?PE: I’m very sensitive about this issue. I admire a lot of groups, such as FEMEN France, that try to make things better, even if there is a price to pay (e.g. violence, arrest, etc.…)
For me, parity is very important in a couple: I would never let anyone humiliate me or reduce me to silence because I am a woman. My voice counts as well as the children’s. I am proud to be a woman and a mother.
Pauline wears a coat by Ellie Grace Frost; top and pants by & Other Stories.
Slap! is Micky Green, Chat, and Sandra Derlon.
A band like Slap! only comes around every so often. Their sound harkens back to such ‘60s bands as The Shirelles and The Shangri-las, as well as ‘90s pop sensations like The Spice Girls.
2017 promises to be a big year for the women of Slap!, who are busy writing and recording their debut album and playing festivals such as WeVibes Festival.
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, ladies! Where are you from originally?
Micky: I’m from Sydney, Australia.
Sandra: Paris, with Italian gypsy origins on my mother’s side.
Chat: I am from the east of France, and I have Mexican origins from my father's side.
JB: How did you form the band?
C: I was on tour with Michaela as her musician when she told me she was thinking of starting an all-girls band. Later on, we were looking for a guitarist and I thought of Sandra, who I used to play with.
Did any other bands inspire you?
S and C: Beastie Boys and Grace Jones.
M: Yes, those artists were our initial inspiration, along with bands like ESG, Parliament, Earth, Wind & Fire and, for me personally, Sheila E. and all the Prince protégées!
JB: How would you describe your sound?
C: It’s a mix of pop, hip-hop, and rock...in English, French and Spanish!
S: With a bit of funk and disco, too!
M: Yes, for sure! I would also add soul and maybe reggae to that description.
JB: What do you find empowering about making music in this group?
C: We have a magical connection—human and musical. In addition, we all play our instruments as well as sing. With all of these skills combined, we express ourselves 100%.
JB: What are some of your favorite places to shop and eat in Paris?
M: I love to have a drink at the Bar Du Marché, followed by a panini just next door at Pastavino on rue de Buci. You can buy the best jewelry in Paris at AIME on the rue Beauregard.
S: I like the market on rue Mouffetard, every Sunday morning, with the neighborhood locals singing old traditional French songs. You can have breakfast there, too.
C: My favorite bar is La Main Folle in the Fifth Arrondisement, a kind of secret, old-school bar, with delicious cocktails! My favorite shop is Afwosh (10 rue d'Hauteville), a concept store with nice clothes and jewelry.
JB: What are your hopes and dreams for 2017?
S, C, and M: Releasing our first album with Slap! I hope that we can give joy, love, and fun through our music and concerts. And of course, we wish that all women (and men) will express themselves freely and independently. And dance!!!
Micky, Chat, and Sandra wear dresses by Beautiful Soul London and their own jewelry
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Maëlle! I read that your father founded the Théâtre du Sable, so of course you were immersed in the arts growing up. What was your childhood like?
Maëlle Poésy: I had the chance to grow up in a family where culture, books, and art were really important. Of course it has influenced my choice of career. I decided to be an actress and director because I was watching a lot of movies and plays and playing in my bedroom as a kid…. I wanted to keep playing in real life, like I did as a child.
JB: What is your first memory of seeing theater as a child?
MP: I think I have always wanted to do this—I don’t remember having any other dreams about the future. I don’t even remember my first memory of theater! But I do know I have pictures of me drinking my feeding bottle while watching rehearsals.
JB: You trained extensively at university in both theater and modern dance. Given your upbringing, why did you feel you needed this much training?
MP: For me, the fact that my father is a theater director doesn’t imply that I did not need to train. I learned a lot from him by watching him work, but I had to train and study in order to improve my stage work. I have always loved to learn…. It also depends on what kind of art you want to create…. I am not sure that being an actor in cinema requires the same kind of training as theater does, but I had the chance to enter a national school that not only trained actors [in the craft of acting], but also in lighting, set design and costume design, writing, directing…. it completely changed my mind about the way you can create a production. The others students were my friends; we all learned together. I worked on each play as an actress while also thinking of my peers’ different perspective and what goes into the creation of a piece. My training really opened my mind and gave me the will to create plays with the other students.
JB: Why do you think education is so important for a successful career in the arts?
MP: Education is such a gift—it brings you to places you couldn’t even imagine. I would have loved to train in beaux-arts [architecture], as well, or philosophy and sociology. But I never regret the school that I chose…. studying gave me the freedom to choose what I really wanted to improve on as an artist.
JB: After you trained at L'École Supérieure d'Art Dramatique du Théâtre National de Strasbourg, your career really took off and you started to constantly create theater. Tell me about some of those early productions.
MP: L'École Supérieure d'Art Dramatique du TNS focuses more on theater texts, and I came more from a physical approach, so for me, classic theater was kind of a discovery…. As we were learning how to analyze a text, we were working on several kinds of approaches. I directed my first play in school in a workshop and found it to be amazing. I had absolutely no pressure; it really was a kind of laboratory to search and create with other students.
JB: How did you apply your physical approach to your early work?
MP: The physical approach has always been important to me—relationships to the body in space, energy, interaction—in order to understand what shape a character is taking on and how physical language can create knowledge about a character and influence their emotions.
I work a lot with rhythm and physical intuition. I also explore improvisation with gestures that can represent the feelings of a character. I love to see actors build their own world onstage—moving the set, rebuilding their path…. at the end of rehearsals, the actors are so used to dealing with everything. The physicality gives them a lot of freedom. Their concentration is not only on what they are saying and thinking, but also on space and their physical relationships to others.
JB: Tell me about how you started your own company, Crossroad.
MP: I created Crossroad while I was finishing school. It’s a collaborative group of actors and writers, plus set, costume, and lighting designers. We mostly met at school. For the actors specifically, it’s a mix of people with whom I studied as well as those I have met through outside acting projects.
JB: Some of your work draws inspiration from or reinterprets classics (e.g. Voltaire, Chekhov). How do you choose what type of work you want to direct?
MP: For me, what starts a project links to questions that I ask myself and that I would like to answer—first with the people I am working with, as research, and then, of course, with an audience. Sometimes a text that already exists is a good start to question a theme in which I’m perhaps already interested. Then I usually adapt the material.
What interested me about the story of Candide is a young man’s voyage of self-discovery—he crosses the borders and faces the world. I was interested in the two Chekhov plays because they talked about dealing with regret and love, in different moments of your life…. Those are things that everyone questions.
JB: Which piece of work thus far are you most proud of?
MP: I have a lot of affection for Candide, si c’est ça le meilleur des mondes—there were many magic moments during the rehearsals. We had almost nothing to start the project: no money, not a lot of time, but we did have a lot of will and energy. We have toured with the play for three years alongside an amazing group of people; we had lot of fun. I also believe that with this production, I started to learn more about how I wanted to direct; what kind of stage language I wanted to use.
JB: Theater is alive and well worldwide, particularly in New York, London, Amsterdam (with the arrival of Ivo van Hove), and Berlin. What do you think makes French theater different?
MP: What I notice and like about people from my generation in French theater is their investigation of improvisation; their search for a new kind of structure. Usually it comes from a new narrative way of building a story. We all have a different stage language, but we are all invested in mixing the writing and directing, not separating them.
Nowadays, directors from all over the world can be influenced by the same art. It’s a good question to ask yourself: In the globalization of culture, what maintains our countries’ identities? I will be exploring this question with a project I am doing alongside directors that I met at Lincoln Center Theater’s Directors Lab in New York. As a collective, we are from France, Spain, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. It will be fun to understand what influences everyone—what makes us alike and different.
JB: What is the best piece of theater you have seen recently?
MP: A group of young guys from Belgium, Raoul Collectif in Théâtre de la Bastille. It’s a really interesting show about things that disappear.
JB: One of my friends is a prominent theater director. She was touring Europe with her play, and she arrived at the theater alone to scout it out before tech. When she arrived and started to explore the space, one of the theater workers—a young man—said to her, “Ma'am, you can't be up here. You have to wait for the director,” to which she responded, “I am the director.” Has anything of this nature happened to you in your career? How do you think theater is changing in terms of gender equality?
MP: Even if I don’t hear this kind of thing when I arrive in a theater, I always notice a kind of surprise in people’s eyes when they understand what job I have with the production. This kind of thing make me laugh in a way, and in another way, it shows that women still represent a small percentage of directors nowadays, even if in my generation it’s really changing. Being young and a female director can still surprise people!
As far as the lack of female directors, I think that between the ages of 30 and 40, it’s the time period when you are building your career. As women, we have to choose whether or not we want to become mothers, and this choice affects our daily life and schedule (e.g. touring, being in residence in other countries, traveling a lot.) It can change your way of working…. This means that to continue your work as you’ve always done and to keep having responsibilities, you really have to share the parenting with your partner. And for that, women have to deal with the history that tells us that a man’s career is more important than ours.
I have also noticed—and I also believe it comes from history—a question of legitimacy [where women’s work is concerned], even if they are just as competent, or even more competent than men…. Again, this is changing, but history is not that quick to change on the unconscious level.
That said, I am really glad to see a lot of young, talented women becoming directors! I really think they have so much to say. For centuries, we mainly saw the world through a man’s eyes.
JB: You have a day off in Paris. What do you do? Where do you eat? Drink?
MP: First, I sleep! Then I love to walk around in the northeast of Paris. Going to brunch in Ménilmontant, at Le Lapin Blanc, walking near the Canal Saint-Martin, and then going to Cinéma MK2 in Jaurès.
I also have several favorite bookshops, one in Ménilmontant, Le Monte-en-l'air, another one in Gambetta, Le comptoir des mots, and for English books, Shakespeare and Company, of course! One of my favorite pleasures in Paris is to read the newspaper or work in a café. I love that, and as there are plenty of cafés, you just have to walk around and pick and choose. The South of Paris, crossing the Jardin du Luxembourg, is also really nice, and at night I enjoy seeing friends for dinner, or going to movie.
JB: Your work has been described as “theater of the confrontation.” What does this mean?
MP: I always try to build an aesthetic and poetic universe that I let the spectator build his or her own interpretation around using their own imagination. I don’t like super realistic sets and plays; I don’t like to try to copy the world on stage. I love magical realism, something that’s inspired by reality but mixed with poetry and fantasy that allows the audience [to experience] something that would never happen in life. It’s a way to open a door to invisible parts [of life]. I also love to choreograph scenes and movement. In the end, it feels organic, and the movement is fluid, but it’s all written. Even if I work with political questions, I always try to find a structure that allows for poetry. I think it also has something to do with rebuilding the world with more craziness and trying to find the beauty in it.
In Europe we mostly get public funding for our work, without a commercial purpose, so you are not required to change your material to make it more commercial or to please anyone. Artists have always been here to make the invisible visible and to shed light on what is dark.
Up next, Maëlle will direct Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera, Orphée & Eurydice, at L'Opéra de Dijon. Then she’s headed to Argentina to create a play for the Festival International de Buenos Aires, and also has a role in a new film by Nathan Silver.
Maëlle wears a top by & Other Stories and her own jeans and jewelry.
Fittingly, as I write this, Isabelle Huppert has just won the 2017 Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, for her role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. It is quite a feat for any young actress to begin her career alongside one of the greatest living actresses working today, but such has been the exact experience of Romanian native Anamaria Vartolomei, who co-starred as Huppert’s daughter in My Little Princess, directed by Eva Ionesco, when she was just 10 years old. Despite it being her first film, the young Vartolomei was thoroughly prepared for her role, having rehearsed extensively with director Eva Ionesco prior to the shoot. Fondly recalling her time with Huppert, Vartolomei says, “Isabelle showed herself [to be] very maternal and soft toward me. She is very professional and precise.” The film required quite a bond for the mother/daughter relationship to develop in the film, as it was inspired by the director’s own relationship to her mother.
Next up, Vartolomei appears in Eternity, an epic drama based on Alice Ferney’s novel, L'Élégance des veuves (or, The Elegance of Widows). IMDB bills it as “a story of the women and relationships that define a family across a century.” Currently based in Paris, Vartolomei has attracted the attention of Chanel, and deeply admires the woman behind the famed brand, whose legacy has defined a century of French fashion: “Gabrielle Chanel revolutionized fashion. She was one of the first designers to dress women in menswear at a time when women still wore corsets. She looked to freedom. Chanel’s collections cross the generations—they have something timeless and universal in them.” She’s an appropriate role model for Vartolomei: Both women are wise beyond their years and, no doubt, ahead of their time.
CREDITS: My Little Princess (2011), Eternity (2016), and L’echange des princesses (Forthcoming)
Anamaria wears a dress by Molly Goddard.
I am from a suburb of Paris called Champigny-sur-Marne, but I plan to move to Paris next year. Prior to securing my role in My Golden Days, I heard about it from my drama teacher, who heard about the casting and told me to go. At first, I didn't want to—but he insisted, and he was right! I still want to direct theater and movies; I don't see myself being an actress for my entire life.
Working with Arnaud [Desplechin, the director of My Golden Days] was amazing. He is one of the greatest directors in France, and I learned a lot from him, both in a human and an artistic way. Attending the César Awards was also a great experience. I met a lot of young actors and actresses nominated alongside myself. I was really proud of the entire team—I think everyone deserved it.
Everything about playing [my character] Esther was challenging; she is complicated. As I was a total beginner, I just gave everything I had and I didn't realize the difficulty! The physical scenes were not that hard—of course, a little awkward. The emotional scenes were actually harder, but Arnaud was there to help me and support me; I think without him I would not have been able to do it.
Since shooting My Golden Days, I have shot a movie called Aurore, which will be out in April 2017, and I will shoot a television show in January. I am lucky because I am not just playing a certain type—I have played very different characters. I have several upcoming projects as an actor, and I plan on writing a movie, so maybe in a few years I will be a director, too! —Lou Roy-Lecollinet
Lou Roy-Lecollinet broke out in the film My Golden Days (2015) directed by Arnaud Desplechin. Last year, she was nominated in the Most Promising Newcomer category at the César Awards (France’s version of the Academy Awards).
Lou Roy wears a dress by Reem Juan.
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Maëva! Where are you currently based? Are you still in Paris?
Maëva Demurger: I am originally from Paris, but live in London, so I go between both cities.
JB: Tell me about your childhood.
MD: I was extremely fortunate to have had a wonderful childhood with extraordinary parents as my role models. They made sure my big brother and I never lacked anything and would even put up with my bossy temper while we were playing games. In fact, they used to call me “Commander in Chief “ (or, Commandante en chef). They still do sometimes.
As a little girl, my parents never put a limit on my dreams—they were always supportive of whatever choices I made. I was mostly torn between being a vet, a princess, or an actress. I chose acting to hopefully be able to “be” all of those things one day… I also dreamed of having a pet tiger, but that’s irrelevant.
JB: When did you first discover acting? Do you have a particular memory that gave you the desire to act?
MD: My father was a stunt coordinator for film and television, and he always used to take my brother and I on set. It was such a great experience every time! I remember being very impressed with the amount of people working on set. They were all so dedicated to doing their job as best they could; it was quite overwhelming, but for some reason, it also felt very familiar. It felt like home.
I was in my first film when I was six years old. I don’t remember much, other than that I laughed a lot and the experience was wonderful. So I think my first strong desire to act happened when my dad took me to the set of a big period-slash-action film called The Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups). It was huge. I saw some of the actors rehearsing casually and laughing before a take, and then when they heard “Action,” they were able to focus immediately and were so incredibly believable; it seemed effortless. That’s when I thought to myself that this was the work I wanted to do. I wanted to play for a living. I was nine years old, and I never once changed my mind since.
JB: You've mainly worked in television (in shows like Le jour où tout a basculé and Tyrant). What do you think is exciting about the television industry today? What's it like to play a character over a long period of time?
MD: I feel that with everything that’s happening politically in the world, there are plenty of stories to be told and thus very exciting new projects—and so many for women. We are starting to see more series with female leads and more interesting roles than just playing someone’s girlfriend or wife. I feel a bit sad having to say this, as it should be obvious, but this is the reality and, hopefully, these things are starting to change!
Playing a character for a long time means you can get to know them almost better than [you know] yourself, and for me, that’s really exciting. I love to play people completely different from myself—like in the series Tyrant for Fox TV, my character was a 16-year-old Syrian refugee and, though it was a real challenge for me, I loved getting to know her and her history.
JB: What advice would you give to other young women who want to pursue a professional career as an actor?
MD: I’d tell them to never compromise themselves or their dreams! They do not need to be anything else but their own person—no matter what anybody else says. The beauty of our time is that, as women, we do not have to fit some “Hollywood norm” anymore. We should accept and embrace who we are and always, always stay true to ourselves.
Maëva wears a dress by Alessandra Rich.
Jaclyn Bethany: Magaajyia, you have a beautiful name. Where are you from?
Magaajyia Silberfeld: I’m from Paris and Tilabéry (Niger), and I’m currently based in Paris. My dad is French and Jewish-Polish and my mom is Fulani and descends from Sundiata Keita.
JB: How did you discover the arts?
MS: The arts have always been around me. My parents are both journalists and writers, my sister is an actress and a screenwriter, my godmother, Katoucha, was a stylist, and my great aunt was (businesswoman, art collector, and philanthropist) Helena Rubinstein. However, my mom always stressed the fact that I had to study first.
JB: When did you start directing?
MS: I started directing at the age of 18 when I made my first short film, Me There, with Mabô Kouyaté and Moussa Sylla.
JB: How do you feel that acting and directing feed each other? And as an actor yourself, do you feel that you can communicate with actors more freely because you understand their process?
MS: You have to know what acting takes to be able to direct actors. How can you give actors direction if you don’t speak their language? When I co-directed Ride or Die (my second short film), I felt that I could get our lead actress, Piper de Palma, to where she needed to be more easily than if I hadn’t studied sense memory, for example.
JB: Tell me about your role in the feature film The Wedding Ring, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015.
MS: The Wedding Ring is a feature film directed by Rahmatou Keïta. It was my first lead role. It’s a first in the history of African cinema—that a film of this wingspan is entirely financed by African funds.
My role is a very beautiful and intense female role. It’s not just a love story, but also a pretext to discover African culture as well as its beauty and wealth. I play Tiyaa, a young Fulani aristocrat who’s gone to study in France and who comes back to her family after having fallen in love with a young man who also comes from a prestigious family. He takes a long time to ask her to marry him. The film explores the modesty and restraint of Sahelian people while Tiyaa discovers the relationships between men and women in this part of the world, populated by Hawsas, Zarmas, Songhoys, Fulanis, and Arabics, among others.
This film took nine years to find its funding, and it’s precisely because it’s not a cliché film It shows that not everyone starves to death in Africa, unlike the common [assumption of] Western countries. The story of beautiful and majestic Africa should be told, too. We, too, have our own traditions, cultures, and hundreds of languages, each more beautiful than the next.
JB: There is still a staggering lack of female directors in Hollywood. Why do you think this inequality persists?
MS: There’s a lack of equality because we still in live in a world that’s full of inequalities. [This sustained inequality is true of] all art forms…. When you see that Ava Duvernay wasn’t even nominated for Selma two years ago, you think twice.
When you see that Cannes Film Festival doesn’t have many female directors showcased, it also makes you think. I know a few women who’ve applied in the last few years who did not get in, and I don’t think it’s because their films are not good.
Regardless, for my part, when I watch a film, I think of the direction and the art overall and not whether a man or a woman was in a charge of [making] it.
JB: Given your dance background, you have also assisted the Paris Opera Ballet, working under Benjamin Millepied. What was it like to work with him?
MS: The setup was impressive, because the choreography was the same but performed in three different locations. He was working between our Third Stage shoot and Rebecca Zlotowski’s short film that same day, so his partner Sébastien Marcovici was supervising.
Millepied did try and change things at the Opera, but I don’t think the French system let him do so and they had their reasons…. In terms of dance though, he was ahead of his time. He was progressive. I have two black friends dancing at the Paris Opera, and I don’t think there were any before he was there.
JB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
MS: I love the saying “Stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn’t jump puddles for you.” Literally and in reality! ★
CREDITS: As Director: Ride Or Die (Short 2015), Me There (Co-Writer/Actress, Short 2014), Upcoming: Vagabonds (Writer/Director/Actress, Short) As Actress: The Wedding Ring
Magaajyia wears a dress by Reem Juan.
Photographed by Stephanie Lou.
Ana, Daisy, Anamaria, Magaajyia, Lou Ray, Maëva, Marilyn, and Slap!: Styled by Hannah Sheen. Makeup by Laetitia Sireix. Hair by Asami Maeda (Day One) and Sayaka Otama (Day Two).
Maëlle Poésy styled by Armelle Semat. Makeup by Laetitia Sireix. Hair by Sayaka Otama
Pauline Étienne styled by Ally McRae. Makeup by Manon Jegou.