With “Black Tea”, “Dahomey” and “Who do I belong to”, Africa makes its voice heard at the Berlinale

With “Black Tea”, “Dahomey” and “Who do I belong to”, Africa makes its voice heard at the Berlinale

Lupita Nyong’o, as president, and Mati Diop, Abderrahmane Sissako and Meryam Joobeur, among the filmmakers competing at the 74th Berlin Film Festival, attest to the continent’s creativity.

With a jury president of Kenyan-Mexican origin, actress Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther) ; the return, after 10 years of absence, of Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako with the drama Black Tea; the highly anticipated second film by Franco-Senegalese director Mati Diop, Dahomey and the poignant drama of Tunisian Meryam Joobeur, Who do I belong to, the Berlinale 2024 displayed the colors of Africa right to the heart of its competition. It remains to be seen if some of these pearls will be included in his final list of achievements…

If the two fictions (Black tea And Who do I belong to) are anchored in the present – ​​the first with the China-Africa relationship, the second with the traumas of war -, Mati Diop’s film, straddling documentary and fiction, analyzes in depth the links woven between past and present, a omnipresent theme within the 74th edition of the Berlinale.

“Black tea”, the new film by Aberrahmane Sissako presented at the Berlinale.

In Dahomey, his new film, the voice of King Ghézo grabs us and never lets go. Translated into sounds thanks to the poet and novelist Makenzie Orcel, it seems to emerge from the depths of the earth to enter directly into vibration with our insides. When it was time to leave the Quai Branly museum in Paris to return to his lands, the monarch’s joy was mixed with apprehension. How will he find his nation? Will his people have forgotten him? And will he himself, after so many years, need to re-acclimatize?

Returning its artistic treasures to Africa

The film, presented in competition at the Berlinale, opens with these questions which still raise many more. Filming the restitution of 26 first works of art in Beninas announced by French President Emmanuel Macron, the director follows all the stages of the trip carefully organized in November 2021. A triumphant return which would not have been made possible without the publication in 2018 of the scientific report produced by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy on the question of the restitution of African heritage.

Inscribed in the wake of the statue and its 25 peers, Mati Diop (Atlantic) does not avoid any of the practical details of the great return journey. We thus witness the scrupulous description of the state of conservation of each of the departing works, but also the multiple reactions that their return on site will provoke. Pushing introspection beyond the official ceremonies and the popular jubilation, manifested during the first days of visits intended for the Beninese population, the film continues its intimate dialogue with the works finally returned from exile. And we can only be surprised and touched by the variety of reactions and spontaneous greetings.
France has returned 26 works of art from the royal treasure looted during the colonization of Benin.

But the film also goes beyond emotion and the renewed visceral connection to try to envisage the future. Mati Diop thus turns to the young Beninese generation and collects their words concerning the deep meaning of the event in their eyes. This enlightening debate, organized within the University of Abomey Calavi in ​​Cotonou, shows to what extent the symbolism of the gesture of the former settler, although strong, also appears extraordinarily late and insufficient in the eyes of the students.

At this rate, how much more time will pass before the 80% of African works dispersed in Europe and throughout the world return to their territory of origin? In Benin alone, we know that several thousand works of art were looted following the invasion of French troops in 1892. Kings Ghézo and Behanzin therefore continued to wait for the return of their countless companions in misfortune, still locked in museum showcases in BrusselsBerlin, London or Paris…

Karin Tshidimba, in Berlin

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