Cinema, as an art form, has a duty to represent our society on screen. As shown by the films that have been criticised for having “aged badly”, the Seventh Art is evolving at the same time as society. Humour and gendered roles, among other things, have progressed on screen at the same time as social reality. However, some issues have escaped the rule, notably concerning racialised people. Representation, stereotyped roles, non-white actors and actresses are often undermined in the world of cinema. Despite a glaring lack of data on this topic in France, due to the understandable prohibition on taking into account the number of people categorised by their skin colour, more and more of them are speaking out to help change attitudes and works of art.

The issue of representation, or should I say lack of representation, of racialised people, is therefore difficult to judge due to this lack of data. However, this lack did not prevent, in France, Aïssa Maïga from delivering a powerful speech during the 2020 Césars ceremony, in which she highlighted the lack of diversity in the “great family of French cinema”1. Her speech began with a countdown of how many “faces [she] recognise[s]”2 in the audience: Eye Haïdara, Karidja Touré, Ladj Ly. This list is conspicuously brief. She further affirms that, “I’ve always been able to count, on the fingers of one hand, the number of non-whites. Now, I know we are in France, and we’re not really allowed to count, but I’ve counted, and I think we are about 12”3. 12, then, among the 1,600 people in the Pleyel Room that night, according to Aïssa Maïga. This represented 0.75% of the whole crowd. Her speech was noticed by the media, but met with unease by the audience, was and still is, more than necessary. To leave a mark on people’s minds in order to change mentalities.

Despite this obvious data scarcity, a study carried out in 2020 entitled “Cinégalités” by the 50/50 collective, presented an overview of the diversity and gender equality statuses in the French cinema. After analysing 115 movies released in 2019, the study shows an under-representation of non-white people, with 20% of all characters being perceived as non-white (9% as Black, 9% as Arab and 2% as Asian). The study also shows differences according to age and gender: Maxime Cervulle, co-director of the study and university professor in information and communication sciences at Saint-Denis, notes that “Diversity is clearly confined to young people. The older the characters, the smaller the proportion of those perceived as non-white”4. Looking at the numbers, we can reflect on this trend: the percentage of people perceived as non-white rises to 39% in the 15-20 age group, then falls to 15% for the 50 to 64 age group, before reaching 9% for acting professionals between 65 and 79 years old. Moreover, diversity is higher among men, with 22% of male characters being racialised, compared with 17% for women.

Beyond this obvious lack of representation, racialised people are too often confined to stereotyped roles. The feminist and anti-racist organisation Lallab has presented a thought-provoking article entitled the “8 stéréotypes de femmes racisées dans le cinéma français” (8 stereotypes on racialised women in French cinema5). Clichés are so prevalent, even unconsciously, that it is sometimes difficult to identify them as biassed. But cinema is full of them, and here are a few examples.

Philippe de Chauveron’s comedy Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon Dieu (2014) seems to be all about humour. Despite undoubted success at the box office, the film is divisive, and for good reason: its entire story is based on racist stereotypes. Claude and Marie Verneuil, a bourgeois, white, Gaullist and Catholic couple, see their little world collapse when they meet their four sons-in-law: a Black man, a Chinese man, a Jewish man and an Algerian man. Under the guise of popular humour, which might seem completely harmless, this is in fact a trivialisation of ordinary racism.

These stereotypes are also present in Le Brio (2017 film from Yvan Attal) in the form of a white man in his late 50s and a university professor who helps a young woman from Créteil, who is perceived as being of North African origin, to win an eloquence competition. Although racism is addressed in the film from the very first minutes, the subject is not really explored, and the way Daniel Auteuil’s character “saves” Camélia Jordana’s character feeds the image of the white man as superior to the racialised woman in the popular consciousness.

Despite these bleak findings on the representation of racialised people within French cinema, we can nevertheless hope for progress on this issue. A case in point is Le Chant du Loup (The Wolf’s Call), released in 2019 and directed by Antonin Baudry, in which Omar Sy and Reda Kateb embody two French military men and where the perceived origin is in no way the film’s plot. Kateb and Sy play a warship captain and a lieutenant-commander: two senior officer ranks in the French Navy. Their supposed origins are never discussed, and both men hold high positions, the story contributes to an artistic world that can hopefully have a positive influence on our society.


CHOPPIN, D. (2021). « L’étude du Collectif 50/50 pointe le manque de diversité dans le cinéma français » [online] 8 Déc. Available at:

EMNA, H. (2018). Top 8 des stéréotypes de femmes racisées dans le cinéma français. [online] 20 Juin. Available at:

JESSICA. (2020). Focus : les personnes non-blanches dans le cinéma français. [online] 5 Mars. Available at:

KONATE, D. (2022). Cinéma français : où sont les femmes, les LGBTQ+ et les minorités ? [online] 13 Janv. Available at:

MAÏGA, A. (2020). « Discours aux Césars 2020 » [online] 29 Fév. Available at :

RAJA, N. (2020). Le discours d’Aïssa Maïga sur la diversité était le moment politique dont les César avaient besoin. [online] 29 Févr. Available at:

Translated by Léa Grandemange & Gabriel Capitolo

1 Free GROW translation from original: « grande famille du cinéma français ».
2 Free GROW translation from original: « têtes [qu’elle] reconnaî[t] ».
3 Free GROW translation from original: « J’ai toujours pu compter sur les doigts d’une main le nombre de non-blancs. Alors, je sais qu’on est en France et qu’on n’a pas vraiment le droit de compter, mais là, j’ai fait le compte et je crois qu’on est à peu près 12 ».
4 Free GROW translation from original: « La diversité se trouve cantonnée à la jeunesse, et de façon très nette. Plus les personnages sont âgé.e.s, plus la part de ceux perçus comme non-blancs régresse ».
5 Translator’s note

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