From Montreal to Paris

Interview with Maka Kotto, by Ayoko Mensah

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He played the part of Bouba in Jacques Benoît’s famous Comment faire l’amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer in 1988. He has worked with Claude Lelouche, Christian Lara, Cheick Doukouré, Edouard Molinaro, Pierre Jolivet, Christian Allen, Michel Blanc, Bernard Uzan… He has just completed a film with Raoul Peck: Lumumba, retour au Congo. Both an excellent theatre and film actor, and theatre director when the fancy takes him, at 39 years old, Maka Kotto, who is of Cameroonian origin, has built himself an international reputation. Today, he pursues his career between Montreal and Paris.

Did you decide to live in Quebec for professional reasons?
I always refer to the mysteries of synchronicity to explain the reasons for my presence in Montreal. Three Quebecker producers came to Paris, one after the other, to offer me acting contracts to go and work over there at a time when I was beginning to twiddle my thumbs in Paris. But I continue to travel backwards and forwards from Quebec to France. I don’t think of myself as quite French, or quite Quebecker, or quite African… In short, I always feel on the margins. I get the impression that I am a wanderer.
Is it easier for Black actors to work in Canada than in France?
In the French-speaking zone – whether that be in France or Canada – it isn’t easy to see a substantial number of Black actors working… The chosen few are few and far between. They are the « thorns » of market laws: a minority of the demand, a minority of the supply. Alternatively, amongst the English-speakers – in North America in general – there is a considerable presence of Black actors The States’ 40 million Afro-Americans, who represent a non-negligible potential market for films, television series, etc., probably explain that.
Is it possible to refer to a community of Black actors in Quebec?
No. Because in Canada in general, and in Quebec in particular, the artistic milieu is dominated by an individualistic culture, and community spirit only comes to life at times of crisis. In France, on the other hand, this reflex in the Black acting milieu is recurrent, but inconsistent, lacking the means for action, and rational and coherent strategies.
Are you in favour of a system of quotas to improve the lot of Black actors?
No, I am against this policy. This strategy can turn out to be very perverse, because it does not automatically include the notion of excellence. It is also a policy which engenders constraints. And I don’t think that constraints can inspire creativity.
Do you have another strategy to propose?
I would be more in favour of a policy of incentives, based on subsidies and tax breaks for authors, producers and distributors willing to open their doors to an « integrating » and « diversified » creativity.
What needs to be done for Black actors to break out of their stereotypical usage?
For a start, the (active) half-dozen filmmakers of African origin would need to be convinced to write universally-accessible screenplays and to shoot their films in the world market’s dominant languages. With the incentive measures I have just mentioned, that would probably inspire the non-African artists.

///Article N° : 5443

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