You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.Alan Watts
Atlantics (2019) was first released at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival when it competed for the Palme d’Or. The films director and co-writer, Mati Diop, made history when she became the first black woman who directed a film featured in the competition- also winning the Grand Prix award for it. After its release at Cannes and later in Senegal, the film was picked up and released on Netflix for wide viewing.
Atlantics is about a young woman named Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) who is betrothed by her parents to a wealthy man, Omar (Babacar Sylla.) However, Ada is in a passionate love affair with Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore), a young, local construction worker. After Souleiman and other male workers run off to sea on a job, Ada is left behind to find herself, choose her path, and wait and wonder tirelessly when and if her lover will ever return.
Atlantics is a coming of age, but it is also an ethereal love story. The character development of Ada can be drawn out by comparing the contrast of her character and her actions at the beginning to the end of the film. At the beginning, Ada is afraid to even spend another second too long with Souleiman. She cries at her own wedding, and she is forced to take a virginity test by her parents. By the end, Ada finds her own voice and peace. She relieves herself of burdens and gifts left to her by her family and her husband and walks out on her own to be a person not in the shadow of a male. In this way and many others, Atlantics is a film that centers around not just female empowerment but most importantly, the black female voice.
The film starts with the young construction workers being exploited by the leech-ous wealthy. The story catapults from the fact that they are missing the last 3 months of work pay. As the men go off to sea and risk their lives to try to make ends meat, the wealthy man who took advantage of them is having lavish dinner dates. The simplicity of this disparity speaks volumes alone on the exploitative and assaultive nature of capitalism. In fact, every wealthy character of the film remains out of touch, and the elders maintain a traditional and harmful mindset. This places more significance on the young women of the film.
This allows for the story to be viewed and told from a female perspective on the themes of love, independence, and class disparity. Mati Diop intimately encapsulates moments of getting your hair braided by a friend and making love for the first time. The character grows through elevated liberating scenes of the film. The young women also act as a conduit for social commentary on economic status. Diop gives women the voice for justice and individualism, and their position in Atlantics is a necessity for every emotional drive.
Diop used the element of water to navigate this story in thematic and physical ways. Water is constant, yet it is also ever-changing. It is beautiful and awe-ful, while it can also be consuming and terrifying. But through its push and pull, water is familiar. It is you and I. Water is the element of love in every possible way, and that is highlighted throughout moments of the film. Fire is used to destroy in this film. It is an act of passionate violence and anarchy, whereas the water remains to be an opposite symbol. It is the element that brings love home to Ada.
Netflix is constantly releasing new content every month, sometimes it feels hard to keep up with it all and hard to know what is worth the time or not. Atlantics is one of those gems released by Netflix that is more than worth your time, it’s worth your thoughts and your conversations. Mati Diop captures an elemental feel to her film. She pulls you in, like a wave, with young love. Then, the film swallows you whole like a terrifying wave- expressing feelings of loss, confusion, and loneliness. And from there, you watch as Ada and even the other women of the film rise from the tides and find their voices, find their justice, and what was lost to them. In the end, the calm after the tumultuous tidal waves reveals a different Ada than the one you are introduced to. She is a new women making her own path. She rode the water of love and let it nourish her into an independent and full person.