Atlantics: Desperation through lack of Agency

#52FilmsbyWomen: Week 2

I was without a computer for a few weeks so forgive me as I play catch-up on a few weeks.

Atlantics (2019, Mati Diop)

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People do desperate things when life gives them no other option. These gambles rarely work but are a way to regain some amount of agency when the systems that oppress are too strong.  The poverty that affects many citizens of traditionally colonized countries and strict patriarchal law are two such systems that serve as the setting for Mati Diop’s Atlantics.  Told through the guise of a supernatural drama, at its heart, Atlantics is a story of people struggling with their lack of agency.

Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is a young woman and the cusp of losing her agency. She has a group of friends who are disrespected by her family and a secret love in Souleiman (Traore), but in the near future she is expected to forgo those joys. Instead of being with people who bring her joy, she is betrothed to a different man, Omar. Omar’s wealth offers a promise of future stability and a reprieve from poverty. Conversely it would require her to leave her life, and the one she loves behind.

Souleiman likewise struggles with debilitating external oppression. He works as a construction worker building a tower for the wealthy. When the contractor refuses to pay his workers for the job they’ve done, Souleiman is forced to take a risky chance simply to survive. He and his fellow workers board a ship heading for Spain in hopes of finding work, leaving their loved ones including Ada behind.

With Souleiman acting in desperation and leaving, Ada gives into her situation. She marries Omar and accepts that her life as she knew it is over, and yet even in her resignment, she continues to lose agency.  When her past relationship with Souleiman comes public, her father and husband force her to go to the doctor and take a virginity test. Humiliated, she, like Souleiman, chooses to act in desperation leaving the financial backing of her husband and parents to try to survive.

Director Mati Diop uses her characters to reflect reality, and thus denies them a perfect fairytale ending.  Souleiman never returns for Ada because he dies when his ship sinks en route to Spain. His gamble failed. Only through supernatural means are Souleiman and his crew able to find some form of vengeance against the rich contractor who refused to pay them.  Ada likewise has a bittersweet ending. She finally has control over her life, but she had to leave behind any support systems she’d ever known.  Atlantics is a tragic film because even accepting supernatural help, the systems the oppressed Ada and Suoleiman were too strong for any other outcome.

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