Neneh Superstar is a film about fighting for your dreams no matter what stands in the way

Neneh Superstar
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In Neneh Superstar, a 12 year old girl dreams of nothing other than becoming a professional ballet dancer but the colour of her skin becomes a huge hurdle to achieving her dream. It’s showing at the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2024.

Neneh Superstar

Neneh Superstar may be set in the world of dance but it is above all a film which looks at the social boundaries that a black skinned girl faces in the white world of ballet in France. Neneh (Oumy Bruni Garrel, the daughter of Louis Garrel and Valeria Bruni-Tadeschi, who has been in La Croisade and Les Estivants) lives in the Parisian banlieue, in the housing projects and it isn’t until she is admitted into the Paris Ballet school that she realises how difficult the world can be if you’re not white-skinned.


Early in Neneh Superstar it’s audition day and we see a row of white girls who are clearly from more privileged backgrounds asked about their dancing experience. One after another they tell of dancing since they were as young as 4 and of being taught by the well-known ballet teachers. Enter Neneh who hasn’t had a lot of formal training and certainly not from any well-known school. However, she’s watched former prima ballerina and head of the school’s YouTube videos and learned every step from them.


The film shows us not only Neneh’s experiences but also those that happen behind the closed doors of the Ballet School decision makers. Mariane Belage, the head of the Ballet de Paris (Maïwenn, who you can also see in Jeanne du Barry, which she also directed, with Johnny Depp at this year’s festival, My King, AFFFF 2016) sees her role at the Paris Ballet as protecting the values of the school, by which she means whiteness. She is at odds with some of the other members of the team, which includes Jean-Claude Kahane (played by Cédric Kahn, November, AFFFF 2023, Happy Birthday, AFFFF 2020), Alexandre Boucher (played by Alexandre Steiger, who is also in Iris and the men at this year’s festival, Eiffel, Perdrix, and Alice and the Mayor all from AFFFF 2020), Victor Max (played by Richard Sammel, Tour de Force, AFFFF 2014) and Jeanne-Marie Meursault (played by Nathalie Richard, who is also in Take a Chance on Me, and Jeanne du Barry at this year’s festival, and was in Everything went fine, AFFFF 2022, The Wild Boys, AFFFF 2019). Many of these see Neneh for her talent, not the colour of her skin.


Neneh may be naïve but the other kids from her area know that she will stand out because of the colour of her skin. They tell her “your face doesn’t go with opera” and that it’s “a school for princesses”. Neneh doesn’t see a problem with her skin until it starts unfairly and unreasonably causing problems for her. The ballet shop assistant who tries to provide “solutions” to her skin tone in their leotards and stockings is just the first hint that Neneh will find it hard.

Neneh Superstar

Neneh Superstar also shows the life of these young dancers being told about nutrition and to watch their weight. Early on, a dancer is told to lose 3 kg. In another scene, the girls are measured in front of each other and told they need to lose weight here or there. This may be shocking to some but it is a true depiction of the world of dance.


Neneh Superstar is a film written, adapted and directed by Ramzi Ben Sliman. In an interview with him in the Press Kit, he says that he wrote the film specifically for Maïwenn. She played the role of Madame Belage well, and she was a character that we loved to hate. Oumy Bruni Garrel is perfect in the role of Neneh, perhaps because she has a dance background and has also “sometimes suffered from being black” in the white world of classical ballet and so could truly relate to the character she plays. Director Ramzi Ben Sliman says that he hopes Neneh Superstar will generate a “Neneh generation” for little black girls, just as Billy Elliot did for young boys who wanted to dance.


Following in the footsteps of Tenor from last year’s festival and La Traviata, My Brothers and I from 2022, this film is about someone making their way in a world which is not usually open to them. In contrast to those films though, Neneh knows from the outset that she wants to be a part of the world of ballet; she doesn’t accidentally stumble upon it.


Above all, though Neneh Superstar is a film about a girl who has big dreams and doesn’t want to let the colour of her skin get in the way of them. She has a big personality, and unfortunately considered by some to have a big attitude, and won’t give up without a fight. It’s a film about pursuing your dreams no matter what stands in your way.


Matilda Marseillaise watched a screener of Neneh Superstar




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