Black Atlantic Currents: Mati Diop’s Atlantique and the Field of Transnational American Studies
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Black Atlantic Currents: Mati Diop’s Atlantique and the Field of Transnational American Studies


This essay reads French-Senegalese director Mati Diop’s 2019 film Atlantique, a Senegalese-French-Belgian coproduction, to argue that its oceanic focus gestures at the haunting histories that suture the US and Senegal. Atlantique, spoken in Wolof, explores global and local class inequalities through a romance narrative that foregrounds the lasting effects of colonialism and economic imperialism on Senegal. Despite this distinct national context, Atlantique was quickly absorbed into a global media stream, picked up by Netflix and distributed to more than one hundred and sixty-five million subscribers. While Atlantique appears to tackle the ravages of capitalism on a global scale by highlighting labor migration and the disruptive effects on the women left behind, a close reading of the film reveals a more complicated and transnational story. Atlantique forces us to also think about the United States. The American continent in the colonial era formed the tragic third corner in the triangular Atlantic economy based on the slave trade. Placing Atlantique within a Black Atlantic trajectory yields a richer, more politically invested reading of the film that simultaneously helps us to rethink the political work that film can do in a globalized world. In particular, I posit that Atlantique’s circulation to the US and Europe helps reverse the traditional patterns of flow, North to South, West to East, as such challenging limited understandings of the US's cultural and political ties to Senegal.After a discussion of production and circulation, I therefore turn to a close reading of the film and the paratext surrounding it to proffer a theory of how films like Atlantique can help us rethink the potentialities and investments of transnational American Studies as a field.

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