In Tribute to Africa: An Interview with Michelle Dybele

Michelle Dybele is a French actress, film producer and entrepreneur of Central African heritage.

Josefina Bonsundy Nvumba, Founder of Rootencial, spoke to Michelle about her various creative ventures, from her short film produced in Côte d’Ivoire and featured at Cannes to the scarves inspired by her grandmother and African history.

Hi Michelle! You do so many different things; how would you describe yourself?

I’ve lived my life as if it was a theatre production, in which I’ve given myself the roles that make me happy. First and foremost, I am an actress. I used to be a model but today I am an actress, film producer and entrepreneur. I know that may be confusing; it’s a lot of different things!

Tell us about your journey as an actress. How did it all begin?

I’ve always been passionate about acting, theatre, and cinema. I’ve been involved in theatre since I was really young. It all started there.

I went on to produce a short film called Makeda, about a young Ivorian woman born in France but who had never been to Côte d’Ivoire until her father died. She arrived in the country for the first time for his funeral and encountered a culture shock.

The film tells the story of how her father’s best friend – a white Frenchman who had lived in the country for many years – taught her about local customs, how to speak and how to behave. Makeda was featured in the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Festival in 2017.

From the silver screen to scarves: how did that happen? What inspired you make this leap into fashion and business?

When I was younger, I had an accident which left a large scale on my neck. I was always trying to cover it up.

One day, my grandmother from the Central African Republic came to visit us. I was working to save the money to have the scar removed, but my grandmother persuaded me not to. “This scar is your story, it’s your life,” she said. “It’s something important. You shouldn’t get it removed.” I listened and I kept it.

My grandmother left me some African fabric, which is the only thing of hers that I now possess. An idea came to me: I wanted to create something new in the fashion world, and it became clear to me that it should be in scarves. I didn’t know how to make them at first, but I wanted to mix cotton with wax from African fabrics.

Seeking to build a brand, I started to research historical African kings, queens and warriors – and decided to endow my scarves with their names. My roots influence my work today; my short film was produced in Africa, too. It’s a duty for me and for the majority of Africans to do things that pay tribute to our heritage.
The scarves aren’t really a business for me. They’re a tribute to my grandmother; a tribute to our kings, queens and warriors.

Which challenges have you had to overcome on your journey?

I’m a very impatient person. I’ve learned and I’m still learning how to be more patient and disciplined. They say that Thomas Edison had to try and fail thousands of times before he made a breakthrough with the lightbulb.

It’s about giving yourself a routine, doing the same things over and over again until you attain perfection. Discipline is how all of us become better.

Complete the following sentences:

My life motto is… to live by inspiration.
The biggest role models in my life are… Africa’s queens and women warriors, such as Cleopatra, Anna Nkinza, and Seh Dong Deh.
The best piece of advice I’ve been given is… choose a voice and go all the way to the end. Someday I want to… make history.

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