Black actresses brave downpour to protest at Cannes

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French actress Aissa Maiga at the glamorous red carpet protest in Cannes

Sixteen black and mixed race actresses staged a glamorous red carpet protest at the Cannes film festival Wednesday to denounce everyday racism in the French industry.

Led by "Bamako" star Aissa Maiga, they also launched their new book "Being black is not my job" ("Noire n'est pas mon metier"), denouncing the prejudice they have suffered from directors and casting agents.

But the heavens opened as they stepped out onto the red carpet from their cars wearing spectacular gowns by Balmain's mixed-race designer Olivier Rousteing.

Their march follows hot on the heels of an historic red carpet demonstration Saturday by 82 Hollywood stars, women directors, producers and scriptwriters, led by Cate Blanchett, demanding equal pay and status.

"I was moved to act by the spirit of the times," Maiga told AFP, who said quotas "could be a possible option" for combatting the lack of black faces on screen, even if that would spark vehement opposition in France.

One of the actors who took part, Nadege Beausson-Diagne, said in the book that she had been asked if she spoke "African" at a casting.

She was also told, "You can't play her, she's a lawyer" and "Luckily you have fine features and you are not negroid, not too black..."

The actress, who appeared in France's biggest ever film at the box office, "Welcome to the Sticks" ("Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis"), said she was also told she was "not African enough to be African" and that "for a black, you are really very intelligent. You should have been white."