BY ANTOINE LECLERC-MOUGNE
There’s nothing about Sy Alassane’s early life that would suggest a potential breakout in an acting and modeling career. Born in Mauritania (West Africa), Sy’s life kicked off with a turbulent start. In 1989 he fled the country (thanks to the help of a UN program) due to mass genocide in the region, and went to live in Senegal with those family members that were able to escape. Today, Sy lives in Paris and London, moving seamlessly through the exclusive worlds of fashion and celebrity.
Even from a young age, Sy wanted to travel. That is just what he did. After fleeing Mauritania for Senegal, at the age of ten, Sy left Senegal for Côte d’Ivoire to live with his family. It was just two years later Sy obtained a visa to attend high school in Amiens, France. To put himself through school in France, Sy worked at a local restaurant. That’s where his big break would come: Ali Rebeihi, a famous French journalist noticed him one day at the restaurant and suggested he should do a photo shoot. “It was kind of strange to me”, Sy confesses. “I was born to a certain background in which becoming a model sounds surreal. I didn’t know I wanted to do that job.” But after just a few photo shoots and a small part in a French production, Sy moved to London and then later onto New York City to learn English and accelerate his fledgling modeling and acting career.
Only Sy didn’t realize how quickly this move would accelerate his career. On the street in New York one day, he bumped into photographer Angus Watson who saw great potential in Sy and introduced him to agent Florian Acheron from Boss Models agency in New York. “It was so unplanned. It befell me without warning. I wasn’t prepared”, explains Sy. “Unlike other models who were literally living for fashion, I couldn’t even tell you the name of one designer.” Yet, despite his lack of fashion knowledge, Sy had an incredibly receptive approach. He accepted every offer. Went to every event. Attended every party. Within just a few years, he became a face for Benetton, Philip Lim, and Diesel (among others).
During this time, Sy encountered the famous photographer and director Andrew Dosunmu who also felt something special about Sy Alassane. In 2008, on the set of a photo shoot for Arise magazine, Andrew offered Sy the leading role in his upcoming move Restless City. The film is about a young African immigrant who becomes a musician in New York. The movie was a huge success at the Sundance Festival in 2011 and among critics all over the US. “[After that experience], I knew I wanted to come back to do movies”, admits Sy Alassane. “This was an incredible experience. It was a schoolin’ life. I could play every emotion. It taught me about people and about myself. Andrew trusted me and I could never thank him enough”. It was in film that Sy found his calling: he found more freedom and more creativity than ever before. “I want to go as far as I can in movies. I feel I have something to share and provide. I feel inspired and comfortable. I experienced everything with that movie. I don’t know how, but I just got it. Like this.”
After his many successes, Sy returned home to Senegal for time with his family. It had already been four years since he had seen his family, and he needed time to return home and reflect. “During a year and a half, I cultivated fruits and vegetables in a little village near the pink lake in Senegal. I sold them in the market. Living the simple life was the only way for me to let loose and clear my mind for a fresh start.”
Now, Sy knows exactly what he wants. Since returning to Europe, he has been more selective and has chosen projects that really call to him, such as the Studio Africa by Diesel & Edun, a project presenting young African talents in 2013.
Now Sy feels it is time for the African film industry to make an entrance on the global stage. “In the future, I want to become a director and help the young African generation create African cinema. We have so much to tell about our history and mythology. We have to show it to the world.” Sy Alassane is about to shoot A Chjàna, a movie by Jonas Carpignano based on a true story, which deals with the rebellion of clandestine African immigrants against the Italian mafia in Calabria, Italy.