Alexandre Dumas movie starts row over “black” Depardieu

 

Charles Bremner, writing for London’s Times Online, addresses the controversy over race that has erupted upon the release of Gérard Depardieu’s latest film, L’Autre Dumas [trailer here], directed by Safy Nebbou. In the film, Depardieu—white, blondish and blue-eyed—sports curly hair and darkened skin to play “the world’s best-loved French author,” whose paternal grandmother was a freed Haitian slave and whose father, a Napoleonic-era general, was a Caribbean black. Dumas, often mocked for his African features, called himself  “un nègre.” Here are some excerpts from the piece, with a link to the full text below.

The film, which opened to good reviews last week, tells an imagined story about Dumas’ relations in the mid-19th century with Auguste Maquet, the anonymous assistant who is credited with plotting and drafting part or much of the Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers trilogy. Non-white celebrities, some Dumas experts and black organisations are angry because they say that the producers missed a chance to celebrate France’s ethnic diversity and remind the world of the writer’s part black origins. “There is a mechanism of permanent discrimination by silence,” said Jacques Martial, a black actor who made his name playing a television police detective. Patrick Lozès, President of the Council of Black Associations (CRAN) wondered: “In 150 years time, could the role of Barack Obama be played in a film by a white actor with a fuzzy wig? Can Martin Luther King be played by a white?” 

Sonia Rolland, an actress who is part-Rwandan and a former Miss France, said: “Dumas had quite African features. In this film, they are hiding his history, blacking him up and putting curls on a Gaulish head. In the midst of our debate on national identity, it seems that no-one is shocked apart from a few blacks and half-casts.”

In a protest on the internet, the CRAN said that the casting of Depardieu was fresh evidence of France’s failure to promote non-white stars in its cinema and media. “Very few of our compatriots know that Alexandre Dumas was mixed race and considered to be a black in his lifetime,” it said. The film commits a double sin in the CRAN’s eyes because its plot, adapted from a successful play, discredits Dumas’ genius by depicting his white assistant as the true creator of his works. “Possibly for commercial reasons, they are white-washing Dumas in order to blacken him further,” it said.

That argument is all the more piquant in French because nègre remains the standard word in the language for ghost-writer or literary collaborator. In the film, Maquet is played by Bernard Poelvoorde, a Belgian star. The film’s makers are arguing that Depardieu was the ideal fit for the novelist, whose works have been turned into 200 films since 1898. Not only had the actor played Dumas’ heroes, but his wild-man, larger-than-life personality resembles that of the novelist.

“The vividness [truculence. please suggest better translation] of Depardieu is the perfect embodiment of Dumas,” said Frank Le Wita, the producer. “The subject is not le nègre,  but la nègritude (ghost-writing) in literature”. Safy Nebbou, 41, the director and of mixed race himself, noted that Dumas had been a quadroon, one quarter black. “It would have been an historic error to have chosen a métisse (mixed-blood) actor… He had blue eyes like Depardieu.” But Nebbou conceded that “France is enormously behind the Anglo-Saxons in the matter of actors from other ethnic backgrounds in the cinema and advertising.”

As well as stirring controversy over its casting, the film is also annoying some Dumas fans with its promotion of the relatively recent thesis that the unassuming Maquet, and Dumas’ other assistants, should receive much more credit for the swashbuckling adventures that captivated the 19th century.

Dumas’ Wikipedia entry (yes, sorry) contains a quote in which Dumas replied to a taunt about being black. “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.”

On Thursday this week, President Sarkozy is going to drop into Haiti for a few hours. He will be the first French President ever to visit the former colony of Saint Domingue, once known as France’s “pearl of the Antilles.”

For the full article go to http://timescorrespondents.typepad.com/charles_bremner/2010/02/dumas-movie-starts-row-over-black-depardieu-.html

9 thoughts on “Alexandre Dumas movie starts row over “black” Depardieu

  1. 1) The people complaining about Depardieu playing Dumas are devotees of hypodescent, the idea that people of mixed ancestry should only identify with the ancestral group that is the most socially inferior. Who SHOULD play Dumas? He was 3/4 white, not 3/4 black. The fact that the people advocating this idea claim to be “of color” (a stupid term about as valid as “non-Aryan”) and whine about supposed “racism” whenever they’re displeased confuses people of good will. What they are advocating is really a “liberal” form of the racist idea of “white purity,” in which the old idea of biological superiority (white genetically superior to black) is replaced with the equally invalid idea of moral inferiority (white morally inferior to black and other nonwhite identities). The result, of course, is a deliberate attempt to maintain racial definitions and divisions that should and would be dying if many black-identified folks didn’t fight like hell to keep them alive and use their inflated moral authority (white guilt) to silence dissenters.

    2) Ask yourself what Jews would say if someone suggested that only actors of “Jewish blood” should play Jewish or part-Jewish characters? They wouldn’t tolerate it. They are not that stupid. If they were stupid, they would try to retain the old “Aryan/Non-Aryan” division of Europe and try to put a “positive” spin on it (“Non-Aryan pride,” maybe?). They know that such a rule (even if legally unenforceable but morally intimidating) would send negative messages that 1) Something is wrong with “Jewish genes” and 2) If non-Jews are not eligible for Jewish roles, perhaps the opposite is or should also be true.

    3) The job of an actor is, by definition, to pretend to be someone he is not. Anthony Quinn was mostly Mexican with an Irish grandfather, but he played Greeks, Russians, Italians, Eskimos and numerous other ethnicities. Anthony Hopkins, a Welshman, has played Spaniards, medieval Anglo-Saxons, former U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and John Quincy Adams, a psychotic serial killer and numerous other roles that have nothing to do with his personal lineage. His competence to play all these roles has not been questioned except in the case of his role in “The Human Stain” in which blacks and some of their liberal allies denounced him as a “white” playing a “black” role even though the character in question was predominately white and identified as such.

    A.D. Powell, former columnist for the web sites “Interracial Voice” and “The Multiracial Activist,” is the author of “Passing” for Who You Really Are: Essays in Support of Multiracial Whiteness.

  2. This is not about identifying with those that are “socially inferior” which in itself is a most demeaning comment. This is about the white washing of history, and the consistent exclusion of capable Black actors from attaining roles. Most mixed race people identify with their non-white culture and race because the term “white” is exclusionary and by it’s existence alone, refuses to acknowledge anyone that is not born with a narrowly defined set of features.

    What part of a mixed person does the author believe, has the opportunity to experience being white? As far as the term “people “of color”, it is an evolution and possibly interim label to describe those whose identities have been lost through colonialism. It is quite interesting that this author would or could attack Black people (didn’t even capitalize the word) for speaking up against system preferential treatment which some call racism, by calling them “whiners”, and attempting to make them responsible for racial divisions.

    If this author is bi-racial, or bi-cultural it one may infer from his writing an obvious strong dislike for his own self; or as some Black folks would call it – self hate.

    To demand that people of African descent ask themselves what Jewish people would do, is not only insulting, but another example of the author’s internalized sense of inferiority. African people do not need to measure their reactions against a moral or political rod of correctness determined by some other group of people. How fitting that the author chooses to compare Africans to Jews, a group that for all intensive purposes has quite a financial and proprietary market share in the film industry!

    To say that an actor is to pretend to be someone he is not, misses the point entirely and excuses the producers, and casting directors from making inclusive decisions rather than continuing to promote white interest. Let me remind you that there are quite a few actors and actresses that do not get roles because of their ethnic profiling. There are a great many entertainers who are light but not white (Lena Horne, Jennifer Beals, Terrence Howard) and not one of them feels the need to deny the wonderful legacy of Blackness that this author obviously feels so much contempt towards.

    However, the point here is this: history continues to paint the world as a heroic white achievement, especially through media where

  3. The issue here, is not about identifying with those that are “socially inferior”, which in itself is a most demeaning comment. This is about the white washing of history, and the consistent exclusion of capable Black actors from attaining roles. In case you were unaware, financial oppression is still a reality through the hiring of whites over non-whites in almost every industry. If the author requires statistics in this area, they are more than available.

    Many mixed race people identify with their non-white culture and race, because melanin dominant cultures tend to be more inclusive than that which we call “White”. White” is a social construction, and nothing more. To be included in the imaginary group called White, is, in itself an attempt to deny history and the African blood line from where we all derive.

    What part of a mixed person has the opportunity to experience being White? As far as the term “people of color”, it is an socially evolutionary and interim label to describe those whose identities have been lost through colonialism.

    It is quite interesting that this author would or could attack Black people (didn’t even capitalize the word) for speaking up against a system of preferential treatment which some call racism, by calling them “whiners”, and attempting to make them responsible for racial divisions. Race was not invented by anyone outside of those with an agenda for global superiority based on gender and color caste. Race is a social invention that benefits those with the most biological insecurities, and if they continue to hold guilt for this, then it is due to their conscious.

    If this author is bi-racial, or bi-cultural, his writing indicates a strong dislike for his own self; or as some Black folks would call it – self hate.

    To demand that people of African descent ask themselves what Jewish people would do, is not only insulting, but another example of the author’s internalized sense of inferiority.

    African people do not need to measure their reactions against a moral or political rod of correctness determined by some other group of people. How fitting that the author chooses to compare Africans to Jews, a group that for all intensive purposes has quite a financial and proprietary market share in the film industry! The Khazars or Jews as you would call them, have received reparations for their holocaust and are permitted to remind the world of their tragic loss. When Africans speak of reparations for the Maafa, authors like A.D. Powell tell them to get over it, and stop whining.

    To say that an actor’s purpose is to pretend to be someone he is not, misses the point entirely. This lame excuse redirects accountability from the producers, and casting directors from making inclusive decisions rather than continuing to promote white interest.

    There are quite a few actors and actresses that do not get roles because of their ethnic profiling. There are also entertainers who are light but not white (Lena Horne, Jennifer Beals, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard) and not one of them feels the need to deny the wonderful legacy of Blackness that this author obviously feels so much contempt towards.

    If racism is just an imagined obstacle of some whiny Black folks, then why doesn’t the film industry hire non-whites for white roles, straighten their hair and lighten their skin? Hmmm… I suppose this author has either been Bamboozled or has a strong case of house negro, determined to defend his Massa’s interests at all costs.

  4. This AD Powell guy is clearly wanting to be on the side of the winners aka the conquistadors aka whites just to be able to fulfill some self-empowerment fantasy.
    Being intentionally insensitive and dismissive of a significant part of Dumas’ life and character is not only a dishonor to minority groups today but to the man himself. It renders the making of an autobiographical movie moot.
    My father (1928-1998 rip) was 3/4 white and never considered himself white, an offshoot of the social perspective of whiteness during his lifetime. So imagine Dumas’ time and who he most have more identified with and with whom he could seek refuge even if only mentally.
    The French have always been dualistic towards minorities. On the surface they may seem somewhat inclusive or tolerant but burrow any deeper and you’ll quickly realized that they do suffer from an ethnic superiority complex . The existence of this movie comes as no great surprise

  5. If Blacks were not still being victimized to this day (for a solid non refutable reminder look no further than Haiti and the $300 billion France stole and has not been repaid) I would see some point to AD’s post.
    They steal Dumas of his ethnic identity just because they can

  6. I have just finished a research : The Eloquence of her Blood: Was Jane Austen (1775-1817) Black?
    She is described many times as ‘ a rich brown complexion’ and not pink.’ All her personages are light brown, brown, very brown or black. In Emma (1816) Mr. Elton, black, spruce and smiling. Mr Crawford is absolutely plain, black and plain.
    Find me in google
    Egmond Codfried Jane Austen

  7. Dumas was mostly white. Who gives a sht about what Americans think, the world doesn’t follow the Yankee standard or your fucked up one drop rule, neither are blacks universally oppressed, just in the states.
    He did have some quite obvious African influence in his looks, and he appreciated that, but acting is acting. If it’s believable, then it doesn’t matter, no matter what Americans think. Stick to you own issues – cause you got a lot of them.

  8. When a fully Black actor can portray a solely white historical figure like Housoun portraying Camus, then the argument that colored people are holding onto some inferior position to the exclusion of whites, implying that this is “stupid” and is their sole source of power, there will be no such arguments. The playing field is not level. In my opinion, Depardieu was right for the role. When there is a Black actor of his calibre, I would argue that he should be chosen over Depardieu. But they could have worked on his appearance (hair) to better imitate Dumas’ appearance. As far as facial features, Depardieu already had them.

  9. I’m not certain where you are getting your info, but good
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