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Real film reviewers have probably covered Chris Rock’s 2014 comedy Top Five. But I am flippantly certain that no one on this planet has evaluated this star studded film for its throw-away Black history lines. This shot right here, full of the best of them, makes me think of Wyatt Cenac’s Medicine for Melancholy:

Chris Rock’s “Top Five”

Wyatt’s lead and his love interest were in a fictional West-Coast city playing with relatively lightweight Black history quips, which were frustratingly one-sided (nothing coming from Wyatt’s Black woman—which is from my experience very, very realistic). It would never surprise me to discover that the researching habits of Chris Rock saw these scenes and had his female lead, Rosario Dawson, take it to another level in his movie. product

What does surprise me is that Chris Rock would get his ‘answer’ to Wyatt out in a film that is clearly designed to be mainstream vehicle (in contrast to, say, the more continentally domestic 2 Days In New York). Rock is making a serious attempt to get some Woody-Allenesque-anti-Semitic-lampooning depth into his on-screen Blackness. (Of course it would sting a little to find that the screenwriter who wrote all the Black history lines, featuring some gory details of the Haitian revolution, was just another educated white dude.) product

It should be commonplace by now that details about the many, many fascinating events of Black history should be thrown about in Black films. I should be complaining by now that yet another Black professor of Black history is consulting for Black Hollywood films. It is indeed melancholy that I have to praise a multi-millionaire dude of African descent in the heights of his career taking such care in the 21st century.

Dudes should be doing this right-straight from yard.

Anyway: thanks, Chris Rock.

Buy this product at! Director Rachid Bouchareb, his 2006 French breakthrough, Indigènes, introduces the African soldiers of WWII—the African soldiers of WWII? Harold Hyman in Paris (2007) should make people ask themselves why such a question mark appears in the previous sentence, “because the reconstituted French Army of 1943 was essentially l’Armée d’Afrique, in other words, the colonial branch of the armed forces which escaped the dismantlement of the French Army on the Continent by Hitler.”

So, kids, don’t feel sad that this juxtaposition of “African” “soldier” and WWII feels so strange—to celebrate these soldiers means the French would have to acknowledge their necessarily savage colonial past. Also, to really explore the lives of these African men means exploring a psychologically unbearable situation (by “mainstream” standards) where slaves were fighting for their masters—and, in the extreme case of the Senegalese soldiers—as dramatized in Rachid Bouchareb’s other film The Colonial Friend (2004)—, their masters literally slaughtered them right after they helped win the war.

But these massacres are often too much to take for the properly assimilated “regular” person. I really appreciate this shot from the film, a little bin marked “censure” in an office. Your self-proclaiming, meat-and-potatoes, revisionist, non-historian of supreme whiteness would surely laugh at the concept that a love letter between a soldier and his girl would be completely censored—made non-existent. This laughter makes one completely unprepared to imagine that thousands of these little maddening details follows people “of color” to this very day. I daresay the computer programs are yet to be written for neo-Stasi 2.0. Some white people lose it in a matter of minutes being the only Caucasian person on a crowded elevator—while massive psychological edifices have stood for hundreds of years for non-whites—especially Africans.

Rachid Bouchareb, Indigènes (Days of Glory)

My captive hope is that it is not too ignorant to regard Jamel Debbouze as the Chris Rock of France. You can see how adorable he looks in this shot. Harold Hyman describes him as “the impish one.” I’m surprised to know that he was in Spike Lee’s 2005 film, She Hate Me—but I know very well about his work in Luc Besson’s Angel-A (2005).

Jamel Debbouze, Indigènes (Days of Glory)

So, while I am attacking my ethereal ‘properly assimilated person,’ let’s go for those who are quick to claim that, “Hey! It’s only a movie.” Harold Hyman writes:

The screening of Indigènes in early fall, also made political French history. Chirac, under the celluloid spell, instructed his government to hike the “native” veterans’ pensions, which meant aligning them on those of French veterans. Commentators, always eager to cut down Chirac, derided his “sentimental governance”, but recognized the correctness of his decision. Public opinion certainly followed Chirac. More concretely, a few tens of thousands of very old foreign veterans of French wars will get more Euros in Africa, North and West, and Madagascar—no small matter in the Third World. This pension problem started off this way: these Black, Arab, Berber, Malgache, and even Indochinese veterans were pensioned in a special and unfair way. Those who, when the colonies gained independence in the 50s and 60s, gained a new nationality and lost their French one, saw their pensions frozen at its level of the moment, and dissociated from all subsequent revisions pertaining to ordinary French citizens’ veterans pensions. The French Treasury paid these foreign natives, but at the date of independence rate. This differentiation was not strictly racist because natives retaining full French citizenship got full French pensions. The gap in pension levels, however, began a gulf over the years. Even though in the early 90s, some “purchasing power” adjustments were made by the French government, the unjust differentiation remained, in its form.

Rachid Bouchareb, Indigènes (Days of Glory)

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