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.
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).
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.
- “Paris liberation made ‘whites only’” by Mike Thomson
- “A. Tolbert, III: African Victims of Nazi Extremism”
- The Colonial Friend is viewable online from Tadrart Films