Director Rachid Bouchareb, his 2006 French breakthrough, IndigĂ¨nes, introduces the African soldiers of WWIIâthe African soldiers of WWII? Harold Hyman in Paris (2007) should make people ask themselves why such a question mark appears in the previous sentence, âbecause the reconstituted French Army of 1943 was essentially lâArmĂŠe dâAfrique, in other words, the colonial branch of the armed forces which escaped the dismantlement of the French Army on the Continent by Hitler.â
So, kids, donât feel sad that this juxtaposition of âAfricanâ âsoldierâ and WWII feels so strangeâto 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 âmainstreamâ standards) where slaves were fighting for their mastersâand, in the extreme case of the Senegalese soldiersâas dramatized in Rachid Boucharebâs other film The Colonial Friend (2004)â, 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 âregularâ person. I really appreciate this shot from the film, a little bin marked âcensureâ 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 censoredâmade non-existent. This laughter makes one completely unprepared to imagine that thousands of these little maddening details follows people âof colorâ 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 elevatorâwhile massive psychological edifices have stood for hundreds of years for non-whitesâespecially 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 âthe impish one.â Iâm surprised to know that he was in Spike Leeâs 2005 film, She Hate Meâbut I know very well about his work in Luc Bessonâs Angel-A (2005).
So, while I am attacking my ethereal âproperly assimilated person,â letâs go for those who are quick to claim that, âHey! Itâs only a movie.â Harold Hyman writes:
The screening of IndigĂ¨nes in early fall, also made political French history. Chirac, under the celluloid spell, instructed his government to hike the ânativeâ veteransâ pensions, which meant aligning them on those of French veterans. Commentators, always eager to cut down Chirac, derided his âsentimental governanceâ, 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 Madagascarâno 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 âpurchasing powerâ adjustments were made by the French government, the unjust differentiation remained, in its form.
- âParis liberation made âwhites onlyââ by Mike Thomson
- âA. Tolbert, III: African Victims of Nazi Extremismâ
- The Colonial Friend is viewable online from Tadrart Films