I don’t know what kind of star treatment Jay-Z and Kanye West are accustomed to when they travel abroad to Paris but for regular negroes living in the capital city’s country, let’s just say the sentiment toward their presence in society doesn’t appear to be a welcoming, “we’re glad you’re here.” That’s evident by the latest racial fiasco plaguing the nation: a ban of Steve Harvey’s film adaption of “Think Like a Man” which will not be shown in theaters there. Fabienne Fessell of Global Voices says simply put, the look of the film is “too black.”
“Surprising as it may be, the answer lies in the fact that the film has an all-black cast. French cinema is often pointed at for not fairly displaying all components of the country’s multiethnic population. Although the recent success of the movie Les Intouchables, which earned French African actor Omar Sy the Cesar award for Best Actor in 2012, caused great pride and hope among French nationals from Africa and the Caribbean, it was not to be the turning point for a deep and lasting change.”
That’s painfully obvious. The issue with France is somewhat two-fold though. It was not even a full month ago that we were discussing the country’s objection to the Miss Black France pageant which was being held in Paris. Opposition suggested that singling out black beauty went against the country’s nationalist identity of being Frenchmen not hyphenated factions of afro-French or Caribbean French, and so forth. The message was that the singling out of black beauty was somewhat hypocritical because in the same breath that black people in the country were asking to be included more in society, they were turning around and excluding the rest of the population from their celebration. What was missing in that discussion was an understanding of why such pageants are needed and how white beauty is celebrated in an exclusionary fashion on a non-stop basis. It’s just that when something has been the status quo for so long and those images look like the ones you see in the mirror, it’s not so easy to pick out what’s wrong with the picture.
When it comes to “Think Like a Man,” that same attitude is evident. Martinican blog People Bo Kay reposted a note published on the Facebook page of Negro News, entitled “France does not want all-black couples in movies,” that says the film won’t see the light of day in French cinema because it’s romantic element not diverse enough.
“The French state has had a sociopolitical strategy which favors interracial relationships rather than valuing communities,” the note reads. “In the comedy ‘Think like a Man’, the focus is on black couples.”
I wonder does that same argument hold strong when it comes to all-white couples in romantic comedies. Who’s the person checking to make sure there are interracial couples celebrated on screen then? I didn’t think so.
The second piece to this ban is the overarching issue of black cinema as a whole. I can’t help but think about the recent uproar over the all-black remake of A Streetcar Named Desire and ask, what is it about all-black cinema that’s so threatening anyway? I feel like the idea is almost like, let’s not give them any ideas. If they see themselves on film they might start to think they matter, they have talent, they can rise above their current circumstances, they can be equal to white people. You wouldn’t know it was 2012 looking at these examples of exclusion, which is so bold that those responsible for and attempting to lessen the black influence don’t even feel compelled to mask their motives.
In the Negro News note, the authors go on to offer another explanation of the ban that’s less about black cinema as a whole and a more calculated. They suggest the ban is part of the country’s singling out of two men who have risen above their assumed place in society so to speak, given the fact that no Tyler Perry movie has been shown in the country either. The note says:
“Black actor and producer Tyler Perry’s movies are never scheduled in any French movie theaters or are only released in DVDs, even though he has been used to leading the US box-office, as with ‘Why did I get Married’ and ‘For Colored Girls’. The French society acts hypocritically, when it refuses to show movies from black producers who earn millions from conveying a positive message to the African diaspora through their films.”
I know we often get hung up on Tyler Perry’s simplistic, one-dimensional portrayal of African American life but his movies do have positive messages and his very own story of success is a testament to the multi-cultural audience black film producers, directors, and writers can bring to the theater. But those in power don’t want to see that. Much like the expectation that “Think like a Man” would only be half of the success it actually was in its opening weekend, and the New York Times laissez faire approach to a critique, female bloggers at Condemns say the powers that be in France simply can “not understand how a movie with a mainly black cast could actually lead the box-office!” Perhaps they should look to their American alley for the Blueprint on that $33.7 million opening weekend success.
Nationalist pride is a noble goal for the French people to aspire to but achieving that by forcing cultures to assimilate to the white standard is not the way to go. The measuring stick by which this film has been judged ought to be the same one used for films featuring other races or else onlookers have no choice to assume the motive here is to silence black representation not just celebrate the French national identity.
What do you think about this ban of “Think Like a Man?”
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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