Think Like A Man…Just Not In France

Courtesy: film_poster

By Guest Contributor Fabienne Flessel, cross-posted from Global Voices

Just weeks after the debate surrounding the election of Miss Black France 2012, another question is being discussed by French people of African descent: the cancellation of the release of the American movie Think Like A Man in movie theaters.

How does an American movie find a place in the French social debate?

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.

Martinican blogger Bondamanjak is very cynical after this tainted victory, as he explains that Omar Sy’s award nomination did not come all naturally but was rather due to the great number of viewers in theaters.

Et la France comme un seul homme oublie que Omar Sy ne figurait pas sur la liste des nominés aux Césars […] Il a fallu que ‘Intouchables’ touche la barre des 19 000 000 d’entrées que ça râle un peu beaucoup pour que ce flagrant délit de mauvais scénario soit reconnu par l’immonde monde du cinéma français. Mais qu’on se rassure, cette récompense n’est qu’une opportuniste goutte d’eau dans un désert qui avance.

And all French people as one man forget that Omar Sy was not initially shortlisted as a nominee for the Cesars […] It was only when the ‘Intouchables’ reached 19 000 000 viewers in theaters, that people started calling out to the French movie industry about its indignant attitude, and that they acknowledged the wrong. However be sure that this award is only an opportunistic drop of water in a desert which keeps moving forward.

How can racial profiling in cinema be explained?

Martinican blog People Bo Kay reposts a note published on the Facebook page of Negro News, entitled “France does not want all-black couples in movies”. This analysis, which has now gone viral, develops ideas about communalism and politics in France, which are supposed to explain the rejection of the movie.

Il faut rappeler qu’il y a dans l’État français, une stratégie socio-politique qui tend à prôner le métissage plutôt que la valorisation des communautés. Dans la comédie ‘Think like a Man’, les couples noirs sont mis en avant.

The French state has had a sociopolitical strategy which favors interracial relationships rather than valuing communities. In the comedy Think like a Man, the focus is on black couples.

According to this note, the other explanation to the blocking of African-American films in France (despite their profitability) is that:

À noter, les films de l’acteur et producteur noir Tyler Perry ne sont jamais programmés dans les salles françaises ou alors ils sortent directement en DVD. Pourtant ce producteur a pour habitude de dominer le box-office américain avec des films comme ‘Why did I get Married’ et “For Colored Girls”. La société française dans toute son hypocrisie ne veut surtout pas diffuser des films de producteurs noirs qui gagnent des millions de dollars en faisant passer un message positif pour la diaspora africaine grâce à leurs films.

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.

In the same vein, other French Afro-Caribbean netizens, like the collective of female bloggers at La Scandaleuse, condemns how some well-known French movie magazines and websites have openly underrated the movie and its cast:

Première.fr ne comprend pas comment un film avec une majorité d’acteurs noirs peut-être premier du box office! Ne connaissant aucun acteur, ils se permettent alors d’écrire «cette comédie au pitch classique et sans tête d’affiche (le chanteur Chris Brown est le nom le plus connu du générique).» Faut il vous faire la filmographie de tous les acteurs ? Non car cela est votre travail !

Première.fr does not understand how a movie with a mainly black cast could actually lead the box-office! Since they know none of the actors, they dare to write ‘this comedy has a conventional plot and no famous actors (singer Chris Brown is the best known in this cast).’ Should the readers make filmographies for all actors? No that’s your job!

This lack of knowledge about African-American actors–even when they are world-famous–echoes, according to La Scandaleuse, a French trend:

Mais peut-être que dans un pays comme la France où on a du mal à faire tourner des acteurs noirs, la surprise ne peut-être que grande face au succès de «Think Like a Man» ! Qui, d’ailleurs, n’est pas présenté comme un film afro par ses acteurs ni par son réalisateur, c’est un film universel, ce qui explique son succès au box office!

Maybe in a country like France, where black actors hardly play in any movies, it is very surprising to understand the great success of ‘Think Like a Man’! A movie, which is not presented as exclusively African-American, neither by the actors nor the director. It is a universal movie, which explains its success in the charts!

African diaspora-oriented Afrik.com weighs in by adding:

Si l’article de Première.fr semble certainement mal documenté, c’est avant tout un exemple parmi d’autres du refus des diffuseurs et du milieu du cinéma français de miser sur des films dans lesquels la majorité des acteurs sont noirs ou même de miser sur leur éventuel succès. Sous couvert de logiques économiques frileuses, ce «genre» de films, qu’ils soient américains ou français, n’existent quasiment pas dans les salles françaises.

The article published on Première.fr most definitely suffers a lack of research. But it is above all an example, among others, of the refusal expressed by the French cinema industry to bank on movies where the cast is mainly black or to bank on their potential success. They hide behind a non-daring financial rationale to block these ‘types’ of movies, whether French or American, from French movie theaters.

The image used in this post, “Think Like a Man”, is by Film_Poster, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Creative Commons license. Visit Film_Poster’s flickr photostream.

  • Anonymous

    And no matter what race wins that pissing contest, what they are fighting over stays the same. Women are still only objects whose worth as people is measured by how “hot” we are, and we are only there  to be picked by a man, nevermind our wishes or will or anything really.  

  • Anonymous

    They do the same with attractive/successful black men, as if holding up White (and other non-black) women as the embodiment of feminine pulchritude is something new.

    Either way, they like to show a world where the “good” Blacks, male and female,  pair up with them, b/c apparently it’s such a privilege and what we’d choose if given the choice.  

  • Anonymous

    Apparently, black actors don’t exist until white people recognize them.      

  • Anonymous

    Apparently, black actors don’t exist until white people recognize them.      

  • http://www.facebook.com/galiotica Nejasna ちゃん

    That’s hardly progressive tho, white men have always been portrayed as entitled to owning any woman they want.  

  • Thatstlphoenix

    I agree with you wholeheartedly Val. I feel the same way within advertising as well. Everything media wise is sounding very familiar to the French debate going on here. They may have this socio-political hidden undertone but it feels as if our so called progressiveness is mirroring it to the “T” and it’s bothersome. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    Thanks for an interesting post. Unfortnately, I only speak & read English so I appreciate the addition of English translations for the French quotes.Here’s a link to an April 2012 Afro-Europe blog post about Omar Sy:http://afroeurope.blogspot.com/2012/04/omar-sy-addresses-charges-of-uncle-tom.html Omar Sy Addresses Charges Of “Uncle Tom Racism” In French Comedy “Intouchables” . 

    A quote from that blog post follows:”The Weinstein Company is planning to release it ["Untouchables"] in the USA next month, May 25.
    But Variety warned, “the Weinstein Co., which has bought remake rights, will
    need to commission a massive rewrite to make palatable this cringe-worthy comedy
    about a rich, white quadriplegic hiring a black man from the projects to be his
    caretaker, exposing him to ‘culture’, while learning to loosen up. Sadly, this
    claptrap will do boffo Euro biz.”