[Let me preface this article by saying I haven't seen the film in question, am curious about the discourse surrounding it.]

The film ‘Intouchables’ is a hit in France. The film, about a young black man of Senegalese descent from the projects in Bondy (a Paris suburb) who takes a job caring for a rich white quadriplegic, has drawn in millions of viewers. The film has been breaking box office records across the country and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, loved it so much he reportedly wants invite the cast to the dinner at Elysee Palace.

But while many hail the film as a feel-good film, others are criticizing it for playing on tired racist stereotypes.

Devorah Lauter of the LA Times writes:

Yet even as the Cinderella story has audiences applauding, a few critics scolded its unrealistic take on the struggles of France’s poor, as well as its “easy stereotypes” of minorities, shown through the fun-loving hero, Driss. Driss is of Senegalese origin, and with his charming wit — but also unabashed ignorance of fine French foods, art and music — he livens up the stuffy world of his wealthy counterpart, Philippe.

“This film dates to the 1930s, when it was thought the black man has no culture and spends his time laughing at everything,” philosopher Jean-Jacques Delfour said after reviewing the film for the French daily Liberation.

Although most French critics have given the film good reviews (and French audiences LOVE it), American critics haven’t been so kind. One particularly harsh review came from Variety writer Jay Weissberg, who said the film dabbled in the worst sorts of stereotypes.

He writes:

Driss [the main character] is treated as nothing but a performing monkey (with all the racist associations of such a term), teaching the stuck-up white folk how to get “down” by replacing Vivaldi with “Boogie Wonderland” and showing off his moves on the dance floor. It’s painful to see Sy, a joyfully charismatic performer, in a role barely removed from the jolly house slave of yore, entertaining the master while embodying all the usual stereotypes about class and race.

The nadir comes when Driss dons a suit and Magalie tells him he looks like President Obama, as if the only black man in a suit could be the president; what’s so distressing is that the writers mean for the line to be tender and funny. (For the record, Sy and Obama look nothing alike.)

Perhaps the differences in the critiques have to do with the differences in the French and American cultures and how race is view in each.

Is France much more inclusive and accepting of diversity, or are they practicing the soft racism of a colorblind society? Or are Americans overly sensitive when it comes to issues of race and racism?

Soon American audiences may have the chance to see ‘Intouchables’ (‘Untouchables) for themselves and decide. The film’s production company, Gaumont, has sold it worldwide.

  • Mous

    (I finish..) people who live in France will fully appreciate it.. But you will love it if u’re generous, optimistic, non judgemental, colorblind in any terms..any.

    Happy new year anyone and spread love, love.

  • Sara

    This debate is so passionate. Come on, we’re not here to give a prize to the country where the Blacks are best treated and feel the most comfortable.

    - First, about the Black ethnic issue in France:
    I am a young Black woman of African descent living in Paris and I think that Jean’s comment sums up the situation very well:
    “As an African-American woman who has conducted research on race and ethnicity in France, I think this issue is more complex than previous commentators have mentioned. France as a country emphasizes colorblind ideologies over multiculturalism and seeks to view people as individuals rather than as members of groups, however the problem is that this doesn’t work that great in practice. Racial and ethnic minorities are marginalized in multiple ways despite the state masking the importance of race and ethnicity. In some ways, France could be seen as more accepting of diversity, etc – i.e. the large number of interracial marriages, for example – but there still lacks a common discourse or language with which to tackle issues of race, ethnicity and marginalization. until that happens, nothing in France will change.”

    - About the film
    I am very sensitive to ethnic stereotypes but the point of the film goes beyond all those issues. I discussed about this film with many Black French people- most of whom are very concerned/conscious about the racist issues and among whom some know/have already lived in the US-UK. We all agreed about the stereotypes (the Black thief, all Blacks look the same with a suit: like Obama, etc) and the kinda edulcorated vision of our society but the way the film is made overcomes that. We all loved it.

    A word about Omar Sy’s -who plays the black caregiver. His popularity here in France may make a difference when watching the film. He is famous for his daily show with his friend Fred Testot (a white man) where they point out with humour and caricature political, social, ethnic issues. In that show, through different figures, Omar often draws attention on racist stereotypes about Black people. We known Omar thanks to that show and his role in the movie matches very much who he is in reality. He is naturally a funny, lively, nice guy who likes dancing, singing and making jokes. Will any movie with a black actor in a comedy role and involved in an interethnic relationship be tagged of racist?

    It’s sad that this movie has such a biased interpretation in the US critics. Anyway, it’s only the opinon of some critics. I never read critics’ reviews when I want to watch a film. I prefer the audience reviews.

    This film is first of all a comedy which shows two men who are from totally opposite social backgrounds. They are filmed in an equal, very human way. In spite of their differences, they form a fabulous duet, a more than real friendship where their strengts and weaknesses eventually complete. The magic between them on the screen exsudes truth. To me, this film is about universal values which adress anyone, excepting some critics… It is about humanity and love, about how human beings can make great things together and how life can surprise us. It’s full of energy and hope. Go and watch it!

  • Dav

    I am a french living in the US. One thing important to understand is that we play a lot with stereotypes and self derision in France. And yes we are not as oversensitive. I myself have a physical condition and I enjoy making rough jokes on myself because derision makes my burden easier to carry. One problem is really that many people in the US are not used to what we call second degree “humor” and irony. It’s something very european that requires some practice.

  • Nac

    Exactly!When I’ve watched the movie,I havn’t thought about racism or whatever,I just saw a really nice movie about a friendship about 2 guys who are different but need each other.

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