In Al Jazeera’s newly launched 3-part documentary series ‘Black France’, the relationship between one of the most dominant European colonial forces in Africa and the Caribbean, and the political and social dynamics of its former colonies and their citizens is explored to tell the story of black people in France and the country’s history of ‘segregation, racism, protest, violence, culture and community building - from the turn of the 20th century until the present day’.
Beginning in the mid-1500s, and following in the footsteps of the larger and more dominant British Empire, France began to colonize foreign territories starting with North America’s Gaspe Bay in what is today Canada. For centuries France would continue to expand its colonial reach building an empire that spanned across various regions in North America, the Carribbean, South America, Africa and Asia. It would not be until 1980 with the independence of Vanuatu that the French Empire would officially be disbanded worldwide.
Today, France is home to one of Europe’s black communities, mostly of African and/or Caribbean descent - a direct result of the country’s relationship with its colonial territories in these regions.
'Conflicting Identities', the first episode in the trilogy, explores the duality and complexes of what it means to be 'both black and French in the decades before France’s African colonies achieved independence' during the latter part of the 18th century, beginning with the fight for equality for France's black community to the experiences of black people in early 20th century France including both World Wars and the Great Depression.
Interestingly, the particularities of France’s differing and hierarchical relationship between it’s ‘colonial subjects’, with Africans being treated as the most inferior, are also brought to light. Where African-American individuals and culture were celebrated and marveled at with great interest - a perverse fascination of sorts, and where individuals of Caribbean territories were given French citizenship - but not full equality, Africans were mostly denied such privileges and were dehumanized and stigmatized as backward black savages.
Regardless of the differing treatment of black people from various parts of the world, racism was always the underlying factor in France’s social and political approach to black people, seeing them as inferior and ‘the other’ - a view that in some ways still has not changed.
[English & French w/ French subtitles]