The documentary “Myth of a Colorblind France” presents a history of eminent African-Americans who have lived in France, interweaving the thoughts of Black artists residing there today with the stories of historical figures who traveled to the country beginning in the 19th century. At times, the title might seem like a misnomer, since a central point of this documentary is that many expatriates faced less discrimination in France than in the United States.
The film, directed by Alan Govenar, unfolds like a roll call of major writers, painters and musicians — some well-known, others less so. It recounts how Josephine Baker became a French national icon and an archetype for a particular look. (As the jazz historian Dan Morgenstern says, Baker “sort of initiated this whole French craze for things African-American.”) The historian Tyler Stovall tells a story of a time the authors Richard Wright and James Baldwin feuded at a Paris cafe. The sculptor and novelist Barbara Chase-Riboud shares memories of her encounters with famous figures over the years.
Still, the movie suggests that France is less colorblind when it comes to Black people with heritage in former French colonies across Africa and the Caribbean. The Paris-born drummer Karim Touré, whose father was from Senegal, relates a story of being stopped by a police officer near his home. The movie notes that hip-hop, described as the music of French cities’ multiracial suburbs, has helped highlight the presence of racial prejudice in the country.
This is a huge subject, and the film, which favors anecdotes over a macro treatment, doesn’t have much structure to speak of. It consists of one brief profile after another — a strategy that is efficient for delivering information, but that leaves “Myth of a Colorblind France” dry and disarrayed as filmmaking.
Myth of a Colorblind France
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. Rent through virtual cinemas.
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