Bearing in mind the limited number of French films on slavery that have been produced in the past decades, there is no overstatement in arguing that French filmmakers have a tendency to circumvent subjects related to slavery and colonization. Though factors underlying this trend are manifold, they nonetheless commonly involve a significant ambivalence on slavery as seen in mainstream print capitalism, history books, schoolbooks, or official discourses concerned with the construction, propaganda, or representation of the French Nation. These inconsistencies and contradictions do not, however, reflect the extensive dealings of France in the slave trade, during a period that spans over two centuries, until the abolition of slavery in France in 1848. In order to better probe representations of identity, bodily pain, race, class, sexuality, and gender in Case départ (2011), a French comedy that depicts slavery in colonial Martinique, we must first understand its cultural, historical, and socio-political context. Without this context, it would be difficult to understand the reactions that emerged when it was announced that the film Case départ would conjoin a colonial backdrop and the comedy genre. Not unlike conventional discourses, very few French films discuss France’s colonial and slavery era, just as there are very few Black actors in the French cinematic arena. Flouting this cinematographic trend, in the summer of 2011, two French actors (of Cameroonian origin) Fabrice Eboué and Thomas N’Gijol co-starred in and brought to the big screen (with co-director Lionel Steketee) Case départ, a full-length movie set for the most part in 1780 colonial Martinique. Beyond presenting a contextual framework, I find it important to observe the representations of the Black body in pain and its agency as defined by the gaze of Case départ’s directors. I analyze to what extent the comedians allow the viewers to understand, identify, contextualize and interpret that pain through laughter. Indeed, what substantial understanding or awareness about slavery survives the comedy and the irony?
Francis, Gladys M. "Case départ: Slavery in Martinique through the Lens of Comedy." Celluloid Chains: Slavery in the Americas through Film. Eds. Block and Duke, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2018: 198-221.