Frantz Fanon, the charismatic black intellectual, psychiatrist and revolutionary whose essays and books influenced the anti-colonial and civil rights movements throughout the world, is celebrated in "Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask." Combining archival footage, interviews and dramatic re-enactments, Isaac Julien's intellectually and emotionally involving film deserves a limited theatrical release on the specialized art circuit and in campus towns and is destined to travel the international festival road.
A provocative meditation on every level, "Frantz Fanon" represents a logical follow-up to Julien's previous films, "Looking for Langston" and "Young Soul Rebels." Thematically, new item continues to explore Julien's fascinating, cutting-edge ideas on multiracial urban culture, the effects of diaspora and the intersection of racial difference and desire. And like his previous works, "Frantz Fanon" makes a strong case for blurring the conventional distinction between documentary and fiction cinema, resulting in a work of rare intelligence and poetic force.
Born in the French colony of Martinique in 1925, Fanon went to France to study medicine and psychiatry. In 1952, he published his book “Black Skin White Mask,” in which he developed his anti-colonialist platform about the complex relationship between masters and slaves, showing not only the polarity of power but also the mutual dependency — specifically, the masters’ dependency on recognition from their slaves and the notion that racism is a denial of that recognition.
Embraced by Paris’ literary circles, headed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Fanon developed an ambiguous attitude not only toward his position as a black supported mostly by white intellectuals, but also toward his own sexual desire and identity; he was attracted to white women and had some homosexual affairs.
Sartre went on record claiming that it is “through Fanon’s voice that the Third World finds and speaks for itself.” And among the contemporary critics interviewed for the film, Brit Stuart Hall describes Fanon’s book “The Wretched of the Earth” as “the bible of the decolonization movement.” Indeed, Fanon became so politically engaged that he left his position as psychiatrist in an Algerian hospital to join the Algerian National Liberation Front, hence igniting the ire of the French army, which declared him a traitor. Algeria gained independence in 1961, just months after Fanon’s untimely death from leukemia.
Film draws parallels between Fanon’s life, and assimilation illusions, as an exile in Paris and the course of the anti-colonial movement. Structured as an intricate pastiche of archival footage and new dramatic re-creations, “Frantz Fanon” boasts a richness and complexity that do full justice to the stature of the man it commemorates.
Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask
A Normal Films production. Produced by Mark Nash.
Directed by Isaac Julien. Screenplay, Julien, Mark Nash, based on Frantz Fanon's writings.
Camera (color), Nina Kellegren, Ahmed Bennys; editors, Justin Krish, Nick Thompson, Robert Hargreaves. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema), Jan. 21, 1997. (Also in Berlin fest --- Panorama.) Running time: 70 MIN.
Narrator: Colin Salmon.
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