Colonial Cinema and Imperial France, 1919–1939: White Blind Spots, Male Fantasies, Settler Myths
North Africa has captured the French imagination for centuries and shaped it in ways the French themselves have yet to acknowledge. The advent of cinema allowed artists and propagandists alike to exploit a new medium in their romanticized depictions of France's imperial mission in Algeria and Morocco. The films of the 1920s expressed a cautious optimism about the prospect of cooperation between Europeans and Muslims—with Europeans dominant. By the 1930s, however, attitudes toward indigenous North Africans had hardened. In response to demands for liberal reform in Algeria, French settlers appealed to racial solidarity and protection of white womanhood. The films of this period warned against the perils of miscegenation and portrayed the Foreign Legion and the settlers as the defenders of white, European civilization's frontiers.
In Colonial Cinema and Imperial France, David Henry Slavin uses such key colonial-era films as L'Atlantide (1921; remade in 1932) and Pépé le Moko (1937) to document how the French cinema reflected the changing policies and values of French colonialism in the interwar period. Slavin is most interested in the "blind spots" within these films, the avoidance or denial of colonial realities that becomes apparent when sound-era remakes are compared with their original silent versions. The reworking of history and the interplay of history and memory evident in this process still hinders France's ability to confront the legacy of its colonial past.
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