According to the myth, that’s Paris. And we don’t mean Paris, Texas.
For more than a century, Black artists, authors, musicians and others have crossed the ocean to leave behind the racism of the United States. What made these African Americans choose Paris? Why were the French fascinated by the newcomers? And to what extent was and is France truly colorblind?
Alan Govenar’s new documentary investigates these questions and examines the ways that racism has plagued not only Blacks fleeing the United States, but Africans and people of color in France today. The film explores the lives and careers of renowned African Americans who emigrated to Paris, including Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Beauford Delaney, Augusta Savage, Barbara Chase-Riboud, and Lois Mailou Jones, and includes rare home movie footage of Henry Ossawa Tanner in Paris.
The revelation of the film was learning of the prodigy of the Tennessee-born painter Beauford Delaney, a thirty-year resident of Paris. In a very smart homage to its native son, the Knoxville Museum of Art in Tennessee just ran a recent exhibition delineating Delaney’s close relationship with James Baldwin, “Through the Unusual Door.” I like that exhibit name.
Myth of a Colorblind France is very relevant idea for a movie that ties issues of today with art history of the 20th Century. Not a perfect film, as it casts too wide a net and in doing so loses punch. I feel that more emphasis belongs on the artists themselves rather than on footage of oldsters of today talking about them. Expose and educate! I prefer seeing Richard Wright talk, not someone talking about him. Film lost credibility when one of its key talking heads made a goofball historical error and filmmaker, rather than exclude the footage, left it in. It’s a documentary. Don’t disseminate errors. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965.
Dance critic Debra Levine is founder/editor/publisher of arts●meme.
Myth of a Colorblind France | streaming now Virtual Cinema Platform: Vimeo OTT | Ticket price $10