Friday, June 7, 2019


While Soleil O is in part a transgressive & abstract look at colonialism in Africa (the first portion of the movie shows this), I was more fascinated by the chunk of the film that showed us racism & discrimination in 1960’s France through the eyes of a Black immigrant. This movie has certain specific things in common with stuff like The Story Of A Three-Day Pass (another film from the 60’s about a black man in Europe) and Putney Swope (the dark humor and intentionally chaotic editing). However those films are still from the perspective of Black Americans. Soleil O is its own unique monster because it’s specifically about the relationship between Black people from Africa and White people from Europe (specially France).
In my experience (and others that I have spoken to over the years), a lot of naive Europeans like to act as if because their brand of racism is “different” from America that it’s not as serious (as if to imply that because it’s different than in America that it isn’t as harmful). I’m not a patriotic person in any way but my patriotism comes out any time I hear or read a European act is of their country is above, past or beyond racism simply because they never had Klan rallies on their soil. There’s still this unspoken myth that because James Baldwin & various Jazz musicians were more welcome in places like Paris than in the Deep South that Europe was this ultimate haven for Black folks. Soleil O shows this and more. Not only does this movie delve in to racism between Blacks & Whites in Europe, but in only 100 minutes director Med Hondo shows racism amongst other Black folks and he even touches on the issues between Arabs & Blacks living in France. A lot of times non-Black-yet-still brown immigrants have this illusion of inclusion that because their skin is sometimes lighter that they’re “better than” until they get that wake-up call and see that they’re looked at the same as Blacks in certain scenarios (at one point in the film a sign that reads something along the lines of; “eradicate the Negro/Arab problem in France” flashes across the screen).

There’s quite a bit of jarring imagery in the movie but there’s also a lot of great standout/standalone moments (there’s even a few animated moments)...

The majority of the film follows a dark-skinned African immigrant trying to adjust to his new life in France and falls in to a form of culture shock when he’s quickly confronted with aggression from intolerant whites and signs that read; “Negroes not welcome” (sounds similar to older forms of American racism if you ask me). And when he isn’t faced with that kind of outright racism, he’s faced with the fetishization that some White women have towards Black men when it comes to sex. I wish more folks saw Nicolas Provost’s The Invader (2011), which, is a bit “problematic” in parts, but still swings for the fences in terms of exploring modern-day racism in Europe. The Invader is one of the few recent films that has the same spirit & energy of Soleil O and is also one of the better films that explores the relationship between Black men & White women in France outside of Claire Denis (No Fear No Die & I Cant Sleep are kind of cut from the same cloth as Soleil O).

If Denis’ films make people nervous—and they do—it is in part because they level the gaze of a white woman at black men - Amy Taubin

The Invader
Soleil O / Putney Swope

I find it strange that films like Soleil O & The Invader are difficult to come by. Both movies did the rounds of prominent movie festivals but fell in to obscurity afterwards. Thanks to the beauty of film preservation & rediscovery, Soilel O and the rest of Med Hondo’s films are being streamed, released & screened for the first time since they were released decades ago.


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