MUBI: 5 French language films to celebrate Black History Month 2022
In celebration of Black History Month 2022, we have chosen some of our favourite French or francophone films by Black directors, all available to stream on MUBI . From feminist documentaries exploring love, Blackness and diaspora, to classics of African cinema, surrealist masterpieces and social dramas; this selection bears witness to the creativity and talent of Black filmmakers, both historically and in the present day.
Amandine Gay (2017)
Documentary filmmaker, author, activist and afro-feminist, Amandine Gay’s first film Ouvrir la voix poses important questions on what it means to be a Black woman in contemporary French society. Made up of close-up interviews, the documentary explores the intersections between discrimination, art and blackness; as well as confronting an idea that is dominant in French culture –that of colour blindness. In not keeping records of racial demographics, are we really creating an equal society, or merely masking its inequalities by making them less tangible? To quote from the documentary: “Saying that race doesn’t exist in France means not wanting to tackle racial problems.” With frank discussions on religion, sexuality, parenthood and casual racism; each woman’s experience is unique, but as a collective they take ownership over their representation.
Alice Diop (2016)
The Paris suburbs are a location that Alice Diop revisits time and time again in her documentaries, and Towards Tenderness is no exception. A reflection on contemporary masculinity and macho culture, the film explores how these systems affect men’s lives- both through their vilification of vulnerability, and through expressions of love and affection being taboo in many spheres of male society.
A portrait of 4 friends from the suburbs of Paris, this unflinching portrayal of masculinity is peppered with moments of genuine hope and optimism. Amongst the ambient noise of the street and the car radio real moments of tenderness emerge from behind hyper-masculine façades, expressions of loneliness and desire for love and intimacy. This short film goes a long way towards proving that men are equally victims of patriarchal systems and provides a glimmer of hope for the future.
Med Hondo (1967)
Coming from Mauritius, Soleil Ô’s optimistic protagonist has been fed the promise of finding “a better life” in France, an illusion which soon shatters when he is confronted with the outright racism of 1960s French culture, and his struggles to find work and housing. Recently restored and brought back into circulation, this film regains its place as a vital part of the francophone film canon- both for its scathing indictment of colonialism and economic migration; but also for its filmmaking mastery. Med Hondo jumps across genres, with scenes where the film verges into documentary filmmaking, and other moments which pay homage to slapstick and musical ensembles. An avant-garde film from a long-neglected director, this film is essential viewing.
Timoté Bassori (1969)
An anonymous man returns home after a long stay in France. Haunted by recurring images of a woman holding a large knife; these visions begin to interfere with his personal and romantic relationships. Neither traditional African medicine nor Freudian analysis seem to help with his problems- only the patience of an understanding friend helps him to resolve his deep-rooted issues. Surreal and beautifully restored as part of the World Cinema Project, this is a classic of 60s Ivoirian cinema.
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (2021)
Single mother Amina works hard to support herself and her 15-year-old daughter Maria. Living on the outskirts of Chadian society due to her status as a single mother, she is keen to ensure that Maria avoids the same fate. But when Maria is expelled from school and it is revealed that she is pregnant with a baby she does not want to keep, the two women will have to fight to access an abortion that is both condemned by their faith and illegal in Chad. A powerful testament to the power of the mother-daughter relationship, this drama challenges the patriarchal systems which prevent reproductive justice, and highlights the importance of bodily autonomy, something which is still not a given in the 21st century.