Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask

(British docudrama)

Sundance Film Fest (World Cinema) 1997–Frantz Fanon, the charismatic black intellectual, psychiatrist and revolutionary, whose essays and books had influenced the anti-colonial and civil rights movements throughout the world, is celebrated in Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask, British filmmaker Isaac Julien's new work.

Combining archival footage, interviews and dramatic reenactments, this intellectually and emotionally involving film deserves a limited theatrical release in the specialized art circuit and campus towns and is destined to travel the international festival road.

A provocative meditation, Frantz Fanon is a logic follow-up to Julien's previous films, Looking for Langston and Young Soul Rebels. Thematically, this film continues to explore Julien's fascinating, cutting edge ideas on multi-racial 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 psychiatry. In l952, 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 Bouvior, Fanon developed an ambiguous attitude not only toward his position as a black supported by mostly 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 (FLN), 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 of leukemia.

The 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 both authentic footage and new dramatic recreations, Frantz Fanon boasts a richly complex texture that does full justice to the stature of the real man it commemorates.


A Normal Films production. Produced by Mark Nash. Directed by Isaac Julien. Screenplay, Julien and Nash, based on Frantz Fanon's writings. Camera (color), Nina Kellegren, Ahmed Bennys; editors, Justin Krish, Nick Thompson, Robert Hargreaves.
Running time: 70 min.
Narrated by Colin Salmon.