I have chosen to look into the work of Frantz Fanon particularly at his written work “black skin white mask” and also the documentary film produced by Issac Julien and Mark Nash. Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask, does retain and demand respect for its subjects perhaps because he isn’t talked about but represented. Isaac Julien in collaboration with Mark Nash have produced a Biography/History film isn’t exactly a documentary, and it not a drama, though an actor portrays the film’s subject. “It’s a fact-filled dream, a meditation with a poetic texture on the life of a controversial black intellectual”. I’m going to discuss the book and compare and argue if the directors depict the book and Frantz Fanon correctly which to develop a theoretical and/or historical perspective through further research.
Frantz Fanon grew up in a well off family in French colonial Martinique. He was schooled in France and became a psychiatrist. After volunteering for the free French army during the Second World War, Fanon spent a number of years in the French colony of Algeria before and during the revolution (Zaidi). Because of his life and education, Fanon had a unique perspective to criticize and deconstruct colonialism and decolonization. Using a Marxist lens, he theorized that because colonies were created and maintained in violence, that a colony could only decolonize through violence. He saw violence as the best means to throw off the false consciousness of colonialism and envisioned a brotherhood or comradeship of free and equal people. It is Fanon’s similarity with Martin Luther King, Jr. that is most interesting. In the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King makes many of the same arguments as Fanon, but proposes a better solution revolving around justice. Fanon’s obsession with violence it at the centre of his argument, however non-violent direct action, according to King, would be a better way to achieve freedom and equality because ultimately unjust action does not bring about justice.
Fanon start off his argument with describing how colonialism and decolonization are violent affairs. He describes the colonized and colonizer as old adversaries whose first meeting was rooted in violence and continued relationship was sustained at the point of a gun (Fanon, p. 2). He goes on to state that the colonized person is a fabricated person created by the colonizer and that the colonizer validates themselves, via wealth, through the colonial relationship.
Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks is a stirring glimpse into the mindset of a black man living in a white man’s world. The author approaches the subject of racism from a psychoanalytic viewpoint rather than from a sociological stance. To Fanon, racism is a psychological disease which has infected all men and all societies. He argues that the black man is constantly trying, but never fully succeeding, to be white and to assimilate into the white man’s world.
In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon combines autobiography, case study, philosophy, and psychoanalytic theory in order to describe and analyze the experience of Black men and women in white-controlled societies. He is especially interested in the experience of Black people from French-colonized islands in the Caribbean, like himself, who have come to live in France themselves. He explores how these people are encouraged by a racist society to want to become white, but then experience serious psychological problems because they aren’t able to do so
Fanon was a psychiatrist so, naturally, he analyzed the problem of racism as such. Based on today’s racism, many would try to classify racism as a sociological problem. Fanon, however, looked at racism as a psychological obstacle in the path of humankind’s realization of its true potential. “When there are no more slaves, there are no masters.” 1 While he does acknowledge the existence of a socioeconomic divide that coincides with racism, he does not believe that poverty and social inferiority are the worst consequences of racism. He believed that the psychological damage is the worst problem resulting from racism. Unlike the blatant discrimination, violence and hatred associated with the anti-black racism of the United States prior to the Civil Rights Movement, racism in the French world was less obvious and more psychological than physical. This psychological discrepancy, Fanon argues, is more damaging and much harder to overcome and resist than physical racial abuse.
The issue of reading Fanon today, then, is perhaps not about finding the moment of relevance in Fanon’s text that corresponds with the world, but in searching for the moments where Fanon’s text and the world do not correspond, and asking how Fanon, the revolutionary, would think and act in the period of retrogression.
A black man who believes himself to be equal to the white man and shuns his own people would forever be an outsider to both groups. He could never fit in with either side. He would never gain acceptance from whites and he would be ridiculed by blacks for trying to evolve.
One of the ways to overcome racism is to have an unbending sense of self-worth and to fully know oneself. If one can achieve this, they will no longer compare themselves to others, so the psychological effects of racism will not have any bearing on them. However, Fanon argues that this is may not be possible for the black man to do. People, in general, and especially those who have been constantly oppressed, have a tremendously difficult time determining and accepting their own self-worth by their own accord,
“The Antillean does not possess a personal value of his own and is always dependent on the value of ‘the Other.’ The question is always whether he is less intelligent than I, blacker than I, or less good than I. Every self-positioning or self-fixation maintains a relationship or dependency on the collapse of the other. It’s on the ruins of my entourage that I build my virility.” 5
The only way the black man knows how to build his self-worth is to destroy the worth of another. But, unfortunately, since the black man is in no position to downgrade white people, they must attack other blacks in order to build their self-worth. This creates a vicious cycle in which the black man keeps himself and his people down and the white man can remain in power without even doing anything. “The Martinicans are hungry for reassurance. They want their wishful thinking to be recognized. They want their wish for virility to be recognizedâ€¦ Each of them wants to be, wants to flaunt himself.” 6
Frantz Fanon, the charismatic black intellectual, psychiatrist and revolutionary whose essays and books influenced the anti-colonial and civil rights movements throughout the world, is celebrated in “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask.” Combining archival footage, interviews and dramatic re-enactments, Isaac Julien’s intellectually and emotionally involving film deserves a limited theatrical release on the specialized art circuit and in campus towns and is destined to travel the international festival road. A provocative meditation on every level, “Frantz Fanon” represents a logical follow-up to Julien’s previous films, “Looking for Langston” and “Young Soul Rebels.” Thematically, new item continues to explore Julien’s fascinating, cutting-edge ideas on multiracial 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.
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 archival footage and new dramatic re-creations, “Frantz Fanon” boasts a richness and complexity that do full justice to the stature of the man it commemorates.
Before there was Steve McQueen there was Isaac Julian, also a Briton of Afro-Caribbean descent, also an artist, also a film-maker. Julian never won the Turner Prize or became the first black director to win a Best Picture Oscar, but in every other sense he was a trailblazer thanks to films like 1989’s Looking For Langston (a film essay about black gay identity during the so-called Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s) and 1991’s Young Soul Rebels (about racism and youth subcultures in late 1970s Britain). And he shows it in this film too, a sort of biopic-meets-docudrama, released in 1996 and starring Colin Salmon as Frantz Fanon, the Martinique-born Marxist intellectual who became the doyen of national liberation movements around the world before dying in America aged just 36.
Isaac’s particular focus is Fanon’s writings – his 1961 book, The Wretched Of The Earth, is his best known, though the film’s title is taken from his 1952 work about black identity – and also his involvement in the long-running and brutal Algerian war of independence. Using archive footage, dramatic re-enactments and re-imaginings, and interviews with people who knew Fanon (including his brother, his former colleagues and noted cultural theorist Stuart Hall), Isaac paints a fascinating picture of his subject without shying away from showing his flaws and contradictions. Fifty six years after Fanon’s death and 21 years after Isaac’s film, the ideas it contains are still relevant: witness, for example, Julien’s discussion of Fanon’s controversial essay on the veil in Muslim culture. It’s worth watching for Salmon’s performance, as well: a charismatic and handsome performer, it’s easy to see why he was once tipped for the James Bond role. And what would Frantz Fanon have made of that?
Explores the life and work of the psychoanalytic theorist and activist Frantz Fanon who was born in Martinique, educated in Paris and worked in Algeria. Examines Fanon’s theories of identity and race, and traces his involvement in the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria and throughout the world
“Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask does retain and demand respect for its subject, perhaps because he isn’t just talked about but represented. Julien and Nash aren’t interested in turning Fanon’s life into anecdote or melodrama – that’s not why they use an actor – but having Colin Salmon embody Fanon makes the criticism in the film seem like things said to someone’s face, not behind his back. Fanon identified some crucial issues. His admirers don’t expect him to have resolved them.”
“I do not come with timeless truths. My consciousness is not illuminated with ultimate radiances.” Appropriately, the first words uttered by the subject of Isaac Julien’s Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask are elusive. This self-introduction, using language that is seemingly deprecating, even negative, is typically artful, and followed by the philosopher/cultural critic’s unavoidable, real point: “Nevertheless,” he says, “in complete composure, I think it would be good if certain things were said. These things I am going to say, not shout, for it is a long time since shouting has gone out of my life, so very long.”
These “certain things” are arranged here as a kind of puzzle, part biography, part interrogation, part elegy. Alternately disjointed and sinuous, provocative and poetic, the film — screening in select cites as part of a Julien installation called “Frantz Fanon S.A. 1997-2004” presents an idiosyncratic vision of Fanon’s lifelong struggle, as a colonized subject seeking freedom of thought and identity. Using interviews with Fanon’s associates, family, and scholars, the hour-long, 1997 film considers Fanon from his birth in Martinique in 1925 and training as a psychiatrist in Paris, to his work with the FLN in Algeria and death from leukemia in Washington, 1961.
Though Fanon (played here by Colin Salmon, a favorite of director Paul W.S. Anderson, and so best known on U.S. movie screens as a valiant fighter of zombies and aliens) began his professional life as a psychiatrist hoping to “help patients to regain that freedom they have lost in madness.” To this end, the young student went to France, where he came face to face with the colonizing force — the very ideology — that had shaped Martinique’s past and future, and so, the young doctor’s. His arrival in Europe is smartly illustrated in the movie as an overlay of images that simultaneously underlines its own artifice and multiple contexts: Fanon stands before a photo image of the Eiffel Tower and turns to face the “documentary” camera to announce, “You must understand, dear boy, that color prejudice means absolutely nothing to me.” The moment shows that, early on, he has fully absorbed the social and political frames of Western whiteness, colorblind being a privilege afforded only to those in power to say so.
This moment is surely brief. Almost immediately, Fanon will fulfill the role that cultural critic and Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago Homi Bhabha asserts that of the many theorists of his era (including Castro, Marx, and Simone de Beauvoir), Fanon “stood apart,” believing in the efficacy of “pure violence” and emerging as “an avenging angel” against the slave-masters — the “us” who worked so hard and over so many centuries to colonize, contain, and crush a so-called “them.” In his first book, Black Skin, White Masks (published in 1952, originally titled “Essay for the Dis-alienation of the Black Man”), he describes being called out on the street by a French child (“Look mother, a Negro!”), and so, “sees himself being seen.”
Here, as cultural theorist Stuart Hall puts it, Fanon also “sees that the colonizer-colonized relationship is a struggle to the death,” in which the colonizer’s terrible, enduring trick is to deny any “recognition” of the colonized, to refuse to see him at all. Fanon theorized this denial, naming the structure of possession and objectification: finding himself gazed on as an other, he resisted the process by articulating it, and finding in it the interdependence of master and slave. “His gaze,” he wrote, “fixes me in my place,” but the colonizer defines himself in relation to the oppressed (“A white song all around me, a whiteness that burns”). Further, Fanon sees, the relationship is not only about racism, but about desire, the black man’s wearing of a white mask, and the white man’s desire for the black man, to possess him. Observing this sexual dynamic in power relations, Fanon challenged the colonizing gaze on multiple levels.
His own experience must change wit this challenge. He can no longer understand himself as French, or even as Martinican, in the same way he once had. And so, Fanon takes up the search for an alternative identity, a “post-colonial subject,” as well as a community with whom he might feel affinity. As the film has it, he finds this in two very different sites. First, in his love for and marriage to Josie, a white French woman (a relationship the film treats briefly, as it might have embodied what Françoise Verges calls the “desire for whiteness,” but also as a wholly individual event: they fell in love).
The film does not explore this relationship, the family it produced (his son Olivier briefly speaks on being “light-skinned,” and so a source of some “anxiety” for his father), or even the worries about it among Fanon’s political associates. Still, it does present the marriage as a complication, a means to rethink — again — the political absolutes that might have once seemed clear. Is Fanon’s desire for a white woman a sign of his colonialist indoctrination? Is he able to see past race in his personal life? Or is anyone’s identity and desire a function of multiple forces and influences, never to be sorted out wholly or rigidly? As the film puts it, “He was a dreamer perhaps but his dreams born from that nightmare of history, where the third world was neither simply reality nor ideology. No such crude opposition of history and consciousness can represent Fanon’s insight into colonialism and the making of the modern world.”
The second focus for Fanon’s reimagined self has to — initially — with his work. He aligns himself with the FLN in the war for independence in Algiers. While working with patients in Blida-Joinville beginning in 1954, Fanon asserts, “We shall deal here with the problem of mental disorders which arise from the war of national liberation that the Algerian people are carrying on.” Through this therapy, he began developing his theory of the relations among racism, desire, and colonialism, in his book, The Wretched of the Earth. It is here that Fanon’s thinking becomes acutely relevant for today’s realities, as he examines torture, imprisonment, and armed resistance. The film includes reenacted testimonies regarding the infamous tortures of the time (also recalled in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1967 film The Battle of Algiers).
While, as Verges says, “the Algerian fighter was for Fanon the real man,” the film also suggests Fanon was troubled by the incorporation of colonialist tactics in the battle against colonialism. His patients recall the trauma of being tortured and inflicting torture: “We’re not interested in killing them,” says one soldier, “What we want is information.” And so again, Fanon’s work reveals its lasting relevance, as such definitions remain under scrutiny today, as do central questions for Wretched of the Earth, here stated, “Can the peasantry be a revolutionary class? What’s the relationship between armed struggle and revolutionary reform?”
Even more complicated is the film’s framing of Fanon’s controversial essay, “Algeria Unveiled,” in which he describes the uses of deception, “what is veiled and what is revealed.” The essay describes the insurgent situation, in which women — because they can turn the expectation of the veil against their French enemies — were able to move guns and explosives from place to place. It has been read as a “rationalization of Algerian conservatism,” and indeed, Fanon sustained a focus on and celebration of a particularly masculine opposition to colonial forces.
This, then, is Julien’s most compelling insight into Fanon, who has been both reviled and revered, that his complex interrogations of cultural and political affairs are forever entangled with his self-understanding as a “colonized individual” who lived his own revolt. As Fanon “speaks” at film’s end, the story of nationalism and colonialism is laid bare, as a story of power and possession. “Desire,” he asserts, “is the movement of memory: the psyche shrinking back, muscular tension, barbed wire entanglements, and then violence. Violence quickens the petrifying. The act of violence is not the killing field, the orgy of destruction. Violence is the visibility, the shared evil that forces together the oppressor and the oppressed. Violence is the awareness of freedom’s proximity of the fragility of survival.”