‘Too Black to Be French’ Explores Colonial Past, Race and Persistence of Racism in France Today


“Too Black to be French”

From French-Ivorian filmmaker Isabelle Boni-Claverie comes a new documentary titled “Too Black to be French,” which explores the role of race and the persistence of racism in France, as well as the impact of the country’s colonial past, soliciting anonymous individuals to speak on their daily experiences with race, class, discrimination and so-called micro-aggressions.

Through an exploration of her own personal family history, and interviews with historians and academics, Boni-Claverie peels back the layers of race relations in supposedly institutionally colorblind France, unpacking how socio-economic privilege doesn’t mean protection from racial discrimination (the filmmaker grew up in upper class French society).

The film also features interviews with acclaimed sociologists and historians including Pap Ndiaye, Eric Fassin, Achille Mbembe, and Patrick Simon to help contextualize racial history in France, all with the aim to start an urgent conversation on French society’s inequalities and discrimination.

The film continues to tour the international film festival circuit, with recent stops at at the New York African Film Festival and the International Film Festival & Forum on Human Rights, in Geneva.

In 2015, Al Jazeera aired a multi-part series that chronicled the lives of black people in France – a long history of segregation, racism, protest, violence, culture and community building – from the turn of the 20th century until the present day. It was well-received, as I recall. We hoped it would be available online for me to share it here; alas, it’s not (at least, it’s not available for USA audiences).

But, as we recently learned, Isabelle Boni-Claverie’s documentary is actually available in the USA! Women Make Movies are distributing the film on DVD; although it’s primarily being handled as an educational release for academic institutions, so the purchase and rental prices are quite high. But it’s our duty to make you aware of these things, so…

Two clips from the film follow below:


  1. People are often under the illusion that the French aren’t racist the way the Americans, the English, the Germans and the others are. Really?

    • I know that narrative was pervasive when I was growing up. We always heard about black American artists fleeing to France in the 60s, where they were treated with respect. It gave one the impression that France was above the racist fray.
      I now know that racism is as alive and well in France, as it is in the US (and likely everywhere else.) Our African and Arab brothers and sisters certainly experience it in France.

  2. That woman in the audience who rolled her eyes when Sarkozy spouted his rubbish is classic.

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