Frantz Omar Fanon, the Martiniquais-French psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose works are influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory and Marxism, passed away on this day, December 6, 1961, at just 35 years old. Leukemia was the cause of death.
Fanon's writings include the author’s two critically significant works – Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and Wretched of the Earth (1961) – essentially manifestos presenting a utopian vision of a world in which the colonized frees himself/herself and becomes independent of the colonizer, both physically and mentally. Fanon’s theories were influential during those years, especially on the Third Cinema movement, right from its launch in the 1960s - a time of anti-colonial revolutionary struggles in the so-called "Third World," and rising political movements against the dominance of Western countries. Third Cinema was formed to address the need for a new kind of cinema that critiqued neocolonialism, Western imperialism and capitalism; an anti-oppression stance that challenged the status quo of political and social power around the world that left the "Third World" at a disadvantage.
In keeping with that thrust, as well as in remembrance of Fanon and the influence of his work, on the 56th anniversary of his death, 2 film recommendation widely available that speak to his belief system: 2016's critically-acclaimed and rigorous Concerning Violence and the seminal The Battle of Algiers.
First, after attempting to contextualize the Black Power Movement, in a format more accessible to a new generation – what we call a “mixtape” hence the title The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 – Swedish director Goran Hugo Olsson continued on that same path with Concerning Violence - a work of film art that incorporates the words from Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, using newly-discovered archive footage (as was the case with Mixtape), to explore the most daring moments in the struggle for liberation in the "Third World," illuminating the neocolonialism happening today, as well as the unrest and the reaction against it.
Narrated by Lauryn Hill, the film narrates the events of African nationalist and independence movements in the 1960s and 1970s which challenged colonial and white minority rule. It is also an exploration of decolonization as expressed in Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth.
Director Göran Olsson gathers footage of anti-imperialist liberation movements from the 1970s onward, drawn from the Swedish Television archives, and produces a challenging work that brings us face-to-face with the people for whom Fanon's writings were a reality.
It's worth noting that Concerning Violence was co-produced by politically active actor Danny Glover. The feature documentary is currently streaming on Netflix, and is available on various home video platforms. Check out a trailer at the bottom of this post.
Second, considerably more controversial in its day (it was banned in France for a number of years, for obvious reasons), Gillo Pontecorvo's masterpiece The Battle of Algiers reconstructs events that occurred during the Algerian war of independence from French colonists in the late 1950s.
Recalling its rallying cry: “It’s difficult to start a revolution; even more difficult to sustain one; and still more difficult to win one.” It’s a seminal work of cinema that still very much holds up 50 years later, as quite a visceral thrill, due, in large part, to Pontecorvo’s goal of realistic representation through a distinct grainy newsreel-like cinematography, the use of real locations, and observance of factual information. Pontecorvo and cinematographer Marcello Gatti broke new ground in creating this documentary look that convinced viewers they were watching actual events unfold. This heightened realism, combined with the use of unknown actors and Ennio Morricone’s effective score, instantly created a universally acclaimed classic, which was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Foreign Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas).
Pontecorvo, a political filmmaker moved by the Algerian struggle for freedom, was also influenced by Frantz Fanon, and sought to humanize the struggle against colonialism with the film. If the key text of the time on the subject matter was Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961 with an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre, then we could say that The Battle of Algiers can be seen as a cinematic equivalent.
Embraced by leftist groups like the Black Panthers, it’s even been reported that the United States Department of Defense used the film as a learning tool in matters of guerrilla warfare, to assist during the Iraqi insurgency in the early 2000s.
It’s one of my all-time favorite films, and certainly temporally apropos, in light of uprisings that have been taking place around the world in recent years – notably in Northern Africa, and even here in the USA (think #BlackLivesMatter).
Celebrating the film's 50 anniversary last year, New York-based specialty distributor Rialto Pictures re-release Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece with a stunning new 4K restoration which is now available on blu-ray and comes with wonderful extra features, including interviews with filmmakers Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone who speak on the film’s influence, style, and importance.
Honor Frantz Fanon and his work this week, remember him on the anniversary of his death by watching either or both of the above films. Trailers for each below: