Hardcore racism in the French film industry

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I am a French actress; I studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique. I am a dub actor for theater plays, television and movies. I am a playwrite and a singer songwriter. I am colored. My father is Black and my mother White. I am French and grew up in Normandy. I am very conversant with Angleterre island and speak the local dialect fluently.

On February 16, 2007, I dubbed an American television serial. There were about twelve dub actors, among which were ‘A’ a mixed-race friend and I. During a break, for a reel change, the director asks if we would be available on March 20. Most of us are. At the end of the day, those who are through with their parts leave with the exception of three or four white guys, A, the sound engineer, and I. The director then turns to A and me and says: “I don’t know if there are people like you in the next episode, and since you have perculiar voices, I can’t consider you for everything, you cannot dub White people.”

It should be noted that on the dubbing scene: “Black actors have deep Black voices.” Asian actors have “high pitched Asian” voices. White actors, on the other hand, are fortunate to have a broader range that allows them to dub White, Black and Asian voices. This belief is such that it is not uncommon to hear a White actress claim that she has a “Black voice” without thinking she is being racist, on the contrary, she has dubs Blacks. This industry has a problem with color. Only African American actors are “valued” and as,-I quote-, “there are no good Black French actors” nor “enough diversity” we are forced to hire white actors, who are better.

The violence of racism destroys

We smile. But this violence is destructive. Your history is stolen from you. Out goes the allied disembarkment beaches of Normandy, bye to the milky skinned woman you called mother, bye to your white cousin who would say “I have always wanted to have bi-racial children, it must be because of your brother and you.” Bye to the Conservatoire, Bye Angleterre… you are “Black” which means you are “a human being who is different from us”, you come from “Black-land”. Dumbfounded, we left without the White actors uttering as much as a word.

Later on, I called the director, expressing my hurt feelings and what a voice is about. Answer: “We will not work together again until further notice.” I will write to the dubbing company who will bet on my silence. I will write to the HALDE (Haut Comité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l’Egalité – High Committee for Equality and the Fight against Discrimination). “A” will follow me and later be gripped by fear. I am risking being “black listed”.

I will call some journalists I know. I had already told them about racism in an industry where one is introduced as “a colored version but not too much.”, saying “do not forget you are Black” when an actor forgets about himself while giving precedence to his/her role… This time it is our “perculiar voice”. I address a letter to “Libé” (Libération newspaper) and PPDA (the number one French news anchor and a top journalist) who brought up the question of racism in their interview with Halle Berry, I call France Culture (radio), France 2 (television), my friend Anna (White) tries to convince her journalist aunt: blank.

A useful mobilization

December, HALDE will answer indicating that it cannot look into the case, so I will go to the HCI (Haut Comité pour l’Intégration – High Committee for Integration) where I will be heard. In January, I contact the CRAN (Comité Representatif des Associations Noires – Representative Committee of Black Associations) where my case is heard. I see a journalist from the “Nouvel Observateur” on television. I contact him. He reads the dossier that Anne and I had put together. A dossier which shows that if Whites can dub Blacks voices, the other way round is not true. Practically all the main roles played by African American actors are dubbed by White actors. Of course there are exceptions “which prove the rule”. What is totally absurd is that a Black actors’ voice is regarded as not being “Black enough” wheras a White actor’s voice which is more conformed to prejudicial norms will be preferred. February 14, the article is finally published. HALDE contacted by HCI and the journalist, reopen the case.

The article, written by Olivier Toscer, alongside an action taken by the CRAN attract calls from several media companies including the Times. This is followed by a series of interviews with France Ô, RFO, RFI. None of the “mainstream” French media reacted. One British journal and some “community-based” channels took interest. “Theater must be the grand mouthpiece of society” wrote Roland Barthes. The commentary here is edifying.

I knew the apple trees way before the palm trees, the allied disembarkment beaches of Normandy before those of the Salines (Martinique), I get sun burns “Yes, Black people tan.” I live in Paris, “the metisse” (mixed-race). Why are France 3, France 2, France Inter, France Culture, France Info… not interested in job-related discrimination particularly in the dubbing industry? Why is it that no mainstream media feels concerned by what is behind the images it transmits?

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