Yom Kippour/5779: Attention, un Grand Pardon peut en cacher un autre (Yokes and chains: How much more mass immigration will the West have to endure to atone for its historical wrongs ?)

19 septembre, 2018
Et le bouc sur lequel est tombé le sort pour Azazel sera placé vivant devant l’Éternel, afin qu’il serve à faire l’expiation et qu’il soit lâché dans le désert pour Azazel. (…) Car en ce jour on fera l’expiation pour vous, afin de vous purifier: vous serez purifiés de tous vos péchés devant l’Éternel. Ce sera pour vous un sabbat, un jour de repos, et vous humilierez vos âmes. C’est une loi perpétuelle. Lévitique 16:10-31
Parce qu’aujourd’hui, chez les juifs, c’est le Kippour. Aujourd’hui dans le monde entier, tous les juifs, ils pardonnent à ceux qui leur ont fait du mal. Tous les juifs, sauf un. Moi. Moi, je pardonne pas. Raymond Bettoun
Le monde moderne n’est pas mauvais : à certains égards, il est bien trop bon. Il est rempli de vertus féroces et gâchées. Lorsqu’un dispositif religieux est brisé (comme le fut le christianisme pendant la Réforme), ce ne sont pas seulement les vices qui sont libérés. Les vices sont en effet libérés, et ils errent de par le monde en faisant des ravages ; mais les vertus le sont aussi, et elles errent plus férocement encore en faisant des ravages plus terribles. Le monde moderne est saturé des vieilles vertus chrétiennes virant à la folie.  G.K. Chesterton
Aujourd’hui on repère les boucs émissaires dans l’Angleterre victorienne et on ne les repère plus dans les sociétés archaïques. C’est défendu. René Girard
L’inauguration majestueuse de l’ère « post-chrétienne » est une plaisanterie. Nous sommes dans un ultra-christianisme caricatural qui essaie d’échapper à l’orbite judéo-chrétienne en « radicalisant » le souci des victimes dans un sens antichrétien. (…) Jusqu’au nazisme, le judaïsme était la victime préférentielle de ce système de bouc émissaire. Le christianisme ne venait qu’en second lieu. Depuis l’Holocauste, en revanche, on n’ose plus s’en prendre au judaïsme, et le christianisme est promu au rang de bouc émissaire numéro un. René Girard
Nous sommes entrés dans un mouvement qui est de l’ordre du religieux. Entrés dans la mécanique du sacrilège : la victime, dans nos sociétés, est entourée de l’aura du sacré. Du coup, l’écriture de l’histoire, la recherche universitaire, se retrouvent soumises à l’appréciation du législateur et du juge comme, autrefois, à celle de la Sorbonne ecclésiastique. Françoise Chandernagor
Malgré le titre général, en effet, dès l’article 1, seules la traite transatlantique et la traite qui, dans l’océan Indien, amena des Africains à l’île Maurice et à la Réunion sont considérées comme « crime contre l’humanité ». Ni la traite et l’esclavage arabes, ni la traite interafricaine, pourtant très importants et plus étalés dans le temps puisque certains ont duré jusque dans les années 1980 (au Mali et en Mauritanie par exemple), ne sont concernés. Le crime contre l’humanité qu’est l’esclavage est réduit, par la loi Taubira, à l’esclavage imposé par les Européens et à la traite transatlantique. (…) Faute d’avoir le droit de voter, comme les Parlements étrangers, des « résolutions », des voeux, bref des bonnes paroles, le Parlement français, lorsqu’il veut consoler ou faire plaisir, ne peut le faire que par la loi. (…) On a l’impression que la France se pose en gardienne de la mémoire universelle et qu’elle se repent, même à la place d’autrui, de tous les péchés du passé. Je ne sais si c’est la marque d’un orgueil excessif ou d’une excessive humilité mais, en tout cas, c’est excessif ! […] Ces lois, déjà votées ou proposées au Parlement, sont dangereuses parce qu’elles violent le droit et, parfois, l’histoire. La plupart d’entre elles, déjà, violent délibérément la Constitution, en particulier ses articles 34 et 37. (…) les parlementaires savent qu’ils violent la Constitution mais ils n’en ont cure. Pourquoi ? Parce que l’organe chargé de veiller au respect de la Constitution par le Parlement, c’est le Conseil constitutionnel. Or, qui peut le saisir ? Ni vous, ni moi : aucun citoyen, ni groupe de citoyens, aucun juge même, ne peut saisir le Conseil constitutionnel, et lui-même ne peut pas s’autosaisir. Il ne peut être saisi que par le président de la République, le Premier ministre, les présidents des Assemblées ou 60 députés. (…) La liberté d’expression, c’est fragile, récent, et ce n’est pas total : il est nécessaire de pouvoir punir, le cas échéant, la diffamation et les injures raciales, les incitations à la haine, l’atteinte à la mémoire des morts, etc. Tout cela, dans la loi sur la presse de 1881 modifiée, était poursuivi et puni bien avant les lois mémorielles. Françoise Chandernagor
Les « traites d’exportation » des Noirs hors d’Afrique remontent au VIIe siècle de notre ère, avec la constitution d’un vaste empire musulman qui est esclavagiste, comme la plupart des sociétés de l’époque. Comme on ne peut réduire un musulman en servitude, on répond par l’importation d’esclaves venant d’Asie, d’Europe centrale et d’Afrique subsaharienne. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau
A la différence de l’islam, le christianisme n’a pas entériné l’esclavage. Mais, comme il ne comportait aucune règle d’organisation sociale, il ne l’a pas non plus interdit. Pourtant, l’idée d’une égalité de tous les hommes en Dieu dont était porteur le christianisme a joué contre l’esclavage, qui disparaît de France avant l’an mil. Cependant, il ressurgit au XVIIe siècle aux Antilles françaises, bien que la législation royale y prescrive l’emploi d’une main-d’oeuvre libre venue de France. L’importation des premiers esclaves noirs, achetés à des Hollandais, se fait illégalement. Jean-Louis Harouel
Jusqu’ici – mais la vulgate perdure – les synthèses à propos de l’Afrique se limitaient ordinairement à une seule traite: la traite européenne atlantique entre l’Afrique et les Amériques, du XVe siècle à la première partie du XIXe siècle. En fait, jusqu’à la seconde moitié du de ce siècle puisque l’abolition ne met pas fin à la traite qui se poursuit illégalement. Or, le trafic ne s’est borné ni à ces quatre siècles convenus ni à l’Atlantique. La traite des Africains noirs a été pratiquée dans l’Antiquité et au Moyen Age; elle s’est prolongée jusqu’au XXe siècle et se manifeste encore sous divers avatars en ce début de XXIe siècle; elle s’est étendue à l’océan indien et au-delà; elle a été le fait non seulement des Européens, mais des Arabes et des Africains eux-mêmes. Pourtant, le programme de « La Route de l’esclave », élaboré par l’UNESCO et qui visait à briser le silence historique et scientifique observé sur la traite, véhicule, pour des raisons idéologiques (sous la pression des représentants du monde et des états africains), les mêmes distorsions. En effet, l’emploi du singulier (« La Route ») exclut de la reconnaissance et de la construction mémorielle aussi bien la traite interne à l’Afrique, la plus occultée, que les routes transsaharienne et orientale et montre à quel point l’histoire des traites est aujourd’hui un enjeu politique, en raison principalement des réparations que seul le Nord, parmi les régions impliquées, se devrait de verser. Roger Botte
On peut parler aujourd’hui d’invasion arabe. C’est un fait social. Combien d’invasions l’Europe a connu tout au long de son histoire ! Elle a toujours su se surmonter elle-même, aller de l’avant pour se trouver ensuite comme agrandie par l’échange entre les cultures. Pape François
Le Parlement européen a approuvé, le 12 septembre 2018, par 448 contre 197 (avec 48 abstentions), le rapport de l’eurodéputée Sargentini constatant des « risques graves » de violation des « valeurs » de l’Union, selon les termes des articles 2 et 7 du Traité sur l’Union européenne. C’est le début d’une longue procédure qui pourrait, comme dans le cas de la Pologne le 20 décembre dernier, aboutir à l’adoption de sanctions (suspension des droits de vote) pour la Hongrie. (…) Toutefois (…) il est possible que les européistes aient remporté une victoire à la Pyrrhus. Au lendemain du vote, c’est toute l’Europe du groupe de Višegrad (V4) qui risque de se considérer comme mise à l’index. La Pologne, déjà visée en décembre dernier par la procédure de l’article 7, la Tchéquie et la Slovaquie ne peuvent que se solidariser avec la Hongrie au sein du V4. Et la coalition de gouvernement en Autriche ÖVP-FPÖ visée par l’article 7 en 1999 peut elle aussi, à terme, bloquer le processus. Mais surtout, ce revers au Parlement de Strasbourg consacre a contrario le leadership de la Hongrie en étendard d’un mouvement profond sur les échiquiers politiques nationaux qui dépasse le cadres de l’Europe centrale et orientale, comme en témoigne les convergences avec la Ligue de Salvini en Italie ou les Démocrates Suédois à Stockholm. (…) À Varsovie et à Rome, à Stockholm et à Athènes, la Hongrie peut maintenant fédérer tous ceux dénoncent les décisions de l’UE concernant la répartition obligatoire des réfugiés, tous ceux qui prétendent défendre l’identité de l’Europe contre l’islam et tous ceux qui promeuvent un retour des souverainetés nationales. Ce vote peut être le point de départ d’un nouvel élan pour la construction européenne. Il peut aussi devenir l’événement fondateur d’un leadership orbanien dans les opinions publiques des États membres. The Conversation
Dans ce livre, Douglas Murray analyse la situation actuelle de l’Europe dont son attitude à l’égard des migrations n’est que l’un des symptômes d’une fatigue d’être et d’un refus de persévérer dans son être. Advienne que pourra ! « Le Monde arrive en Europe précisément au moment où l’Europe a perdu de vue ce qu’elle est ». Ce qui aurait pu réussir dans une Europe sûre et fière d’elle-même, ne le peut pas dans une Europe blasée et finissante. L’Europe exalte aujourd’hui le respect, la tolérance et la diversité. Toutes les cultures sont les bienvenues sauf la sienne. « C’est comme si certains des fondements les plus indiscutables de la civilisation occidentale devenaient négociables… comme si le passé était à prendre », nous dit Douglas Murray. Seuls semblent échapper à celle langueur morbide et masochiste les anciens pays de la sphère soviétique. Peut-être que l’expérience totalitaire si proche les a vaccinés contre l’oubli de soi. Ils ont retrouvé leur identité et ne sont pas prêts à y renoncer. Peut-être gardent-ils le sens d’une cohésion nationale qui leur a permis d’émerger de la tutelle soviétique, dont les Européens de l’Ouest n’ont gardé qu’un vague souvenir. Peut-être ont-ils échappé au complexe de culpabilité dont l’Europe de l’Ouest se délecte et sont-ils trop contents d’avoir survécu au soviétisme pour se voir voler leur destin. Cette attitude classée à droite par l’Europe occidentale est vue, à l’Est, comme une attitude de survie, y compris à gauche comme en témoigne Robert Fico, le Premier ministre de gauche slovaque : «  j’ai le sentiment que, nous, en Europe, sommes en train de commettre un suicide rituel… L’islam n’a pas sa place en Slovaquie. Les migrants changent l’identité de notre pays. Nous ne voulons pas que l’identité de notre pays change. » (2016) Il y a un orgueil à se présenter comme les seuls vraiment méchants de la planète. Tout ce qui arrive, l’Europe en est responsable directement ou indirectement. Comme avant lui Pascal Bruckner, Douglas Murray brocarde l’auto-intoxication des Européens à la repentance. Les gens s’en imbibent, nous dit-il, parce qu’ils aiment ça. Ça leur procure élévation et exaltation. Ça leur donne de l’importance. Supportant tout le mal, la mission de rédemption de l’humanité leur revient. Ils s’autoproclament les représentants des vivants et des morts. Douglas Murray cite le cas d’Andrews Hawkins, un directeur de théâtre britannique qui, en 2006, au mi-temps de sa vie, se découvrit être le descendant d’un marchand d’esclaves du 16ème siècle. Pour se laver de la faute de son aïeul, il participa, avec d’autres dans le même cas originaires de divers pays, à une manifestation organisée dans le stade de Banjul en Gambie. Les participants enchainés, qui portaient des tee-shirts sur lesquels était inscrit « So Sorry », pleurèrent à genoux, s’excusèrent, avant d’être libérés de leurs chaines par  le Vice-Président  gambien. « Happy end », mais cette manie occidentale de l’auto-flagellation, si elle procure un sentiment pervers d’accomplissement, inspire du mépris à ceux qui n’en souffrent pas et les incitent à en jouer et à se dédouaner de leurs mauvaises actions. Pourquoi disputer aux Occidentaux ce mauvais rôle. Douglas Murray raconte une blague de Yasser Arafat qui fit bien rire l’assistance, alors qu’on lui annonçait l’arrivée d’une délégation américaine. Un journaliste présent lui demanda ce que venaient faire les Américains. Arafat lui répondit que la délégation américaine passait par là à l’occasion d’une tournée d’excuses à propos des croisades ! Cette attitude occidentale facilite le report sur les pays occidentaux de la responsabilité de crimes dont ils sont les victimes. Ce fut le cas avec le 11 septembre. Les thèses négationnistes fleurirent, alors qu’on se demandait aux États-Unis qu’est-ce qu’on avait bien pu faire pour mériter cela. Cette exclusivité dans le mal que les Occidentaux s’arrogent ruissèle jusques et y compris au niveau individuel. Après avoir été violé chez lui par un Somalien en avril 2016, un politicien norvégien, Karsten Nordal Hauken, exprima dans la presse la culpabilité qui était la sienne d’avoir privé ce pauvre Somalien, en le dénonçant, de sa vie en Norvège et renvoyé ainsi à un avenir incertain en Somalie. Comme l’explique Douglas Murray, si les masochistes ont toujours existé, célébrer une telle attitude comme une vertu est la recette pour fabriquer « une forte concentration de masochistes ». « Seuls les Européens sont contents de s’auto-dénigrer sur un marché international de sadiques ». Les dirigeants les moins fréquentables sont tellement habitués à notre autodénigrement qu’ils y voient un encouragement. En septembre 2015, le président Rouhani a eu le culot de faire la leçon aux Hongrois sur leur manque de générosité dans la crise des réfugiés. Que dire alors de la richissime Arabie saoudite qui a refusé de prêter les 100 000 tentes climatisées qui servent habituellement lors du pèlerinage et n’a accueilli aucun Syrien, alors qu’elle offrait de construire 200 mosquées en Allemagne ? La posture du salaud éternel, dans laquelle se complait l’Europe, la désarme complètement pour comprendre les assauts de violence dont elle fait l’objet et fonctionne comme une incitation. Beaucoup d’Européens, ce fut le cas d’Angela Merkel, ont cru voir, dans la crise migratoire de 2015, une mise au défi de laver le passé : « Le monde voit dans l’Allemagne une terre d’espoir et d’opportunités. Et ce ne fut pas toujours le cas » (A. Merkel, 31 août 2015). N’était-ce pas là l’occasion d’une rédemption de l’Allemagne qu’il ne fallait pas manquer ?  Douglas Murray décrit ces comités d’accueils enthousiastes qui ressemblaient à ceux que l’on réservait jusque là aux équipes de football victorieuses ou à des combattants rentrant de la guerre. Les analogies avec la période nazie fabriquent à peu de frais des héros. Lorsque la crise migratoire de 2015 survient il n’y a pas de frontière entre le Danemark et la Suède. Il suffisait donc de prendre le train pour passer d’un pays à l’autre. Pourtant, il s’est trouvé une jeune politicienne danoise de 24 ans – Annika Hom Nielsen – pour transporter à bord de son yacht, en écho à l’évacuation des juifs en 1943, des migrants qui préféraient la Suède au Danemark mais qui, pourtant, ne risquaient pas leur vie en restant au Danemark. Si beaucoup de pays expient l’expérience nazie, d’autres expient leur passé colonial. C’est ainsi que l’Australie a instauré le « National Sorry Day » en 1998. En 2008, les excuses du Premier ministre Kevin Rudd aux aborigènes furent suivies de celles du Premier ministre canadien aux peuples indigènes. Aux États-Unis, plusieurs villes américaines ont rebaptisé « Colombus Day » en « Indigenous People Day ». Comme l’écrit Douglas Murray, il n’y a rien de mal à faire des excuses, même si tous ceux à qui elles s’adressent sont morts. Mais, cette célébration de la culpabilité « transforme les sentiments patriotiques en honte ou à tout le moins, en sentiments profondément mitigés ». Si l’Europe doit expier ses crimes passés, pourquoi ne pas exiger de même de la Turquie ? Si la diversité est si extraordinaire, pourquoi la réserver à l’Europe et ne pas l’imposer à, disons, l’Arabie saoudite ? Où sont les démonstrations de culpabilité des Mongols pour la cruauté de leurs ascendants ? « il y a peu de crimes intellectuels en Europe pires que la généralisation et l’essentialisation d’un autre groupe dans le monde».  Mais le contraire n’est pas vrai. Il n’y a rien de mal à généraliser les pathologies européennes, et les Européens ne s’en privent pas eux-mêmes. Michèle Tribalat

Attention: un Grand Pardon peut en cacher un autre !

En cette journée pénitentielle de l’Expiation

Où pour s’assurer un bon nouveau départ dix jours après leur Nouvel An, nos amis juifs font en quelque sorte leur examen de conscience pour l’année précédente …

Comment ne pas repenser …

A cette institution qui donna au monde le terme et la théorie pour débusquer l’un des phénomènes les plus prégnants de notre modernité …

Mais aussi ne pas s’inquiéter …

De ces étranges perversions des vertus judéo-chrétiennes dont le monde moderne est décidément devenu si friand …

D’un Occcident et d’une Europe qui …

A l’image de ces processions de nouveaux flagellants

Qui des Etats-unis et du Royaume-Uni refont à l’envers le tristement fameux voyage de la seule traite atlantique

Pour, chaines aux pieds et jougs autour du cou, demander pardon – cherchez l’erreur ! – aux actuels descendants des esclavagistes africains

N’ont pas de mots assez durs pour fustiger les erreurs de leur propre passé …

Mais aussi, entre leurs classes populaires et les pays tout récemment délivrés du joug communiste, ces peuples …

Qui devant la véritable invasion migratoire qui leur est imposée, ne veulent tout simplement pas mourir ?

Film follows Camano Island family’s effort to atone
Krista J. Kapralos
Herald
February 19, 2008

“So sorry.”

Members of the Lienau family of Camano Island have walked hundreds of miles, over the course of four years and on four continents, to say those words.

Sometimes, there is more explanation:

“I want to apologize on behalf of the United States for the enslavement of African children,” Jacob Lienau said in 2006, when he was just 14 years old, in a stadium in Gambia.

“We’re apologizing for the legacy of the slave trade, particularly where Christians were involved,” Shari Lienau, mother of nine children, said at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in Everett that same year.

“I wanted to say I was sorry,” Anna Lienau said two years ago, when she was 12 years old and saving money to travel to Africa to apologize.

But most often, there are just the two simple words, and sometimes they’re not even spoken. When Michael and Shari Lienau and their children march, they wear black T-shirts with “So Sorry” emblazoned in white block letters.

It was in 2004 that filmmaker Michael Lienau and his family first joined Lifeline Expedition, an England-based organization dedicated, for the past seven years, to traveling the world and apologizing for the part of white Europeans and Americans in the African slave trade. The expedition has attracted a loyal group concerned with the long-term effects of slavery on relations among whites and blacks. In historic slave ports in the United States, South America, Caribbean islands, Great Britain and Africa, members of the group, including several Lienau children, allow themselves to be chained and yoked together in a jarring acknowledgment of the practice of human trade.

Michael Lienau documented many of the Lifeline Expedition’s trips and recently completed production on “Yokes and Chains: A Journey to Forgiveness and Freedom.”

The documentary will be shown Wednesday at Everett Community College as part of Black History Month.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

See the documentary

“Yokes and Chains: A Journey to Forgiveness and Freedom,” a documentary by Camano Island filmmaker Michael Lienau, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Parks Building at Everett Community College, at 2000 Tower St., Everett.

To see a trailer for the documentary, go to http://www.yokesandchains.com. To read a 2006 Herald article on the Lienau family and the Lifeline Expedition and see photographs, go to http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20060521/NEWS01/605210777.

Voir aussi:

‘My ancestor traded in human misery’
Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Sorry is often said to be the hardest word but Andrew Hawkins felt compelled to apologise to a crowd of thousands of Africans.

His regret was not for his own actions but offered on behalf of his ancestor, who traded in African slaves 444 years ago.

Sir John Hawkins was a 16th Century English shipbuilder, merchant, pirate and slave trader.

He first captured natives of Sierra Leone in 1562 and sold them in the Caribbean. His cousin was Sir Francis Drake, who joined him on expeditions.

Hawkins is famed for reconstructing the design of English ships in the 1580s and commanded part of the fleet which repelled the Spanish Armada in 1588.

‘Family joke’

But it was his drive to acquire and sell African slaves which prompted Hawkins’s distant relation to take his own journey to that continent several centuries later.

Andrew Hawkins, of Liskeard, Cornwall, is a 37-year-old married father-of-three who runs a youth theatre company and claims to be the sailor’s descendant.

« It had always been part of the verbal history of our family, that we were related to Sir John Hawkins.

« It was a standing joke in the family that we had a pirate in the family.

« When I was a child I was quite pleased to learn of this family link and in Plymouth John Hawkins is a bit of a local hero.

« His picture used to be up in a subway there, along with Plymouth heroes. As a boy I used to be pleased to see it and to think I was related to him. »

‘Unjustifiable’

But in 2000 Andrew’s perspective was forever altered when he learned the truth about his ancestor.

« I heard David Pott, from the Lifeline Expedition, speak in 2000 and he mentioned how Hawkins was the first English slave trader.

« It was a bit of a shock and it really challenged me, particularly because Hawkins named his ships things like Jesus of Lubeck and the Grace of God.

SIR JOHN HAWKINS

Born Plymouth, 1535
Cousin of Sir Francis Drake
Famed for voyages to West Africa and South America
Trades slaves in the Caribbean in 1562, beginning England’s participation in slave trade
Helped fight the Spanish Armada in 1588 (Photo: National Maritime Museum)
« That really offended me, particularly the latter name. God’s grace has nothing to do with being chained up in the hold of a ship, lying in your own excrement for several months.

« So often things are done in the name of God that are horrific for mankind and I think God would consider what Sir John Hawkins did to be an abomination.

« It’s quite shocking that he could think it was justifiable. »

Andrew says slavery was never justifiable, even in the 16th Century, when people often say society « didn’t know any different ».

He says: « We don’t try to justify the Jewish Holocaust but this was an African Holocaust.

« We have to face our history and our own personal consequences. I went to show people that I didn’t think what happened was right and not everybody thought it was acceptable. »

Andrew and his fellow members from the Lifeline Expedition made their apology at The International Roots Festival, held in the Gambia in June.

This event, which runs for several weeks, encourages Africans to discover their ancestral identity.

Crowd hushed

The group of 27 spoke up at a football stadium in the capital Banjul, at the end of the festival’s opening ceremony.

They made their way to the stadium by walking through the streets laden in yokes and chains, before eventually speaking their words of atonement.

They included people from European nations such as England, France and Germany but there were also representatives from Jamaica, Barbados, Mali, the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

The apologists walked to the stadium in chains and yokes
« Black people came to apologise because black people sold black people to Europeans, » Andrew said.

Andrew estimates the 25,000-capacity stadium was about two-thirds full, with delegates from African nations, Gambian vice-president, Isatou Njie-Saidy, and Rita Marley, widow of reggae legend Bob Marley, among the crowd.

He says: « The crowd died down to a hush. Some were looking at us, others were reading through their programmes to work out what we were doing.

« One lady at the front must have realised because she started applauding, then everyone did the same.

« That was a moving moment, because I wasn’t sure if they would be happy to see us. »

Multi-lingual apology

The group apologised in French, German and English – the languages of the nations responsible for much of the African slave trade.

It’s never too late to say you’re sorry

Andrew Hawkins
The apology had not been rehearsed. Andrew said: « It’s hard to remember what I said. I did say that as a member of the Hawkins family I did not accept what had happened was right.

« I said the slave trade was an abomination to God and I had come to ask the African people for their forgiveness. »

‘Emotional responses’

Vice-president Njie-Saidy joined them on stage and, in an impromptu speech, said she was « touched » by the apology before coming forward to help the group out of their chains.

Andrew says: « I was really overwhelmed with her generosity because she chose to forgive us, which is a very powerful thing.

« Afterwards people came on to the pitch to talk to us and there were some very emotional responses. »

But does Andrew really believe it was worth apologising for events that happened more than four centuries ago, on behalf of a relative who is so very distant?

« Yes. It’s never too late to say you’re sorry, » he said.

Voir également:

The March of the Abolitionists
Can reconciliation and forgiveness be achieved by wearing the yokes and chains of imprisonment? The abolition marchers believe their 250-mile walk will go at least some way toward promoting a greater understanding of our role in the slave trade.

Campaigners call it ‘an act of apology’ and as such, the March of the Abolitionists is being billed as the first major public event to mark the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

Image: Lifeline Expedition website
Beginning in Hull on Friday 2nd March, hundreds of people will don yokes and chains and attempt the 250-mile journey from Humberside to London – the gruelling route taken by enslaved Africans during the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Marching through the county
The abolition marchers’ route will link up sites throughout the country that played a significant role in the slave trade in the United Kingdom.

In Cambridgeshire, these include Wisbech, the birthplace of abolitionist Thomas Clarkson; Cambridge, where both Clarkson and William Wilberforce were educated; and Soham, where the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano was married.

You’re welcome to walk with the marchers as they pass through your part of the county.

Route details
Monday 12th March – Holbeach to Wisbech
Tuesday 13th March – Wisbech to Wimblington
Wednesday 14th March – Wimblington to Sutton
Thursday 15th March – Sutton to Soham
Friday 16th March – Soham to Cambridge
Saturday 17th March – Cambridge to Royston
Sunday 18th March – Royston (rest day)
Monday 19th March – Royston to Buntingford
The march will culminate in an Anglican Apology event in Greenwich on Saturday 24th March.

Why and who?
The March of the Abolitionists is an initiative of the Lifeline Expedition in partnership with Anti-Slavery International, CARE, Church Mission Society, the Equiano Society, Northumbria Community, Peaceworks, USPG, Wilberforce 2007 (Hull) and Youth With A Mission. The march is also associated with the Set All Free and Stop the Traffik coalitions.

Image: Lifeline Expedition website
Marchers include a number of children aged between five and 15, two of whom will occasionally wear the yokes and chains.  The organisers stress that these children are aged 12 and 15 and have chosen to wear the yokes after seeing pictures of enslaved children.

The march of the Abolitionists aims to bring about an apology for the slave trade, and especially the role of the Church, and so help people deal with its legacy; to raise greater awareness of the true history of both slavery and abolition; remember and celebrate the work of both the black and white abolitionists; and promote greater understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Publicités

Harcèlement en ligne: Les journalistes ne devraient jamais oublier la responsabilité sociale qu’ils ont (As colonialism-themed bar learns colonialism will only yield to greater violence, cyberbullied journalist recalls the media’s social responsibility)

3 août, 2018

 


"Concerning Violence", un documentaire de Göran Hugo Olsson, © Happiness distribution
trump-targetPresque aucun des fidèles ne se retenait de s’esclaffer, et ils avaient l’air d’une bande d’anthropophages chez qui une blessure faite à un blanc a réveillé le goût du sang. Car l’instinct d’imitation et l’absence de courage gouvernent les sociétés comme les foules. Et tout le monde rit de quelqu’un dont on voit se moquer, quitte à le vénérer dix ans plus tard dans un cercle où il est admiré. C’est de la même façon que le peuple chasse ou acclame les rois. Marcel Proust
Pour qu’il y ait cette unanimité dans les deux sens, un mimétisme de foule doit chaque fois jouer. Les membres de la communauté s’influencent réciproquement, ils s’imitent les uns les autres dans l’adulation fanatique puis dans l’hostilité plus fanatique encore. René Girard
L’inauguration majestueuse de l’ère « post-chrétienne » est une plaisanterie. Nous sommes dans un ultra-christianisme caricatural qui essaie d’échapper à l’orbite judéo-chrétienne en « radicalisant » le souci des victimes dans un sens antichrétien. (…) Jusqu’au nazisme, le judaïsme était la victime préférentielle de ce système de bouc émissaire. Le christianisme ne venait qu’en second lieu. Depuis l’Holocauste, en revanche, on n’ose plus s’en prendre au judaïsme, et le christianisme est promu au rang de bouc émissaire numéro un. René Girard
Le colonialisme n’est pas une machine à penser, n’est pas un corps doué de raison. Il est la violence à l’état de nature et ne peut s’incliner que devant une plus grande violence. Frantz Fanon
La violence du colonisé, avons-nous dit, unifie le peuple. De par sa structure en effet, le colonialisme est séparatiste et régionaliste. Le colonialisme ne se contente pas de constater l’existence de tribus, il les renforce, les différencie. Le système colonial alimente les chefferies et réactive les vieilles confréries maraboutiques. La violence dans sa pratique est totalisante, nationale. De ce fait, elle comporte dans son intimité la liquidation du régionalisme et du tribalisme. Aussi les partis nationalistes se montrent-ils particulièrement impitoyables avec les caïds et les chefs coutumiers. La liquidation des caïds et des chefs est un préalable à l’unification du peuple. Frantz Fanon
Abattre un Européen, c’est faire d’une pierre deux coups, supprimer en même temps un oppresseur et un opprimé ; restent un homme mort et un homme libre. Sartre (préface des « Damnés de la terre » de Franz Fanon, 1961)
Je voulais surtout sortir de la spéculation – à l’époque, les livres de Franz Fanon, notamment Les damnés de la terre, étaient à la mode et ils me paraissaient à la fois faux et dangereux. Pierre Bourdieu
Ce que Fanon dit ne correspond à rien. Il est même dangereux de faire croire aux Algériens ce qu’il leur dit. Cela les conduirait à une utopie. Et je pense que ces personnes [Sartre et Fanon] ont leur part de responsabilité dans ce que l’Algérie est devenue, parce qu’ils ont raconté des histoires aux Algériens, qui ne connaissaient souvent pas mieux leur pays que les Français qui en parlaient. C’est pourquoi les Algériens ont continué à avoir une vision illusoire, utopique et irréaliste de l’Algérie (…). Du fait de cette irresponsabilité, les textes de Fanon et de Sartre ont quelque chose de terrifiant. Il fallait être mégalomane pour se croire autorisés à dire de telles absurdités. Pierre Bourdieu
« Concerning Violence » interroge les spectateurs sur le monde actuel, car le colonialisme est une donne fondamentale de la construction de l’Occident. Il s’agit d’une sorte d’essai filmique en 9 chapitres rythmé par la voix de Lauryn Hill. La chanteuse des Fugees, connue pour son engagement politique, a prêté sa voix à Frantz Fanon, en citant des extraits de ses textes. Des entretiens et des archives nous replongent dans l’Afrique d’avant la décolonisation, plus particulièrement au Mozambique et en Angola. Le réalisateur a tenté d’illustrer les propos de l’essayiste martiniquais avec des images tournées par des cinéastes lors des luttes socialistes anti-impérialistes en Afrique. La décolonisation s’est souvent faite dans le sang, avec des guerres d’indépendances menées avec passion par les anciennes colonies. C’est aussi cette violence de la colonisation, qui permet d’expliquer les tensions dans les pays concernés. A travers ce film, le réalisateur a voulu aussi montrer l’écho que pouvait donner les propos de Fanon aux problèmes actuels de nos sociétés. La violence y est encore présente, tout comme elle l’était dans la période de colonisation et la quête à l’indépendance. N’y a-t-il pas une sorte d’hypocrisie entre les valeurs humanistes de l’Occident et cette colonisation violente qui a donné le monde actuel ? France info Martinique
La colonisation est un crime contre l’humanité. Emmanuel Macron
Le truc qu’ont ces joueurs en commun, c’est que si vous retracez leur histoire, leurs ancêtres ont tous appris à parler français de la même manière. Ils ont tous quelque chose en commun. Si on se demande pourquoi leur familles ont commencé à parler français et qu’on remonte leur histoire on comprend vite pourquoi. Trevor Noah
C’est un moment génial de l’histoire de France. Toute la communauté issue de l’immigration adhère complètement à la position de la France. Tout d’un coup, il y a une espèce de ferment. Profitons de cet espace de francitude nouvelle. Jean-Louis Borloo (ministre délégué à la Ville, avril 2003)
Venez, on fait un autodafé du Nouvel Obs avec leur dossier “antisémite” de merde. Medhi Meklat (décembre 2002)
J’espère qu’on m’accordera le crédit de la fiction. Ce personnage [de Marcelin Deschamps] n’a pu exister que sur Twitter parce que c’était justement l’endroit de la fiction. (…) C’était un travail littéraire, artistique, on peut parler de travail sur l’horreur, en fait. Mehdi Meklat
Nous sommes le Grand Remplacement. Sûrement pas celui que les fous peuvent fantasmer. Nous sommes un grand remplacement naturel, celui d’une génération face aux « autres », du cycle de la vie. Nous sommes le présent. Nous sommes le Grand Remplacement d’un système archaïque, qui ne nous parle plus et qui ne nous a jamais considéré comme ses enfants. Nous sommes radicaux dans nos idées : nous irons au bout de la beauté. Nous écrirons quand vous voudrez qu’on se taise, et nous nous battrons quand vous aurez décidé qu’il est l’heure qu’on s’endorme. Nous reprendrons notre place, prise par ceux qu’on autorise à penser. Nous ne voulons parler qu’en NOTRE nom. De NOS gouts et de NOS couleurs. Nous sommes le Grand Remplacement d’une génération qui s’active sur Internet pour contrer les coups bas. D’artistes, seul au front, pour porter tous les combats. De révoltés d’une société qui ne sait plus se regarder dans les yeux et écouter les coeurs qui se battent. (…) Nous n’avions pas peur de créer des réactions puisque nous n’avions été que cela jusqu’ici : il fallait réagir aux approximations et aux humiliations diverses. Tous les jours, nous devions entendre « islam » à la télévision. Nous devions accepter « les débats » qui n’allaient nulle part ailleurs. Nous devions comprendre que « l’islamophobie » n’existait pas et que certains hommes politiques voulaient radier les musulmans de l’espace public. D’ailleurs, nous devions éviter de dire « musulman » pour ne pas effrayer les effarouchés. Téléramadan est né de ces frustrations. De ces « analyses » qui n’apportaient aucune réflexion à longueur de journaux. De ces chaines de télé qui comblaient le vide par l’hostilité. De ces mots qu’on lançait comme des bombes pour faire sursauter les âmes. (…) Il est temps de grand-remplacer ce présent qui nous oppresse, qui nous divise. Nous voulons grand-remplacer le désespoir par un idéal : l’écoute et la réflexion. Téléramadan n’est pas une démarche militante. C’est une démarche politique qui passe par la littérature, le regard et la poésie. Laissez-nous la naïveté de dire qu’on est les potes de personne, mais les frères de tout le monde. Bismillah. [Au nom de Dieu] Mouloud Achour, Mehdi Meklat et Badroudine Saïd Abdallah
Depuis le temps qu’on lutte et espère le grand remplacement de la vieille France Bravo Meklat et Badrou ! Edouard Louis
Sur France Inter, ils ont longtemps relayé la voix des oubliés des banlieues. Dix ans après les émeutes de Clichy-sous-Bois, les jeunes reporters du Bondy Blog nous bousculent par leur ton libre et combatif. Ils sont les invités de “Télérama” cette semaine. Télérama
Mise à jour : Que savions nous des tweets de Mehdi Meklat lorsque nous l’avons interviewé, avec son compère Badroudine, en octobre 2015 ? En aucun cas, nous n’avions eu connaissance de ses messages antisémites, homophobes et racistes, récemment ressurgis des tréfonds de Twitter. Sinon, nous ne l’aurions pas cautionné. Cela va sans dire. Alors pourquoi le préciser ? Parce qu’au regard de ce qu’on sait aujourd’hui, une remarque, publiée dans cet entretien vieux d’un an et demi, prête malheureusement à confusion : « vous participez au bruit ambiant, disions-nous, en publiant sur Twitter des blagues parfois limites »… Sous le pseudonyme de Marcelin Deschamps, Mehdi Meklat postait en effet des plaisanteries en cascade. Beaucoup étaient très drôles, mais d’autres étaient lestées d’une provocation aux franges de l’agressivité, ou d’une pointe de misogynie potache. C’est à cela que nous faisions allusion en parlant de « blagues limite ». A rien d’autre. Avons-nous à l’époque manqué de prudence ? Nous aurions pu passer des heures, voire des jours, à fouiller parmi ses dizaines de milliers de tweets déjà publiés, afin de vérifier qu’il ne s’y trouvait rien d’inacceptable. Mais pourquoi l’aurions-nous fait ? Tout, alors, dans sa production professionnelle (chroniques radio, documentaire, livre), témoignait au contraire d’un esprit d’ouverture qui nous a touchés. En octobre 2015, à nos yeux, Mehdi Meklat n’était absolument pas suspect d’intolérance. Découvrir aujourd’hui ses tweets haineux fut un choc pour nombre de nos lecteurs. Pour nous aussi. Ils sont aux antipodes des valeurs que Télérama défend numéro après numéro, depuis plus de soixante ans. Télérama
« La tolérance devient un crime lorsqu’elle s’étend au mal », écrit Thomas Mann dans La Montagne magique. Meh­di Meklat n’a pas seulement été toléré, il a été porté au pinacle par les organes du gauchisme culturel. Ceux-ci l’avaient élevé au rang de chantre ­semi-officiel de la «  culture de banlieue  ». Soit, pour eux, un mélange de cynisme roublard et de vulgarité ; la banalisation de l’insulte et de la menace ; le sens du «  respect  » dû au plus fort, au plus menaçant, au plus dangereux ; le mépris des femmes et des faibles, la haine des homosexuels. Bref, le côté «  racaille  » dans lequel ces journalistes à faible niveau culturel imaginent reconnaître les héritiers de la bohème antibourgeoise d’antan. Et qui sait  ? Une nouvelle avant-garde pleine de promesses. Il y avait un créneau. De petits malins dotés d’un fort sens du marketing se sont engouffrés dans la brèche. Ils ont compris qu’il y avait des places à prendre dans les médias pour peu que l’on puisse étaler une origine outre-­méditerranéenne et que l’on se conforme aux stéréotypes construits par le gauchisme culturel : «  racaille  », mais politisé. De la gauche qu’il faut. Pas celle qui a hérité des Lumières le goût de la raison droite et du savoir qui émancipe. Non, la gauche branchouille qui a métamorphosé l’antiracisme en multiculturalisme ; l’indifférence envers les origines et les couleurs de peau en autant d’«  identités  » reposant étrangement sur des détails anatomiques ; l’émancipation envers les origines en assignations identitaires. Une gauche aussi into­lérante et violente que ce «  fascisme  » dont elle ne cesse de poursuivre le fantôme. (…) Depuis longtemps, un certain nombre d’intellectuels, comme Pierre-André Taguieff, Alain Finkielkraut ou Georges Bensoussan, tentent de mettre en garde contre un des aspects les plus exécrables de cette soi-disant «  culture de banlieue  » : le racisme, l’antisémitisme. Mais leurs voix étaient couvertes, leurs propos dénoncés, quand ils n’étaient pas traînés en justice, comme Bensoussan et Pascal Bruckner, pour avoir dit que le roi est nu. (…) Il est entendu que, en Europe, en France, le racisme ne saurait provenir que de la société d’accueil. Du côté de l’immigration, il est convenu qu’on en est indemne et qu’on «  lutte pour ses droits  ». En outre, la théorie de la «  convergence des luttes  » implique que les combats des femmes, des homosexuels et des minorités ethniques se recoupent et se conjuguent, sous la direction éclairée d’une extrême gauche qui a trouvé dans ces «  minorités  » son prolétariat de substitution. (…) Mehdi Meklat avait franchi à une vitesse accélérée tous les échelons de la notoriété médiatique : rond de serviette chez Pascale Clark à France Inter, couverture de Télérama avec son compère Badrou («  les révoltés du Bondy Blog  »), «  textes  » publiés aux éditions du Seuil, adoubement par Christiane Taubira, qui a accepté de poser en couverture des Inrocks avec les deux compères sans se renseigner plus avant sur eux. Cette carrière fulgurante vient de dérailler alors qu’elle semblait toucher au sommet. Invité à La Grande Librairie sur France 5, l’«  enfant prodigue de Bondy  » est démasqué pour ses dizaines de milliers de tweets. Le dessinateur Joann Sfar et la journaliste Eugénie Bastié ont lancé une alerte : le héraut de la culture de banlieue avait tweeté des milliers de messages injurieux, menaçants, antisémites. Sous un pseudonyme – Marcelin Deschamps, que bien des gens connaissaient –, il avait appelé à tuer Charb et la rédaction de Charlie Hebdo, à «  enfoncer un violon dans le cul de madame Valls  », à «  enfoncer des ampoules brûlantes dans le cul de Brigitte Bardot. Jusqu’à ce qu’elle vomisse du sang  ». Il appelait à «  casser les jambes  » d’Alain Finkiel­kraut. Ajoutant : «  J’opte pour l’effet béquille pour Finkielkraut, car ainsi il pourra être immobilisé et souffrir dans l’indifférence générale.  » Il a tweeté : «  Sarkozy = la synagogue = les juifs = shalom = oui, mon fils = l’argent.  » Et «  LES BLANCS VOUS DEVEZ MOURIR ASAP  » (pour as soon as possible – dès que possible). On en est là  ? Oui, on en est là. Lentement mais sûrement, le niveau de tolérance envers les intolérants avait monté. La cote d’alerte était atteinte et nous ne l’avions pas vue. Si l’affaire Meklat pouvait au moins servir d’avertissement… Comme on le sait de triste expérience, le sort réservé aux juifs, dans toutes les sociétés, est comparable à ces canaris que les mineurs emportaient dans les mines de charbon. Le canari succombe par asphyxie avant que les mineurs aient pris conscience de la présence de gaz dans la galerie. Lorsque, dans une société donnée, la vie, pour les juifs, devient difficile ou dangereuse, c’est qu’elle est malade et menacée. C’est pourquoi il faut refuser absolument la banalisation de l’anti­judaïsme. Brice Couturier
Lors du traditionnel dîner des correspondants de la Maison Blanche à Washington (…) algré le contexte très formel et la présence de centaines d’invités, journalistes et politiques de tous bords, la comédienne de 32 ans, qui participe d’ordinaire au « Daily Show » de Trevor Noah (…) a (…) étrillé le président américain dans son discours. Seule représentante de l’administration Trump, la porte-parole Sarah Huckabee Sanders en a aussi pris pour son grade et c’est ce qui fait polémique. « Je vous adore dans le rôle de Tante Lydia dans La Servante écarlate », a balancé Michelle Wolf, en référence à ce personnage de matrone sadique interprétée par la sexagénaire Ann Dowd dans la série télévisée d’anticipation. Avant de la comparer au personnage de principal de « La Case de l’oncle Tom », controversé de nos jours car vu comme un esclave complice de ses maîtres… Un peu plus tard, elle s’est moquée de la porte-parole en lançant : « Elle brûle les faits pour s’en faire du fard à paupières » ! Le Parisien
J’ai été expulsée d’un restaurant ! Hier soir, la propriétaire du Red Hen à Lexington, en Virginie, m’a demandé de partir parce que je travaillais pour @POTUS (le président des Etats-Unis, ndlr) et je suis partie poliment. Ses actions en disent beaucoup plus sur elle que sur moi. Je fais toujours de mon mieux pour traiter les gens, y compris ceux avec qui je ne suis pas d’accord, respectueusement et je continuerai à le faire. Sarah Sanders (porte-parole de la Maison blanche)
La porte-parole de la Maison-Blanche va bénéficier d’une protection officielle. Selon CNN, qui invoque deux sources distinctes, Sarah Sanders sera protégée à son domicile dès ce mercredi par le « Secret service ». La durée de cette protection n’est pas spécifiée. Le « Secret service » assure habituellement la protection du président des États-Unis, du vice-président, de leurs familles, des anciens présidents, de la Maison-Blanche et des autres résidences officielles. Les collaborateurs des présidents ne sont en principe pas protégés à leur porte. A l’origine de cette décision, la déconvenue dont Sarah Sanders a été l’objet et qui a fait polémique aux Etats-Unis. Vendredi soir, la « press secretary » de Donald Trump et son mari ont été priés de quitter le restaurant où ils comptaient dîner. La restauratrice et son personnel, opposés à la politique migratoire du président, notamment la séparation des familles de migrants lors de leur entrée clandestine sur le sol américain, les ont priés de sortir. Le Parisien
I was asked to leave because I worked for President Trump. We are allowed to disagree but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm, and this goes for all people regardless of politics. Healthy debate on ideas and political philosophy is important, but the calls for harassment and push for any Trump supporter to avoid the public is unacceptable. Sarah Sanders (porte-parole de la Maison Blanche)
“La Première Plantation” est un cocktail-bar né de l’imagination de deux barmen passionnés, Gabriel Desvallées et Matthieu Henry. Ce nouvel établissement idéal pour une soirée conviviale a ouvert cet été au croisement des rues Bossuet et Professeur Weill. Pas encore trentenaires, les deux compères se sont croisés au cours de leurs carrières déjà bien remplies. C’est d’une rencontre avec la ville de Berlin qu’est née leur envie d’ouvrir leur établissement. Un lieu décontracté à l’ambiance tropicale où l’on déguste des cocktails maison d’après des recettes originales à base d’ingrédients rares, avec une carte qui évolue au rythme des saisons. La maison propose une sélection de vins, bières et cocktails sans alcool. Le Progrès
Envie de déguster un cocktail dans un endroit authentique et différent ? La Première Plantation saura vous satisfaire… (…) Ce bar à cocktails est un endroit vivant avec une atmosphère plutôt industrielle et végétale à la fois. Un mix surprenant où les clients seront accueillis chaleureusement et dans une ambiance assez funky ! (…) Les deux entrepreneurs, Gabriel Desvallées et Matthieu Henry sont des habitués du domaine de la restauration. Sachez que ces professionnels ne vous décevront pas car, avant de se lancer dans La Première Plantation, ils ont participé à plusieurs concours en agitant leurs shakers préférés ! Gabriel Desvallées a été à la 3ème place nationale au trophée du bar en 2014, quant à Matthieu Henry, il est le vainqueur France et finaliste monde à la Bacardi Legacy en 2016. La Première Plantation est un endroit jeune, dynamique, à l’image des deux jeunes hommes. Ils sauront vous faire voyager à travers le décor décalé de leur bar et grâce à leur cocktails. Fourniresto
Une oasis tropicale où la nature a tous les droits ; Un bar sans chichis, magnifique mais à la cool ; on aime la déco tropico-industrielle, qui réussit le pari d’être belle, moderne et pas cliché. Inside-lyon
Chaleur, douceur des îles, parfum des Caraïbes et cocktails au rhum. Plutôt que de parcourir des milliers de kilomètres jusqu’au bout du monde, on vous propose un dépaysant voyage à seulement quelques stations de métro. Prochain arrêt : La Première Plantation. (…) a décidé de changer la rue Bossuet en une majestueuse jungle tropicalo-industrielle. Dans une déco réussie et envoûtante chargée de plantes et arbres exotiques du sol au plafond, La Première Plantation (LPP) est avant tout un bonheur pour les yeux. D’un côté, une luxuriante verdure nous plonge au fin fond de la forêt tropicale. De l’autre, des lampes suspendues et des tuyaux de cuivre créent une ambiance industrielle feutrée dans laquelle se perdre des heures durant. Pour sublimer cette déco de folie, LPP invite ses clients à déguster une immense et succulente carte de cocktails rares. (…) Avec un tel nom, l’adresse se devait de faire honneur à l’alcool le plus exotique qui soit : le rhum. Originaires du monde entier ou faits maison, les rhums made in LPP se dégustent à toutes les sauces. (…) Alors enfilez votre chemisette à fleurs, enfilez vos claquettes (sans chaussettes, pour l’amour du ciel…) et offrez-vous un voyage supersonique à La Première Plantation, ce petit morceau de Bahamas où les cocktails sont encore meilleurs. Le Bonbon
In 2016, Henry was the French representative at Bacardi Legacy; Desvallees came with him to Berlin, where Henry was to highlight his cocktail “The Epicurean.” They discovered the Monkey Bar at the 25hours Hotel, looking out over the Zoo, which would be the starting point of their inspiration for the new bar.(…)  La Première Plantation. The bar is a tribute to their common passion, rum, and a demonstration of their skills and prowess in a classical bar scene largely dominated by two personalities: Marc Bonneton, winner of Bacardi Legacy in 2011, and owner of L’Antiquaire and Redwood, and Arnaud Gosset, the musician barman, owner of Soda Bar, Monkey Club and Casa Jaguar. (…) But it hasn’t all been easy. They’ve had their fair share of hurdles so far, too: “We had to be tenacious to get the funding of our bar because we take the place of a hostess bar. A sulphurous reputation that must now be forgotten.” Such an unseemly beginning could be a sign of greater things to come – after all, the now successful Tiki bar Dirty Dick opened in an old brothel on rue Frochot, in the infamous Paris district of Pigalle. La Première Plantation will be the second Lyon bar specializing in rum after Redwood. The bar is marked by the identity of these audacious owners but also by the new codes of the French bar today: entrepreneurship, creativity, freedom, audacity and aestheticism. (…) It’s still a bit difficult to imagine the décor of this “street bar” with immaculate walls, but the architectural plans show a creative combination. Like a highly exotic trip without the kitsch side of the tiki bar: a real indoor jungle mixing palm trees and hanging succulent plants will contrast with rough walls and exposed beams, giving an industrial feel. “Here, the jungle takes precedence over the city in a colonial spirit of the eighteenth century,” the pair explain. The design is being overseen by Desvallees’s father, an architect. All in all, it’s a totally new concept and atmosphere, which reflects the creativity of a new generation of bartenders operating outside the Parisian landscape. Mixology
Mon nom, La Première Plantation, est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir. (…)[cool] Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. (…) [et la partie esclaves] Ah, on a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes. Gabriel Desvallées
Nous faisons suite à l’article posté le 12 septembre 2017 sur Le Petit Bulletin signé par madame Julie Hainaut. Si nous acceptons les critiques constructives sur notre travail, en revanche cet article appelle de notre part les observations suivantes. Nous sommes ouverts depuis le 21 août 2017, il s’agit de notre première affaire.  Notre volonté a été d’ouvrir un bar à cocktails, un lieu d’échanges, de partages, convivial autour du rhum, sa culture et son histoire.  Contrairement à ce que a été retranscrit dans l’article, notre établissement n’a jamais eu la volonté de faire une quelconque apologie de la période colonialiste, période que nous condamnons. Le nom « Première Plantation » est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre dont le rhum est issu. Ce nom fait également référence au fait que cette ouverture est une première pour nous, une première plante, notre premier établissement. Le mot plantation n’a dans notre esprit aucune connotation péjorative. S’agissant des photos dans les toilettes, ce sont d’anciennes gravures du 18e et 19e siècles de bouteilles de rhum, d’une maison victorienne et d’un champ de production d’ananas, ce qui n’a rien d’offensant envers quiconque. Notre bar à cocktails est un hommage à la culture du rhum et à la culture caribéenne. En conclusion, nous ne pouvons que déplorer que ce quiproquo manifeste entre la journaliste et nous-mêmes l’ai conduite à rédiger un article dont les conséquences sont aujourd’hui gravement préjudiciables pour nous tant sur le plan professionnel que personnel. Nous espérons que ces explications dissiperons ce regrettable malentendu. Henry Matthieu et Gabriel Desvallees (La Première Plantation)
Notre métier c’est le cocktail, nous ne possédons pas un doctorat en Histoire, nous avons donc un gros manque de connaissances à ce niveau là. Nous sommes désolés (…) et n’avons aucune nostalgie de cette période là. (…) Il n’y a pas de photographies d’esclaves, simplement celle d’une maison blanche victorienne, et celle d’un champ d’ananas. (…) le nom du bar va être changé afin de « partir sur des bases saines. (…) Nous sommes les victimes dans cette histoire. Henry Matthieu et Gabriel Desvallees (La Première Plantation)
Les faits rapportés dans l’article ne sont pas, comme j’ai pu le lire, « le fruit de l’imagination de la journaliste qui veut nuire personnellement au lieu » mais bien des faits, justement. (…) Je n’approuve en aucun cas l’appel à la violence envers les propriétaires du lieu. (…) L’interview a été enregistrée. Les propos de l’article sont avérés. Il n’y a aucune volonté de nuire, simplement celle de rapporter des faits et de vérifier l’info, l’essence même de mon métier. (…) Les photos aujourd’hui affichées dans ces fameuses toilettes ne montrent pas d’esclaves. Celle le jour de ma venue, si. Mais la question n’est pas là. La réponse « On a mis des photos dans les toilettes » à la question « Et les esclaves ? » suffit à poser les choses. Julie Hainaut
Si la France se targue d’être le « pays des Droits de l’Homme », force est de constater qu’elle abrite encore en son sein une certaine nostalgie pour des temps coloniaux qui – faut-il le rappeler ? – furent tissés d’atrocités, de crimes contre l’humanité, de pillages et de barbarie. C’est en effet avec horreur, tristesse et déception que nous découvrions ce 12 septembre l’entretien promotionnel donné au Petit Bulletin par Gabriel Desvallées et Matthieu Henry, les propriétaires du bar La Première Plantation. Dans l’établissement nouvellement ouvert, l’article nous décrit deux hommes déterminés à « retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir, […] une période sympathique [où] il y avait du travail ». Nous, des Raciné.e.s, qui sommes issus des migrations mais aussi de quatre siècles d’esclavage, nous, citoyens et enfants des départements français, sommes outrés de constater un tel mépris pour la dignité humaine la plus fondamentale. Par delà les déclarations outrancières des propriétaires, nous affirmons que le modèle d’affaires d’une entreprise qui s’attribue gratuitement, à des fins promotionnelles et décoratives, l’histoire douloureuse de siècles d’oppression, d’exploitation, de sévices et d’humiliations est inacceptable. En faisant de cette histoire leur fonds de commerce, MM. Desvallées et Henry ont décidé d’exploiter ce qui pourrait au mieux être qualifié de négationnisme et, plus raisonnablement, d’apologie de crime contre l’humanité. Au titre de la loi du 21 mai 2001 tendant à la reconnaissance de la traite et de l’esclavage en tant que crime contre l’humanité et de la loi du 29 juillet 1881 sur la liberté de presse, Chapitre IV, Paragraphe 1er, articles 23 et 24, nous rappelons que MM. Desvallées et Henry pourraient être condamnés à hauteur de 45000€ d’amende et cinq ans d’emprisonnement. Pour que ce crime cesse, nous exigeons la fermeture immédiate de La Première Plantation. Collectif Desracinées
Nous sommes à la fois consterné·e·s, en colère et, paradoxalement, désabusé·e·s. Ces propos sont aussi choquants qu’ils sont communs, malheureusement (…) Quant aux personnes qui, comme le prétendent les gérants, ignorent tout de la période coloniale, c’est une preuve de plus que le racisme de notre société est si ancré que l’on se permet d’ignorer des siècles d’histoire et de maintenir la mémoire de peuples entiers dans l’oubli. Collectif Desracinées
La Première Plantation est un bar à cocktails qui a ouvert cet été dans le sixième arrondissement. Une dizaine d’articles de la presse généraliste ou spécialisée a célébré cette ouverture, sans interroger les gérants sur le choix du nom du lieu. Le 12 septembre, une journaliste du Petit Bulletin qui écrit sur les nouveaux lieux « branchés » a questionné les gérants qui ont alors tenu des propos racistes surréalistes en expliquant qu’il souhaitait rappeler l’esprit colonial, « un esprit à la cool », « une époque où l’on savait recevoir »… Certain.es pensaient naïvement que les références au « temps béni des colonies » ou aux « bienfaits de la colonisation » et autres célébrations du « ya bon banania » appartenaient à un temps révolu ou à une autre génération ayant directement participé à la colonisation. Gabriel Desvallées et Matthieu Henry, jeunes trentenaires branchés nous rappellent le contraire. Ces jeunes gens branchés ont choisi de faire du colonialisme la base de leur stratégie commerciale. Ils viennent d’ouvrir un bar à cocktails au 22 rue Professeur Weill, dans le sixième arrondissement de Lyon. Ils l’ont baptisé La Première Plantation. (…) « une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises » (…) « l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir. » On vomit à la lecture de ces propos racistes, qui nient l’esclavage et les violences intrinsèques du rapport colonial infligées par les grandes puissances européennes aux peuples des pays colonisés. On pourrait donc, au bénéfice du doute, penser à l’ignorance des gérants du bar, mais pourtant ce n’est pas fini car ils surenchérissent, entre clichés, mépris et racisme. (…) « une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. » (…) [l’esclavage] « Ah, on a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes. » (…) L’indécence de ces propos est inqualifiable. Et leur violence rend inutile le moindre commentaire. Tout comme le font certains avec l’utilisation du Blackface pour faire rire, La Première Plantation appuie sa communication sur une idéologie fondée sur les clichés racistes. Ceux-ci sont tournés en dérision et même promus par cet établissement dont la démarche commerciale se conjugue avec une vision politique rance et réactionnaire, niant à la fois l’horreur historique de cette période et balayant d’un revers de main toutes les luttes d’esclaves ayant amené à sa fin. En 2017, les gérants d’un bar branché poussent ainsi le cynisme au point de faire de l’apologie du colonialisme et du mépris des ravages de l’esclavage des preuves de leur « coolitude ». De la rencontre du capitalisme hype et du racisme le plus bas du front ne peuvent naître que des horreurs, et elles font peur à voir. On s’inquiète aussi que plusieurs médias se soient fait écho de l’ouverture du lieu, sans rien n’avoir trouvé à redire à ce choix commercial choquant. (…) Nous terminerons à l’adresse des patrons de ce bar qui n’ont rien compris à l’histoire par une citation de Franz Fanon : « Le colonialisme n’est pas une machine à penser, n’est pas un corps doué de raison. Il est la violence à l’état de nature et ne peut s’incliner que devant une plus grande violence. » Rebellyon
While it would have been nice to keep my branding and have an accurate descriptor of the cuisine, I recognize that this is taking the focus off of what I want to do with food. My mission in opening this restaurant is to celebrate the wonderful multi-cultural aspects of food in a beautiful and multi-cultural part of Portland: my hometown, and a city that I love. Highlighting historical recipes and the development of dishes through the light of different countries and their relationships with England was a personal journey for me, after living in Asia and being immersed in a large population of English Expats for 20 years. As I have said, I love history and historic recipes, how food has developed and changed over time, and have developed many of these recipes in conjunction with the people I worked with from all over Asia and England to get them exactly right. So I’m hoping the new name, BORC, is a fun name to represent this concept. It is an acronym for British Overseas Restaurant Corporation and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the precursor to British Airways: BOAC, on which many Expatriates traveled. I’m sincerely hoping that this name change will allow us to focus on serving great food in a warm and positive environment. Sally Krantz
Before it even opened, Saffron Colonial on North Williams caused controversy when many in the Portland community accused it of glorifying colonialism, and now, owner Sally Krantz tells Eater she will change the name of her bakery and restaurant to BORC, which stands for British Overseas Restaurant Corporation. The new name is a play on British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), a former British airline. Two protests have been held at the restaurant formerly named Saffron Colonial, and among the recommendations presented by protestors were that Saffron Colonial change its name and remove all references to plantations from its menus. (…) When Eater asked Krantz whether the restaurant had removed all « colonial » and « plantation » references, Krantz said it had, adding that the words had each appeared only once at the restaurant: once on a chalk sign, and once on a cocktail menu. She says the chalkboard was erased prior to the protest and the cocktail menu was erased in response to the first protest, while the protesters were in the restaurant. Since the Saffron Colonial controversy became public, Ristretto Roasters, who had been the restaurant’s coffee supplier and also sold Saffron Colonial baked goods in its cafes, severed ties with the bakery. Other local companies have been reported to have withheld or stopped distributing their goods to Saffron Colonial, including Steven Smith Teamaker and Ex Novo Brewing. Eater
A new bar in Lyon, France, is drawing anger for its nostalgic use of French colonialism (and its attendant atrocities, including slavery) as a theme. La Première Plantation (“The First Plantation” in English) opened recently in the city’s wealthy and predominantly white sixth arrondissement. Various elements of the bar invoke French colonial activity in the Caribbean, from images of slaves in the bathrooms, to drinks with names like “Trader’s Punch.” The bar’s name references French sugar cane plantations — colonies like Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) were major producers of sugar, and from the mid-1600s, relied heavily on slaves for production and trade of sugar. Official descriptions of the bar say that “you’re not in the heart of Lyon, you’re in a new neighborhood: the Jungle District.”) The bar started drawing negative attention after an article from local journalist Julie Hainaut, who wrote that she found the owners’ explanations of the bar’s concept to be “questionable.” Speaking to Hainaut, owners Gabriel Desvallées and Matthieu Henry said “[they] wanted to revive the colonial spirit, a spirit of coolness, and a time when people really knew how to entertain.” Hainaut wrote that she thought she had misheard (“I thought someone had drugged my cocktail”), and sought clarification by asking if colonialism was “cool.” The owners replied, “In its spirit, yes, it was a nice period.” She then asked about the role that slaves played in French colonization. The owners noted in response that there were pictures of slaves in the bar’s bathrooms. The backlash was swift. The bar’s Facebook (now deactivated) was inundated with negative reviews, and a local anti-racism collective Le Collectif des Raciné-e-s demanded the immediate closure of the bar, launching a petition that now counts thousands of signatures. The petition states that “colonial times were rife with atrocities, crimes against humanity, looting and barbarism… this period should in no way be described as ‘cool’ and used for commercial gain in a ‘trendy’ bar.” The owners wrote a response to the criticism on Facebook, saying that they never intended to be apologists for colonization, and that “the word plantation has no negative connotations in our minds.” (…) Speaking to another local publication, Henry said the bar would change its name in response to the backlash, although with no mention of whether the theme would change. This isn’t the first time an establishment has settled for some sort of colonial theme: in 2016, a Portland bakery-restaurant, Saffron Colonial, faced a similar response, although it arguably didn’t delve into the theme quite so heavily (that is, no pictures of slaves in the bathrooms). Similarly, that restaurant tried to deflect criticism by changing its name to British Overseas Restaurant Corporation, or BORC. Eater
La question de la portée des violences coloniales ainsi que celles des guerres d’indépendance dans l’après, une fois que la colonie s’est défait du joug pesant sur elle parfois depuis des dizaines d’années, comme dans le cas algérien, est couramment appréhendée sur le modèle du traumatisme psychologique, fondant une description en trois temps : traumatisme, oubli, résurgence. Pourtant, la transposition de ce schéma à l’échelle collective interroge : en quoi, pourquoi et comment une société y répondrait-elle ? L’analyse fine de la mémoire de certains événements – comme celle de la répression sauvage de la mobilisation des Algériens à Paris, le 17 octobre 1961 – plaide au contraire pour une approche privilégiant des mécanismes d’ordre socio-politique : la dispersion des groupes ayant vécu cette histoire, leur subalternité dans la société où ils vivaient, la confiscation de la parole par un pouvoir usant politiquement de l’histoire ou encore le confinement du souvenir de la répression dans des groupes ultra-minoritaires, à l’extrême gauche de l’échiquier politique, ont été les facteurs de l’absence de l’événement sur la place publique pendant une trentaine d’années avant que le mouvement antiraciste s’en empare, l’inclue dans son argumentaire et le fasse resurgir à la faveur de son combat contre l’extrême droite. C’est donc à une histoire des usages politiques du passé et à une sociologie des témoins porteurs du souvenir que j’appelle, en tant qu’historienne. À l’échelle de la Cité, il y a occultation volontaire plus qu’oubli, entretien d’une mémoire souterraine plus que refoulement, combat pour la reconnaissance plus que résurgence. Laissons aux spécialistes de la psyché le soin des consciences et des inconscients individuels blessés pour aller, au titre des sciences humaines et sociales, vers un travail collectif de connaissance et de remémoration du passé dans un objectif clair d’éducation citoyenne. Sylvie Thénault
L’article que nous avons publié mardi sur notre site, évoquant le bar La Nouvelle Plantation, a interpellé plusieurs de nos lecteurs, scandalisés par certains des propos tenus par les interviewés. L’ampleur prise par le bad buzz et les insultes voire menaces physiques envers les patrons du lieu qui en découlent nous amènent à revenir sur ce sujet. L’article en question, rédigé par Julie Hainaut, correspond à des faits : elle s’est rendue sur place, s’est présentée en tant que journaliste du Petit Bulletin et les propos cités, enregistrés, ont été prononcés lors de l’interview. Il ne s’agit pas ici de réfuter l’information initiale : nous assumons pleinement notre travail de journaliste et cet article. Pour reprendre une citation fort connue d’Albert Londres, il est de notre devoir de porter la plume dans la plaie. Faire de la période coloniale un argument de communication, c’est une plaie qu’il fallait mettre à jour.  Nous sommes retournés (Sébastien Broquet, rédacteur en chef du journal) voir les deux gérants de La Première Plantation, Gabriel Desvallées et Matthieu Henry, ce jeudi matin. Pour discuter, de nouveau, de leurs propos et de leur positionnement. Nous avons rencontré deux personnes abattues, conscientes de la maladresse totale des propos cités, mais réfutant – et nous les croyons totalement après cette rencontre – tout racisme ou toute ambiguïté de leur part sur l’esclavage. Aucun d’eux n’est raciste ou soupçonné de complaisance envers l’esclavage. Les propos tenus lors de l’interview publiée mardi et le positionnement de leur lieu sont visiblement la conséquence d’une méconnaissance de cette période de l’Histoire, de légèreté sans doute quand à leurs recherches sur cette époque, dont ils ont voulu mettre en valeur l’esthétique par leur décoration et surtout, leur passion : le rhum. Nous avons aussi vu les photographies affichées dans les toilettes : contrairement à ce qui est déclaré dans l’interview par eux-mêmes (et retranscrit par nous), nous n’avons pas vu ce matin de photos d’esclaves mais deux clichés encadrés : une maison de maître victorienne et un champ d’ananas. Dépassés par la maladresse de leur propos, ils ne méritent certainement pas la violence du traitement qui leur est infligé aujourd’hui. Il était de notre devoir de journaliste d’écrire ce malaise ressenti par l’utilisation d’éléments évoquant l’époque coloniale pour décrire leur bar et son ambiance. Manipuler ces références à une époque douloureuse de l’histoire de France était pour le moins malvenu d’autant que le sujet est sensible et aujourd’hui débattu au plus haut niveau : le Président de la République lui-même l’a clairement exprimé avant l’été (…) Les réseaux sociaux ont transformé cette information en vindicte populaire contre La Première Plantation : c’est indéfendable. Sébastien Broquet
Tout démarre avec une chronique publiée dans le Petit Bulletin, hebdo culturel/loisirs (par ailleurs partenaire de Rue89Lyon), intitulée « La Première Plantation, ou l’art de se planter ». Dans sa rubrique dédiée aux restos et bons spots, il n’y a habituellement que des plans recommandés par la rédac. Après sa visite, la journaliste sort estomaquée de son entrevue avec les néo-entrepreneurs. Ce ne sont pas les cocktails au rhum qui ne passent pas, mais les propos du duo. Elle retranscrit leur projet dans les citations attribuées à l’un des deux patrons (…) Après les échanges traditionnels avec la rédaction en chef, qu’impose le circuit de tout article de presse, il est décidé de publier le papier. Mais la désinvolture avec laquelle les barmen ont répondu choque et sont repris dans la presse en ligne. De grosses salves de critiques mais aussi d’insultes, telles que le web sait les multiplier, sont écrites notamment sur la page Facebook de la Première plantation (elle a été complètement supprimée depuis). Des menaces pleuvent également. Le débat passe par moult circonvolutions : « oui mais les cocktails sont-ils bons ? » ; « comment ça, l’assiette végé n’est pas assez copieuse ? », etc. La journaliste, qui collabore en tant que pigiste avec le Petit Bulletin, n’est pas épargnée : elle est accusée de façon lapidaire et violente de vouloir nuire personnellement au lieu ou encore tout simplement de mentir. Après un rendez-vous avec le rédacteur en chef, les patrons du bar se fendent d’un droit de réponse, sans tellement de fioritures ni plus d’explications sur le fond  (…) Les jeunes barmen continuent de patauger, en parlant d’ « invitation au voyage et à l’exotisme ». Avant de déplorer, évidemment, « les conséquences […] préjudiciables [pour eux] tant sur le plan professionnel que personnel ». Le rédacteur en chef du Petit Bulletin fait, en introduction du droit de réponse, cette analyse : « Les propos tenus lors de l’interview publiée mardi et le positionnement de leur lieu sont visiblement la conséquence d’une méconnaissance de cette période de l’Histoire, de légèreté sans doute quand à leurs recherches sur cette époque. » Pas racistes, les petits gars, mais juste ignorants. Reste que la polémique ne désenfle pas, s’amplifie même avec les partages sur les réseaux sociaux. Les soutiens du bar sont parfois des personnes se présentant le bras levé ou tenant eux-mêmes des propos racistes, ce qui dessert encore la volonté des tenanciers de ne pas passer pour des défenseurs du colonialisme. La journaliste et le rédacteur en chef trouvent leurs soutiens mais voient aussi leur travail descendu en flèche, devant assurer le service anti-trolls (qu’il ne faut pas nourrir, on le sait) très chronophage. Depuis la parution de l’article sur La Première Plantation hier, des centaines de commentaires inondent les réseaux sociaux. La chroniqueuse parvient à conserver son calme et à tenter de donner des explications, toujours via les réseaux sociaux : Une pétition a finalement été lancée par le collectif Des Raciné.e.s contre « l’apologie de l’esclavagisme à Lyon », pointant directement le bar, et a recueilli en quelques heures, ce vendredi matin, plus de 3300 signatures. Le bar la Première Plantation a certes fait parler de lui mais s’est en effet bien planté. Dalya Daoud
« Ce nouvel établissement idéal pour une soirée conviviale a ouvert cet été », écrivait le 11 septembre Le Progrès, à propos d’un nouveau bar lyonnais, « La Première Plantation ». Une première publicité plutôt élogieuse pour ce bar à cocktails du 6e arrondissement de la ville, qui a ouvert ses portes le 21 août. Mais entre temps, un autre article a été publié dans Le Petit Bulletin de Lyon, offrant une bien moins bonne publicité au bar. La journaliste qui a écrit l’article en question cite les deux créateurs du lieu racontant comment le nom du bar a été choisi. « Mon nom, La Première Plantation, est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir », expliquent-t-ils face à la journaliste qui dit être « restée interdite » et lui demande, « indignée », « c’était cool, la colonisation? » Réponse: « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante ». Et de préciser que des photos d’esclaves sont affichées dans les toilettes. Les propos n’ont pas manqué de scandaliser sur les réseaux sociaux, qui accusent le bar de faire l’apologie de la colonisation et de l’esclavage. (…) Les gérants ont répondu aux critiques ce jeudi sur Facebook, expliquant n’avoir « jamais eu la volonté de faire une quelconque apologie de la période colonialiste, période que nous condamnons ». Ils précisent que « le mot plantation n’a dans notre esprit aucune connotation péjorative » ou encore que « notre bar à cocktails est un hommage à la culture du rhum et à la culture caribéenne ». (…) Contacté par Le HuffPost, Matthieu Henry, l’un des deux créateurs du lieu, regrette cette polémique et ne cautionne pas tous les dires de la journaliste. « Nous n’avons pas voulu dire ces choses-là dans ce sens-là. Nous ne voulons en aucun cas faire l’apologie de l’esclavage mais de celle du rhum, de la culture caraïbéenne », précise-t-il. Par le « à la cool » cité dans l’article du Petit Bulletin, il voulait « parler du bar, du service, de notre attitude ». Il dément aussi que des photos d’esclaves soient affichées dans les toilettes. « Il s’agit de gravures de bouteilles de rhum, de champs d’ananas », ajoute-t-il. Huffington Post
« L’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir ». Le bar à cocktail lyonnais « La Première plantation » est accusé de faire l’apologie de l’esclavage après des propos rapportés par une journaliste. (…) « La Première Plantation ». Sur le coup, on a pensé à une blague un peu douteuse, voire carrément déplacée… Mais non, c’est bien comme ça que des barmans du 6e arrondissement de Lyon ont décidé d’appeler leur nouveau bar à cocktails en « référence aux plantations de canne à sucre dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir », expliquent les deux gérants dans un article du Petit Bulletin paru mardi 12 septembre. S’ensuit un dialogue surréaliste : alors que la journaliste demande des explications concernant la qualification de « cool », les gérants assument : « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. » Quid des esclaves et des atrocités commis à leur égard ? « On a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes ». Des propos qui laissent paraître une nostalgie du temps des colonies, tout en s’en servant comme argument marketing. Face aux vives réactions déclenchées sur la toile, la journaliste à l’origine de l’article a tenu à préciser, via Twitter, que les propos rapportés sont bel et bien authentiques : «Les faits rapportés dans l’article ne sont pas, comme j’ai pu le lire, ‘le fruit de l’imagination de la journaliste qui veut nuire personnellement au lieu’ mais bien des faits, justement. Je n’approuve en aucun cas l’appel à la violence envers les propriétaires du lieu ». Elle précise aussi avoir bien vu les photos en question dans les toilettes. Contactés par Les Inrockuptibles, les gérants de La Première Plantation fustigent « le manque de bon sens de la journaliste qui nous [leur] a posé des questions à 19h, en plein moment de rush ». « Nous écoutions à peine les questions car nous devions servir les clients en même temps », expliquent-ils avant d’ajouter : »Notre métier c’est le cocktail, nous ne possédons pas un doctorat en Histoire, nous avons donc un gros manque de connaissances à ce niveau là ». Tous deux se disent « désolés » de la tournure qu’a pris cette polémique et assurent n’avoir « aucune nostalgie de cette période là ». Concernant les photographies disposées dans les toilettes ils expliquent : « Il n’y a pas de photographies d’esclaves, simplement celle d’une maison blanche victorienne, et celle d’un champ d’ananas ». Ils nous assurent que le nom du bar va être changé afin de « partir sur des bases saines ». Et concluent par : « Nous sommes les victimes dans cette histoire ». De son côté la journaliste confirme avoir bien vu des photos d’esclaves, et assure que l’interview a été enregistrée. A la suite de la publication de l’article, le collectif des Raciné.e.s, une association féministe et décoloniale lyonnaise, a lancé une pétition en ligne (signée par 3 500 personnes à l’heure où nous écrivons ces lignes), notamment co-signée par la journaliste Amandine Gay, la créatrice de Paye ta Shnek Anaïs Bourdet, le youtubeur Usul, ou encore les journalistes Sihame Assbague, et Johanna Luyssen (Libération). (…) Contacté par Les Inrockuptibles, le collectifdes Raciné.e.s se dit « à la fois consterné·e·s, en colère et, paradoxalement, désabusé·e·s ». (…) De son côté, Le Petit Bulletin a publié ce jeudi soir une mise au point et a laissé un droit de réponse aux gérants de « La Première Plantation ». Les Inrocks
L’enjeu, c’est de faire savoir qu’il y a des vrais gens d’un côté et de l’autre du clavier. Lorsque Nadia Daam reçoit des menaces de mort, cela n’a rien de virtuel pour elle. Et cela n’aura rien de virtuel non plus pour ses harceleurs, lorsqu’ils seront en chair et en os à la barre du tribunal. C’est la fin du virtuel et l’irruption du réel. Eric Morain
Le harcèlement en ligne est un phénomène qui se propage à l’échelle mondiale et qui constitue aujourd’hui l’une des pires menaces contre la liberté de la presse. On découvre que les guerres de l’information ne sont pas menées seulement entre pays sur le plan international mais que les prédateurs du journalisme mettent en place des armées de trolls pour traquer et affaiblir tous ceux qui recherchent honnêtement les faits. Ces despotes laissent leurs mercenaires cibler les journalistes et leur tirer dessus à balles réelles sur le terrain virtuel comme d’autres le font sur les terrains de guerre. Christophe Deloire (Reporters sans frontières)
Nous demandons à ce qu’une enquête approfondie soit menée sur les menaces en ligne reçues par Julie Hainaut. Au moment où les autorités légifèrent sur les violences sexistes et sexuelles parmi lesquelles figure le cyber-harcèlement, il est fondamental qu’elles prennent la mesure de la gravité de cette nouvelle menace qui pèse sur les journalistes. Les campagnes d’insultes, les menaces, la diffusion d’informations personnelles détournées dans l’objectif de nuire… toutes ces cabales en ligne ont pour objectif de faire taire les journalistes. Elodie Vialle (RSF)
Alors que s’ouvre mardi le procès de deux cyber-harceleurs de la journaliste française Nadia Daam, Reporters sans frontières (RSF) regrette que la plupart des cas de harcèlement en ligne de journalistes ne donnent lieu à aucune poursuite judiciaire. Une condamnation « juste mais ferme ». C’est ce que réclame la journaliste française Nadia Daam à l’encontre des deux cyber-harceleurs poursuivis parmi les sept identifiés, ce mardi 5 juin devant le tribunal correctionnel de Paris. En novembre dernier, la journaliste avait porté plainte après avoir été victime de menaces en ligne à la suite de l’une de ses chroniques sur Europe1, dans laquelle elle dénonçait les méthodes de trolls. (…) Si RSF salue la tenue de ce procès, l’organisation rappelle que d’autres journalistes attendent toujours qu’une suite judiciaire soit donnée à leur affaire. C’est le cas de Julie Hainaut. En septembre dernier, la journaliste lyonnaise se retrouve plongée au coeur d’une tempête médiatique d’une violence inouïe pour avoir rapporté et désapprouvé, dans le petit Bulletin de Lyon, les propos néo-colonialistes des tenanciers d’un nouveau bar, “la première plantation”. “Je suis inondée d’insultes et de menaces. Ils “cherchent mon adresse”[…] Je respire difficilement, je dors peu. J’ai peur”, témoigne-t-elle dans Libération. Elle reçoit alors un courrier de soutien du ministre de l’Intérieur Gérard Collomb et porte plainte à trois reprises. Depuis, plus rien. “Je ne me sens pas écoutée”, témoigne la journaliste qui a reçu en mars de nouvelles menaces. Et a dû porter plainte de nouveau. (…) RSF observe de plus en plus de cas de cyber-harcèlement. Un phénomène qui existe dans quasiment tous les pays et touche prioritairement les femmes journalistes et les journalistes d’investigation. RSF a ainsi récemment appelé les autorités indiennes à protéger Rana Ayyub, une journaliste d’investigation indienne victime de campagnes de harcèlement en ligne menées par les armées de trolls du Premier ministre indien Narendra Modi. RSF
Jeudi 26 juillet, Reporters Sans Frontières a publié un rapport intitulé « Harcèlement en ligne des journalistes : quand les trolls lancent l’assaut ». Celui-ci entendait, comme son nom l’indique, alerter sur les « trolls » usant d’injures et de menaces vis-à-vis des gens de la profession. Mais il avait aussi et surtout pour objet de dénoncer les Etats ayant une politique peu amène vis-à-vis du concept de liberté de la presse, en analysant plus spécifiquement leurs stratégies informatiques. (…) En revanche, on ne manquera pas de sourire devant les stratégies humoristiques mises en œuvre par les rédacteurs du rapport pour discréditer ceux qui n’ont pas leurs faveurs : par exemple, Donald Trump, évoqué dans un hasardeux photomontage page 17, voyant Hassan Rohani, Vladimir Poutine, Xi Jinping et Nicolas Maduro le congratuler pour ses déclarations sur les médias. En légende, on lit : « ‘Bravo Donald !’ : les prédateurs de la liberté de la presse saluent les efforts de Donald Trump pour dénigrer les journalistes ». La coalition des méchants despotes contre la presse libre et indépendante, c’est un peu gros, mais après tout, on ne s’offusquera pas : c’est de bonne guerre. Plus pernicieuse est la confusion volontaire faite entre les journalistes et les militants droits-de-l’hommistes. La figure du journaliste, censé être là pour informer ses concitoyens sur ce qui se passe autour d’eux, se mêle dans une brume évanescente à l’idée romancée du courageux justicier luttant contre la dictature. Le rapport de RSF n’a pas manqué d’être diffusé immédiatement par la presse. On a ainsi vu proliférer jeudi des articles parfaitement interchangeables, reprenant avec une unanimité confondante les différents points qui avaient été résumés dans une dépêche AFP. Tous les grands médias se sont ainsi saisis du sujet du cyberharcèlement des confrères, notamment quand il s’agit de consœurs. Découvre-t-on la lune ? Pas chez Causeur, où la polémique sur le Manifeste des 343 salauds contre la pénalisation des clients de prostituées avait provoqué une polémique pas toujours civilisée. Ainsi, le site « 343 connards » recensait les noms et les photos (mais pas les adresses, il y a des bottins pour ça) des méchants pétitionnaires et fournissait même un kit d’injures prêt à l’emploi sur Twitter. Il n’y avait plus qu’à cliquer sur leur photo pour que les individus incriminés reçoivent ce message lyrique : « Salut XXX, aucune femme n’est ta pute, connard!».Au rythme de plusieurs dizaines de tweets par jour, est-ce du harcèlement ? Les auteurs de ce site qualifieraient sans doute plutôt leur geste d’ « initiative citoyenne », nimbés de leurs certitudes de militants féministes. Tout comme, à l’époque, les médias qui relayaient l’adresse du site d’insultes, comme pour inviter à passer y faire un tour. Des médias qui montrent aujourd’hui une si touchante résolution à dénoncer, à la suite de RSF, le cyberharcèlement lorsqu’il touche des journalistes… innocents. Gabrielle Périer (Causeur)
Forcément, les propos ont fait le tour du web. Sur la base de cet article, sont tombées des centaines de réactions outrées, dénonçant une « audace crasse », une « apologie de l’esclavagisme », une « horreur déprimante ». La page Facebook du lieu, qui a dû fermer depuis, a reçu un torrent d’insultes ou de commentaire négatifs. Des collectifs se sont aussi emparés de l’histoire, y voyant « une nouvelle manière de décomplexer la #négrophobie tout en faisant autrement l’apologie de la colonisation et de l’esclavage-négrier-occidentalo-chrétien ».  Le collectif Des Racinés a lancé une pétition, demandant la fermeture du lieu. « En faisant de cette histoire leur fond de commerce, les gérants ont décidé d’exploiter ce qui pourrait au mieux être qualifié de négationnisme et, plus raisonnablement, d’apologie de crime contre l’humanité », estime-il.  Ont aussi fleuri des appels à la violence contre les deux gérants. Devant la tempête, d’autres tentent de raison garder. Et de tenter de discerner le vrai du faux. Comme Romain Blachier, élu local, qui a décidé de se « faire son idée par moi-même ».  Après entrevue, il penche pour l’ignorance des deux patrons, il est vrai, particulièrement malheureuse lorsqu’on se lance dans une affaire comme celle-là. « Ils m’ont confirmé être opposés au colonialisme, condamner tout racisme et ont sans doute été un peu maladroits et pas très au fait de l’Histoire tragique du colonialisme », écrit l’élu sur Facebook. Ont-ils eux-mêmes été dépassés par l’ampleur du bad buzz qu’ils ont contribué à créer ? En tout cas, ils condamnent les réactions disproportionnées. Deux jours après, les journalistes du Petit bulletin ont mis en ligne un nouvel article, de mise au point.  Le rédacteur en chef explique être retourné dans le café pour s’expliquer. « Il ne s’agit pas ici de réfuter l’information initiale », précisent les journalistes sur leur site. « Nous assumons pleinement notre travail de journaliste et cet article […]. Faire de la période coloniale un argument de communication, c’est une plaie qu’il fallait mettre à jour. » Et détaillent leur entrevue avec les deux gérants : « Nous avons rencontré deux personnes abattues, conscientes de la maladresse totale des propos cités, mais réfutant – et nous les croyons totalement après cette rencontre – tout racisme ou toute ambiguïté de leur part sur l’esclavage. Aucun d’eux n’est raciste ou soupçonné de complaisance envers l’esclavage », précise le Petit bulletin. Pour eux, le diagnostic est formel : « Les propos tenus lors de l’interview publiée mardi et le positionnement de leur lieu sont visiblement la conséquence d’une méconnaissance de cette période de l’Histoire, de légèreté sans doute quant à leurs recherches sur cette époque, dont ils ont voulu mettre en valeur l’esthétique par leur décoration et surtout, leur passion : le rhum. » Précision, aussi, sur les »photos d’esclaves » dans les toilettes mentionnées par les barmans, que les journalistes ont retranscrit : les journalistes sont allés voir, et « n’ont pas vu de photos d’esclaves mais deux clichés encadrés : une maison de maître victorienne et un champ d’ananas », reconnaissent les journalistes. Qui plaident donc pour la clémence envers les deux gérants : « Dépassés par la maladresse de leur propos, ils ne méritent certainement pas la violence du traitement qui leur est infligé aujourd’hui. Il était de notre devoir de journaliste d’écrire ce malaise ressenti par l’utilisation d’éléments évoquant l’époque coloniale pour décrire leur bar et son ambiance », mais « les réseaux sociaux ont transformé cette information en vindicte populaire contre La Première Plantation : c’est indéfendable. » LCI
Julie Hainaut, qui chronique entre autres l’ouverture de nouveaux spots dans la ville, avait pointé l’attitude désinvolte de jeunes patrons d’un bar à rhum qui estimaient que l’esthétique de la colonisation était « plutôt cool ». Les tenanciers du lieu s’en étaient alors pris plein la figure et, depuis, ils ont tenté de faire amende honorable ; pendant ce temps, Julie Hainaut est quant à elle devenue la cible d’attaques de la part d’internautes racistes et/ou d’écervelés oisifs, de harceleurs. Un site clairement revendiqué « super-raciste », intitulé democratieparticipative, s’est montré le plus virulent. On trouve sur cette plateforme hébergée en dehors de la France une multitude d’articles injurieux et répréhensibles pénalement. Ceux qui concernent Julie Hainaut n’ont de cesse de ré-apparaître. Au climax, le conseiller spécial de Gérard Collomb -ministre dont personne ne peut ignorer l’origine lyonnaise– avait joint Rue89Lyon pour expliquer que l’affaire était prise très au sérieux. Le procureur de la République de Lyon n’a pas su de quoi il retournait lorsque nous l’avions joint. La DILCRAH (Délégation Interministérielle à la Lutte Contre le Racisme, l’Antisémitisme et la Haine anti-LGBT) a aussi été informée, mais semble tourner autour de sa propre impuissance. Julie Hainaut est régulièrement contactée par des personnes harcelées sur le web, lui demandant conseil ou aide. Ces derniers temps, elle voit aussi un entourage plus ou moins proche, las ou inquiet, lui demander de « lâcher l’affaire ». Dalya Daoud
Je me suis retrouvée au cœur d’une tempête numérique et médiatique d’une violence inouïe. Très vite, une quinzaine de médias ont relayé l’information, avec parfois des titres bien plus accrocheurs qu’informatifs, et parfois des propos déformés qui n’avaient au final plus beaucoup de rapport avec l’article initial. Au risque de me répéter, les mots ont un sens. Sur les réseaux sociaux, les simples commentaires sont devenus des appels à la haine. Contre les barmen d’abord, ce que je désapprouve fermement, bien évidemment. Contre moi ensuite. Le 16 septembre, le site néonazi démocratieparticipative.biz publie un article intitulé «Lyon : une pute à nègres féministe veut détruire un bar à rhum « colonialiste », mobilisation !». Vient alors le temps des mots dénués de sens. Parce qu’à un moment, leur en donner, c’est leur faire trop d’honneur. Les fines plumes du site évoquent la «vaginocratie négrophile», me qualifient – entre autres – de «grosse pute», «vermine», «putain à nègre hystérique», «femelle négrophile», «hyène puante» et appellent à inonder mon fil Twitter et ma boîte mail, en dévoilant des photos volées, le tout illustré – entre autres – par une vidéo de Goebbels et un GIF d’Hitler. Je dépose immédiatement une plainte pour injure publique et diffamation. Je suis inondée d’insultes et de menaces. Ils «cherchent mon adresse». Je complète ma plainte pour harcèlement. Je respire difficilement, je dors peu, j’ai peur. «Il ne faut pas le dire, Julie, sinon ils ont gagné». Tant pis, je le dis. J’ai peur. Un élan de soutien émerge sur Twitter. Ça fait du bien. Le site est signalé sur Pharos (la Plateforme d’harmonisation, d’analyse, de recoupement et d’orientation des signalements du ministère de l’Intérieur) et ferme. Puis renaît. Deux autres articles sont publiés. Il est désormais question de ma «négrophilie pathologique». Et c’est reparti. «Hyène terroriste», «pue-la-pisse», «prostituée». Vous en voulez encore ? J’en ai en stock. «Obsédée par les nègres», «serpillière à foutre africain». J’ai la nausée. Je complète néanmoins une nouvelle fois ma plainte, j’y dépose de nouvelles pièces, de nouveaux mots. Le site est signalé une nouvelle fois sur Pharos mais réapparaît par intermittence. Savoir de quoi l’esthétisation de la période coloniale est le symptôme ne fait pas partie de mon domaine de compétence. Mais je sais que les mots ont un sens. Entre autres parce qu’ils provoquent des émotions. Et on sous-estime bien trop souvent leur haut pouvoir en nitroglycérine. Depuis une semaine, certains m’ont réconfortée, d’autres m’ont outrageusement blessée. J’ai vu des personnes applaudir, ravies de ce ramassis sexiste, raciste, diffamatoire et injurieux menaçant la liberté d’expression et mon intégrité physique tout en appelant à la violence sous fond d’apologie du nazisme. Tous ces mots pour mes mots à moi. Enfin, surtout leurs mots à eux. C’était assourdissant, tous ces mots. Pour tenir bon, j’ai dû très vite apprendre à vider de leur sens ceux qui m’écorchent et à voir toute la force que me confèrent ceux, mille fois plus nombreux, que m’adressent des inconnus en soutien. Les mots ont un sens. Et c’est avec justesse qu’ils se doivent d’être choisis. Parce que des petits mots tout bêtes peuvent devenir de grosses blessures. Ces mots sur la partie la moins glorieuse de notre histoire, celle durant laquelle l’on enchaînait des humains, on les mutilait et pillait leur pays. Ou ces mots pour me décrire. Des mots d’une violence misogyne inouïe. Des mots tout sales et humiliants, pour se venger de celle qui les rapporte. Un peu de respect pour les mots. Ils sont puissants. Et dans ce flot d’insultes et de menaces de mort, le pouvoir des mots gentils m’est apparu comme une bouée de sauvetage. Merci pour vos mots, en réaction aux miens. J’ai appris que le meilleur est mille fois plus puissant que le pire. Mes batteries sont rechargées. Au boulot. Julie Hainaut
J’ai reçu un mail avec les sempiternelles « sale pute à nègre » et « traitresse à ta race », une dose de « on sait qui tu es et où tu vis, tu vas passer les années à venir la peur au ventre », et un charmant « Sieg Heil » (salut fasciste) en conclusion. C’était juste avant de me rendre à Grenoble pour recevoir le prix « Coup de cœur du jury » et participer à la table ronde sur les discours haineux sur les réseaux sociaux. Je n’avais pas eu de mails aussi violents depuis quelques mois – les insultes et injures sont plus fréquentes, elles, mais les menaces de mort ou de viols sont assez sporadiques. Et malgré ce que j’ai pu entendre, non, ça n’a rien de virtuel. Le harcèlement numérique n’est pas virtuel. Il est réel. Et ses effets sont très concrets. Le cyberharcèlement est aussi violent qu’un coup de poing. (…) Ça a été très violent, même si, là, je suis sortie du cœur de la tempête. Ce qui a été presque plus pénible à vivre, ce sont les gens qui m’ont dit que je devais m’y attendre, ou que j’avais provoqué, ou que j’aurais dû m’abstenir. Pire, ceux qui pensent que je l’ai fait exprès pour faire le buzz. C’est le même mécanisme que dire à une victime de viol que c’est sa faute parce qu’elle porte une jupe. J’ai rencontré des journalistes spécialisés sur le cyberharcèlement, qui m’ont beaucoup aidée à sortir de ce mécanisme de culpabilité, à accepter que dans ce cas-ci, j’étais bel et bien une victime et que je n’avais rien à me reprocher. Ce victim-blaming est insupportable. La victime n’est jamais responsable, ni de son harcèlement, ni de son agression. (…) combien de fois ai-je entendu cette phrase « Tu es passée à autre chose j’espère ? ». Je sais que ça ne part pas d’un mauvais sentiment mais je ne vois pas très bien le but. Nous sommes dans une société où tout va vite, une indignation succède à une autre, un buzz efface le précédent. Mais derrière ces histoires, il y a des humains. Et des sentiments, ça ne se zappe pas. Et puis cette injonction à « passer à autre chose (et vite si possible) » suggère que si je n’y arrive pas, je stagne, je reste coincée. En vérité je refuse de me résigner, je refuse de passer outre les propos sexistes, racistes, diffamatoires, injurieux, menaçant la liberté d’expression et mon intégrité physique tout en appelant à la violence sous fond d’apologie du nazisme et des crimes de réduction en esclavage. Je refuse que ça passe comme ça. Je poursuivrai ces personnes jusqu’au bout, peu importe le temps que cela prendra. Refuser de « sortir de cette histoire » ne signifie pas « ne plus vivre ». Refuser de « sortir de cette histoire », c’est avant tout vouloir que justice soit faite. Pour l’instant, c’est seule, avec mon avocat, et sur fonds propres, que je mène ce combat intervenu dans un cadre professionnel. (…) Dès le début j’ai été soutenue par le SNJ (Syndicat National des Journalistes), de nombreux médias, mais pas tous, hélas. Certains ont créé des titres alléchants. D’autres ont publié des informations erronées sans les vérifier – ce qui est pourtant l’essence même de notre métier –, ce qui a contribué à la vague de haine que j’ai subie. Les journalistes ne devraient jamais oublier la responsabilité sociale qu’ils ont. Nous pouvons faire et défaire, sublimer ou abîmer. Sans déontologie ni éthique personnelle, nous pouvons être dangereux. Cet épisode m’aura en tout cas appris que pour beaucoup d’internautes, il est plus acceptable de tenir des propos racistes que de les dénoncer. (…) J’ai déposé trois plaintes contre X pour injures publiques, diffamation et harcèlement en septembre, et une plainte pour menaces de mort il y a quelques jours. Je souhaite que le site ferme, bien évidemment. Mais je sais bien que s’il ferme demain, il rouvrira après-demain. Le plus important est de retrouver le ou les auteurs. Les plaintes sont toujours au stade d’enquête. C’est long. (…) J’ai fait mon enquête. J’ai vérifié et recoupé les infos, j’ai fait une veille sur les réseaux sociaux. Toutes les informations ont été fournies à la police, au Procureur de Lyon, au ministère de l’Intérieur et à la DILCRAH [Délégation Interministérielle à la Lutte Contre le Racisme, l’Antisémitisme et la Haine anti-LGBT, ndlr]. Au-delà de mon cas, qui n’en est qu’un parmi tant d’autres – le site s’acharne sur tout type de personnes, d’inconnus à Omar Sy en passant par Jeremstar ou Aurélien Enthoven –, je considère que c’est une affaire dont devrait s’emparer la sphère politique. (…) J’ai encore reçu un mail la semaine dernière d’une victime complètement perdue, que l’on menace de mort, qui aurait déposé plainte, écrit au ministère de l’Intérieur, contacté des associations… en vain. Il s’est dit « humilié une seconde fois par ce silence ». Je le comprends. (…) Lutter contre la cyberhaine sur internet est effectivement une bonne chose. Mettre en place des amendes contre les réseaux sociaux ne retirant pas de propos haineux sous vingt-quatre heures comme en Allemagne le serait aussi. La fermeture des comptes posant problème aussi. Eduquer contre les préjugés, aussi. Mais il ne faut pas oublier le volet répression. Ces mesures ont été évoquées récemment, nous n’avons pas de recul pour voir si elles fonctionneront. Ce qui est certain, c’est que je constate qu’après six mois, le site « Democratie participartive » existe toujours, les personnes ayant alerté sur le sujet ne sont pas entendues, et le ou les auteurs n’ont pas été inquiétés. Le harcèlement sur Internet est un fléau. Un fléau qui touche particulièrement les femmes, un rapport de l’ONU l’a dit en 2015, un rapport d’Amnesty vient de le rappeler. Et au début de l’année, le Haut Conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes a remis un rapport accablant montrant que 73% sont victimes de violences en ligne. C’est un problème politique. Ça n’est pas aux victimes de se battre seules. (…) Lors de mes quatre plaintes, je ne me suis pas sentie écoutée à chaque fois. On m’a demandé ce qu’était Twitter. Quand j’ai parlé de « cyberharcèlement », je n’ai pas vraiment eu l’impression d’avoir été comprise. Je pense que la police n’est pas assez sensibilisée aux violences psychologiques, notamment via les réseaux sociaux. Encore une fois, elles sont numériques. Pas virtuelles. Et la violence psychologique est tout aussi inacceptable que la violence physique. Julie Hainaut

Attention: un harcèlement peut en cacher un autre !

En ces temps étranges où, pour tenter de juguler les forces que par leur imprudence et manque de jugement ils ont eux-mêmes déchainées …

Nos gouvernants multiplient, entre suppression du mot racisme de la constitution et criminalisation du harcèlement de rue ou de la désinformation sur les réseaux sociaux, les mesures aussi dérisoires les unes que les autres …

Pendant qu’entre deux appels à l’assassinat du président de l’autre côté de l’Atlantique, une porte-parole de la Maison Blanche se voit ridiculisée au Diner de la presse étrangère, expulsée d’un restaurant et peut-être pour la première fois dans l’histoire américaine, contrainte à une protection policière

Et qu’un humoriste métis sud-africain s’attribue en tant qu’Africain la Coupe du monde des Bleus tout en l’assignant dans la phrase d’après au colonialisme français

A l’heure où, malgré ou peut-être à cause de l’été et non sans rappeler la tristement fameuse chasse à l’homme anti-Fillon d’il y a deux ans, le feuilleton Benalla continue plus fort que jamais …

Et où l’association Reporters sans frontières pointe avec raison les ravages, entre militarisation étatique et agrégation spontanée de trolls, du cyberharcèlement des journalistes

Comment ne pas repenser …

A la fameuse formule de Proust sur la facilité avec laquelle la moindre blessure peut réveiller le goût du sang et la bande d’anthropophages qui, instinct d’imitation et absence de courage aidant, sommeillent dans notre société en général et en chacun de nous en particulier …

Que ce soit, d’un emballement à l’autre, pour aduler nos Mehdi Meklat appelant à « l’autodafé du Nouvel Obs avec leur dossier “antisémite” de merde » …

Ou lyncher nos Benalla et, derrière lui et après l’adulation qui l’a porté comme on sait au pouvoir, le président qu’il servait ?

Et surtout qui prend la peine de rappeler avec la journaliste lyonnaise Julie Hainaut …

Derrière l’inacceptable cyberharcèlement dont elle a été victime l’an dernier pour avoir relevé les problèmes éthiques que soulevait l’ouverture d’un bar à rhum (« La première plantation ») tentant de surfer sur la vogue de la décoration coloniale

Le lot tout aussi invraisemblable d’accusations d’apologie de l’esclavage et du colonialisme – jusqu’à l’invocation des appels au meurtre d’un Fanon – dont elle s’était bien malgré elle fait l’involontaire complice contre ces derniers pour leur maladresse finalement vite reconnue et réparée (rebaptisé L’Artchimiste) …

Et donc en fait la responsabilité sociale des journalistes qu’oublie tant de ses collègues ?

« Le cyberharcèlement est aussi violent qu’un coup de poing »
Entretien / Son article publié dans un journal culturel lyonnais avait suscité une véritable tempête. Médiatisée d’abord puis silencieuse avec le temps, cette bourrasque n’est pas finie ni moins violente aujourd’hui pour la journaliste
Dalya Daoud
Rue89Lyon
04/04/2018

Julie Hainaut, qui chronique entre autres l’ouverture de nouveaux spots dans la ville, avait pointé l’attitude désinvolte de jeunes patrons d’un bar à rhum qui estimaient que l’esthétique de la colonisation était « plutôt cool ».

Les tenanciers du lieu s’en étaient alors pris plein la figure et, depuis, ils ont tenté de faire amende honorable ; pendant ce temps, Julie Hainaut est quant à elle devenue la cible d’attaques de la part d’internautes racistes et/ou d’écervelés oisifs, de harceleurs. Un site clairement revendiqué « super-raciste », intitulé democratieparticipative, s’est montré le plus virulent.

On trouve sur cette plateforme hébergée en dehors de la France une multitude d’articles injurieux et répréhensibles pénalement. Ceux qui concernent Julie Hainaut n’ont de cesse de ré-apparaître.

Au climax, le conseiller spécial de Gérard Collomb -ministre dont personne ne peut ignorer l’origine lyonnaise– avait joint Rue89Lyon pour expliquer que l’affaire était prise très au sérieux. Le procureur de la République de Lyon n’a pas su de quoi il retournait lorsque nous l’avions joint. La DILCRAH (Délégation Interministérielle à la Lutte Contre le Racisme, l’Antisémitisme et la Haine anti-LGBT) a aussi été informée, mais semble tourner autour de sa propre impuissance.

Julie Hainaut est régulièrement contactée par des personnes harcelées sur le web, lui demandant conseil ou aide. Ces derniers temps, elle voit aussi un entourage plus ou moins proche, las ou inquiet, lui demander de « lâcher l’affaire ».

« Sale pute à nègre, on sait qui tu es et où tu vis, tu vas passer les années à venir la peur au ventre »

Rue89Lyon : Le club de la presse de Grenoble vous a remis ce vendredi 23 mars un prix pour votre tribune publiée dans Libération, sur le cyberharcèlement. Le matin-même, vous avez reçu un mail de menaces particulièrement violent, dont l’expéditeur est sans doute rattaché au site néonazi « democratie participative ».  Cela signifie-t-il qu’il surveille toujours tout ce qui peut vous concerner ?

Julie Hainaut : J’ai reçu un mail avec les sempiternelles « sale pute à nègre » et « traitresse à ta race », une dose de « on sait qui tu es et où tu vis, tu vas passer les années à venir la peur au ventre », et un charmant « Sieg Heil » (salut fasciste) en conclusion.

C’était juste avant de me rendre à Grenoble pour recevoir le prix « Coup de cœur du jury » et participer à la table ronde sur les discours haineux sur les réseaux sociaux.

Je n’avais pas eu de mails aussi violents depuis quelques mois – les insultes et injures sont plus fréquentes, elles, mais les menaces de mort ou de viols sont assez sporadiques.

Et malgré ce que j’ai pu entendre, non, ça n’a rien de virtuel. Le harcèlement numérique n’est pas virtuel. Il est réel. Et ses effets sont très concrets. Le cyberharcèlement est aussi violent qu’un coup de poing.

« Le victim-blaming est insupportable. La victime n’est responsable ni de son harcèlement, ni de son agression »

Quel est l’impact aujourd’hui de ce type de pressions sur vous ?

Ça a été très violent, même si, là, je suis sortie du cœur de la tempête. Ce qui a été presque plus pénible à vivre, ce sont les gens qui m’ont dit que je devais m’y attendre, ou que j’avais provoqué, ou que j’aurais dû m’abstenir. Pire, ceux qui pensent que je l’ai fait exprès pour faire le buzz. C’est le même mécanisme que dire à une victime de viol que c’est sa faute parce qu’elle porte une jupe.

J’ai rencontré des journalistes spécialisés sur le cyberharcèlement, qui m’ont beaucoup aidée à sortir de ce mécanisme de culpabilité, à accepter que dans ce cas-ci, j’étais bel et bien une victime et que je n’avais rien à me reprocher.

Ce victim-blaming est insupportable. La victime n’est jamais responsable, ni de son harcèlement, ni de son agression.

« Refuser de « sortir de cette histoire », c’est avant tout vouloir que justice soit faite »

On vous enjoint souvent de « sortir de cette histoire ».

Oui, combien de fois ai-je entendu cette phrase « Tu es passée à autre chose j’espère ? ». Je sais que ça ne part pas d’un mauvais sentiment mais je ne vois pas très bien le but. Nous sommes dans une société où tout va vite, une indignation succède à une autre, un buzz efface le précédent. Mais derrière ces histoires, il y a des humains. Et des sentiments, ça ne se zappe pas.

Et puis cette injonction à « passer à autre chose (et vite si possible) » suggère que si je n’y arrive pas, je stagne, je reste coincée.

En vérité je refuse de me résigner, je refuse de passer outre les propos sexistes, racistes, diffamatoires, injurieux, menaçant la liberté d’expression et mon intégrité physique tout en appelant à la violence sous fond d’apologie du nazisme et des crimes de réduction en esclavage. Je refuse que ça passe comme ça.

Je poursuivrai ces personnes jusqu’au bout, peu importe le temps que cela prendra. Refuser de « sortir de cette histoire » ne signifie pas « ne plus vivre ».

Refuser de « sortir de cette histoire », c’est avant tout vouloir que justice soit faite. Pour l’instant, c’est seule, avec mon avocat, et sur fonds propres, que je mène ce combat intervenu dans un cadre professionnel.

Est-ce que le prix que vous avez reçu est important pour vous ?

Oui, clairement, et je tiens d’ailleurs à remercier le Club de la presse de Grenoble. Ça fait du bien de sentir que ma profession, mes confrères et consœurs sont à mes côtés et conscients du problème.

Dès le début j’ai été soutenue par le SNJ (Syndicat National des Journalistes), de nombreux médias, mais pas tous, hélas. Certains ont créé des titres alléchants. D’autres ont publié des informations erronées sans les vérifier – ce qui est pourtant l’essence même de notre métier –, ce qui a contribué à la vague de haine que j’ai subie.

Les journalistes ne devraient jamais oublier la responsabilité sociale qu’ils ont. Nous pouvons faire et défaire, sublimer ou abîmer. Sans déontologie ni éthique personnelle, nous pouvons être dangereux. Cet épisode m’aura en tout cas appris que pour beaucoup d’internautes, il est plus acceptable de tenir des propos racistes que de les dénoncer.

Depuis six mois, vous avez subi des attaques de la part d’activistes racistes, des menaces et des pressions directes ; vous avez tout tenté pour que le site pourvoyeur de ces propos répréhensibles ferme, en vain. Vous avez déposé quatre plaintes, que concernent-elles exactement et sur quel calendrier ?

J’ai déposé trois plaintes contre X pour injures publiques, diffamation et harcèlement en septembre, et une plainte pour menaces de mort il y a quelques jours. Je souhaite que le site ferme, bien évidemment. Mais je sais bien que s’il ferme demain, il rouvrira après-demain.

Le plus important est de retrouver le ou les auteurs. Les plaintes sont toujours au stade d’enquête. C’est long.

Vous avez remonté les sources pour tenter de trouver qui se cache derrière ce site néonazi : expliquez-nous ce que vous avez découvert.

J’ai fait mon enquête. J’ai vérifié et recoupé les infos, j’ai fait une veille sur les réseaux sociaux. Toutes les informations ont été fournies à la police, au Procureur de Lyon, au ministère de l’Intérieur et à la DILCRAH [Délégation Interministérielle à la Lutte Contre le Racisme, l’Antisémitisme et la Haine anti-LGBT, ndlr].

Au-delà de mon cas, qui n’en est qu’un parmi tant d’autres – le site s’acharne sur tout type de personnes, d’inconnus à Omar Sy en passant par Jeremstar ou Aurélien Enthoven –, je considère que c’est une affaire dont devrait s’emparer la sphère politique.

Vous avez été contactée par un conseiller de Gérard Collomb, ministre de l’Intérieur, au lendemain des articles diffamatoires et injurieux publiés par ce site ; cela a-t-il abouti à d’autres échanges depuis ?

Effectivement, nous avons échangé en septembre suite au début du cyberharcèlement. Depuis, rien. Ce n’est pas faute d’avoir essayé de le recontacter en octobre, novembre et décembre, pour l’informer notamment de mails reçus par des personnes ayant également fait l’objet de menaces par le biais de ce site, se sentant isolées, démunies, et me demandant de l’aide.

J’ai encore reçu un mail la semaine dernière d’une victime complètement perdue, que l’on menace de mort, qui aurait déposé plainte, écrit au ministère de l’Intérieur, contacté des associations… en vain. Il s’est dit « humilié une seconde fois par ce silence ». Je le comprends.

« Ils m’ont dit prendre l’affaire au sérieux. J’ai envie de les croire. Mais j’attends les actes »

Vous avez été plus récemment reçue par un membre de la DILCRAH. Quelle a été la teneur des échanges et est-ce que vous en ressortez satisfaite ? Cette délégation vous semble-t-elle dotée de ressources suffisantes et à la hauteur de l’opération de communication qui a accompagné son lancement ?

J’ai interpellé Frédéric Potier, délégué interministériel à la lutte contre le racisme, l’antisémitisme et la haine anti-LGBT (DILCRAH) sur Twitter, suite à l’un de ses tweets concernant le fameux site néonazi.

J’ai ensuite été reçue à Paris par Donatien Le Vaillant, le conseiller pour la justice et les relations internationales de la DILCRAH. Ils m’ont dit prendre l’affaire au sérieux. J’ai envie de les croire. Mais j’attends les actes.

« Le harcèlement sur Internet est un fléau qui touche particulièrement les femmes »

Les annonces politiques relatives à la lutte contre le cyberharcèlement et le racisme propagé notamment via le web ont été nombreuses ces dernières semaines. Avez-vous le sentiment qu’elles reflètent une réalité et un investissement concret, pensez-vous avoir été entendue ?

Lutter contre la cyberhaine sur internet est effectivement une bonne chose. Mettre en place des amendes contre les réseaux sociaux ne retirant pas de propos haineux sous vingt-quatre heures comme en Allemagne le serait aussi. La fermeture des comptes posant problème aussi. Eduquer contre les préjugés, aussi.

Mais il ne faut pas oublier le volet répression. Ces mesures ont été évoquées récemment, nous n’avons pas de recul pour voir si elles fonctionneront. Ce qui est certain, c’est que je constate qu’après six mois, le site « Democratie participartive » existe toujours, les personnes ayant alerté sur le sujet ne sont pas entendues, et le ou les auteurs n’ont pas été inquiétés.

Le harcèlement sur Internet est un fléau. Un fléau qui touche particulièrement les femmes, un rapport de l’ONU l’a dit en 2015, un rapport d’Amnesty vient de le rappeler. Et au début de l’année, le Haut Conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes a remis un rapport accablant montrant que 73% sont victimes de violences en ligne.

C’est un problème politique. Ça n’est pas aux victimes de se battre seules.

« La police n’est pas assez sensibilisée aux violences psychologiques, notamment via les réseaux sociaux »

Vous êtes retournée au commissariat à l’issue du dernier mail de menace de mort, datant d’il y a quelques jours. Pensez-vous que les agents soient formés ?

Lors de mes quatre plaintes, je ne me suis pas sentie écoutée à chaque fois. On m’a demandé ce qu’était Twitter. Quand j’ai parlé de « cyberharcèlement », je n’ai pas vraiment eu l’impression d’avoir été comprise.

Je pense que la police n’est pas assez sensibilisée aux violences psychologiques, notamment via les réseaux sociaux. Encore une fois, elles sont numériques. Pas virtuelles.

Et la violence psychologique est tout aussi inacceptable que la violence physique.

Voir aussi:

Cyberharcèlement : les mots ont un sens

Pour avoir rapporté les propos choquants sur l’époque coloniale des propriétaires d’un bar lyonnais, la journaliste Julie Hainaut a été harcelée, insultée et menacée sur Internet. Elle revient sur l’affaire et les mots, de soutien ou violents, qu’elle a reçus et entendus
Julie Hainaut
Libération

 

Depuis une semaine, j’en ai lu, des mots. Des beaux, des moches, des violents. J’ai été fascinée, mais aussi pétrifiée, par tous ces gens qui ont un avis sur tout, surtout sur celui des autres. Ceux qui jugent sans chercher l’information à la source. Ceux qui confondent presse et publicité, liberté d’expression et libération de la parole, déontologie et conséquentialisme, devoir d’information et droit de se taire.

Je m’appelle Julie Hainaut, je suis journaliste freelance depuis dix ans. Je travaille pour divers médias, dont le Petit Bulletin, un hebdomadaire culturel lyonnais.

Le 12 septembre paraissait mon article intitulé «La Première plantation, ou l’art de se planter», dans lequel je m’indignais des propos des patrons d’un bar à cocktails. Dans ce lieu, dont le nom fait «référence aux plantations de canne à sucre dans les colonies françaises», les patrons affirment «chercher à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir, une période sympathique où il y avait du travail». Les mots ont un sens. Pas besoin d’être journaliste pour le savoir.

Ces mots prononcés avec légèreté – et enregistrés sur bande-son avec le consentement des intéressés – sur ce qu’il convient d’appeler un crime contre l’humanité m’ont heurtée. Beaucoup. J’ai d’abord cru à un humour un peu gras ou un manque de connaissance, mais après plusieurs perches lancées, ils me confirment le sérieux de leurs propos lorsque j’évoque la partie «esclave» de la colonisation. «Ah, on a mis quelques photos de gens dans les toilettes», me disent-ils. Certes.

J’ai réécouté l’interview dix fois. Puis je l’ai retranscrite et j’ai exprimé ma désapprobation dans mon papier, de la même manière que je l’ai fait pendant l’interview. Mon article provoquera ensuite un véritable tollé. Les propriétaires ont souhaité avoir un droit de réponse, qu’ils ont bien évidemment obtenu. «Contrairement à ce qui a été retranscrit dans l’article, notre établissement n’a jamais eu la volonté de faire une quelconque apologie de la période colonialiste, période que nous condamnons.»

«L’affaire» aurait pu s’arrêter là. Mais non. Sur les réseaux sociaux, la façon dont l’interview s’est déroulée sera réécrite. Je serais venue en plein service, sournoisement, poser des questions auxquelles ils n’ont pu répondre avec attention parce qu’ils étaient occupés à faire leur boulot. J’ai beau préciser – et donc me justifier d’avoir retranscrit des faits, l’essence même de mon métier – être venue avant l’affluence et que l’interview a bien été enregistrée, l’engrenage continue. De nombreuses associations, dont le CRAN (Conseil représentatif des associations noires), condamnent fermement ces propos. Mais beaucoup d’internautes semblent penser qu’il est plus acceptable de les tenir que de les dénoncer.

Je ne suis pas l’Elise Lucet de la tapenade, l’Albert Londres du gin tonic, la Florence Aubenas de l’espuma. Avec la casquette du Petit Bulletin, je ne traque pas le scoop, je ne dénonce pas des injustices. Je viens – en toute indépendance – mettre en lumière des endroits de ma ville où l’on consomme (du boire, du manger, du vêtement, de la culture). Et pourtant, cette semaine, je me suis retrouvée au cœur d’une tempête numérique et médiatique d’une violence inouïe.

Très vite, une quinzaine de médias ont relayé l’information, avec parfois des titres bien plus accrocheurs qu’informatifs, et parfois des propos déformés qui n’avaient au final plus beaucoup de rapport avec l’article initial. Au risque de me répéter, les mots ont un sens. Sur les réseaux sociaux, les simples commentaires sont devenus des appels à la haine. Contre les barmen d’abord, ce que je désapprouve fermement, bien évidemment. Contre moi ensuite.

Le 16 septembre, le site néonazi démocratieparticipative.biz publie un article intitulé «Lyon : une pute à nègres féministe veut détruire un bar à rhum « colonialiste », mobilisation !». Vient alors le temps des mots dénués de sens. Parce qu’à un moment, leur en donner, c’est leur faire trop d’honneur. Les fines plumes du site évoquent la «vaginocratie négrophile», me qualifient – entre autres – de «grosse pute», «vermine», «putain à nègre hystérique», «femelle négrophile», «hyène puante» et appellent à inonder mon fil Twitter et ma boîte mail, en dévoilant des photos volées, le tout illustré – entre autres – par une vidéo de Goebbels et un GIF d’Hitler. Je dépose immédiatement une plainte pour injure publique et diffamation. Je suis inondée d’insultes et de menaces. Ils «cherchent mon adresse». Je complète ma plainte pour harcèlement. Je respire difficilement, je dors peu, j’ai peur. «Il ne faut pas le dire, Julie, sinon ils ont gagné». Tant pis, je le dis. J’ai peur.

Un élan de soutien émerge sur Twitter. Ça fait du bien. Le site est signalé sur Pharos (la Plateforme d’harmonisation, d’analyse, de recoupement et d’orientation des signalements du ministère de l’Intérieur) et ferme. Puis renaît. Deux autres articles sont publiés. Il est désormais question de ma «négrophilie pathologique». Et c’est reparti. «Hyène terroriste», «pue-la-pisse», «prostituée». Vous en voulez encore ? J’en ai en stock. «Obsédée par les nègres», «serpillière à foutre africain». J’ai la nausée. Je complète néanmoins une nouvelle fois ma plainte, j’y dépose de nouvelles pièces, de nouveaux mots. Le site est signalé une nouvelle fois sur Pharos mais réapparaît par intermittence.

Savoir de quoi l’esthétisation de la période coloniale est le symptôme ne fait pas partie de mon domaine de compétence. Mais je sais que les mots ont un sens. Entre autres parce qu’ils provoquent des émotions. Et on sous-estime bien trop souvent leur haut pouvoir en nitroglycérine. Depuis une semaine, certains m’ont réconfortée, d’autres m’ont outrageusement blessée. J’ai vu des personnes applaudir, ravies de ce ramassis sexiste, raciste, diffamatoire et injurieux menaçant la liberté d’expression et mon intégrité physique tout en appelant à la violence sous fond d’apologie du nazisme. Tous ces mots pour mes mots à moi. Enfin, surtout leurs mots à eux. C’était assourdissant, tous ces mots. Pour tenir bon, j’ai dû très vite apprendre à vider de leur sens ceux qui m’écorchent et à voir toute la force que me confèrent ceux, mille fois plus nombreux, que m’adressent des inconnus en soutien.

Les mots ont un sens. Et c’est avec justesse qu’ils se doivent d’être choisis. Parce que des petits mots tout bêtes peuvent devenir de grosses blessures. Ces mots sur la partie la moins glorieuse de notre histoire, celle durant laquelle l’on enchaînait des humains, on les mutilait et pillait leur pays. Ou ces mots pour me décrire. Des mots d’une violence misogyne inouïe. Des mots tout sales et humiliants, pour se venger de celle qui les rapporte. Un peu de respect pour les mots. Ils sont puissants. Et dans ce flot d’insultes et de menaces de mort, le pouvoir des mots gentils m’est apparu comme une bouée de sauvetage. Merci pour vos mots, en réaction aux miens. J’ai appris que le meilleur est mille fois plus puissant que le pire. Mes batteries sont rechargées. Au boulot.

 

Le cyberharcèlement des journalistes existe, « Causeur » l’a rencontré!
Reporters sans Frontières découvre la lune
Gabrielle Périer
Causeur
1 août 2018

Jeudi 26 juillet, Reporters Sans Frontières a publié un rapport intitulé « Harcèlement en ligne des journalistes : quand les trolls lancent l’assaut ». Celui-ci entendait, comme son nom l’indique, alerter sur les « trolls » usant d’injures et de menaces vis-à-vis des gens de la profession. Mais il avait aussi et surtout pour objet de dénoncer les Etats ayant une politique peu amène vis-à-vis du concept de liberté de la presse, en analysant plus spécifiquement leurs stratégies informatiques.

Armées de trolls et fake news

Même si ce rapport ne nous apprend pas grand-chose de fondamentalement nouveau, quelques points peuvent néanmoins renseigner le citoyen curieux. S’il tombe souvent dans une empathie psychologisante isolant des cas particuliers sans qu’une démonstration générale ne soit faite, on y lit cependant des développements intéressants sur le phénomène des « armées de trolls », équipes employées par certains Etats, comme la Chine ou l’Iran, pour propager des « fake news » et soutenir des idées sur les réseaux sociaux. Le raisonnement est poursuivi par un éclairage utile sur la façon dont se diffusent les informations sur Internet.

En revanche, on ne manquera pas de sourire devant les stratégies humoristiques mises en œuvre par les rédacteurs du rapport pour discréditer ceux qui n’ont pas leurs faveurs : par exemple, Donald Trump, évoqué dans un hasardeux photomontage page 17, voyant Hassan Rohani, Vladimir Poutine, Xi Jinping et Nicolas Maduro le congratuler pour ses déclarations sur les médias. En légende, on lit : « ‘Bravo Donald !’ : les prédateurs de la liberté de la presse saluent les efforts de Donald Trump pour dénigrer les journalistes ». La coalition des méchants despotes contre la presse libre et indépendante, c’est un peu gros, mais après tout, on ne s’offusquera pas : c’est de bonne guerre.

Journaliste ou militant?

Plus pernicieuse est la confusion volontaire faite entre les journalistes et les militants droits-de-l’hommistes. La figure du journaliste, censé être là pour informer ses concitoyens sur ce qui se passe autour d’eux, se mêle dans une brume évanescente à l’idée romancée du courageux justicier luttant contre la dictature. Un exemple parmi tant d’autres : page 9, on lit dans un encadré : « Au Pakistan, où 68% des journalistes ont été victimes de harcèlement en ligne, des femmes activistes et des féministes sont trollées et désignées comme étant des agents occidentaux ». On comprend ainsi que le journaliste, selon RSF, est investi d’une mission morale : propager les valeurs de liberté, de démocratie et de respect des droits humains. Tout comme les membres de Reporters Sans Frontières eux-mêmes d’ailleurs, qui n’hésitent pas à formuler des recommandations, au contenu si vague qu’il en est complètement venteux, aux Etats, aux institutions internationales et aux médias, dans la tradition prétentieuse de ce type d’ONG.Harceler des « salauds » en toute impunité : la horde contre Causeur

Le rapport de RSF n’a pas manqué d’être diffusé immédiatement par la presse. On a ainsi vu proliférer jeudi des articles parfaitement interchangeables, reprenant avec une unanimité confondante les différents points qui avaient été résumés dans une dépêche AFP. Tous les grands médias se sont ainsi saisis du sujet du cyberharcèlement des confrères, notamment quand il s’agit de consœurs. Découvre-t-on la lune ? Pas chez Causeur, où la polémique sur le Manifeste des 343 salauds contre la pénalisation des clients de prostituées avait provoqué une polémique pas toujours civilisée. Ainsi, le site « 343 connards » recensait les noms et les photos (mais pas les adresses, il y a des bottins pour ça) des méchants pétitionnaires et fournissait même un kit d’injures prêt à l’emploi sur Twitter. Il n’y avait plus qu’à cliquer sur leur photo pour que les individus incriminés reçoivent ce message lyrique : « Salut XXX, aucune femme n’est ta pute, connard!».

Au rythme de plusieurs dizaines de tweets par jour, est-ce du harcèlement ? Les auteurs de ce site qualifieraient sans doute plutôt leur geste d’ « initiative citoyenne », nimbés de leurs certitudes de militants féministes. Tout comme, à l’époque, les médias qui relayaient l’adresse du site d’insultes, comme pour inviter à passer y faire un tour. Des médias qui montrent aujourd’hui une si touchante résolution à dénoncer, à la suite de RSF, le cyberharcèlement lorsqu’il touche des journalistes… innocents.

Voir également:

RSF publie son rapport “Harcèlement en ligne des journalistes : quand les trolls lancent l’assaut”

RSF
26 juillet 2018
Dans son nouveau rapport, Reporters sans frontières (RSF) révèle l’ampleur d’une nouvelle menace qui pèse sur les journalistes : le cyberharcèlement perpétré massivement par des armées de trolls, individus isolés ou mercenaires à la solde d’Etats autoritaires.

LIRE LE RAPPORT sur le harcèlement en ligne

Reporters sans frontières publie, ce 26 juillet, son nouveau rapport intitulé “Harcèlement en ligne des journalistes : quand les trolls lancent l’assaut”, dans lequel l’organisation s’alarme de l’ampleur d’une nouvelle menace qui pèse sur la liberté de la presse : le harcèlement en ligne massif des journalistes.

Leurs auteurs ? De simples “haters”, individus ou communautés d’individus dissimulés derrière leur écran, ou des mercenaires de l’information en ligne, véritables “armées de trolls” mises en place par des régimes autoritaires.

Dans les deux cas, l’objectif est le même : faire taire ces journalistes dont les propos dérangent, quitte à user de méthodes d’une rare violence. Pendant des mois, RSF a documenté ces nouvelles attaques en ligne et analysé le mode opératoire de ces prédateurs de la liberté de la presse qui ont su utiliser les nouvelles technologies pour mieux étendre leur modèle répressif.

“Le harcèlement en ligne est un phénomène qui se propage à l’échelle mondiale et qui constitue aujourd’hui l’une des pires menaces contre la liberté de la presse, déclare Christophe Deloire, secrétaire général de Reporters sans frontières. On découvre que les guerres de l’information ne sont pas menées seulement entre pays sur le plan international mais que les prédateurs du journalisme mettent en place des armées de trolls pour traquer et affaiblir tous ceux qui recherchent honnêtement les faits. Ces despotes laissent leurs mercenaires cibler les journalistes et leur tirer dessus à balles réelles sur le terrain virtuel comme d’autres le font sur les terrains de guerre.”

Ce que révèle le rapport de RSF :

  • Difficile d’établir le lien direct entre les cabales en ligne à l’encontre des journalistes et les Etats. RSF a enquêté et documenté des cas de harcèlement en ligne de journalistes dans 32 pays, révélant ainsi des campagnes de haine orchestrées par des régimes autoritaires ou répressifs comme en Chine, en Russie, en Inde, en Turquie, au Vietnam, en Iran, en Algérie, etc.
  • RSF analyse et met en lumière le mode opératoire des Etats prédateurs de la liberté de la presse qui orchestrent ces attaques en ligne contre les journalistes en trois étapes :
  1. désinformation : le contenu journalistique est noyé sur les réseaux sociaux sous un flot de fausses nouvelles et de contenus en faveur du régime,
  2. amplification : ces contenus sont valorisés artificiellement via des commentateurs payés par les Etats pour laisser des messages sur les réseaux sociaux, ou bien via des programmes informatiques qui rediffusent automatiquement le contenu, les bots
  3. intimidation : les journalistes sont pris pour cibles personnellement, insultés et menacés de mort, pour les discréditer et les faire taire.
  • Les violentes campagnes de cyberharcèlement sont également lancées par des communautés d’individus ou des groupes politiques dans des pays dits démocratiques – au Mexique notamment, voire même dans des pays très bien notés au Classement mondial de la liberté de la presse, comme la Suède ou la Finlande.
  • Les conséquences sont parfois dramatiques : la plupart des journalistes victimes de cyberharcèlement interrogés par RSF sont pour beaucoup contraints à l’auto-censure face à cette vague de violence dont ils n’avaient pas imaginé l’ampleur.
  • En Inde par exemple, Rana Ayyub est la cible des soutiens du régime, les Yoddhas de Narendra Modi, qui attaquent la journaliste pour ses enquêtes sur l’accession au pouvoir du Premier ministre indien : “On m’a traitée de prostituée. Mon visage a été apposé à la photo d’un corps nu et la photo de ma mère a été prise sur mon compte Instagram et ‘photoshoppée’ de toutes les manières possibles.”
  • Aux Philippines, la journaliste Maria Ressa est également attaquée par les trolls, alors que le média qu’elle dirige, Rappler, doit faire face à un acharnement judiciaire. Depuis l’élection de Rodrigo Duterte à la présidence en 2016, les journalistes philippins qui mènent, comme elle, des enquêtes indépendantes sur le pouvoir sont constamment pris pour cible.
  • En France, deux individus ont été condamnés début juillet à six mois de prison avec sursis et 2000 euros d’amende pour avoir menacé en ligne la journaliste Nadia Daam. Un troisième, qui l’a menacée de mort à la suite du procès, a également été condamné à six mois de prison avec sursis.
  • Face à constat, Reporters sans frontières formule 25 recommandations envers les Etats, la communauté internationale, les plateformes, les médias et les annonceurs pour une meilleure prise en compte de ces nouvelles menaces numériques. RSF propose également dans son rapport un tutoriel intitulé “Journalistes : comment faire face aux armées de trolls”, dans lequel l’organisation rappelle les bonnes pratiques en matière de sécurité numérique.
Voir de même:
Procès des harceleurs présumés de Nadia Daam : le cyber-harcèlement à l’encontre des journalistes ne doit pas rester impuni
RSF
4 juin 2018
Alors que s’ouvre mardi le procès de deux cyber-harceleurs de la journaliste française Nadia Daam, Reporters sans frontières (RSF) regrette que la plupart des cas de harcèlement en ligne de journalistes ne donnent lieu à aucune poursuite judiciaire. Une condamnation « juste mais ferme ». C’est ce que réclame la journaliste française Nadia Daam à l’encontre des deux cyber-harceleurs poursuivis parmi les sept identifiés, ce mardi 5 juin devant le tribunal correctionnel de Paris. En novembre dernier, la journaliste avait porté plainte après avoir été victime de menaces en ligne à la suite de l’une de ses chroniques sur Europe1, dans laquelle elle dénonçait les méthodes de trolls. “L’enjeu, c’est de faire savoir qu’il y a des vrais gens d’un côté et de l’autre du clavier. Lorsque Nadia Daam reçoit des menaces de mort, cela n’a rien de virtuel pour elle. Et cela n’aura rien de virtuel non plus pour ses harceleurs, lorsqu’ils seront en chair et en os à la barre du tribunal. C’est la fin du virtuel et l’irruption du réel”, affirme à RSF son avocat, Eric Morain.

Des cabales en ligne destinées à museler les journalistes

Si RSF salue la tenue de ce procès, l’organisation rappelle que d’autres journalistes attendent toujours qu’une suite judiciaire soit donnée à leur affaire. C’est le cas de Julie Hainaut. En septembre dernier, la journaliste lyonnaise se retrouve plongée au coeur d’une tempête médiatique d’une violence inouïe pour avoir rapporté et désapprouvé, dans le petit Bulletin de Lyon, les propos néo-colonialistes des tenanciers d’un nouveau bar, “la première plantation”. “Je suis inondée d’insultes et de menaces. Ils “cherchent mon adresse”[…] Je respire difficilement, je dors peu. J’ai peur”, témoigne-t-elle dans Libération. Elle reçoit alors un courrier de soutien du ministre de l’Intérieur Gérard Collomb et porte plainte à trois reprises. Depuis, plus rien. “Je ne me sens pas écoutée”, témoigne la journaliste qui a reçu en mars de nouvelles menaces. Et a dû porter plainte de nouveau.

“Nous demandons à ce qu’une enquête approfondie soit menée sur les menaces en ligne reçues par Julie Hainaut, déclare Elodie Vialle, responsable du Bureau Journalisme et Technologie de RSF. Au moment où les autorités légifèrent sur les violences sexistes et sexuelles parmi lesquelles figure le cyber-harcèlement, il est fondamental qu’elles prennent la mesure de la gravité de cette nouvelle menace qui pèse sur les journalistes. Les campagnes d’insultes, les menaces, la diffusion d’informations personnelles détournées dans l’objectif de nuire… toutes ces cabales en ligne ont pour objectif de faire taire les journalistes.”

RSF observe de plus en plus de cas de cyber-harcèlement. Un phénomène qui existe dans quasiment tous les pays et touche prioritairement les femmes journalistes et les journalistes d’investigation. RSF a ainsi récemment appelé les autorités indiennes à protéger Rana Ayyub, une journaliste d’investigation indienne victime de campagnes de harcèlement en ligne menées par les armées de trolls du Premier ministre indien Narendra Modi.

Voir de plus:

« L’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool » : les gérants d’un bar lyonnais se défendent de faire l’apologie du colonialisme

BAD BUZZ – Visiblement, il s’agissait plutôt d’une énorme maladresse. Mais les deux gérants d’un bar appelé la Première plantation, située à Lyon, ont été vivement critiqués, accusées de faire l’apologie de l’esclavagisme, après des propos sur « l’esprit colonial ».
LCI

15 sept. 2017

L’histoire avait pourtant bien commencé. Ouverture d’un bar à cocktails, tourné vers le rhum, dans un quartier branché de Lyon. Une déco de bois brut, un esprit récup’, des supers cocktails. C’est d’ailleurs ce qui était mis en avant dans les magazines liftstyle qui ont parlé de la Première plantation à son ouverture. « La Première plantation, le bar à cocktail qui va te faire voyager très loin », titrait ainsi Le Bonbon. Carrément emballé : « Dans une déco réussie et envoûtante chargée de plantes et arbres exotiques du sol au plafond, La Première Plantation (LPP) est avant tout un bonheur pour les yeux », raconte le journaliste. Qui loue la « déco de folie », la « carte de cocktails rare », et n’hésite pas : « La Première Plantation, c’est un petit morceau de Bahamas où les cocktails sont encore meilleurs. » Le Progrès, quotidien local, est plus mesuré mais lui aussi bien conquis : « Un lieu décontracté à l’ambiance tropicale où l’on déguste des cocktails maison d’après des recettes originales à base d’ingrédients rares ».

Mais c’est un article paru ce mardi dans un guide de sorties locales, Le Petit bulletin, qui a déclenché la tornade. Intitulé « La Première Plantation ou l’art de se planter », la journaliste y raconte l’échange qu’elle a eu avec les jeunes gérants. Echange qui depuis a fait le tour du web. « Mon nom, La Première Plantation, est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir », rapporte la journaliste dans son article.

Elle raconte encore, pas sûre d’avoir bien entendue, avoir demandé : « C’était cool, la colonisation ? » Ce à quoi les gérants ont répondu : « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. » Elle s’est indignée : « Et la partie esclaves, là-dedans ? » Référence à la traite des Noirs dans les Antilles à laquelle le gérant répond benoîtement : « Ah, on a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes. »

Réactions en chaîne
Forcément, les propos ont fait le tour du web. Sur la base de cet article, sont tombées des centaines de réactions outrées, dénonçant une « audace crasse », une « apologie de l’esclavagisme », une « horreur déprimante ». La page Facebook du lieu, qui a dû fermer depuis, a reçu un torrent d’insultes ou de commentaire négatifs. Des collectifs se sont aussi emparés de l’histoire, y voyant « une nouvelle manière de décomplexer la #négrophobie tout en faisant autrement l’apologie de la colonisation et de l’esclavage-négrier-occidentalo-chrétien ».  Le collectif Des Racinés a lancé une pétition, demandant la fermeture du lieu. « En faisant de cette histoire leur fond de commerce, les gérants ont décidé d’exploiter ce qui pourrait au mieux être qualifié de négationnisme et, plus raisonnablement, d’apologie de crime contre l’humanité », estime-il.  Ont aussi fleuri des appels à la violence contre les deux gérants.

Devant la tempête, d’autres tentent de raison garder. Et de tenter de discerner le vrai du faux. Comme Romain Blachier, élu local, qui a décidé de se « faire son idée par moi-même ».  Après entrevue, il penche pour l’ignorance des deux patrons, il est vrai, particulièrement malheureuse lorsqu’on se lance dans une affaire comme celle-là. « Ils m’ont confirmé être opposés au colonialisme, condamner tout racisme et ont sans doute été un peu maladroits et pas très au fait de l’Histoire tragique du colonialisme », écrit l’élu sur Facebook.

Ont-ils eux-mêmes été dépassés par l’ampleur du bad buzz qu’ils ont contribué à créer ? En tout cas, ils condamnent les réactions disproportionnées. Deux jours après, les journalistes du Petit bulletin ont mis en ligne un nouvel article, de mise au point.  Le rédacteur en chef explique être retourné dans le café pour s’expliquer. « Il ne s’agit pas ici de réfuter l’information initiale », précisent les journalistes sur leur site. « Nous assumons pleinement notre travail de journaliste et cet article […]. Faire de la période coloniale un argument de communication, c’est une plaie qu’il fallait mettre à jour. » Et détaillent leur entrevue avec les deux gérants : « Nous avons rencontré deux personnes abattues, conscientes de la maladresse totale des propos cités, mais réfutant – et nous les croyons totalement après cette rencontre – tout racisme ou toute ambiguïté de leur part sur l’esclavage. Aucun d’eux n’est raciste ou soupçonné de complaisance envers l’esclavage », précise le Petit bulletin.

Pour eux, le diagnostic est formel : « Les propos tenus lors de l’interview publiée mardi et le positionnement de leur lieu sont visiblement la conséquence d’une méconnaissance de cette période de l’Histoire, de légèreté sans doute quant à leurs recherches sur cette époque, dont ils ont voulu mettre en valeur l’esthétique par leur décoration et surtout, leur passion : le rhum. » Précision, aussi, sur les »photos d’esclaves » dans les toilettes mentionnées par les barmans, que les journalistes ont retranscrit : les journalistes sont allés voir, et « n’ont pas vu de photos d’esclaves mais deux clichés encadrés : une maison de maître victorienne et un champ d’ananas », reconnaissent les journalistes. Qui plaident donc pour la clémence envers les deux gérants : « Dépassés par la maladresse de leur propos, ils ne méritent certainement pas la violence du traitement qui leur est infligé aujourd’hui. Il était de notre devoir de journaliste d’écrire ce malaise ressenti par l’utilisation d’éléments évoquant l’époque coloniale pour décrire leur bar et son ambiance », mais « les réseaux sociaux ont transformé cette information en vindicte populaire contre La Première Plantation : c’est indéfendable. »

 

Voir encore:

Retour sur la polémique autour du bar lyonnais accusé de faire l’apologie de l’esclavage

Fanny Marlier
Les Inrocks
15/09/17
« L’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir ». Le bar à cocktail lyonnais « La Première plantation » est accusé de faire l’apologie de l’esclavage après des propos rapportés par une journaliste. On fait le point sur la polémique.

« La Première Plantation ». Sur le coup, on a pensé à une blague un peu douteuse, voire carrément déplacée… Mais non, c’est bien comme ça que des barmans du 6e arrondissement de Lyon ont décidé d’appeler leur nouveau bar à cocktails en « référence aux plantations de canne à sucre dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir », expliquent les deux gérants dans un article du Petit Bulletin paru mardi 12 septembre.

S’ensuit un dialogue surréaliste : alors que la journaliste demande des explications concernant la qualification de « cool », les gérants assument : « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. » Quid des esclaves et des atrocités commis à leur égard ? « On a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes ». Des propos qui laissent paraître une nostalgie du temps des colonies, tout en s’en servant comme argument marketing.

« Nous écoutions à peine les questions »

Face aux vives réactions déclenchées sur la toile, la journaliste à l’origine de l’article a tenu à préciser, via Twitter, que les propos rapportés sont bel et bien authentiques :

«Les faits rapportés dans l’article ne sont pas, comme j’ai pu le lire, ‘le fruit de l’imagination de la journaliste qui veut nuire personnellement au lieu’ mais bien des faits, justement. Je n’approuve en aucun cas l’appel à la violence envers les propriétaires du lieu ».

Elle précise aussi avoir bien vu les photos en question dans les toilettes.

Contactés par Les Inrockuptibles, les gérants de La Première Plantation fustigent « le manque de bon sens de la journaliste qui nous [leur] a posé des questions à 19h, en plein moment de rush ». « Nous écoutions à peine les questions car nous devions servir les clients en même temps », expliquent-ils avant d’ajouter :« Notre métier c’est le cocktail, nous ne possédons pas un doctorat en Histoire, nous avons donc un gros manque de connaissances à ce niveau là ». Tous deux se disent « désolés » de la tournure qu’a pris cette polémique et assurent n’avoir « aucune nostalgie de cette période là ».

Concernant les photographies disposées dans les toilettes ils expliquent : « Il n’y a pas de photographies d’esclaves, simplement celle d’une maison blanche victorienne, et celle d’un champ d’ananas ». Ils nous assurent que le nom du bar va être changé afin de « partir sur des bases saines ». Et concluent par : « Nous sommes les victimes dans cette histoire ».

De son côté la journaliste confirme avoir bien vu des photos d’esclaves, et assure que l’interview a été enregistrée.

« Négationnisme » et « apologie de crime contre l’humanité »

A la suite de la publication de l’article, le collectif des Raciné.e.s, une association féministe et décoloniale lyonnaise, a lancé une pétition en ligne (signée par 3 500 personnes à l’heure où nous écrivons ces lignes), notamment co-signée par la journaliste Amandine Gay, la créatrice de Paye ta Shnek Anaïs Bourdet, le youtubeur Usul, ou encore les journalistes Sihame Assbague, et Johanna Luyssen (Libération).

«Nous, des Raciné.e.s, qui sommes issus des migrations mais aussi de quatre siècles d’esclavage, nous, citoyens et enfants des départements français, sommes outrés de constater un tel mépris pour la dignité humaine la plus fondamentale. Par delà les déclarations outrancières des propriétaires, nous affirmons que le modèle d’affaires d’une entreprise qui s’attribue gratuitement, à des fins promotionnelles et décoratives, l’histoire douloureuse de siècles d’oppression, d’exploitation, de sévices et d’humiliations est inacceptable », dénoncent les signataires qui soulignent également l’exploitation de « ce qui pourrait au mieux être qualifié de négationnisme et, plus raisonnablement, d’apologie de crime contre l’humanité ».

Contacté par Les Inrockuptibles, le collectifdes Raciné.e.s se dit « à la fois consterné·e·s, en colère et, paradoxalement, désabusé·e·s ». Il ajoute :

«Ces propos sont aussi choquants qu’ils sont communs, malheureusement (…) Quant aux personnes qui, comme le prétendent les gérants, ignorent tout de la période coloniale, c’est une preuve de plus que le racisme de notre société est si ancré que l’on se permet d’ignorer des siècles d’histoire et de maintenir la mémoire de peuples entiers dans l’oubli.»

De son côté, Le Petit Bulletin a publié ce jeudi soir une mise au point et a laissé un droit de réponse aux gérants de « La Première Plantation » :

«Dépassés par la maladresse de leur propos, ils ne méritent certainement pas la violence du traitement qui leur est infligé aujourd’hui. Il était de notre devoir de journaliste d’écrire ce malaise ressenti par l’utilisation d’éléments évoquant l’époque coloniale pour décrire leur bar et son ambiance. Manipuler ces références à une époque douloureuse de l’histoire de France était pour le moins malvenu d’autant que le sujet est sensible et aujourd’hui débattu au plus haut niveau (…)»

Voir encore:

Polémique autour d’un bar lyonnais, « La Première Plantation », accusé de faire l’apologie de l’esclavage
« L’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir
Marine Le Breton
Huffington Post
14/09/2017

POLÉMIQUE – « Ce nouvel établissement idéal pour une soirée conviviale a ouvert cet été », écrivait le 11 septembre Le Progrès, à propos d’un nouveau bar lyonnais, « La Première Plantation« . Une première publicité plutôt élogieuse pour ce bar à cocktails du 6e arrondissement de la ville, qui a ouvert ses portes le 21 août.

Mais entre temps, un autre article a été publié dans Le Petit Bulletin de Lyon, offrant une bien moins bonne publicité au bar.

La journaliste qui a écrit l’article en question cite les deux créateurs du lieu racontant comment le nom du bar a été choisi. « Mon nom, La Première Plantation, est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir », expliquent-t-ils face à la journaliste qui dit être « restée interdite » et lui demande, « indignée », « c’était cool, la colonisation? » Réponse: « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante ». Et de préciser que des photos d’esclaves sont affichées dans les toilettes.

Les propos n’ont pas manqué de scandaliser sur les réseaux sociaux, qui accusent le bar de faire l’apologie de la colonisation et de l’esclavage.

Amandine Gay, La réalisatrice du documentaire « Ouvrir la voix », qui donne la parole aux femmes noires, a notamment fait toute une série de tweets pour dénoncer ces propos.

Une pétition dénonçant « l’apologie de l’esclavagisme » a également été lancée sur le site Change.org par Le Collectif Des Raciné.e.s.

La journaliste, devant les centaines de commentaires en réactions aux propos des créateurs du lieu, a tenu a préciser ce jeudi 14 septembre que les propos cités dans son article sont bel et bien authentiques:

Plusieurs internautes, ainsi que Le Progrès, soulignent que les avis ont été supprimés de la page Facebook du bar depuis.

Les gérants ont répondu aux critiques ce jeudi sur Facebook, expliquant n’avoir « jamais eu la volonté de faire une quelconque apologie de la période colonialiste, période que nous condamnons ». Ils précisent que « le mot plantation n’a dans notre esprit aucune connotation péjorative » ou encore que « notre bar à cocktails est un hommage à la culture du rhum et à la culture caribéenne ». Au HuffPost, ils affirment que ce post sera publié dans Le Petit Bulletin, annoté par le directeur de la rédaction qui s’est rendu sur les lieux.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Flapremiereplantation%2Fposts%2F275219106324041&width=500

Contacté par Le HuffPost, Matthieu Henry, l’un des deux créateurs du lieu, regrette cette polémique et ne cautionne pas tous les dires de la journaliste. « Nous n’avons pas voulu dire ces choses-là dans ce sens-là. Nous ne voulons en aucun cas faire l’apologie de l’esclavage mais de celle du rhum, de la culture caraïbéenne », précise-t-il. Par le « à la cool » cité dans l’article du Petit Bulletin, il voulait « parler du bar, du service, de notre attitude ». Il dément aussi que des photos d’esclaves soient affichées dans les toilettes. « Il s’agit de gravures de bouteilles de rhum, de champs d’ananas », ajoute-t-il.

Voir aussi:

La Première Plantation est un bar à cocktails qui a ouvert cet été dans le sixième arrondissement. Une dizaine d’articles de la presse généraliste ou spécialisée a célébré cette ouverture, sans interroger les gérants sur le choix du nom du lieu. Le 12 septembre, une journaliste du Petit Bulletin qui écrit sur les nouveaux lieux « branchés » a questionné les gérants qui ont alors tenu des propos racistes surréalistes en expliquant qu’il souhaitait rappeler l’esprit colonial, « un esprit à la cool », « une époque où l’on savait recevoir »…

Certain.es pensaient naïvement que les références au « temps béni des colonies » ou aux « bienfaits de la colonisation » et autres célébrations du « ya bon banania » appartenaient à un temps révolu ou à une autre génération ayant directement participé à la colonisation. Gabriel Desvallées et Matthieu Henry, jeunes trentenaires branchés nous rappellent le contraire.

Ces jeunes gens branchés ont choisi de faire du colonialisme la base de leur stratégie commerciale. Ils viennent d’ouvrir un bar à cocktails au 22 rue Professeur Weill, dans le sixième arrondissement de Lyon. Ils l’ont baptisé La Première Plantation. Pourquoi ? C’est Le Petit Bulletin qui le révèle dans un article intitulé « La Première Plantation, ou l’art de se planter ». Voici ce qu’ils ont confié à la rédactrice :

Mon nom, La Première Plantation, est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir.

On vomit à la lecture de ces propos racistes, qui nient l’esclavage et les violences intrinsèques du rapport colonial infligées par les grandes puissances européennes aux peuples des pays colonisés.
On pourrait donc, au bénéfice du doute, penser à l’ignorance des gérants du bar, mais pourtant ce n’est pas fini car ils surenchérissent, entre clichés, mépris et racisme. La rédactrice du Petit Bulletin écrit ainsi :

Peut-être avais-je mal entendu, finalement. (…) Non. Il a persévéré. « C’était cool, la colonisation ? » me suis-je indignée. « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. » Je me suis offusquée : « et la partie esclaves, là-dedans ? ». « Ah, on a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes. » m’a-t-il rétorqué.

Pour ceux et celles qui douteraient de la réalité de ces propos, la journaliste les a confirmé sur twitter :

PNG - 244.1 ko

L’indécence de ces propos est inqualifiable. Et leur violence rend inutile le moindre commentaire. Tout comme le font certain avec l’utilisation du Blackface pour faire rire, La Première Plantation appuie sa communication sur une idéologie fondée sur les clichés racistes. Ceux-ci sont tournées en dérision et même promus par cet établissement dont la démarche commerciale se conjugue avec une vision politique rance et réactionnaire, niant à la fois l’horreur historique de cette période et balayant d’un revers de main toutes les luttes d’esclaves ayant amené à sa fin.

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La colonisation en réalité

En 2017, les gérants d’un bar branché poussent ainsi le cynisme au point de faire de l’apologie du colonialisme et du mépris des ravages de l’esclavage des preuves de leur « coolitude ». De la rencontre du capitalisme hype et du racisme le plus bas du front ne peuvent naître que des horreurs, et elles font peur à voir.

On s’inquiète aussi que plusieurs médias se soient fait écho de l’ouverture du lieu, sans rien n’avoir trouvé à redire à ce choix commercial choquant. Petite revue de presse :

Fourniresto, le 21 août : « Ils sauront vous faire voyager à travers le décor décalé de leur bar et grâce à leur cocktails. »

- Inside-lyon, le 24 août : « une oasis tropicale où la nature a tous les droits ; Un bar sans chichis, magnifique mais à la cool ; on aime la déco tropico-industrielle, qui réussit le pari d’être belle, moderne et pas cliché »

- Mixology (en anglais), le 16 août : « Like a highly exotic trip without the kitsch side of the tiki bar : a real indoor jungle mixing palm trees and hanging succulent plants will contrast with rough walls and exposed beams, giving an industrial feel »

- Le Progrès, le 11 septembre : « idéal pour une soirée conviviale ».

Tous ces propos s’entendent donc à condition d’être blanc et raciste, sans doute…

Nous terminerons à l’adresse des patrons de ce bar qui n’ont rien compris à l’histoire par une citation de Franz Fanon :

« Le colonialisme n’est pas une machine à penser, n’est pas un corps doué de raison. Il est la violence à l’état de nature et ne peut s’incliner que devant une plus grande violence. » [1]

Notes

[1Les Damnés de la Terre (1961), Frantz Fanon, éd. La Découverte poche, 2002, p. 61

Voir également:

L’« esprit cool » de la colonisation ou la pire stratégie marketing d’un bar lyonnais

Se démarquer de ses concurrents avec un style bien à soi, un objectif pour tout commerce cherchant à se faire connaître. La Première Plantation, bar à cocktails lyonnais ouvert cet été dans le 6e arrondissement à Lyon, vient de faire les frais de son positionnement : distiller un esprit colonial pour vendre du rhum, car la période selon eux était « à la cool » et « accueillante ».

Dalya Daoud
Rue89Lyon
15/09/2017

Tout démarre avec une chronique publiée dans le Petit Bulletin, hebdo culturel/loisirs (par ailleurs partenaire de Rue89Lyon), intitulée « La Première Plantation, ou l’art de se planter ». Dans sa rubrique dédiée aux restos et bons spots, il n’y a habituellement que des plans recommandés par la rédac.

Après sa visite, la journaliste sort estomaquée de son entrevue avec les néo-entrepreneurs. Ce ne sont pas les cocktails au rhum qui ne passent pas, mais les propos du duo.

Elle retranscrit leur projet dans les citations attribuées à l’un des deux patrons :

« Mon nom, La Première Plantation, est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir. »

La journaliste s’étrangle :

« Je suis restée interdite,  j’ai cru qu’il avait ajouté de la drogue dans l’un des cocktails, j’ai repris mes esprits et j’ai creusé. Peut-être avais-je mal entendu, finalement. Peut-être avait-il prononcé « l’esprit commercial » et que la chute de la pression atmosphérique dans l’avion avait eu raison de mon ouïe.

Non. Il a persévéré. « C’était cool, la colonisation ? » me suis-je indignée. « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. » Je me suis offusquée : « et la partie esclaves, là-dedans ? ».« Ah, on a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes. » m’a-t-il rétorqué.

« Invitation au voyage et à l’exotisme »

Après les échanges traditionnels avec la rédaction en chef, qu’impose le circuit de tout article de presse, il est décidé de publier le papier. Mais la désinvolture avec laquelle les barmen ont répondu choque et sont repris dans la presse en ligne.

De grosses salves de critiques mais aussi d’insultes, telles que le web sait les multiplier, sont écrites notamment sur la page Facebook de la Première plantation (elle a été complètement supprimée depuis). Des menaces pleuvent également. Le débat passe par moult circonvolutions : « oui mais les cocktails sont-ils bons ? » ; « comment ça, l’assiette végé n’est pas assez copieuse ? », etc.

La journaliste, qui collabore en tant que pigiste avec le Petit Bulletin, n’est pas épargnée : elle est accusée de façon lapidaire et violente de vouloir nuire personnellement au lieu ou encore tout simplement de mentir.

Après un rendez-vous avec le rédacteur en chef, les patrons du bar se fendent d’un droit de réponse, sans tellement de fioritures ni plus d’explications sur le fond :

« Notre volonté a été d’ouvrir un bar à cocktails, un lieu d’échanges, de partages, convivial autour du rhum, sa culture et son histoire.

Contrairement à ce que a été retranscrit dans l’article, notre établissement n’a jamais eu la volonté de faire une quelconque apologie de la période colonialiste, période que nous condamnons. Le nom « Première Plantation » est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre dont le rhum est issu.

Ce nom fait également référence au fait que cette ouverture est une première pour nous, une première plante, notre premier établissement. Le mot plantation n’a dans notre esprit aucune connotation péjorative. »

Les jeunes barmen continuent de patauger, en parlant d’ « invitation au voyage et à l’exotisme ». Avant de déplorer, évidemment, « les conséquences […] préjudiciables [pour eux] tant sur le plan professionnel que personnel ».

« Une méconnaissance de cette période de l’Histoire »

Le rédacteur en chef du Petit Bulletin fait, en introduction du droit de réponse, cette analyse :

« Les propos tenus lors de l’interview publiée mardi et le positionnement de leur lieu sont visiblement la conséquence d’une méconnaissance de cette période de l’Histoire, de légèreté sans doute quand à leurs recherches sur cette époque. »

Pas racistes, les petits gars, mais juste ignorants. Reste que la polémique ne désenfle pas, s’amplifie même avec les partages sur les réseaux sociaux. Les soutiens du bar sont parfois des personnes se présentant le bras levé ou tenant eux-mêmes des propos racistes, ce qui dessert encore la volonté des tenanciers de ne pas passer pour des défenseurs du colonialisme.

La journaliste et le rédacteur en chef trouvent leurs soutiens mais voient aussi leur travail descendu en flèche, devant assurer le service anti-trolls (qu’il ne faut pas nourrir, on le sait) très chronophage.

Depuis la parution de l’article sur La Première Plantation hier, des centaines de commentaires inondent les réseaux sociaux. La chroniqueuse parvient à conserver son calme et à tenter de donner des explications, toujours via les réseaux sociaux :

« – Les faits rapportés dans l’article ne sont pas, comme j’ai pu le lire, « le fruit de l’imagination de la journaliste qui veut nuire personnellement au lieu » mais bien des faits, justement.

– Je n’approuve en aucun cas l’appel à la violence envers les propriétaires du lieu. »

Puis encore :

« – L’interview a été enregistrée. Les propos de l’article sont avérés. Il n’y a aucune volonté de nuire, simplement celle de rapporter des faits et de vérifier l’info, l’essence même de mon métier.

– Les photos aujourd’hui affichées dans ces fameuses toilettes ne montrent pas d’esclaves. Celle le jour de ma venue, si. Mais la question n’est pas là. La réponse « On a mis des photos dans les toilettes » à la question « Et les esclaves ? » suffit à poser les choses. »

Une pétition a finalement été lancée par le collectif Des Raciné.e.s contre « l’apologie de l’esclavagisme à Lyon », pointant directement le bar, et a recueilli en quelques heures, ce vendredi matin, plus de 3300 signatures. Le bar la Première Plantation a certes fait parler de lui mais s’est en effet bien planté.

Voir de même:

La Première Plantation, ou l’art de se planter
Ne jamais se fier aux apparences : c’est ce qu’on retiendra de ce nouveau bar à cocktails spécialisé dans le rhum.
Julie Hainaut
Le Petit Bulletin
12 septembre 2017

Elle avait pourtant bien commencé, cette histoire. Lui et moi, on était fait pour s’entendre, c’était couru d’avance. Je rentrais de vacances, la tête dans les nuages, il était là, frais et dispo, prêt à me faire atterrir et revenir à la réalité en douceur.

Dès l’entrée, il m’avait séduite à coup de déco brute esprit récup’, de cocktails détonnants – le LPP Swizzle et The Epicurian sont idéaux pour contrer la canicule ou récupérer d’un jet lag –, et de mixtures improbables – la liqueur Falernum réalisée à partir de clous de girofles et de café, entre autres, est exquise.

L’assiette veggie (15 € pour trois artichauts marinés, cinq olives, deux grammes de courgettes marinées, une cuillère à café de houmous, une autre de tapenade) m’avait déçue, mais il avait su me réconforter : « les produits viennent d’Italie, la qualité est top » avait-il alors précisé, sous la houlette de ses deux créateurs, Gabriel Desvallées et Matthieu Henry.

Mais l’histoire s’est compliquée. Il disait avoir choisi de s’installer « dans un arrondissement underground. » Le 6e, underground, vraiment ? Il entendait imposer une ambiance de « jungle, là où les plantes prennent le dessus sur la ville ». À peine cinq se couraient après. Je n’ai rien dit, j’ai voulu laisser sa chance au produit.

Puis il a commencé à tenir des propos douteux.

« Mon nom, La Première Plantation, est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre (le rhum en est issu) dans les colonies françaises. Je cherche à retranscrire l’esprit colonial, un esprit à la cool, une époque où l’on savait recevoir. »

Je suis restée interdite,  j’ai cru qu’il avait ajouté de la drogue dans l’un des cocktails, j’ai repris mes esprits et j’ai creusé. Peut-être avais-je mal entendu, finalement. Peut-être avait-il prononcé « l’esprit commercial » et que la chute de la pression atmosphérique dans l’avion avait eu raison de mon ouïe. Non. Il a persévéré. « C’était cool, la colonisation ? » me suis-je indignée. « Dans l’esprit, oui, carrément, ça représente une période sympathique, il y avait du travail à cette époque accueillante. » Je me suis offusquée : « et la partie esclaves, là-dedans ? ». « Ah, on a mis quelques photos dans les toilettes. » m’a-t-il rétorqué.

Des gouttes ont commencé à couler le long de mon visage – ce n’était pas la canicule mais un mélange de colère et de stupeur. J’ai quand même vérifié s’il n’y avait pas de caméra cachée – mon rédac chef est taquin –, il n’y en avait pas, j’ai payé, je suis allée me changer les idées à grand renfort de pintes et d’amis sur les quais, et je suis rentrée, la gorge nouée. Cette histoire qui avait si bien commencé avec des cocktails savoureux s’est mal terminée.

Voir de plus:

La Première Plantation
Droit de Réponse
Le Petit Bulletin
14 septembre 2017

Nous faisons suite à l’article posté le 12 septembre 2017 sur Le Petit Bulletin signé par madame Julie Hainaut.

Si nous acceptons les critiques constructives sur notre travail, en revanche cet article appelle de notre part les observations suivantes.

Nous sommes ouverts depuis le 21 août 2017, il s’agit de notre première affaire.

Notre volonté a été d’ouvrir un bar à cocktails, un lieu d’échanges, de partages, convivial autour du rhum, sa culture et son histoire.

Contrairement à ce que a été retranscrit dans l’article, notre établissement n’a jamais eu la volonté de faire une quelconque apologie de la période colonialiste, période que nous condamnons.

Le nom « Première Plantation » est une référence aux plantations de canne à sucre dont le rhum est issu.

Ce nom fait également référence au fait que cette ouverture est une première pour nous, une première plante, notre premier établissement.

Le mot plantation n’a dans notre esprit aucune connotation péjorative.

Henry Matthieu et Gabriel Desvallees, La Première Plantation
Voir encore:

Colonialism-Themed Bar in France Stokes Outrage

Backlash to La Première Plantation has been swift

A new bar in Lyon, France, is drawing anger for its nostalgic use of French colonialism (and its attendant atrocities, including slavery) as a theme.

La Première Plantation (“The First Plantation” in English) opened recently in the city’s wealthy and predominantly white sixth arrondissement. Various elements of the bar invoke French colonial activity in the Caribbean, from images of slaves in the bathrooms, to drinks with names like “Trader’s Punch.” The bar’s name references French sugar cane plantations — colonies like Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) were major producers of sugar, and from the mid-1600s, relied heavily on slaves for production and trade of sugar. Official descriptions of the bar say that “you’re not in the heart of Lyon, you’re in a new neighborhood: the Jungle District.”)

The bar started drawing negative attention after an article from local journalist Julie Hainaut, who wrote that she found the owners’ explanations of the bar’s concept to be “questionable.”

Speaking to Hainaut, owners Gabriel Desvallées and Matthieu Henry said “[they] wanted to revive the colonial spirit, a spirit of coolness, and a time when people really knew how to entertain.”

Hainaut wrote that she thought she had misheard (“I thought someone had drugged my cocktail”), and sought clarification by asking if colonialism was “cool.” The owners replied, “In its spirit, yes, it was a nice period.”

She then asked about the role that slaves played in French colonization. The owners noted in response that there were pictures of slaves in the bar’s bathrooms.

The backlash was swift. The bar’s Facebook (now deactivated) was inundated with negative reviews, and a local anti-racism collective Le Collectif des Raciné-e-s demanded the immediate closure of the bar, launching a petition that now counts thousands of signatures. The petition states that “colonial times were rife with atrocities, crimes against humanity, looting and barbarism… this period should in no way be described as ‘cool’ and used for commercial gain in a ‘trendy’ bar.”

The owners wrote a response to the criticism on Facebook, saying that they never intended to be apologists for colonization, and that “the word plantation has no negative connotations in our minds.” Henry spoke to the Huffington Post’s French edition, saying he refused to validate Hainaut’s report on the bar, implying that he had been quoted out of context.

Speaking to another local publication, Henry said the bar would change its name in response to the backlash, although with no mention of whether the theme would change.

This isn’t the first time an establishment has settled for some sort of colonial theme: in 2016, a Portland bakery-restaurant, Saffron Colonial, faced a similar response, although it arguably didn’t delve into the theme quite so heavily (that is, no pictures of slaves in the bathrooms). Similarly, that restaurant tried to deflect criticism by changing its name to British Overseas Restaurant Corporation, or BORC.

Voir de plus:

Controversial Colonial-Themed Restaurant Changes Name

Saffron Colonial is officially renamed British Overseas Restaurant Corporation

Before it even opened, Saffron Colonial on North Williams caused controversy when many in the Portland community accused it of glorifying colonialism, and now, owner Sally Krantz tells Eater she will change the name of her bakery and restaurant to BORC, which stands for British Overseas Restaurant Corporation. The new name is a play on British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), a former British airline.

Two protests have been held at the restaurant formerly named Saffron Colonial, and among the recommendations presented by protestors were that Saffron Colonial change its name and remove all references to plantations from its menus.

In an email sent to Eater, Krantz explained why she made the name change:

While it would have been nice to keep my branding and have an accurate descriptor of the cuisine, I recognize that this is taking the focus off of what I want to do with food. My mission in opening this restaurant is to celebrate the wonderful multi-cultural aspects of food in a beautiful and multi-cultural part of Portland: my hometown, and a city that I love.

Highlighting historical recipes and the development of dishes through the light of different countries and their relationships with England was a personal journey for me, after living in Asia and being immersed in a large population of English Expats for 20 years. As I have said, I love history and historic recipes, how food has developed and changed over time, and have developed many of these recipes in conjunction with the people I worked with from all over Asia and England to get them exactly right.

So I’m hoping the new name, BORC, is a fun name to represent this concept. It is an acronym for British Overseas Restaurant Corporation and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the precursor to British Airways: BOAC, on which many Expatriates traveled. I’m sincerely hoping that this name change will allow us to focus on serving great food in a warm and positive environment.

When Eater asked Krantz whether the restaurant had removed all « colonial » and « plantation » references, Krantz said it had, adding that the words had each appeared only once at the restaurant: once on a chalk sign, and once on a cocktail menu. She says the chalkboard was erased prior to the protest and the cocktail menu was erased in response to the first protest, while the protesters were in the restaurant.

Since the Saffron Colonial controversy became public, Ristretto Roasters, who had been the restaurant’s coffee supplier and also sold Saffron Colonial baked goods in its cafes, severed ties with the bakery. Other local companies have been reported to have withheld or stopped distributing their goods to Saffron Colonial, including Steven Smith Teamaker and Ex Novo Brewing.

Voir encore:

Sylvie Thénault sur les violences coloniales : « Allons vers un travail collectif de connaissance du passé »

Sylvie Thénault est une historienne française spécialiste de la Guerre d’Algérie.
Penser le post-colonialisme
« Les écritures post-coloniales » se déroule du vendredi 2 au samedi 3 février 2018 au Théâtre National Populaire. Deux soirées pour penser le post-colonialisme en faisant dialoguer la littérature, l’histoire, la musique et la poésie.
Un événement organisé par la Villa Gillet avec le Théâtre National Populaire, l’Ambassade des Pays-Bas en France, le Fonds des lettres néerlandaises et Flanders Literature.
Tout le programme est ici.

La question de la portée des violences coloniales ainsi que celles des guerres d’indépendance dans l’après, une fois que la colonie s’est défait du joug pesant sur elle parfois depuis des dizaines d’années, comme dans le cas algérien, est couramment appréhendée sur le modèle du traumatisme psychologique, fondant une description en trois temps : traumatisme, oubli, résurgence.

Pourtant, la transposition de ce schéma à l’échelle collective interroge : en quoi, pourquoi et comment une société y répondrait-elle ?

L’analyse fine de la mémoire de certains événements – comme celle de la répression sauvage de la mobilisation des Algériens à Paris, le 17 octobre 1961 – plaide au contraire pour une approche privilégiant des mécanismes d’ordre socio-politique : la dispersion des groupes ayant vécu cette histoire, leur subalternité dans la société où ils vivaient, la confiscation de la parole par un pouvoir usant politiquement de l’histoire ou encore le confinement du souvenir de la répression dans des groupes ultra-minoritaires, à l’extrême gauche de l’échiquier politique, ont été les facteurs de l’absence de l’événement sur la place publique pendant une trentaine d’années avant que le mouvement antiraciste s’en empare, l’inclue dans son argumentaire et le fasse resurgir à la faveur de son combat contre l’extrême droite.

« Laissons aux spécialistes de la psyché le soin des consciences et des inconscients individuels blessés »

Sylvie Thénault, une spécialiste de la Guerre d’Algérie
Née en 1969, cette historienne française est agrégée d’histoire et directrice de recherche au CNRS, spécialiste de la guerre d’indépendance algérienne. Ses travaux portent sur le droit et la répression légale pendant la guerre d’indépendance algérienne. Elle a en particulier étudié des mesures ponctuelles, comme les couvre-feux en région parisienne et les camps d’internement français entre 1954 et 1962.

C’est donc à une histoire des usages politiques du passé et à une sociologie des témoins porteurs du souvenir que j’appelle, en tant qu’historienne. À l’échelle de la Cité, il y a occultation volontaire plus qu’oubli, entretien d’une mémoire souterraine plus que refoulement, combat pour la reconnaissance plus que résurgence.

Laissons aux spécialistes de la psyché le soin des consciences et des inconscients individuels blessés pour aller, au titre des sciences humaines et sociales, vers un travail collectif de connaissance et de remémoration du passé dans un objectif clair d’éducation citoyenne.

Voir enfin:

Le Martiniquais Frantz Fanon inspire un réalisateur suédois
« Les damnés de la terre » de Frantz Fanon est en filigrane de Concerning Violence, ce documentaire de Göran Hugo Olsson, qui s’est interrogé sur l’histoire des peuples africains pour accéder à l’indépendance. Un documentaire à voir actuellement à Madiana, Schoelcher.
Fabrice Théodose
France info Martinique
16/01/2015

« Concerning Violence » interroge les spectateurs sur le monde actuel, car le colonialisme est une donne fondamentale de la construction de l’Occident. Il s’agit d’une sorte d’essai filmique en 9 chapitres rythmé par la voix de Lauryn Hill. La chanteuse des Fugees, connue pour son engagement politique, a prêté sa voix à Frantz Fanon, en citant des extraits de ses textes.

Des entretiens et des archives nous replongent dans l’Afrique d’avant la décolonisation, plus particulièrement au Mozambique et en Angola. Le réalisateur a tenté d’illustrer les propos de l’essayiste martiniquais avec des images tournées par des cinéastes lors des luttes socialistes anti-impérialistes en Afrique.

Violence et décolonisation

« Le colonialisme n’est pas une machine à penser, n’est pas un corps doué de raison. Il est la violence à l’état de nature et ne peut s’incliner que devant une plus grande violence » (Franz Fanon, Les Damnés de la Terre, 1961).

La décolonisation s’est souvent faite dans le sang, avec des guerres d’indépendances menées avec passion par les anciennes colonies. C’est aussi cette violence de la colonisation, qui permet d’expliquer les tensions dans les pays concernés.

A travers ce film, le réalisateur a voulu aussi montrer l’écho que pouvait donner les propos de Fanon aux problèmes actuels de nos sociétés. La violence y est encore présente, tout comme elle l’était dans la période de colonisation et la quête à l’indépendance. N’y a-t-il pas une sorte d’hypocrisie entre les valeurs humanistes de l’Occident et cette colonisation violente qui a donné le monde actuel ?

« Concerning Violence » de Göran Hugo Olsson, lundi 19 janvier à Madiana, à 19h30

Voir parallèlement:

Harcèlement de rue: «Les policiers savent très bien que cette loi est purement inapplicable!»
Etienne Campion
Le Figaro
31/07/2018

FIGAROVOX/ENTRETIEN – Fonctionnaire de police et déléguée syndicale de l’Unité SGP Police, Linda Kebbab fait entendre le point de vue des forces de l’ordre sur le projet de loi de Marlène Schiappa qui prévoit de punir d’amendes l’outrage sexiste. Elle dénonce une loi inapplicable qui relève de la communication.

Linda Kebbab est déléguée nationale de l’Unité SGP Police. Elle a contribué cette année au numéro hors-série d’«Actu Police»: Femmes flics, héroïnes nationales<
FIGAROVOX.- Le secrétaire d’État à l’Égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, Marlène Schiappa, prévoit l’application de la loi de «lutte contre les violences sexistes et sexuelles» dès l’automne, rendant le harcèlement de rue verbalisable. En tant que représentante des forces de l’ordre, êtes-vous favorable à cette loi, et est-elle applicable?

Linda KEBBAB.- Favorables à une loi pour défendre les femmes dans l’espace public, nous le sommes évidemment dans le principe, c’est une noble cause. D’ailleurs, avant que le ministère de l’Intérieur s’engage dans le label «Égalité professionnelle entre les femmes et les hommes», notre organisation syndicale était sur le sujet depuis longtemps: nous avons par exemple sorti un numéro d’«ActuPolice» à l’attention des femmes policières mettant en avant les difficultés rencontrées au sein des forces de l’ordre en matière de discrimination. Donc c’est évidemment un sujet qui nous touche et pour lequel on s’estime précurseurs, bien avant le ministère de l’Intérieur et le gouvernement…

En revanche, la façon dont le problème a été abordé nous trouble particulièrement et nous sommes très pessimistes quant à l’application de cette loi dans l’espace public.

D’abord parce qu’il s’agit d’une contravention et non pas d’un délit. Le délit peut être rapporté et donner lieu à l’ouverture d’une enquête judiciaire: chacun peut rapporter les faits pour un délit dont il a été témoin ou victime. Ce qui n’est pas le cas pour une contravention.

Croire qu’on pourra mettre en place une police du flagrant délit pour ce genre de contraventions est totalement utopique.

Pour une contravention, il faut que l’agent de police ait constaté de ses propres yeux l’infraction, et qu’un citoyen la rapporte aux autorités ne changera rien. Aller dire à un agent de police qu’on s’est fait insulter ou harceler revient ainsi à lui rapporter qu’un chauffard a grillé un feu rouge: il sera d’accord pour dire que c’est mal, mais sans flagrant délit il ne pourra rien faire, hormis vous répondre qu’il n’a rien constaté. Car la contravention nécessite une constatation. Et en matière d’outrage sexiste, il est peu probable que les policiers déjà submergés – allons-nous devoir rallonger leurs journées? – puissent rester planqués au coin d’une rue ou patrouiller à pied dans l’attente de constater, et ce dans le plus grand des hasards, un outrage sexiste en flagrant délit. Croire qu’on pourra mettre en place une police du flagrant délit pour ce genre de contraventions est totalement utopique. Et les femmes ne pourront de toute façon pas saisir les policiers puisqu’il s’agit d’une contravention…

Comment les policiers perçoivent-ils ce potentiel nouveau rôle d’appréhension et de discernement de ce qui est, ou n’est pas, du harcèlement?

Les policiers disent tous qu’il s’agit d’une loi faite pour communiquer, totalement inapplicable, même si bien sûr ils ont conscience du problème et qu’ils ont l’habitude d’être sollicités pour cela. Mais c’est justement parce qu’ils ont conscience de ces réalités grâce au contact du terrain qu’ils considèrent que l’arrivée de cette loi relève de la pure communication: les policiers savent très bien qu’elle est purement inapplicable, ils ne l’affirment pas par plaisir! Et de toute façon, sauf si par hasard quelques cas ponctuels fonctionnent, ce n’est pas cela qui changera la société! Les policiers ont conscience que cette contravention ne modifiera en rien les rouages de la société et considèrent, de toute façon, que ce n’est pas à eux de le faire. Ce n’est en effet pas à eux de faire de la prévention et de l’admonestation – car si cette loi passe il s’agira bien pour les policiers de sermonner les dragueurs de rue… Les moyens n’ont pas été mis en amont dans l’éducation et la prévention et on nous demande à nous policiers d’expliquer à un homme comment il doit se comporter avec une femme!

C’est une question de société pour laquelle on n’a pas trouvé de réponses et qu’on demande à la police de régler !

Ce n’est pas aux policiers de faire de la pédagogie?

En effet, ce n’est pas leur travail. Et, de toute façon, même si nous le voulions, nous n’aurions pas les moyens pour le faire. Si on estime qu’il s’agit d’une vraie cause nationale, il aurait fallu en faire un délit pour permettre aux victimes de se plaindre et de vraiment pouvoir déposer plainte pour mesurer l’impact psychologique et les potentiels jours d’ITT afin de lancer des procédures judiciaires.

Et ce qui sera considéré comme du harcèlement chez certaines femmes ne le sera pas chez d’autres…

C’est une question de société pour laquelle on n’a pas trouvé de réponses et qu’on demande à la police de régler! On peut trouver scandaleux la «Tribune des cent femmes» et le droit d’importuner, mais si aujourd’hui une femme se fait siffler dans la rue et qu’un policier intervient, à quel moment la contravention devra être constatée? Quand l’homme aura répondu à la liste exhaustive des sifflements établis par le gouvernement? Mais comment fera-t-on si la jeune fille dit que c’est une drague qu’elle accepte? Le policier se trouvera en porte-à-faux… Ce n’est pas à un policier de résoudre des problèmes de société! Et les contraventions, qui sont des éléments objectifs (feu rouge grillé, tapage nocturne…), tiennent à des faits réprimés par la société dont on n’a pas à discuter. Tandis qu’un sifflement ou une remarque peuvent être acceptés par certaines femmes: ce n’est pas à un policier de le verbaliser.

Selon vous et au vu de votre expérience de terrain, comment faire pour lutter en profondeur contre le problème de la sécurité des femmes dans l’espace public?

C’est une question qui renvoie à l’éducation et à la prévention. Or, jamais dans cette loi il n’a été question de mesures éducatives et de prévention auprès des hommes. Les stages de sanctions complémentaires ne suffiront pas, et les policiers ne peuvent travailler que s’il y a une véritable œuvre de prévention en amont, ce qui n’est pas le cas. D’autant plus qu’ils ne peuvent dénoncer des pratiques qui sont à l’ordre du jour seulement depuis «#metoo»: on ne peut pas leur demander de devenir manichéens quant à des outrages qui n’étaient pas perçus comme tels il y a encore quelques mois.

L’« outrage sexiste » et les « regards appuyés » : il faudrait un policier à chaque coin de rue, c’est parfaitement utopique…

Par ailleurs, souvent dans les outrages sexistes, dès lors que la jeune fille se rebiffe, elle devient victime de violence. Comme pour le cas récent de Marie Laguerre, qui a eu raison de faire preuve de courage. Tout comme elle a eu aussi raison de dire que même les femmes policières sont victimes d’outrages, nous le constatons également à notre échelle. Il faut par ailleurs rappeler que dans le cas de cette femme qui a été agressée, si la police était intervenue et que l’homme avait été interpellé, cette affaire aurait pu rester à l’échelle de la contravention et être traitée entre les tapages nocturnes et les excès de vitesse… Elle est devenue un délit parce que l’homme, en lançant un cendrier au visage de Marie Laguerre, a fait usage d’une arme par destination. Ce qui a donné lieu à une circonstance aggravante.

Il est donc primordial que, au-delà des sifflements et des remarques de rue, le gouvernement prenne en compte la circonstance aggravante en fonction du genre de la personne atteinte. Car un homme qui frappe une femme aujourd’hui ne pâtit pas de circonstance aggravante, sauf lorsque c’est sa concubine.

On fait beaucoup de bruit pour des contraventions, mais la grosse erreur du gouvernement est d’être complètement passé à côté de cette question des circonstances aggravantes en fonction de l’appartenance à un genre, et de ne même pas y avoir songé.

Nous n’avons pas été entendus, hormis quelques invitations symboliques, le gouvernement ne prend absolument pas en compte le terrain et se contente de communiquer par des lois inapplicables. L’«outrage sexiste» et les «regards appuyés»: il faudrait un policier à chaque coin de rue, c’est parfaitement utopique…

La loi sur les fake news : vaine, liberticide ou utile ?

La proposition de loi, voulue par Macron et portée par les députés LREM, arrive devant l’Assemblée. Les avis sont souvent tranchés sur son utilité.

Thierry Noisette

Les députés lois examinent, à partir de ce jeudi 7 juin, en séance publique les deux propositions de loi « anti-fake news » (leur appellation officielle est « lutte contre les fausses informations »).

Il s’agit en fait d’un projet de loi maquillé en propositions, puisque l’on sait qu’il a été voulu par le président de la République et préparé au ministère de la Culture, même s’il est présenté formellement par des députés LREM.

Un texte examiné en accéléré

Lors de ses vœux à la presse, le 3 janvier, Emmanuel Macron déclarait : « En période électorale, en cas de propagation d’une fausse nouvelle, il sera possible de saisir le juge à travers une nouvelle action en référé. »

Le gouvernement ayant engagé la procédure accélérée sur ces deux textes (proposition de loi organique n° 772 et proposition de loi n° 799), ils ne feront donc l’objet que d’une seule lecture à l’Assemblée puis au Sénat.

Ce projet a suscité de nombreuses réactions, souvent critiques. Deux reproches sont fréquemment adressés aux deux textes : ils ajoutent encore une loi alors qu’il existe déjà dans le droit français un délit de diffusion de fausses nouvelles (article 27 de la loi de 1881 sur la liberté de la presse), et ils vont confier à un juge, en procédure d’urgence, la tâche de déterminer si une nouvelle est fausse ou non.

Lors de l’audition de la ministre de la Culture, Françoise Nyssen, mardi 22 mai par les députés, rapporte Euractiv, le député Nouvelle Gauche Hervé Saulignac s’est inquiété : « Comment un juge en 48 heures peut-il qualifier une information ? […] Va-t-on remettre en cause le secret des sources ? »

« Un concept fourre-tout »

La rapporteure pour la commission des lois, Naïma Moutchou, a annoncé que des précisions seraient apportées au texte au travers d’amendements notamment pour définir clairement le terme de « fausse information ».

Nicolas Vanderbiest, animateur du blog Reputatio Lab, qui analyse les crises et l’e-réputation sur les réseaux sociaux, était très critique lors de l’annonce présidentielle, sur le terme même de fake news :

« C’est un mot qui ne devrait même pas exister. C’est un concept fourre-tout qui a le sens qu’on lui donne. Est-ce une rumeur ? Une fausse information ? Une opération de déstabilisation comme on a pu en voir pendant l’élection présidentielle ? »

Et il ajoutait sur son blog : « Il n’y a aucun accord sur la définition de fake news, ce mot étant une coquille vide. Ensuite parce que la réalité des fake news ne peut être combattue uniquement par une loi. Le parallèle avec le piratage est criant. C’est illégal, mais tout le monde le pratique. »

« Liberticide, démagogique »

L’avocat Emmanuel Pierrat, le 4 mars sur BFMTV (à 16h30), mettait en avant l’ancienneté des textes existants (la loi du 27 juillet 1849, article 4, interdisait déjà « la publication ou reproduction, faite de mauvaise foi, de nouvelles fausses, de pièces fabriquées, falsifiées, ou mensongèrement attribuées à des tiers, lorsque ces nouvelles ou pièces seront de nature à troubler la paix publique ») :

« Il y a déjà en droit français presque 400 textes qui encadrent la liberté d’expression. […] Depuis 1850, il existe un délit de fausses nouvelles en France. Quelle est l’utilité de créer un délit de fake news qui ressemble peu ou prou au délit de fausses nouvelles ? […] On rend le juge responsable de dire la vérité, et en urgence. […] C’est une loi liberticide, démagogique, qui ne servira à rien. »

Après l’annonce présidentielle de janvier, la présidente du Syndicat de la magistrature, Katia Dubreuil, déclarait à « Libération » : « Il ne paraît pas du tout évident de vérifier ce qui relève ou non de la fausse information dans le cadre de l’urgence. »

Les actuelles propositions de loi sur les fake news ont cependant une spécificité, celle de viser les périodes préélectorales et électorales (en imposant aux plateformes « des obligations de transparence renforcées en vue de permettre » aux autorités de détecter des campagnes de déstabilisation par la diffusion de fausses informations, et aux internautes de connaître l’annonceur des contenus sponsorisés.

« Ne pas ouvrir la boîte de Pandore »

Interrogé début mai par « le Nouveau Magazine littéraire », Pierre Haski, président de Reporters sans frontières et chroniqueur à « l’Obs », déclarait :

« Qu’un Etat veuille protéger son débat public d’une ingérence étrangère cachée ne me choque pas. Durant la campagne électorale américaine, 126 millions d’Américains ont été exposés à des contenus sponsorisés achetés par la Russie sans apparaître comme tel mais sous un prête-nom. Cela pose un grave problème démocratique dans la mesure où il y a manipulation d’un processus électoral. Si l’Etat français veut imposer un encadrement et une transparence de ces pratiques, je n’y suis pas opposé sur le principe. Mais il faudra être extrêmement vigilant sur la formulation d’un tel texte de loi pour ne pas ouvrir la boîte de Pandore. »

Lorsque « le Monde » retrace l’histoire de la loi de 1881 sur la liberté de la presse et de sa répression des fausses nouvelles, il cite l’historien de la presse Patrick Eveno. Ce dernier note qu’en pratique, les poursuites contre les journaux accusés d’avoir publié des fausses nouvelles furent très rares :

« Il faut montrer qu’il y a eu une intention de ­publier une fausse nouvelle et faire le lien entre celle-ci et un trouble à la paix publique, ce qui est très compliqué. Si bien que le délit de fausse nouvelle a été peu invoqué par les parquets. Mais il l’a été pendant la guerre d’Algérie. En termes de droit, le juge est démuni : produire des fausses nouvelles afin de convaincre les gens de voter pour Macron ou Le Pen ne trouble pas la paix publique. »

Alors, inutile ou comblant un réel vide juridique ? Limité ou dangereux pour la liberté de la presse ? Les débats à l’Assemblée et au Sénat ne manqueront pas d’intérêt pour tenter de répondre à ces interrogations.

Et les réseaux sociaux ?

Reste aussi à savoir si ces textes ont une chance de répondre au défi du partage de fausses nouvelles sur les réseaux sociaux : en mars, le sociologue spécialiste d’Internet Antonio Casilli le relevait dans « l’Obs » :

« Les modèles économiques des plateformes numériques ne favorisent pas tant la militance spontanée émanant de la base d’un parti, que des campagnes de propagande et de dénigrement montées de toute pièce. » « Les grands médias sociaux jouent un rôle extrêmement ambigu dans cette économie du clic. D’une part, Facebook et Google s’engagent depuis 2016 dans des remaniements réguliers de leurs algorithmes de référencement et de ciblage publicitaire afin de corriger les biais qui ont permis aux fake news de se répandre et ils s’adonnent depuis toujours à des ‘purges’ de faux profils, voire proscrivent les utilisateurs ayant recours aux plateformes de crowdturfing. Mais, d’autre part, le réseau de Mark Zuckerberg semble fonctionner grâce à des mécanismes d’achat de visibilité qui entretiennent de nombreuses similitudes avec le fonctionnement des usines à faux clics. »

Voir également:

Sur Twitter, les fake news se propagent beaucoup plus vite que la vérité

Elles se diffusent beaucoup plus rapidement et touchent davantage de gens : trois chercheurs du MIT décortiquent le mécanisme de propagation des fausses nouvelles.

Jean-Paul Fritz

L’ère Trump est celle des « fake news », mais peu d’éléments scientifiques étaient jusqu’à présent disponibles sur la manière dont elles se propagent. Aujourd’hui, trois chercheurs du Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy et Sinan Aral, réparent ce manque en publiant une étude à grande échelle sur la diffusion des fausses nouvelles, ce que l’on désigne souvent par l’anglicisme « fake news ».

Dans cette étude, parue jeudi soir dans le magazine « Science », ces spécialistes des interactions homme-machine et de l’analyse des mécanismes des réseaux sociaux ont décortiqué la transmission de l’information, révélant des éléments pour le moins surprenants.

Après l’attentat de Boston

A l’origine de cette étude, un constat effectué par Soroush Vosoughi lors de l’attentat du marathon de Boston en avril 2013. « Twitter est devenu notre source principale d’informations », explique le chercheur. « J’ai réalisé qu’une bonne partie de ce que je lisais sur les réseaux sociaux était des rumeurs, des fausses nouvelles. » Avec son professeur de l’époque et d’autres collègues, il a commencé à étudier la propagation des nouvelles, vraies et fausses.

Dans l’étude publiée ce jeudi, plutôt que de se focaliser sur le chemin suivi par quelques événements significatifs, les chercheurs ont misé sur la quantité pour déterminer, indépendamment des thèmes véhiculés, ce qui pouvait différencier la propagation d’une fausse nouvelle par rapport à une vraie ou même une « mixte », une nouvelle comportant des éléments vrais et des éléments faux.

« Même si les expressions ‘fake news’ et ‘désinformation’ impliquent également une distorsion volontaire de la vérité, nous ne prétendons rien sur les intentions des pourvoyeurs des informations que nous avons analysées. Nous concentrons plutôt notre attention sur la véracité et sur les histoires qui ont été vérifiées comme vraies ou fausses, » avertissent les auteurs de l’étude.

Des rumeurs en cascade

Le mécanisme de diffusion d’une nouvelle sur les réseaux sociaux est organisé en « cascades ». Une cascade débute lorsqu’un utilisateur va diffuser une information, vraie ou fausse. Cette information sera ensuite reprise par d’autres utilisateurs dans une sorte d’effet boule de neige. Mais une même nouvelle peut faire l’objet de plusieurs cascades, lorsque des utilisateurs différents vont de manière indépendante commencer à diffuser la même information ou rumeur.

Par exemple, si je découvre une information intéressante sur un site et que j’en tweete le lien (ou que je le partage sur une autre plateforme), je démarre une cascade sur cette information qui va éventuellement provoquer des retweets qui eux-mêmes déclencheront d’autres retweets. Mais d’autres personnes peuvent avoir également tweeté le même lien de leur côté, déclenchant des cascades séparées.

Pour chaque cascade, les chercheurs ont notamment déterminé la profondeur (nombre de retweets par d’autres utilisateurs depuis l’origine), la taille (le nombre d’utilisateurs impliqués dans la cascade), la largeur (nombre maximum d’utilisateurs à un moment donné)…

« Plus loin, plus vite, plus largement »

Les auteurs de l’étude ont pu constater que les fausses nouvelles sont diffusées « significativement plus loin, plus vite, plus profondément et plus largement que la vérité dans toutes les catégories d’information ».

Pour une même cascade, les fausses informations ont ainsi touché beaucoup plus de personnes que les vraies. « Alors que la vérité est rarement diffusée à plus de 1.000 personnes, le top 1% des cascades de fausses nouvelles touche généralement entre 1.000 et 100.000 personnes », précise l’étude. Le constat est que beaucoup plus de personnes retweetent des informations fausses que la vérité. C’est cette diffusion virale, qui ne passe pas par les canaux habituels de transmission verticale d’informations, qui va faire la différence.

Les fausses nouvelles auraient ainsi 70% de chances supplémentaires d’être retweetées que les véritables informations, et par un beaucoup plus grand nombre d’utilisateurs uniques.

La diffusion des fausses nouvelles est également rapide : « Il faut à la vérité à peu près six fois plus longtemps que la fausseté pour toucher 1.500 personnes », expliquent les scientifiques.

Les informations (vraies ou fausses) les plus diffusées appartiennent en premier à la catégorie politique. Viennent ensuite les légendes urbaines, les affaires, le terrorisme, la science, les loisirs et les catastrophes naturelles.  Ce n’est pas vraiment une surprise, mais les fake news politiques sont celles qui touchent le plus de monde et sont les plus virales : « Elles touchent 20.000 personnes en trois fois moins de temps qu’il en faut à une vraie nouvelle pour en toucher 10.000. »

Les influenceurs et les robots n’y sont pour rien

On pourrait croire que des influenceurs sont à l’origine de la propagation large et rapide des fausses nouvelles, mais il n’en est rien. Ce ne sont pas ceux qui ont le plus d’abonnés à leur fil Twitter, qui postent le plus souvent ou qui sont « vérifiés » qui expliquent ce mouvement, au contraire. Ceux qui diffusent les fausses nouvelles ont moins de « followers », suivent moins de personnes et sont moins actifs (et moins vérifiés).

Les robots, ces programmes automatisés qui font du retweet à la chaîne, sont aussi souvent suspectés. L’étude montre qu’ils n’y sont pas pour grand-chose. Les trois chercheurs ont identifié les « bots » et ont effectué des analyses avec et sans eux sans que cela ne change les résultats : « Les fausses nouvelles se diffusent plus loin, plus vite, plus profondément et plus largement que la vérité parce que les humains, et pas les robots, ont plus de chances de les répandre », affirme l’étude. Le terreau des fake news, ce serait donc monsieur et madame-tout-le-monde…

Les fausses nouvelles plus originales que les vraies ?

En modélisant les probabilités d’être retweeté, les auteurs ont donc découvert que les fausses informations avaient 70% de chances supplémentaires d’être retweetées que la vérité. Pourquoi un tel écart ? La réponse pourrait être « l’originalité ». « La nouveauté attire l’attention, contribue à une prise de décision productive et encourage le partage de l’information parce que la nouveauté met à jour notre compréhension du monde, » décryptent les auteurs.

Ils ont ainsi analysé les différences entre les tweets auxquels était exposé un échantillon d’utilisateurs avant qu’ils ne diffusent une information. En comparaison, « les fausses nouvelles étaient, de manière significative, plus originales que la vérité, en exhibant une unicité d’information nettement plus importante ».

« Les fausses nouvelles sont plus originales, et les gens ont plus de chances de partager des informations originales », explique Sinan Aral. Sur les réseaux sociaux, les personnes qui sont les premières à diffuser une information jusque-là inconnue attirent l’attention. Ils « semblent être au courant ». Même si l’information en question se révèle fausse.

Pour les auteurs, « même si nous ne pouvons pas affirmer que l’originalité provoque les retweets ou que la nouveauté est la seule raison pour laquelle les fausses nouvelles sont retweetées plus souvent, nous avons découvert que les fausses nouvelles sont plus novatrices et que cette information originale a plus de chances d’être retweetée ».

Ils ont également étudié les émotions associées aux fausses nouvelles (déterminées par le vocabulaire des utilisateurs qui les rediffusaient). Surprise et dégoût étaient en tête chez les fake news, alors que les véritables informations inspiraient davantage de tristesse, d’anticipation, de joie et de confiance. Pour les trois chercheurs, « les émotions exprimées en réponse aux fausses informations pourraient éclairer des facteurs additionnels, en plus de la nouveauté, qui inspirent les gens à partager des fausses nouvelles ».

Que faire contre les fake news ?

Si elle a pour ambition de décortiquer certains mécanismes de la diffusion des fake news, l’étude du MIT n’offre pas de solutions miracle. « Il faut davantage de recherches sur les explications comportementales des différences de diffusion entre les vraies et fausses nouvelles », admettent les auteurs. « Comprendre comment les fausses nouvelles se diffusent est la première étape pour les contenir. »

Pour Vosoughi, Roy et Aral, les résultats de leur étude donnent cependant une piste importante : il faut s’occuper du comportement des utilisateurs, alors que « s’il s’agissait juste de robots, nous aurions eu besoin d’une solution technologique ».

« Si des personnes diffusent volontairement des fausses nouvelles alors que d’autres le font sans le savoir, le phénomène est double et nécessite de multiples tactiques pour y répondre », suggère Soroush Vosoughi. 

En tant qu’utilisateur, on peut également appliquer une solution de bon sens suggérée par Deb Roy : « Réfléchir avant de retweeter. »

Une étude à grande échelle

Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy et Sinan Aral ont étudié la manière dont des nouvelles, fausses et vraies, ont été diffusées sur Twitter entre 2006 et 2017. Ils ont analysé le parcours de 126.000 d’entre elles, rediffusées plus de 4,5 millions de fois par 3 millions de personnes.

Pour déterminer si les nouvelles étaient vraies ou fausses, les trois chercheurs ont fait appel à six organisations indépendantes spécialisées dans le fact-checking. Le résultat est ce que certains qualifient déjà comme « la plus grande étude longitudinale [suivie dans le temps] jamais réalisée sur la diffusion des fausses nouvelles en ligne ».

Le but avoué des trois chercheurs est de répondre aux « deux des questions scientifiques les plus importantes : comment la vérité et la fausseté se diffusent de manière différente, et quels facteurs du jugement humain expliquent ces différences ».

Voir encore:

Washington : la comédienne anti-Trump en a-t-elle trop fait ?

Michelle Wolf a fait un discours très mordant lors du traditionnel dîner des correspondants de la Maison-Blanche.

Le Parisien
30 avril 2018

« Comme dit une star porno lorsqu’elle se met au lit avec Trump, finissons-en au plus vite ! » C’est ainsi que Michelle Wolf a commencé son discours, samedi, lors du traditionnel dîner des correspondants de la Maison Blanche à Washington.

Comme l’année dernière, Donald Trump avait rompu avec la tradition en refusant de participer à ce rituel où son administration est toujours plus ou moins vilipendée.

Malgré le contexte très formel et la présence de centaines d’invités, journalistes et politiques de tous bords, la comédienne de 32 ans, qui participe d’ordinaire au « Daily Show » de Trevor Noah, n’avait rien perdu de son mordant. Bien au contraire. Elle a donc étrillé le président américain dans son discours.

« Elle brûle les faits pour s’en faire du fard à paupières »

Seule représentante de l’administration Trump, la porte-parole Sarah Huckabee Sanders en a aussi pris pour son grade et c’est ce qui fait polémique. « Je vous adore dans le rôle de Tante Lydia dans La Servante écarlate », a balancé Michelle Wolf, en référence à ce personnage de matrone sadique interprétée par la sexagénaire Ann Dowd dans la série télévisée d’anticipation. Avant de la comparer au personnage de principal de « La Case de l’oncle Tom », controversé de nos jours car vu comme un esclave complice de ses maîtres…

Un peu plus tard, elle s’est moquée de la porte-parole en lançant : « Elle brûle les faits pour s’en faire du fard à paupières » !

« Une honte »

Selon des commentateurs, la comédienne serait allée un peu trop loin dans la « mise en boîte ». Même si certains ont trouvé cela « courageux », d’autres, pas tendres avec l’administration Trump, ont trouvé ces plaisanteries « pas drôles, voire méchantes ou insultantes ».

« J’ai complimenté son sens du maquillage, au contraire ! » a plaisanté la comédienne sur Twitter, répondant à ses critiques. Elle s’est permis également de répondre d’un « merci ! » au prédécesseur de Sarah Sanders, Sean Spicer qui avait écrit que ce discours était « une honte ».

Voir également:

Etats-Unis : un restaurant refuse de servir sa porte-parole, Donald Trump se venge sur Twitter

PERSONA NON GRATA – Par les temps qui courent, il ne fait pas bon travailler pour Donald Trump. Sarah Sanders, la porte-parole de la Maison-Blanche en a fait les frais vendredi en se faisant virer d’un restaurant où elle devait dîner. Ce qui a valu, lundi, un tweet matinal fracassant du président américain.
Virginie Fauroux
LCI
25 juin 2018

« J’ai été expulsée d’un restaurant ! ». Scandale outre-Atlantique, en pleine polémique sur la gestion de la crise migratoire, la porte-parole de la Maison blanche a indiqué qu’un restaurant de l’Etat de Virginie dans lequel elle souhaitait dîner vendredi soir avait refusé de la servir au motif qu’elle travaillait pour Donald Trump.

« Hier soir, la propriétaire du Red Hen à Lexington, en Virginie, m’a demandé de partir parce que je travaillais pour @POTUS (le président des Etats-Unis, ndlr) et je suis partie poliment », a expliqué Sarah Sanders sur son compte Twitter samedi matin. « Ses actions en disent beaucoup plus sur elle que sur moi. Je fais toujours de mon mieux pour traiter les gens, y compris ceux avec qui je ne suis pas d’accord, respectueusement et je continuerai à le faire », a-t-elle ajouté.

Trump en colère

Comme le rapporte CBS News, l’incident a été révélé sur Facebook par un homme affirmant être un employé de l’établissement, qui a précisé dans son message avoir servi Sarah Sanders « lors d’une durée totale de deux minutes ». Ce post a été tweeté par Brennan Gilmore, le directeur exécutif du groupe environnemental Clean Virginia.

La propriétaire du restaurant, Stéphanie Wilkinson, a confirmé l’information au Washington Post et expliqué qu’elle ne regrettait pas sa décision : « Je ne suis pas une grande fan de la confrontation », a-t-elle déclaré. « Mais il est grand temps dans notre démocratie que les gens prennent des mesures, même inconfortables, pour défendre leur moralité. J’aurais refait la même chose », a-t-elle poursuivi. « Nous pensons juste qu’il y a des moments où il faut être fidèle à ses convictions ».

La mésaventure de sa porte-parole a suscité la colère de Donald Trump, qui s’est vengé lundi dans un tweet, comme il en a l’habitude. « Le restaurant Red Hend devrait se concentrer sur le nettoyage de ses verrières, portes et fenêtres crasseux plutôt que de refuser de servir une personne bien comme Sarah Huckabee Sanders. J’avais une règle, si un restaurant est dégoûtant de l’extérieur, il l’est à l’intérieur ».

Voir enfin:

Politique migratoire de Trump : sa porte-parole protégée par le Secret service

Vendredi 22 juin, Sarah Sanders avait été congédiée d’un restaurant à cause des idées et de la politique de son patron.
J.Cl.
Le Parisien
27 juin 2018

Cinq jours après sa mésaventure du week-end, la porte-parole de la Maison-Blanche va bénéficier d’une protection officielle. Selon CNN, qui invoque deux sources distinctes, Sarah Sanders sera protégée à son domicile dès ce mercredi par le « Secret service ». La durée de cette protection n’est pas spécifiée.

Le « Secret service » assure habituellement la protection du président des États-Unis, du vice-président, de leurs familles, des anciens présidents, de la Maison-Blanche et des autres résidences officielles. Les collaborateurs des présidents ne sont en principe pas protégés à leur porte.

A l’origine de cette décision, la déconvenue dont Sarah Sanders a été l’objet et qui a fait polémique aux Etats-Unis. Vendredi soir, la « press secretary » de Donald Trump et son mari ont été priés de quitter le restaurant où ils comptaient dîner. La restauratrice et son personnel, opposés à la politique migratoire du président, notamment la séparation des familles de migrants lors de leur entrée clandestine sur le sol américain, les ont priés de sortir. Trump avait pris la défense de Sanders dans un tweet rageur.


Politiquement correct: Attention, un esclavage peut en cacher un autre (No white slaves, please, we’re Americans !)

24 avril, 2018
Slave-table
A worksheet given to an eigth&nbsp;
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes There beneath the blue suburban skies… Paul McCartney (1967)
In America you’ll get food to eat Won’t have to run through the jungle And scuff up your feet You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine  all day It’s great to be an American Ain’t no lions or tigers ain’t no mamba snake Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake Everybody is as happy as a man can be Climb aboard little wog sail away with me. Randy Newman
I wrote about slave trade from the view of the recruiter from the slave trade. He is talking, you know, come to America and then talks about using that and I didn’t see another way to do it. I mean, you could say the slave trade is bad, horrendous or a great crime of the nation, but I chose to do differently. Randy Newman
I had this idea of a slave ship and a sea shanty – this guy standing in a clearing, singing to a crowd of natives. These people in my songs don’t know they’re bad. They think they’re fine. I didn’t just want to say, ‘Slavery is awful.’ It’s too easy. I wasn’t doing Roots. Randy Newman
Aujourd’hui on repère les boucs émissaires dans l’Angleterre victorienne et on ne les repère plus dans les sociétés archaïques. C’est défendu. René Girard
Nous sommes entrés dans un mouvement qui est de l’ordre du religieux. Entrés dans la mécanique du sacrilège : la victime, dans nos sociétés, est entourée de l’aura du sacré. Du coup, l’écriture de l’histoire, la recherche universitaire, se retrouvent soumises à l’appréciation du législateur et du juge comme, autrefois, à celle de la Sorbonne ecclésiastique. Françoise Chandernagor
Malgré le titre général, en effet, dès l’article 1, seules la traite transatlantique et la traite qui, dans l’océan Indien, amena des Africains à l’île Maurice et à la Réunion sont considérées comme « crime contre l’humanité ». Ni la traite et l’esclavage arabes, ni la traite interafricaine, pourtant très importants et plus étalés dans le temps puisque certains ont duré jusque dans les années 1980 (au Mali et en Mauritanie par exemple), ne sont concernés. Le crime contre l’humanité qu’est l’esclavage est réduit, par la loi Taubira, à l’esclavage imposé par les Européens et à la traite transatlantique. (…) Faute d’avoir le droit de voter, comme les Parlements étrangers, des « résolutions », des voeux, bref des bonnes paroles, le Parlement français, lorsqu’il veut consoler ou faire plaisir, ne peut le faire que par la loi. (…) On a l’impression que la France se pose en gardienne de la mémoire universelle et qu’elle se repent, même à la place d’autrui, de tous les péchés du passé. Je ne sais si c’est la marque d’un orgueil excessif ou d’une excessive humilité mais, en tout cas, c’est excessif ! […] Ces lois, déjà votées ou proposées au Parlement, sont dangereuses parce qu’elles violent le droit et, parfois, l’histoire. La plupart d’entre elles, déjà, violent délibérément la Constitution, en particulier ses articles 34 et 37. (…) les parlementaires savent qu’ils violent la Constitution mais ils n’en ont cure. Pourquoi ? Parce que l’organe chargé de veiller au respect de la Constitution par le Parlement, c’est le Conseil constitutionnel. Or, qui peut le saisir ? Ni vous, ni moi : aucun citoyen, ni groupe de citoyens, aucun juge même, ne peut saisir le Conseil constitutionnel, et lui-même ne peut pas s’autosaisir. Il ne peut être saisi que par le président de la République, le Premier ministre, les présidents des Assemblées ou 60 députés. (…) La liberté d’expression, c’est fragile, récent, et ce n’est pas total : il est nécessaire de pouvoir punir, le cas échéant, la diffamation et les injures raciales, les incitations à la haine, l’atteinte à la mémoire des morts, etc. Tout cela, dans la loi sur la presse de 1881 modifiée, était poursuivi et puni bien avant les lois mémorielles. Françoise Chandernagor
Les « traites d’exportation » des Noirs hors d’Afrique remontent au VIIe siècle de notre ère, avec la constitution d’un vaste empire musulman qui est esclavagiste, comme la plupart des sociétés de l’époque. Comme on ne peut réduire un musulman en servitude, on répond par l’importation d’esclaves venant d’Asie, d’Europe centrale et d’Afrique subsaharienne. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau
A la différence de l’islam, le christianisme n’a pas entériné l’esclavage. Mais, comme il ne comportait aucune règle d’organisation sociale, il ne l’a pas non plus interdit. Pourtant, l’idée d’une égalité de tous les hommes en Dieu dont était porteur le christianisme a joué contre l’esclavage, qui disparaît de France avant l’an mil. Cependant, il ressurgit au XVIIe siècle aux Antilles françaises, bien que la législation royale y prescrive l’emploi d’une main-d’oeuvre libre venue de France. L’importation des premiers esclaves noirs, achetés à des Hollandais, se fait illégalement. Jean-Louis Harouel
Si Dieudonné plaçait l’Histoire au-dessus de son fantasme mémoriel, comment l’humoriste franco-camerounais, né dans la banlieue parisienne, pourrait-il se revendiquer « descendant d’esclave »?  Géraldine Faes et Stephen Smith
Concernant le passé, les historiens s’inquiètent pour la vérité historique et pour leur liberté de recherche du fait de l’intrusion du législateur et du juge dans leur domaine. La loi Taubira procède en effet d’une lecture partielle en n’évoquant que «la traite négrière transatlantique ainsi que la traite dans l’océan Indien d’une part, et l’esclavage d’autre part, perpétrés à partir du XVe siècle, aux Amériques et aux Caraïbes, dans l’océan Indien et en Europe». D’une tragédie qui appartient à la longue histoire de l’humanité elle ne retient, sur une séquence courte, que les faits imputables aux seuls Blancs européens, laissant de côté la majorité des victimes de l’esclavage. La terrible traite transatlantique, du XVe au XIXe siècle, ne constitue malheureusement qu’une partie de l’histoire de l’esclavage, qui comprend également la traite arabo-musulmane, laquelle a duré du VIIe au XXe siècle, et la traite intra-africaine, toutes deux plus meurtrières. Le risque de voir cette histoire partielle, donc partiale, devenir histoire officielle a mobilisé les historiens quand l’un des meilleurs spécialistes actuels des traites négrières, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, a été attaqué en justice au nom de la loi Taubira. Parce qu’il rappelait que la quasi-totalité des esclaves africains avaient été razziés non par des Blancs, mais par des négriers africains et que le commerce des esclaves était une routine sur le continent noir bien avant l’arrivée des négriers européens. Il lui était aussi reproché de réfuter l’application du terme de «génocide» aux traites négrières, contredisant ainsi le parallèle implicite entre l’esclavage et l’extermination des juifs qu’évoque l’exposé des motifs de la loi Taubira. (…) Les enjeux du présent expliquent ces relectures du passé. Christiane Taubira déclare sans ambages qu’il ne faut pas trop évoquer la traite négrière arabo-musulmane pour que les «jeunes Arabes» «ne portent pas sur leur dos tout le poids de l’héritage des méfaits des Arabes». Ces logiques communautaires influent aussi sur le projet mémoriel La Route de l’esclave, décidé en 1993 par l’Unesco: Roger Botte, chercheur au Centre d’études africaines du CNRS, constate qu’il privilégie également la traite transatlantique du fait de «la pression des représentants du monde arabe et des Etats africains». Les démarches identitaires d’associations revendiquant le statut de victimes de l’Histoire transforment les débats. Dieudonné et les Indigènes de la République ont ainsi avancé l’expression très problématique de «descendant d’esclave». Empruntée aux Noirs américains – chez qui elle correspond à une réalité historique – cette notion ne peut, avec des nuances, s’appliquer en France qu’aux populations originaires des départements d’outre-mer, mais pas à celles de l’immigration africaine, n’ayant aucun rapport généalogique avec l’esclavage, sinon une éventuelle filiation avec des marchands d’esclaves. (…) Que signifie en effet revendiquer une identité victimaire et invoquer une «souffrance» avec cinq ou six générations de décalage? Est-elle assimilable aux souffrances et traumatismes transmis ou vécus directement, d’une génération à l’autre ou entre contemporains, qu’ont connus juifs, Arméniens, Bosniaques, Rwandais ou victimes du communisme? Et à quoi correspond l’application, à des siècles de distance, de la notion de «crime contre l’humanité», définie en 1945? Là réside le paradoxe le plus gênant, quand l’obsession pour un passé réinventé sert de substitut aux urgences du présent: le concept de crime contre l’humanité est une catégorie pénale dont l’objet est la poursuite de criminels; elle a ainsi permis de pourchasser au bout du monde les derniers criminels nazis. Or les criminels esclavagistes n’appartiennent malheureusement pas tous au passé lointain. Si l’histoire des traites européennes, qui se caractérise par sa relative brièveté et par leur abolition, est terminée depuis plus d’un siècle et demi, l’esclavage s’est prolongé dans de nombreux pays (dont l’Arabie saoudite) jusqu’au milieu du XXe siècle – c’est pour le dénoncer qu’Hergé a publié Coke en stock, en 1958. Et il persiste de nos jours dans certains pays, dont le Soudan, le Niger et la Mauritanie, qui l’a pourtant aboli officiellement en 1960, et de nouveau en 1980. Selon le Haut-Commissariat des Nations unies aux droits de l’homme, il y aurait toujours plusieurs millions d’adultes en esclavage dans le monde et plusieurs associations humanitaires ont aujourd’hui pour objet le rachat d’esclaves: l’une d’elles a récemment racheté, au Soudan, un millier d’esclaves à raison de 50 dollars chacun dans la province de Bar el-Ghazal et, au Niger, les membres de Timidria continuent de lutter contre l’esclavage, malgré son abolition, en 1999 (…). Ces militants anonymes ont le tort de vouloir libérer les victimes oubliées d’une histoire qui écrase encore plutôt que d’instrumentaliser une histoire révolue. Eric Conan
The slaves were not meant to be killed, or even worked to death (though many did die); there was no effort to wipe out a race. Still, as the writer William St Clair points out, in one way the analogy with Nazi death camps works—in “the organised fictions, hypocrisies and self-deceptions that enabled otherwise reasonably decent people to condone, to participate and to benefit.” For most Europeans the existence of the slave trade, and slavery itself, was barely known. In England there was no slavery, so there was no particular reason for most people to face the ugly truth. The means by which sugar lumps arrived on tables in polite society were carefully hidden. (…) Those fine feelings were spared from reality by careful euphemisms. There were no slave-traders; only “adventurers” in the “Africa” or “Guinea” trade. Prints of the gleaming white Cape Coast Castle made it look like a European palace; there was no hint at its real role. Shackles used to string captives together were just “collars”. The “Company of Merchants”, which ran Britain’s slave trade, had on its logo an elephant and a beehive—denoting Africa and America—but nothing about slaves. (…) But there was still a pervasive feeling that, despite all the evasions, those involved in the trade were doing something deeply wrong. In the courtyard of Cape Coast Castle lies the tomb of Philip Quaque, the chaplain to the officers and men of the castle for 42 years in the second half of the 18th century. During all that time he failed to bring a single officer to the Christian rite of Holy Communion. In a letter he reflected that this had nothing to do with his (black) skin-colour, and more to do with a mood of shame: “The only plea they offer is that while they are here acting against Light and Conscience they dare not come to that holy Table.” This sense of guilt was to prove the Achilles heel of the slave trade in Europe. The task the abolitionists set themselves was to expose the reality of the trade to an ignorant public. They thought the moral sense of ordinary people would do the rest, and in part they were right. But lighting the spark of conscience needs brave individuals—like Thomas Clarkson, the moving spirit behind the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of Slavery in 1787. He had been a student at Cambridge University two years before. He entered the university’s Latin essay contest, set by a vice-chancellor who was also an early abolitionist. The title was: Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will? After two months’ research, he not only won the prize but also dedicated the rest of his long life to the cause of abolition. (…) Even the Quakers, the first abolitionists, were impressed by his zeal. It was essentially the alliance of Clarkson, an Anglican, and the Quakers, with their existing network of preachers and supporters, that made up the abolitionist movement; in an ironic nod to their success, slavers would call their ships the Willing Quaker and the Accomplished Quaker. Clarkson fixed the strategy of the campaign. His first task was to gather evidence about the slave trade, not easy when things were so hidden from public view. He spent long periods in Liverpool and Bristol, trying to gather testimony from the captains or doctors of slave ships, or freed slaves. Almost nobody would talk to him, but over the years small chinks opened in the wall of silence. One who came forward was John Newton, a former slave captain turned Anglican priest. His descriptions of the trade were very influential. Just as important was Clarkson’s gathering of the physical evidence of the slave trade to confirm the oral and written accounts he collected. In Liverpool he picked up “collars”, thumbscrews and a device for force-feeding slaves, which he would display at the hundreds of public lectures that he gave all over Britain, and France too. But Clarkson’s greatest coup was to get hold of a “plate”, or diagram, of the slave-ship Brookes, owned by a Liverpool family of that name, which operated between the Gold Coast and Jamaica. Clarkson and others reworked the plate to show the Brookes loaded with 482 slaves, lined up in rows and squashed together. As always, Clarkson and the abolitionists were strictly accurate; the ship had once carried over 600 slaves in even closer confinement, but they did not want to be accused of exaggeration. In 1789 they published 700 posters of this image and it was a sensation; nobody could now deny the horrors of the “middle passage”, during which many slaves either killed themselves or died of disease, starvation and cruel treatment. It became the abiding image of the campaign, rather like the thin and haunting faces of the newly freed inmates of the Belsen concentration camp. Clarkson also organised what was probably the first ever consumer-goods boycott, of slave-grown sugar, to bring home to ordinary Britons at their tea tables the message that they were paying a dreadful price in human cruelty for indulging a sweet tooth. At one time more than 300,000 people joined the boycott, also designed to hit the profits of the plantation owners. And he inspired the parliamentary movement against slavery, recruiting as spokesman a young Tory, William Wilberforce (see article), who brought successive bills before Parliament to abolish the slave trade until one was passed in 1807. (…) For all the fervour of its opponents, the slave trade would not have collapsed without rebellions by the victims. The most important was in 1791 on St Domingue. Within two months the slaves had taken control of the island, led by the remarkable Toussaint L’Ouverture. His guerrillas saw off the two greatest imperial armies of the day, the French and British; this led to the establishment of the republic of Haiti in 1804 and to the emancipation of about 500,000 slaves. It was clear that European armies would find it hard to contain many more uprisings, a point proved again on the British islands of Grenada and Barbados. Samuel Sharpe’s uprising on Jamaica in 1831 was put down at great cost; the British feared that if slavery continued, they would lose some colonies altogether. So in 1833 slavery was abolished throughout their empire. Britain was not the first to outlaw the slave trade in its territory; the Danes had done so in 1803, the French temporarily in 1794 and several northern American states had also done so before 1807. But as Britain was the big sea power of the day, it alone could enforce abolition throughout the world, as its navy resolutely tried to do for the rest of the 19th century. Other European nations, notably the Portuguese, persisted with the trade into the 1860s. (…) Most European states have tried to face up to the past, but slavery’s legacy is in some ways even more poisonous in places like modern Ghana. A smokescreen still covers the African role in this pernicious trade. It is an awkward fact that the traffic could not have existed without African chiefs and traders. Europeans rarely went far from their forts; slaves were brought to them. Indeed, when the Europeans arrived the slave trade and slavery were already integral parts of local tribal economies. One of the few Ghanaian historians to touch these issues, Akosua Adoma Perbi, writes that “slavery became an important part of the Asante state [the Gold Coast’s most powerful] right from its inception. For three centuries, Asante became the largest slave-trading, slave-owning and slave-dealing state in Ghana.” (…) Most of the slaves sold to Europeans in later centuries were men and women captured in battles between tribes like the Asante and the Acan. Many of the captives were kept as slaves by the victors, where they were treated relatively well and could gain some social standing within their new families. Still, the proliferation of wars between the tribes was, as Ms Perbi writes, “mostly aimed at acquiring slaves for sale to the European companies and individual European merchants”. So integral did the slave trade become to the local chiefs’ welfare that its abolition hit hard. In 1872, long after abolition, Zey, the king of Asante, wrote to the British monarch asking for the slave trade to be renewed. Yaw Bedwa of the University of Ghana says there has been a “general amnesia in Ghana about slavery”. The role of the chiefs is particularly sensitive, as they still play a big role in Ghana. “We don’t discuss slavery,” says Barima Kwame Nkye XII, a paramount chief in the town of Assin Mauso. He defends domestic slavery in the past as a generally benevolent institution, and insists that the chiefs had little to do with the slave trade. (…) Mr Bedwa faces anger from African-Americans who come to Ghana looking for roots, only to be confronted with the role of Africans in the slave trade. Mr Bedwa tells them that Africans who did not suffer from slavery were still victims of colonialism, poverty and disease. But, as in every exploitative system, some had it worse than others. The Economist
La déportation pénale est un procédure pénale consistant à transporter une personne condamnée hors d’un pays vers un bagne. La France a envoyé des condamnés à l’Île du Diable et en Nouvelle-Calédonie. Le Royaume-Uni, des années 1610 jusqu’aux années 1770, a aussi déporté des condamnés vers ses colonies américaines, puis vers l’Australie entre 1788 et 1868. Wikipedia
L’engagisme est à l’origine un concept juridique de l’Ancien Régime français et une réalité sociale, dans les colonies françaises et britanniques, notamment en Amérique du Nord et dans les Antilles, et apparenté au servage1. Dans le cas de la France il fut pratiqué dans le peuplement européen de la Nouvelle-France et des Antilles. À la suite de son abolition pendant la Révolution française, c’est devenu une forme de salariat de travailleurs natifs des colonies (anciens esclaves) ou immigrés provenant principalement d’Afrique, d’Inde, ou du bassin asiatique pour les grands propriétaires terriens des Antilles françaises et des Mascareignes qui ont été confrontés à des problèmes de main-d’œuvre à la suite de l’abolition de l’esclavage en France en 1848. L’indenture est un système équivalent dans le monde anglo-saxon. Afin de fournir une main-d’œuvre qualifiée et à bon marché aux seigneuries de la Nouvelle-France, le Royaume de France fit appel à des engagés. On les appelait alors les « trente-six mois ». Cette méthode de recrutement fut très populaire au XVIIe siècle, puis redevint à la mode peu après le traité d’Utrecht. Le 20 mars 1714, une ordonnance royale ordonna aux capitaines de navires marchands de transporter aux Amériques « depuis trois engagés jusqu’à six suivant le port de leurs vaisseaux ». Une surveillance se faisait tant au départ de la France qu’à l’arrivée à Québec. Une fois la période de trente-six mois écoulée, les engagés étaient libres d’acheter des terres s’ils disposaient d’argent, de devenir censitaires, ou bien de retourner en France. Le nombre d’engagés vers la Nouvelle-France fut toutefois peu élevé, la majorité d’entre eux choisissant les Antilles comme destination. Wikipedia
La déportation pénale est un procédure pénale consistant à transporter une personne condamnée hors d’un pays vers un bagnenote. La France a envoyé des condamnés à l’Île du Diable et en Nouvelle-Calédonie. Le Royaume-Uni, des années 1610 jusqu’aux années 1770, a aussi déporté des condamnés vers ses colonies américaines, puis vers l’Australie entre 1788 et 1868. Wikipedia
From the early 1600s until the American Revolution of 1776, the British colonies in North America received transported British criminals. In the 17th century transportation was carried out at the expense of the convicts or the shipowners. The Transportation Act 1717 allowed courts to sentence convicts to seven years’ transportation to America. In 1720, an extension authorised payments by the Crown to merchants contracted to take the convicts to America. The Transportation Act made returning from transportation a capital offence. The number of convicts transported to North America is not verified – John Dunmore Lang has estimated 50,000, and Thomas Keneally has proposed 120,000. Maryland received a larger felon quota than any other province. Many prisoners were taken in battle from Ireland or Scotland and sold into indentured servitude, usually for a number of years. The American Revolution brought transportation to an end. The remaining British colonies in what is now Canada were close to the new United States of America, thus prisoners sent there might have become hostile to British authorities. British gaols became overcrowded, and dilapidated ships moored in various ports were pressed into service as floating gaols known as « hulks ». An experiment in transporting convicted prisoners to West Africa proved unsuccessful. As a result, the British Government decided to look elsewhere. In 1787, the « First Fleet » of convict ships departed from England to establish the first British settlement in Australia, as a penal colony. The fleet arrived at Port Jackson (Sydney) on 26 January 1788, a date now celebrated as Australia Day. Wikipedia
In 1620, four small children, under the age of eight, were brought to New England shores as indentured servants to work as planters in Virginia. Ellen More was only eight; Jasper was seven, Richard, six, and Mary was four years old. The siblings were listed as servants. Three of the More children died during the bitter cold, one winter onboard the Mayflower anchored in the harbor, and six-year old Richard More was the only survivor of the four siblings. (…) The story of how these four children came to be on the Mayflower is heartbreaking. Their father purposely disposed of the children by banishing them to work the fields of Virginia. London was a microcosm of Britain’s social ills, decrepit laws, and those left in the wake of the pursuit of 17th century expansionism. The gentrified landowners paid laborers a pittance, and the death and neglect of unwanted children was rampant. Beggar waifs blighted the streets, and to rid cities of crime, authorities rounded up little children and condemned them to labor in the colonies. But the four More children aboard the Mayflower were not poor street waifs, as their families were wealthy landowners. (…) When Samuel More discovered that wife, Katherine, had committed adultery with tenant Jacob Blaskeway, he denied the four children were his kin, disowning them by claiming a strong likeness to the putative father, Jacob. Katherine admitted her illegal liaison, and confirmed they were Jacob’s children. Enraged, Samuel approached Lord Zouche, head of Privy Council, and an investor in the Virginia Company in America. They devised a plan for the disposal of the four ‘bastard’ children in retaliation against his wife’s betrayal. Samuel More also cut the children from all inheritance, and denied their very existence. (…) The More children were put in the care of four families as indentured servants aboard the vessel. Alive magazine
A Place Called Freedom is a work of historical fiction by Ken Follett. Set in 1767, it follows the adventures of an idealistic young coal miner from Scotland who believes there must be more to life than working down the pit. The miner, Mack McAsh, eventually runs away in order to find work and a new life in London. Eventually McAsh becomes a leader amongst the working classes of the city and becomes a target for those vested interest groups who do not share his point of view. McAsh is framed for a crime he did not commit and sent to serve seven years hard labour in the Colony of Virginia where he is forced to find a new life. The novel initially deals with subject of the Payment of Arles, a form of serfdom for miners in the 18th century which meant that once a miner started work in a coal mine he was bound to the mine for the rest of his life. It was a custom for the master or landowner of the mine to give a gift to parents at the time of a child’s baptism. The gift would then bind the child to work alongside the parents when they came of age. (…) After being caught in the middle of a riot, McAsh is captured and sentenced to transportation to America, a form of punishment which was often seen as an effective alternative to the death penalty during that period. Once arriving in the Colony of Virginia, McAsh is made to work as a field hand before escaping to the West. Wikipedia
Livar told HuffPost that Great Hearts staff invited his family and other concerned parents to a meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter, and that Manu was “commended for his action of bringing this to light and was even told he was ‘very brave.’” However, he noted that his son has been “attacked by many at his school” for supposedly harming its reputation. Livar, who said he and his family are Mexican-American and identify as Chicano, chalked the whole ordeal up to a lack of diversity at the school among the student body and staff. He added that he sees what happened as a sign of problems stemming beyond his son’s school. “These issues are not isolated to one school or one book,” Livar said. “These issues are systemic and continue up the chain all the way to the Texas School Board of Education”. Huffington Post
Relations between the rulers and the working class in the 18th century were so appalling that, even if you’re a modern conservative, you have to sympathise with the rebels. The main character, Mack McAsh, is a coal miner. At that time, coal miners were slaves in Scotland. Mack escapes to London and ends up in America. I set out to write an adventure story about a man coming from a very narrow environment, (a mining village in Scotland), and crossing the world to become a pioneer in America. The prologue, about finding an iron collar in a twentieth-century garden, is quite unusual and people often ask me if it’s true. It’s not. Many 18th century novels pretended to be real and the prologue uses the same literary device. It gives the reader a sense of how much time has elapsed since the historical period of the story. People who know me realise I couldn’t possibly have found a collar in a flower bed because I’ve never done any gardening in my life. I used a similar device at the end of The Man from St Petersburg, when I said that Charlotte is still alive and you can go see her. The idea is to remind the reader that someone who was a young woman in 1914 might still be alive today. Ken Follett
Defoe bluntly stated that the white servant was a slave. He was not. The servant’s loss of liberty was of limited duration, the Negro was [a] slave for life. The servant’s status could not descend to his offspring, Negro children took the status of the mother. The master at no time had absolute control over the person and liberty of his servant as he had over his slave. The servant had rights, limited but recognised by law and inserted into a contract. He enjoyed, for instance, a limited right to property. In actual law the conception of the servant as a piece of property never went beyond that of personal estate and never reached the stage of a chattel or real estate. The laws in the colonies maintained this rigid distinction and visited co-habitation between the races with severe penalties. The servant could aspire, at the end of his term, to a plot of land, though, as Wertenbaker points out for Virginia, it was not a legal right, and conditions varied from colony to colony. The serf in Europe could therefore hope for an early freedom in America which villeinage could not afford. The freed servants became small yeoman farmers, settled in the back country, a democratic force in a society of large aristocratic plantation owners, and were pioneers in westward expansion. Eric Williams (Capitalism and Slavery, 1944)
Unlike the slave the indentured servant was bound to labor for his master merely for the period of time expressly stated in his contract or, in the absence of a formal contract, as laid down by custom or statute. At the expiration of his service he was a free man. Richard B. Morris (Government and Labor in Early America, 1946)
Contemporary slavery is the complete control of a person, for economic exploitation, by violence, or the threat of violence. Kevin Bales
“Slavery (…) the “peculiar institution” is one of humanity’s oldest. It has, however, evolved and manifested itself quite distinctly in different periods of history. In contrast to historical views of slavery that are associated with Chattel Slavery, numerous forms fall under the umbrella term of contemporary slavery. The United Nations (U.N.) Working Group recognizes such radically new forms as: child labor, children in conflict, trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, and the sale of children. The International Labor Office (ILO) approaches the topic through the lens of forced labor. The ILO recognizes slavery and abductions, compulsory participation in public works projects, forced labor in agriculture, domestic workers, bonded labor, forced labor imposed by the military, forced labor in the trafficking of persons, as well as some aspects of prison labor and rehabilitation through work. (…) Economic conditions are decisive in the formation of slavery. Chattel slavery emerged as a disturbing manifestation of a push for labor-intensive goods created in the new world. Slaves were seen as property—as a form of investment. The ensuing ownership created a myriad of costs for slave traders and owners. These costs included cargo, shipment, and insurance during delivery, as well as the costs of maintaining the investment (food, medical treatment, and clothing) on behalf of the slave owner. Nearly forty million Africans lost their lives due to horrific conditions on slaving vessels (Anti-Slavery International 2005). Massive slave insurrections significantly added to the costs nations incurred in enforcing the trade. These economic realities, coupled with strong domestic opposition, eventually led slave traders and politicians in Great Britain to re-evaluate the desirability of the trade. This ultimately led to slavery’s abolition in Great Britain and in subsequent countries around the world. A new set of economic forces arose from the ashes of the Trans-Atlantic trade, as slave traders demonstrated their ability to adapt to a changing environment. During the post-abolition era, the colonial holdings of the world’s imperial powers began to display an evolution towards slave-like practices. Forced labor by the state, debt bondage, and prison labor emerged to take the place of chattel slavery. These forms were markedly different for exactly what they lacked—namely, the immense costs and direct legal involvement in a trade that had been officially abolished. Imperial powers found these advantages to be economically and socially attractive. However, two devastating wars and the era of decolonization all but ended this period by the 1970s. (…) Massive inequality and poverty have set the stage for the most profitable form of slave trading ever seen. Slaves today are, in purely economic terms, short term, low-capital investments with incredibly high rates of return. For example, slaves in the U.S. Antebellum South cost, in real terms, around $40,000; today, a slave goes for around $90 (…). This is due to the enormous supply of slaves on the market today. In contrast to chattel slavery, ownership is now officially avoided. However, illegitimate contracts are used to keep victims in subjugation. Although a dizzying array of slave-like practices are recognized, the dominating form of slavery today is debt bondage. It is estimated that a staggering fifteen million of the world’s slaves can be found in India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh combined (…)  The economic power wielded by the modern age slave holder is due to the seemingly unlimited supply of slaves in the world. According to the U.N., half of the world’s six and a half billion people survive on less than two dollars per day. It is from this mass of desperately poor people that the world’s slaves are culled. Never in history has there b een a segment of society that is as vulnerable as today’s poor. (…) As opposed to the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when slavery was confined to colonies and peripheral territorial holdings, contemporary slavery has permeated countries at every level of development in the global economy. Conservative estimates put the number of modern slaves alive today at 27 million (…). Some human rights organizations have the number as high as 200 million (…). This is more than all of the slaves who were captured and forced into slavery during the entirety of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Justin Guay
Popular among racists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and neo-confederate groups, the “Irish slave” trope is often accompanied by statements to the effect of, “Our ancestors suffered and we got over it, why can’t you?” According to Liam Hogan — a librarian and scholar who has tracked the myth — references to these “Irish slaves” are used to derail conversations about racism and inequity. “The principle aim of this propaganda, which aligns with that of the international far-right, is to empty the history of the transatlantic slave trade of its racial element,” says Hogan. The meme has become increasingly visible since 2013. Its trajectory has paralleled the rise of Black Lives Matter and has even used that movement’s language with graphics, t-shirts and Facebook groups that proclaim, “Irish Lives Matter.” (…) Those who traffic in this lie minimize and ignore the realities that made slavery distinct from other forms of servitude in the British colonies. African slaves were considered property; Irish indentured servants were not. And though they faced inhumane working conditions, Irish indentured servants could typically decide if they wanted to enter into their labor contracts. Unlike the Africans forced to come to the US as slaves, the servitude of Irish people in the US did not span their entire lifetimes, and did not bind their children to a life of servitude. The Irish-as-slaves meme has a curious anatomy that Hogan has traced back to self-published books, family genealogy blogs and white supremacist news sites. He attributes much of the misinformation behind the meme to an article published by the Centre for Research on Globalization, a Canadian-based organization that touts its focus on education and humanitarianism. (…) The Global Research article is illustrated by the cover of a book, “White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America,” which was published by NYU Press in 2008. The book’s cover, dramatically illustrated with two white fists bound by rope manacles, often appears alongside articles that perpetuate the “Irish slave” myth. The authors of the book are British filmmakers Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, who argue that slavery is more a feeling than a system. “Slavery,” they claim, “is not defined by time but by the experience of the subject.” Scholars discredit this assessment. In a review in “The Historian,” Dr. Dixie Ray Haggard says the book uses sound primary sources to draw conclusions that are plagued by “fatal flaws.” The most egregious, he writes, is that it “deliberately conflates indentured servitude with slavery. … Rather than explore the complexity of labor and social relations in colonial America and increase our understanding of these institutions, these authors chose to oversimplify and confuse.” Still, the book was reviewed favorably in mainstream news outlets including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and The New York Review of Books. Co-author Walsh qualified his claims in an interview with NPR that “We’re not saying the Whites ever suffered quite as much as the worst treated Blacks.” Yet the book helped popularize the idea that Irish indentured servants had it just as bad, if not worse, than African slaves. This “Irish slave” narrative is the latest in a long history of Irish Americans affirming their own group identity at the expense of black people. In his book, “How the Irish Became White,” Noel Ignatiev shows how in 19th century America, when racial identities had as much to do with national origin as skin color, Irish immigrants strove to be socially classed as white. In order to achieve this status and the privileges that came with it, they routinely and deliberately differentiated themselves from black people by — at times violently — forcing them into an even lower ranking in the American social order. They sought to minimize the horrors of slavery then too. Irish workers in antebellum America self-identified as “wage slaves,” claiming they had it far worse than actual slaves because they weren’t entitled to “benefits” like the material comfort and the assurance of work they said slaves enjoyed. Decades later in 1921, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that Irish anti-blackness has been expressed so “continuously and emphatically” that “there can be no doubt of the hostility of a large proportion of Irish Americans toward Negroes.” PRI
High school American history classes present indentured servitude as a benignly paternalistic system whereby colonial immigrants spent a few years working off their passage and went on to better things. Not so, this impassioned history argues: the indentured servitude of whites was comparable in most respects to the slavery endured by blacks. Voluntary indentures arriving in colonial America from Britain were sold on the block, subjected to backbreaking work on plantations, poorly fed and clothed, savagely punished for any disobedience, forbidden to marry without their master’s permission, and whipped and branded for running away. Nor were indentures always voluntary: tens of thousands of convicts, beggars, homeless children and other undesirable Britons were transported to America against their will. Given the hideous mortality rates, the authors argue, indentured contracts often amounted to a life sentence at hard labor—some convicts asked to be hanged rather than be sent to Virginia. The authors, both television documentarians, don’t attempt a systematic survey of the subject, and their episodic narrative often loses its way in colorful but extraneous digressions. Still, their exposé of unfree labor in the British colonies paints an arresting portrait of early America as gulag. Publishers weekly
In my view the most damning feature of this book it that it does not inform the reader in a coherent or timely manner what the profound differences are between racialised chattel slavery and indentured servitude or penal servitude. I believe that this was purposefully done to gird support for the book’s thesis that “white slavery” preceded “black slavery” in Colonial America. Their narrative of a supposed transition from a system of “white slavery” to black slavery is not supported by the historical evidence and this narrative’s inherent false equivalence is as ahistorical as it is troubling. The transition that occurred was from white indentured servitude to black chattel slavery. It is worth noting that the transition is related to which bonded labour system dominated, not which preceded the other, for Africans were held in lifetime bondage in Anglo America from the very beginning and indentured servitude was reintroduced in the British West Indies after the abolition of slavery in the 1830s. To be sure, these institutions were interrelated; they existed on the same continuum of unfreedom and labour exploitation in colonial realms. But they are not interchangeable and they cannot be equated or conflated without doing enormous damage to the historical record. (…) The authors of White Cargo try to get around this by concluding that one should refer to indentured servants in Colonial America (both voluntary and involuntary) as “white slaves” by (1) redefining slavery in this context as a “feeling” and not a socio-legal status and (2) arguing that servants should be called “slaves” because Daniel Defoe said so. (…) as Williams clarified over seventy years ago, indentured servitude was never racialised, was mostly voluntary and always time-limited. Colonial Slavery in the Early Modern Atlantic world was perpetual, hereditary and was justified and sustained by anti-black racism. (…) Frustratingly the authors of White Cargo are all too aware of the fundamental differences between slavery and servitude. A closer review reveals that these differences are buried in an erratic fashion throughout the book but never explained in any detail. It must be immensely confusing for any reader (especially those unfamiliar with the issues) to follow what is going on when after approximately one hundred pages of conflation the authors redraw their definitions by explaining that “one of the fundamental differences drawn between white indentured servitude and black slavery [is that black slavery means forever].” While it is not until page 176 that they admit that there was no transition from “white slavery” to black slavery as instead they note that there was a “shift from time-limited servitude of Englishmen to the lifetime slavery of Africans” which of course contradicts the book’s central thesis. These inconsistencies are present at various points throughout the text. To put it bluntly, White Cargo’s simplistic “servants were slaves, convicts were slaves and slaves were slaves” rationale is historically and semantically insupportable. Such reductionism and lack of adequate qualification or nuance collapses the distinctions between these different forms of bondage by default. (…) This confusion is also reflected in some of the uncritical media coverage the book received when it was first published. NPR labelled their promotional piece “America’s First Slaves: Whites” and then concurred with the authors that “the slavery of Europeans was a prelude to the mass slavery of Africans in the Americas.” NPR thus used White Cargo to present this false equivalence of slavery and servitude to their audience as being historically legitimate, yet by the second sentence they refer to it as “white indentured servitude.” Liam Hogan
In April 1775, two days after the American War of Independence began, a notice appeared in the Virginia Gazette offering rewards for the return of 10 runaways. Two were « Negro slaves », but the other eight were white servants, including Thomas Pearce, a 20-year-old Bristol joiner, and William Webster, a middle-aged Scottish brick-maker. Whether they were ever found remains a mystery; almost nothing is known about them but their names. But their irate master was to become very famous indeed, for the man pursuing his absconding servants was called George Washington. Pearce and Webster were indentured servants, the kind of people often ignored in patriotic accounts of colonial America. In the 17th and 18th centuries, tens of thousands of men, women and children lived as ill-paid, ill-treated chattels, bound in servitude to their colonial masters. It is a sobering illustration of human gullibility that, in return for vague promises of a better life, men would sign away their lives for 10 years or more. Once in the New World, they were effectively items of property to be treated as their masters saw fit. Brutal corporal punishment was ubiquitous: every Virginia settlement had its own whipping post. One man was publicly scourged for four days with his ears nailed to the post. He had been flirting with a servant girl. Briskly written by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, a pair of television documentary producers, White Cargo is harrowing reading. For while thousands of servants signed up for the colonies of their own will, thousands more were shipped across by force. We associate transportation with Australia but, by the time of independence, perhaps one in 100 Americans was a convict. English officials were open in their determination to send the « scum » of their booming cities to the colonies. During the Georgian era they exiled 1,000 prisoners across the Atlantic every year. Some of these people were hardened criminals, but not all. Hundreds of girls sent over in the 1620s were probably child prostitutes dragged off the London streets. James I ordered that 100 « rowdy youths » from Newmarket be shipped across to Virginia; in fact, they were just exuberant local lads whose horseplay had annoyed the king. Most shocking of all, thousands of poor London children were rounded up by the constables and thrown on to the nearest ship. Urchins as young as five were shipped to America, where they spent most of their lives in backbreaking service. Few lived long enough to reach adulthood. And yet this horrifying enterprise had some impressive advocates. « It shall sweep your streets, and wash your doors, from idle persons, and the children of idle persons, » declared the poet John Donne. Yet although Jordan and Walsh present their material in a breezy fashion, this is an unsatisfying book. (…) The book is subtitled and marketed as the « forgotten history of Britain’s white slaves in America ». Yet as the authors admit, indentured servants were not slaves. It is true that they were dreadfully treated; indeed, Barbados planters often treated their slaves better than their servants, because the former were so vital to their economic success. The authors are right to remind us that African slavery was one form of bondage among many, rather than a unique and unprecedented condition. All the same, it was almost always much better to be a European servant than an African slave. Not only were servants transported in better conditions, they could also hope to be free men, if they survived their term of service. Above all, they were white, which meant that they were automatically different from the West African slaves. As the servants would have pointed out, the racial codes of the American colonies were a lot more than window-dressing. Dominic Sandbrook 

Attention: un esclavage peut en cacher un autre !

En ces temps étranges …

Où entre concurrence victimaire et mimétisme ambiant, il faut à nouveau pour réussir son suicide le djihadiser et entrainer avec soi le maximum de victimes …

Et en ce toujours plus étrange Occident …

Dont les racines sont issues, fait unique dans l’Histoire humaine, d’une culture se revendiquant fille d’esclaves affranchis

Où entre esclavage sexuel et extortion de fonds, un mouvement sectaire peut prospérer, en plein coeur des Etats-Unis et dans la plus grande indifférence, pendant plus de 20 ans …

Mais où des enseignants peuvent se voir mis à pied pour avoir voulu faire réfléchir leurs élèves aux éventuels bénéfices de l’esclavage y compris pour ses victimes …

Retour en cette veille de commémoration de l’abolition, 15 ans après la Grande-Bretagne, de l’esclavage en France …

Où faisant l’impasse à l’instar de l’infâme loi Taubira sur les traites intra-africaine et arabe beaucoup plus importantes et prolongées dans le temps …

L’on va encore ne nous parler que de la seule traite transatlantique (14% du total quand même pour la seule partie française parquée discrètement dans ses DOMTOM, soit   1, 6 million  vs. 500 000 pour les Etats-Unis) …

Sur ces écrivains et journalistes récemment mis au pilori eux aussi pour avoir qualifié d’esclavage (certes temporaire) les conditions de travail de certains mineurs de l’Europe de la Révolution industrielle …

Ou, censés nettoyer Londres ou Paris de leurs « classes dangereuses » (repris de justice mais aussi filles ou enfants de rue – Mayflower compris),  d’ « engagés » et de « déportés pénaux » des Amériques …

Alors que contrairement à ce que nous présente la – compréhensible et nécessaire – propagande anti-esclavagiste, on ne voit pas bien l’intérêt de l’interminable série de sévices que leur vie était censée alors être quand les historiens nous apprennent qu’ils pouvaient représenter  pour leurs propriétaires un investissement et un capital se chiffrant en dizaines de milliers de nos dollars actuels …

Et que les instances mêmes d’organisme internationaux comme les Nations unies parlent allégrement aujourd’hui d’esclavage moderne pour des victimes qui ne présentent pourtant pas la caractéristique jusqu’ici déclarée nécessaire pour le faire de transmission héréditaire de leur condition …

Mais dont on peut effectivement imaginer les conditions de vie quand on sait qu’entre l’augmentation exponentielle de leur nombre et la réduction drastique de leur coût de transport, la valeur a été ramenée à quelque 90 dollars …

The forgotten history of Britain’s white slaves

Dominic Sandbrook reviews White Cargo: the Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh

The Daily Telegraph

03 May 2007

In April 1775, two days after the American War of Independence began, a notice appeared in the Virginia Gazette offering rewards for the return of 10 runaways. Two were « Negro slaves », but the other eight were white servants, including Thomas Pearce, a 20-year-old Bristol joiner, and William Webster, a middle-aged Scottish brick-maker. Whether they were ever found remains a mystery; almost nothing is known about them but their names. But their irate master was to become very famous indeed, for the man pursuing his absconding servants was called George Washington.Pearce and Webster were indentured servants, the kind of people often ignored in patriotic accounts of colonial America. In the 17th and 18th centuries, tens of thousands of men, women and children lived as ill-paid, ill-treated chattels, bound in servitude to their colonial masters. It is a sobering illustration of human gullibility that, in return for vague promises of a better life, men would sign away their lives for 10 years or more. Once in the New World, they were effectively items of property to be treated as their masters saw fit. Brutal corporal punishment was ubiquitous: every Virginia settlement had its own whipping post. One man was publicly scourged for four days with his ears nailed to the post. He had been flirting with a servant girl.Briskly written by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, a pair of television documentary producers, White Cargo is harrowing reading. For while thousands of servants signed up for the colonies of their own will, thousands more were shipped across by force. We associate transportation with Australia but, by the time of independence, perhaps one in 100 Americans was a convict. English officials were open in their determination to send the « scum » of their booming cities to the colonies. During the Georgian era they exiled 1,000 prisoners across the Atlantic every year.Some of these people were hardened criminals, but not all. Hundreds of girls sent over in the 1620s were probably child prostitutes dragged off the London streets. James I ordered that 100 « rowdy youths » from Newmarket be shipped across to Virginia; in fact, they were just exuberant local lads whose horseplay had annoyed the king.Most shocking of all, thousands of poor London children were rounded up by the constables and thrown on to the nearest ship. Urchins as young as five were shipped to America, where they spent most of their lives in backbreaking service. Few lived long enough to reach adulthood. And yet this horrifying enterprise had some impressive advocates. « It shall sweep your streets, and wash your doors, from idle persons, and the children of idle persons, » declared the poet John Donne.Yet although Jordan and Walsh present their material in a breezy fashion, this is an unsatisfying book. For one thing, the narrative feels very disjointed, not least because chapters of six pages or fewer are too short for a work of this kind. There are some splendid anecdotes, but they never knit into a coherent story or argument. It is telling that the book ends with a perfunctory two-paragraph conclusion that vaguely wonders whether the « present-day American psyche » owes something to « the harsh conditions of those early settlements », but doesn’t really provide an answer.A more serious problem is the whole business of slavery. The book is subtitled and marketed as the « forgotten history of Britain’s white slaves in America ». Yet as the authors admit, indentured servants were not slaves. It is true that they were dreadfully treated; indeed, Barbados planters often treated their slaves better than their servants, because the former were so vital to their economic success. The authors are right to remind us that African slavery was one form of bondage among many, rather than a unique and unprecedented condition.All the same, it was almost always much better to be a European servant than an African slave. Not only were servants transported in better conditions, they could also hope to be free men, if they survived their term of service. Above all, they were white, which meant that they were automatically different from the West African slaves. As the servants would have pointed out, the racial codes of the American colonies were a lot more than window-dressing. Calling them slaves might be a marketing ploy, but it stretches the meaning of slavery beyond breaking point.

Voir aussi:

The curious origins of the ‘Irish slaves’ myth

PRI’s The World

March 17, 2017

Natasha Varner

Irish Americans were slaves once too — or so a historically inaccurate and dangerously misleading internet meme would have you believe.
The meme comes in many varieties but the basic formula is this: old photos, paintings and engravings from all over the world are combined with text suggesting they are historic images of forgotten “Irish slaves.”

The myth underlying the meme holds that the Irish — not Africans — were the first American slaves. It rests on the idea that 17th century American indentured servitude was essentially an extension of the transatlantic slave trade.

Popular among racists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and neo-confederate groups, the “Irish slave” trope is often accompanied by statements to the effect of, “Our ancestors suffered and we got over it, why can’t you?” According to Liam Hogan — a librarian and scholar who has tracked the myth — references to these “Irish slaves” are used to derail conversations about racism and inequity.

“The principle aim of this propaganda, which aligns with that of the international far-right, is to empty the history of the transatlantic slave trade of its racial element,” says Hogan.

The meme has become increasingly visible since 2013. Its trajectory has paralleled the rise of Black Lives Matter and has even used that movement’s language with graphics, t-shirts and Facebook groups that proclaim, “Irish Lives Matter.”

In a six-part series on Medium, Hogan deconstructs the images and claims that have fueled the meme. That picture of “Irish slave” children? That’s actually a photo of young coal mine workers in Pennsylvania in 1911. The one of the “Irish” man being beaten to death in front of a crowd in the 1800s? That’s really a black man tied to a whipping post and being tortured in the 1920s.While there is a growing awareness that these arguments are based on misinformation, the fiction is now seen by many as fact thanks to a strange web of mutually reinforcing lies. The lies have also taken on a life beyond the internet.

At a Confederate flag rally in Mississippi in July 2015 one protester told a reporter, “There were more white Irish slaves then there were blacks. And the Irish slaves were treated a lot worse than the black slaves.”

Those who traffic in this lie minimize and ignore the realities that made slavery distinct from other forms of servitude in the British colonies. African slaves were considered property; Irish indentured servants were not. And though they faced inhumane working conditions, Irish indentured servants could typically decide if they wanted to enter into their labor contracts. Unlike the Africans forced to come to the US as slaves, the servitude of Irish people in the US did not span their entire lifetimes, and did not bind their children to a life of servitude.

The Irish-as-slaves meme has a curious anatomy that Hogan has traced back to self-published books, family genealogy blogs and white supremacist news sites. He attributes much of the misinformation behind the meme to an article published by the Centre for Research on Globalization, a Canadian-based organization that touts its focus on education and humanitarianism. Hogan says that their frequently referenced 2008 article, “The Irish Slave Trade — The Forgotten ‘White’ Slaves,” has an outsized impact but “does not contain a single historically accurate claim or sentence.”

Even so, the article has been cited by mainstream news sites like Scientific American, Irish Examiner and Irish Central. In response, more than 80 scholars and supporters have signed an open letter debunking the Global Research article and asking the media to stop their practice of uncritically citing it and related sources. Scientific American responded by heavily revising their story on the topic and the Irish Examiner removed theirs altogether. But Irish Central has made no such revisions and did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

Screenshots of an article on GlobalResearch.ca, as archived by the Internet Archive on January 31, 2017 and March 3, 2017, after PRI reached out to them for comment on the article.
The editor of Global Research, Michel Chossudovsky, defends their decision to keep the story on their website. He wrote in an email that it was, “originally published by OpEd News, we do not necessarily endorse it, we have also published critiques of that article by several historians with a view to promoting debate.”

Shortly after he replied to PRI’s questions, the article was updated with a lengthy editorial note and links to the articles that “promote debate” on the basis of long-since discredited claims.

The Global Research article is illustrated by the cover of a book, “White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America,” which was published by NYU Press in 2008. The book’s cover, dramatically illustrated with two white fists bound by rope manacles, often appears alongside articles that perpetuate the “Irish slave” myth.

The authors of the book are British filmmakers Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, who argue that slavery is more a feeling than a system. “Slavery,” they claim, “is not defined by time but by the experience of the subject.”

Scholars discredit this assessment. In a review in “The Historian,” Dr. Dixie Ray Haggard says the book uses sound primary sources to draw conclusions that are plagued by “fatal flaws.” The most egregious, he writes, is that it “deliberately conflates indentured servitude with slavery. … Rather than explore the complexity of labor and social relations in colonial America and increase our understanding of these institutions, these authors chose to oversimplify and confuse.”

Still, the book was reviewed favorably in mainstream news outlets including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and The New York Review of Books. Co-author Walsh qualified his claims in an interview with NPR that “We’re not saying the Whites ever suffered quite as much as the worst treated Blacks.” Yet the book helped popularize the idea that Irish indentured servants had it just as bad, if not worse, than African slaves.

This “Irish slave” narrative is the latest in a long history of Irish Americans affirming their own group identity at the expense of black people. In his book, “How the Irish Became White,” Noel Ignatiev shows how in 19th century America, when racial identities had as much to do with national origin as skin color, Irish immigrants strove to be socially classed as white. In order to achieve this status and the privileges that came with it, they routinely and deliberately differentiated themselves from black people by — at times violently — forcing them into an even lower ranking in the American social order.

They sought to minimize the horrors of slavery then too. Irish workers in antebellum America self-identified as “wage slaves,” claiming they had it far worse than actual slaves because they weren’t entitled to “benefits” like the material comfort and the assurance of work they said slaves enjoyed.

Decades later in 1921, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that Irish anti-blackness has been expressed so “continuously and emphatically” that “there can be no doubt of the hostility of a large proportion of Irish Americans toward Negroes.”

Now, as the “Irish slave” myth festers online and beyond, there is no visibly Irish American movement to answer it. There is no Irish American equivalent to Asians for Black Lives. Irish Americans participate in movements for the rights of African Americans, but they do not announce their heritage as loudly as do proponents of the “Irish slave” myth.

Leaders within the Catholic church, which has historically served as the moral compass for many Irish Americans, are beginning to grapple with this legacy of anti-blackness. Dr. Kevin Considine, professor of theology at Calumet College of St. Joseph, called for direct responses to “implicit, insidious racism” in an essay for US Catholic last summer.

“Do black lives matter to white Catholics? If so, we need to do more than say the right words,” he wrote.

Voir également:

White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh was published by the New York University Press in 2007. It is a work of popular history authored by a filmmaker and a journalist about what they claim is the “forgotten history” of unfree European labour in Colonial America, or as the authors now call them, “white slaves”. The blurb of the book asserts without qualification that white indentured servants were “chattels”, that white convicts were sold like “livestock” and that this history of “white slavery” has been “submerged under the overwhelming memory of black slavery.” The introduction goes on to state that “white servants were the first slaves in America” and that “today, tens of millions of white Americans are descended from such chattels.” Jordan and Walsh also claim that the brutalities associated with black slavery alone were perpetuated on whites throughout British rule.”To put it mildly these are simplistic, decontextualised and historically problematic assertions. Despite the author’s haphazard disclaimers to the contrary, their argument unavoidably draws a false equivalence between colonial slavery and colonial servitude. The book’s sensationalist and oversimplified approach to this complex topic means that this attempt at a relative comparison becomes an absolute equivalence in a general discussion. Since its publication ten years ago White Cargo has helped popularise the reductive fallacy that “slavery was slavery” in the history of British America. It has thus aided the growth of a deep misunderstanding and confusion about this history in wider society and has been seized upon at the fringes by White Nationalists and Neo-Confederates as “evidence” in their attempts to legitimate their racist worldview.

Academic criticism points towards a “Fatal Flaw”

I do not doubt that the authors’ hearts were in the right place and I’m convinced that White Cargo had the potential to be an important and accessible work about the broad history of unfree labour in British America and the exploitation of the poor and the vulnerable. Alas the fundamentally misguided decision to conflate the plight of its subjects with the history of racialised chattel slavery, while no doubt helping to garner greater media attention and sales, has critically damaged the book’s import. The American historian Dr. Dixie Ray Haggard noted this “fatal flaw” when he reviewed the book for The Historian journal in 2011 and he concluded how“This book deliberately conflates indentured servitude with slavery. The authors use a general definition of slavery, rather than an academic one, to prove their point that indentured servants were in essence slaves because of the way they were treated. They fail to acknowledge, or maybe understand, that each institution, slavery and indentured servitude, had its own purpose and position within the colonial economy and society.”Haggard also noted the book’s poor use of modern literature and scholarship and that the authors predominantly leaned on secondary sources, of which many were published in the mid-twentieth century.Prof Jerome Handler and Dr Matthew Reilly, scholars of the history of slavery in Barbados, singled out White Cargo in a recent academic article contesting the growing narrative of “white slavery” in the Caribbean. They argued that White Cargo has been “influential amongst transatlantic audiences in its central thesis” that slavery in British America was imposed “first for whites, then for blacks.” Handler and Reilly assessed that the book’s strategy to simplistically refer to white servants as slaves “deflects the experiences of millions of persons of African birth or descent.”Likewise the economic historian of slavery Dr. Stephen Mullen criticised the book’s “sensationalist interpretations” and he cited the American historian Michael Guasco who “recently suggested the text should be read in ‘conjunction with more analytical and thoroughly contextualised works’ — a diplomatic way of urging caution when considering the authors’ conclusions.” Mullen observed that some of the book’s sources were questionable, pointing out that the section about the transportation of Scottish Jacobites to the Americas in the 1700s relied almost exclusively on John Prebble’s “pseudo-historiographical victimology” rather than objective history. Correspondingly White Cargo lists Sean O’Callaghan’s pseudo-history To Hell or Barbados (2000) in its bibliography. I critiqued this work and found that O’Callaghan had jumbled history and fantasy together to help laminate a perfect victimology that equated indentured servitude with chattel slavery. Prof Don Akenson recently described O’Callaghan’s work as “an end-of-the-pier-act that is just a shade short of being hate literature” while Handler and Reilly delineated how To Hell or Barbados is

“…replete with historical inaccuracies, the frequent extension of documented information on enslaved Africans to all indentured servants without explanation or justification, distorted embellishments of historical incidents, reliance on questionable sources, and unsupported statements of alleged historical facts…”

British historian Dr. Dominic Sandbrook reviewedWhite Cargo for the Daily Telegraph and found it “unsatisfying” as it was built on “disjointed narratives” and anecdotes. He felt that its most “serious problem” was its decontextualisation of the term ‘slavery’ for polemical purposes. He concluded that “calling them slaves might be a marketing ploy, but it stretches the meaning of slavery beyond breaking point.”Although not referring to White Cargo directly, the Scottish historian Sir T.M. Devine also dealt with this increasingly popular conflation of servitude and slavery in the very first page of his introduction to Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection (2015)

“Those modern skeptics who consider…the indentured white servants in the transatlantic colonies, to be just as oppressed as black slaves, fail to take into account that stark and fundamental distinction. Colonial servants were bondsmen, indentured to labour, often under harsh conditions, but their contracts were not for life but for specific periods, usually an average of four to seven years, and were enforceable at law.”

These are the only academic criticisms of White Cargo and its thesis that I could find and just one is a full length academic review. It was published four years after the book was available for sale and currently languishes behind a paywall. It is therefore understandable that so many people have been greatly influenced by this book in the wake of a subdued and much delayed critical response by professional historians.

A (brief) critique

In my view the most damning feature of this book it that it does not inform the reader in a coherent or timely manner what the profound differences are between racialised chattel slavery and indentured servitude or penal servitude. I believe that this was purposefully done to gird support for the book’s thesis that “white slavery” preceded “black slavery” in Colonial America. Their narrative of a supposed transition from a system of “white slavery” to black slavery is not supported by the historical evidence and this narrative’s inherent false equivalence is as ahistorical as it is troubling. The transition that occurred was from white indentured servitude to black chattel slavery. It is worth noting that the transition is related to which bonded labour system dominated, not which preceded the other, for Africans were held in lifetime bondage in Anglo America from the very beginning and indentured servitude was reintroduced in the British West Indies after the abolition of slavery in the 1830s.To be sure, these institutions were interrelated; they existed on the same continuum of unfreedom and labour exploitation in colonial realms. But they are not interchangeable and they cannot be equated or conflated without doing enormous damage to the historical record. Which is why Prof Gad Heuman and Prof Trevor Burnard, specialists of the history of plantation slavery in the Americas, take care to elucidate how

Slavery is a form of labour exploitation connected to, but significantly different from, other forms of labour exploitation, such as indentured servitude… (The Routledge History of Slavery, p. 7)

The authors of White Cargo try to get around this by concluding that one should refer to indentured servants in Colonial America (both voluntary and involuntary) as “white slaves” by (1) redefining slavery in this context as a “feeling” and not a socio-legal status and (2) arguing that servants should be called “slaves” because Daniel Defoe said so. The authors disagree with Dr Eric Williams who directly challenged Defoe’s view in Capitalism and Slavery (1944)

“Defoe bluntly stated that the white servant was a slave. He was not. The servant’s loss of liberty was of limited duration, the Negro was [a] slave for life. The servant’s status could not descend to his offspring, Negro children took the status of the mother. The master at no time had absolute control over the person and liberty of his servant as he had over his slave. The servant had rights, limited but recognised by law and inserted into a contract.”

Thus as Williams clarified over seventy years ago, indentured servitude was never racialised, was mostly voluntary and always time-limited. Colonial Slavery in the Early Modern Atlantic world was perpetual, hereditary and was justified and sustained by anti-black racism. Richard B. Morris, an economic historian and former president of the American Historical Association, also alluded to Defoe’s claim in Government and Labor in Early America, 1946.

“To the author of Moll Flanders white servitude and slavery were identical. In fact, the system of indentured servitude differed in certain important essentials from Negro slavery.”

In a prior section Morris spelled out one of these essential distinctions.

“Unlike the slave the indentured servant was bound to labor for his master merely for the period of time expressly stated in his contract or, in the absence of a formal contract, as laid down by custom or statute. At the expiration of his service he was a free man.”

Frustratingly the authors of White Cargo are all too aware of the fundamental differences between slavery and servitude. A closer review reveals that these differences are buried in an erratic fashion throughout the book but never explained in any detail. It must be immensely confusing for any reader (especially those unfamiliar with the issues) to follow what is going on when after approximately one hundred pages of conflation the authors redraw their definitions by explaining that

“one of the fundamental differences drawn between white indentured servitude and black slavery [is that black slavery means forever].”

While it is not until page 176 that they admit that there was no transition from “white slavery” to black slavery as instead they note that there was a “shift from time-limited servitude of Englishmen to the lifetime slavery of Africans” which of course contradicts the book’s central thesis. These inconsistencies are present at various points throughout the text.To put it bluntly, White Cargo’s simplistic “servants were slaves, convicts were slaves and slaves were slaves” rationale is historically and semantically insupportable. Such reductionism and lack of adequate qualification or nuance collapses the distinctions between these different forms of bondage by default. This extreme revisionist methodology inevitably leads to an unsustainable ahistorical narrative which explains why White Cargo repeatedly refers to “white slaves” as being “indentured servants” in the text. The irony is not lost on this writer that the only way the authors can clarify that they are referring to “white slaves” throughout the book (rather than actual slaves) is to refer to them as indentured servants, which they were to begin with.This confusion is also reflected in some of the uncritical media coverage the book received when it was first published. NPR labelled their promotional piece “America’s First Slaves: Whites” and then concurred with the authors that “the slavery of Europeans was a prelude to the mass slavery of Africans in the Americas.” NPR thus used White Cargo to present this false equivalence of slavery and servitude to their audience as being historically legitimate, yet by the second sentence they refer to it as “white indentured servitude.” Which is it, NPR? Is it not “white slavery”? If NPR already swallowed the false equivalence then why is there this immediate need to qualify it?

Sensationalism with sparse context = bad history

White Cargo contains a multitude of over-the-top declarations and bizarre anachronistic comparisons that only become possible when a writer is trying to string a narrative together rather than contextualise, interrogate and understand the primary sources. In one jaw-dropping case they find it necessary to follow the activist Theodore W. Allen down the rabbit hole by trawling back to thirteenth century Ireland in an attempt to equate the abuse of the Gaelic Irish by Anglo-Normans with the experience of racialised chattel slaves in Colonial America in the eighteenth century. This false analogy that spans half a millennium omits the basic historical context, which means that it’s not historical writing they are producing, it’s rhetoric.Their decision to include ‘Arbeilt [sic] Macht Frei’ in the text, implying that indentured servitude (whether voluntary or forced) in Barbados in the mid-seventeenth century could be as futile as the exterminating slave labour enforced at death camps during the Holocaust, is dramatic comparison at its most puerile. Indentured labour in Barbados was a brutal station, especially so when the plantations transitioned to the more labour intensive sugarcane. The various laws that were passed in the colonies to protect servants illustrates how many were abused. The very nature of this system of servitude meant that they were treated as a sort of commodity while bound and undoubtedly in the first few decades of settlement significant numbers of servants died of disease before their indenture had expired.But the author’s quip of “if only” in reference to the servant’s hope of being free goes way too far. The Cromwellian officer Colonel William Brayne wrote to Secretary Thurloe from Barbados on the 10 January 1657 and he noted that servants who had served out their time were being “continually made free” and that they were leaving Barbados on a daily basis to no doubt find paid work and possibly even some land in another colony. Underscoring this is the approximation that 17,000 whites voluntarily left Barbados between 1650 and 1666. Many of this number were undoubtedly former servants in search of better opportunities. This was a possibility that a slave could never have.

Voir de même:

The story of slavery in black and white
Val Hennessy
The Daily Mail
30 April 2007

Here’s a shock revelation: slavery was not confined to the black population. In fact, during the 17th and 18th centuries, thousands of white Britons were marketed like cattle and transported to Britain’s American colonies to work in the fields.With the aim of emptying England’s prisons and clearing up the city streets, the authorities rounded up vagrants, orphans, prostitutes, beggars and criminals, and sold them into servitude.In theory, they would be ‘indentured servants’ to their masters for four to ten years. In practice, many of those shipped abroad perished on the journey or within two years of beginning forced labour.As the authors make clear in their riveting history, ‘for decades this underclass was treated just as savagely as black slaves and, indeed, toiled, suffered and rebelled alongside them.’ The white slave trade was prompted by fears that England was in danger of being overwhelmed by the poor and lawless.During Elizabeth I’s reign, her favourites grew rich while recurring harvest disasters and land-grabbing left hordes of peasants and labourers on the edge of survival.In 1570, in Coventry alone there were 2,000 beggars on the streets. A desperate crowd of 20,000 hungry people congregated at a grand funeral begging for bread.What was to be done? Enter bloodstained villain Humphrey Gilbert, of whom your reviewer has never heard and who makes no appearance in school history books.Half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh, he was sent to command English troops in Ireland. Ordered to seize Irish land for the Queen, he launched a gory ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaign to replace native Irish with England’s surplus peasants.As he gloated: ‘I slew all those that did belong to, feed, accompany or maintain any outlaws or traitors… putting man, woman and child to the sword.’ His victims’ heads were stuck on rows of pikes.Thousands died. Gilbert was knighted. Thus were seeded the Irish Troubles, as well as the practice of offloading the troublesome English to work the land in the Queen’s colonies.With information gleaned from contemporary letters, journals and court archives, White Cargo is packed with proof that the brutalities usually associated with black slavery were, for centuries, also inflicted on whites.For example, of 1,200 whites shipped to America in 1619, 800 perished in the first year, killed by native Americans, disease, beatings, starvation, and infections caught on ship.Particularly harrowing are details of the mass street roundups of vagrant children to be transported overseas.The city paid the masters £5 a head to take them off its hands as ‘apprentices’, ostensibly to learn a trade.In reality, most were destined for tobacco plantations. Few lived long enough to reach adulthood. Of the first 300 children shipped, only 12 were still alive four years on. Their sad fate is largely forgotten, yet they arrived on the plantations four months before the first shipload of West Indian slaves about whom book after book has been written.Those whites transported as ‘indentured servants’ or who volunteered as ‘good-willers’ after being promised better lives were, in theory at least, supposed to gain their freedom after completing their agreed stint.In practice, most of them died before their time was up, or had penalty years imposed for misbehaviour. Escape attempts or becoming a father, for example, meant three extra years.Becoming a mother meant your child became the plantation owner’s chattel until he or she was 21.The authors explain ‘the rape of a female slave was not a crime, but a mere trespass on the master’s property’. Discipline was barbaric – a mutinous servant, for instance, was sent to the pillory for four days, his ears nailed to the post and given daily public whippings.Libraries and archives are full of details of lashings and beatings. A white girl field worker was beaten to death in 1625. A youth died from a blow to the head by his master.By the 1640s, Irish and Scottish workers were being shipped to the Caribbean to clear tropical forests and plant sugar cane.Interestingly, by mid-1660, a high proportion of the working population in Barbados was Irish. To this day, people there have Irish names and are known as Red Legs, because of their blistering fair skin.This book will certainly make readers re-evaluate all the recent appeasement and hype about apologising for the slave trade.Where do you begin? How do you apologise to long-dead and exploited street children? It is sobering to remind ourselves that the wealth of America and Britain came about because thousands of powerless workers were made to sacrifice their rights and freedom so that others could become rich.Those workers hoped and believed that one day their turn would come, too. Sadly, for most of them, they died unremembered and in terrible servitude.

Voir aussi:

Master and Servant

Every schoolchild recognizes certain images of this nation’s darker side: slaves kidnapped from their native lands, shipped in disease-ridden holds, traded like animals, and then whipped and worked on America’s plantations.

Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, both of whom have made documentaries and both of whom live in London, retell that familiar tale — although the victims here are not Africans but English, Irish and Scottish people, sent to the colonies largely against their will in the 17th and 18th centuries.

School Apologizes For Asking Students To List ‘Positive Aspects’ Of Slavery

“To be clear, there is no debate about slavery. It is immoral and a crime against humanity,” the superintendent said in a statement. 

A charter school network has apologized for an assignment asking students to list the positive and negative aspects of slavery, calling the worksheet a “clear mistake.”

“To be clear, there is no debate about slavery,” Aaron Kindel, superintendent of Great Hearts Texas, said in a statement posted on Facebook Thursday. “It is immoral and a crime against humanity.”

On Wednesday, Roberto Livar posted a photo of a worksheet he said his son, Manu, was asked to complete in his eighth-grade American history class at Great Hearts Monte Vista in San Antonio. The worksheet is titled, “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View.”

Livar told HuffPost that his son was uneasy about the nature of the assignment and felt compelled to bring it home and show his parents. Livar said he was “pissed” as soon as he saw the worksheet.

“We are fully aware that there is a concerted effort by the far-right nationally to reframe slavery as being ‘not that bad’ and trying to revise the civil war as being about ‘states rights’ and not about slavery,” he told HuffPost in a Facebook message. “We were concerned that this assignment fell in line with that ideology and were naturally concerned, as well as other parents.”

Other families and members of the community upset about the worksheet began sharing Livar’s post, including Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). Castro called the assignment “absolutely unacceptable” in a tweet on Thursday.

Kindel said in his statement that the incident was “limited to one teacher at just one campus,” and that the teacher has been put on leave while Great Hearts “collect[s] all the facts.”  He added that Great Hearts will “conduct an audit” of the book that inspired the worksheet to see if it should be permanently replaced.

Livar told HuffPost that Great Hearts staff invited his family and other concerned parents to a meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter, and that Manu was “commended for his action of bringing this to light and was even told he was ‘very brave.’”

However, he noted that his son has been “attacked by many at his school” for supposedly harming its reputation.

Livar, who said he and his family are Mexican-American and identify as Chicano, chalked the whole ordeal up to a lack of diversity at the school among the student body and staff.

He added that he sees what happened as a sign of problems stemming beyond his son’s school.

“These issues are not isolated to one school or one book,” Livar said. “These issues are systemic and continue up the chain all the way to the Texas School Board of Education.

Voir par ailleurs:

Debunking the imagery of the “Irish slaves” meme

Those that promote the myth of Irish perpetual hereditary chattel slavery in Colonial America use a variety of images entirely unrelated to indentured servitude to accompany their anti-history. I examined a selection of them.

(This is part one of my six-part series debunking the meme. See Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five and Part Six)


1. Sale of a Slave Girl in Rome by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1884)

The is the most common image that accompanies spurious “Irish: the Forgotten White Slaves” articles. It is cropped from a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme. In this work, Gérôme imagined a scene in a Roman slave market from about two thousand years ago.

The original

2. The “Redlegs” of Barbados

The “Irish slaves” meme has been embraced by racists and white nationalists. The meme below was shared by a Tea Party Leader in 2013. It accompanied her advice to African Americans to “move on” from slavery.

But this photograph is not from the U.S., nor does it depict “White Irish slaves.”

Historian Matthew C. Reilly has done extensive research on the “poor white” community of Barbados. This photo was taken in Barbados in 1908, and as Reilly has noted none of those pictured have Irish surnames and these families appear to have both African and European ancestry. Reilly writes

“Photograph locally known as “The ‘Redlegs’ of Barbados”. Pictured are fishermen residents of Bath in the parish of St. John taken in 1908. Photo courtesy of Mr. Richard Goddard.”

“The photograph is widely known amongst island history buffs as well as those interested in family genealogy. On several occasions I encountered individuals who had traced their ancestry to one of the impoverished men pictured in the 1908 portrait of the “Redleg” fishermen. Until my conversation with Fred Watson (Figure 7.2), however, I had never heard it referred to as a “family photograph”. Represented are members of the Watson, Goddard, King, and Haynes families, surnames popular amongst the “Redleg” population for several generations and still present in St. John today. Fred was able to identify several of his father’s and mother’s brothers that were pictured in the photograph including his mother’s brother Simeon Goddard found on the lower left and his father’s brother Joe Watson found in center of the back row. The revelation that the photograph depicts an extended matrilineal kinship network was made more significant by the realization that phenotypes indicate that this network involved Afro-Barbadian as well as “poor white” genealogies.”

3. Survivors of a Japanese POW camp during World War Two


4. Union Army soldier on his release from Andersonville Prison in May, 1865

Probably the most perverse co-option of all. Victims of the horror of the Confederate Andersonville prison appropriated by Neo-Confederates to support their racist meme. N.B. the Ferguson hashtag.


5. Child labourers on a Texan farm, 1913

This is another popular image. It is used here to promote an “Irish Slave Trade” movie idea. This photo of child labourers was taken in 1913 by the great Lewis Hine. The children were working on H.M. Lane’s farm near Bells, Texas. Their father (and uncle for some of the children) was working the plough nearby. This photo is sometimes used on Stormfront when discussing “white slaves.”


6. The East India Company logo

The ongoing “we were slaves too!” appropriation of the Atlantic Slave Trade led to this misfire. The East India Company logo tattooed as an “Irish slave” branding. I asked this tattooist about the relevance of the tattoo and he referred me to an inactive (and since deleted) Facebook page named “We Were Irish and Slaves”. This Facebook page was the source and inspiration for the tattoo design. The featured branding irons (first and second images) are from the Wilberforce Museum. The third image, the one that the tattoo is based on, is a stamp of the East India Company, not a branding iron. It goes without saying that indentured servants were not branded like slaves on their arrival in the colonies.


7. Former Enslaved Children in New Orleans, 1864

The comfort and ease at which some Irish and Irish-Americans appropriate the history of black chattel slavery is remarkable and disturbing. Guilty of the appropriation below is the “Ireland Long Held in Chains” Facebook page. They shared this photo of former “white” slave children in New Orleans and labelled it “Irish Slavery — Three Slaves”. This piece of anti-slavery propaganda during the American Civil War was aimed at a Northern white audience. These enslaved children were “the offspring of white fathers through two or three generations.” The fact that many slave owners in Louisiana were of Irish descent only makes this appropriation more reprehensible. In my review of Irish surnames and slave-ownership I found that 159 different Irish surnames were represented among slave owners in Louisiana in 1850. These included Brady, Burke, Carroll, Connolly, Collins, Cullen, Crowley, Darcy, Devane, Hickey, Hogan, Keane, Lynch, Mahoney, McCormack, and Murphy. You can read about the history of these photographs in Mary Niall Mitchell’s article in the New York Times.


8. Group portrait of child labourers in Port Royal, South Carolina (1911)

This “white slavery” meme (which appropriates the Zong Massacre) uses one of Lewis Hine’s photographs. Its caption reads “Group portrait of young girls working as oyster shuckers at the canning company at Port Royal, SC, 1911. From left to right: Josie, six years old, Bertha, six years old, and Sophie, 10 years old.”

Here is the original photograph.

This unbelievably ahistorical meme also suggests that in seventeenth Ireland “it was was no more [a] sin to kill an Irishman than a dog or any other brute.” This quote is not from the seventeenth century but the fourteenth, which makes it a full 300 years out of context. The original quote was made in 1317 in the Remonstrance of the Irish Chiefs to Pope John XXII. According to Diarmuid Scully (University College Cork) the Remonstrance described Domhnall, its author, as the ‘King of Ulster and by hereditary right the true heir to the whole of Ireland’ who “claims the support of the Irish élite and people, calls for papal backing against English rule and offers the kingship of Ireland to Edward Bruce of Scotland.” It wished to revoke the Laudabiliter. The Remonstrance accuses “the monks of the Cistercian order of Granard, in Ardagh diocese, so too the monks of Inch, of the same order, in Down diocese, shamelessly fulfil in deed what they proclaim in word. For, bearing arms publicly, they attack the Irish and slay them, and nevertheless they celebrate their masses.” This is to illustrate to the papal powers that some of the Christian orders in Ireland were murderous, heretical and did not warrant the Pope’s backing. This was a propagandic retort to Gerald of Wales’ infamous assertion that the English lay claim to Ireland as the Irish were not truly civilised or Christian. The Remonstrance inverts these slanderous justifications for the Cambro-Norman conquest of Ireland. William Petty alluded to this brutal 14th century colonial reality in the Political Anatomy of Ireland (1672)

“The English in Ireland before Henry the VII’s time, lived in Ireland as the Europeans do in America, or as several Nations do now upon the same Continent; so as an Englishman was not punishable for killing an Irish-man, and they were governed by different Laws; the Irish by the Brehon-Law, and the English there by the Laws of England…[then] English in Ireland, growing poor and discontented, degenerate into Irish; & vice versa; Irish, growing into Wealth and Favour, reconcile to the English.”


9. The HMS Owen Glendower, an anti-slave trade frigate

Irish Central decided to use a painting of the HMS Glendower to accompany their article about “forgotten white slaves”. It states that this ship was used to bring “human cargo to South American[sic] and the Indies.” This article repeats the absurd claim that an “Irish slave trade” ended in 1839. But the HMS Glendower was not a slave ship. In fact it was used from 1821 to 1824 to suppress the slave trade.


10. The Putumayo Atrocities, 1900s-1910s

The Ancient Order of Hibernians in Florida (State Board) appropriated an image of heavily chained Putumayo Indians, implying that they are “Irish slaves”.


11. Timucua men cultivating a field and Timucua women planting corn or beans (Florida, c. 1560)

This image of the Timucua people planting their fields appears on some “Irish slaves” and “white slaves” blogs. The Neo-Confederate Save Your Heritage website frames it as “white slaves” working in South Carolina.

Florida Indians planting seeds of beans or maize, c. 1560 by Theodor de Bry, (1528–1598) Engraver: Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, (1533?-1588)

12. An illustration of Elizabeth Brownrigg, a torturer and murderer who was executed in England in 1767.

This “Irish slaves” meme uses an illustration of the infamous Elizabeth Brownrigg taken from The New Newgate Calendar, a sensationalist periodical which was published in England in the 1860s. The text of the meme is ridiculous; the values are apparently an invention, and it almost goes without saying that slaves were generally more expensive than servants because they were slaves. Lifetime ownership vs. 4–7 years indentures and slave-owners also claimed their children as their property. Although rare, in times of shortage (when labour demand/wages were high in Britain and thus migration unattractive) white servants’ contracts could be more expensive than slaves. It was a crime to murder a servant, but whipping was allowed as long as it was “moderate correction.” The claim that “African slaves were treated much better in Colonial America” is racist propaganda.

Here is the original image.


13. ‘Mulatto’ slave being whipped in an anti-slavery novel

This illustration is appropriated from the 19th century anti-slavery novel The White Slave; or, Memoirs of a Fugitive by Richard Hildreth. The protagonist being whipped is a ‘mulatto’ slave. His mother was enslaved and his father the enslaver.


14. Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. (1911)

This is the newest version of the racist meme. It appeared online during Black History Month 2016 and has been shared 102,000 times so far. The photo does not depict “Irish slaves” but breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co., South Pittston, Pennsylvania. The original photograph was taken by Lewis Hine in January 1911. Hine was the principle investigative photographer for National Child Labor Committee (NCLC).


15. A black man being whipped in Delaware (1920s)

This image is used by Neo-Nazis on this website to depict “Irish slaves”

from The Irish Slave Trade- White Cargo

Somehow it has made it from here into the mainstream.

But this image is clearly not an “Irish slave” in the 1800s. It was taken in Delaware in the 1920s and it shows an unnamed black man, fastened to a whipping post, being tortured.


16. A promotional photograph for a performance of Dion Boucicault’s play “The Octoroon” in London (c. 1862)

Here is a link to the original photograph. This satirical image was intended to challenge the audience by reversing racial stereotypes and it was used to promote the play during it’s run at the Adelphi theatre in London. Dion Boucicault is one of Ireland’s most famous playwrights and The Octoroon was his anti-slavery production based on Thomas Mayne Reid’s novel The Quadroon.


17. A stock photograph of a “crying black man” and a photo of Kevin Cunningham.

Racist meme that appeared on the “White History Month” Facebook Page (November 2015)

This exceptionally racist meme features a stock photograph and a photograph of Kevin Cunningham, an Irish-American who became famous after he started an online petition on change.org calling for the prosecution of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin.


18. English Women being imported and sold to Planters in Colonial Virginia (1620s)

This meme of the “selling of Irish women” appears on multiple “Irish slaves” websites (inc. the Ancient Order of Hibernians) and across social media.

This image is actually taken from Barnes’ popular history of the United States of America

Barnes’ popular history of the United States of America, p. 38

The ratio of women to men was very low in the colony and so for the benefit of the colonial project, as Edmund S. Morgan describes it, a shipment was arranged by Virginia Company members “of a hundred willing maids, to be sold to the planters who could afford to buy a wife.” (American Slavery, American Freedom, p.95) So the image does not depict Irish women being sold into slavery. It depicts English women being sold into marriage. The planter was paying for the transport costs.

For more information about the role and limited rights of women in Colonial Virginia see Julie Richter’s overview.


19. Edwardian Servants, Byfield, Northamptonshire (c. 1920)

Some of these websites take the term ‘indentured servants’ literally…They turned this image of two maids photographed in a house in Byfield, Northamptonshire, sometime between 1896 and 1920….

…and made it into an awful “white slavery” meme.

from the Irish Slave Trade, Ancient Order of Hibernians (Florida)

20. Two women setting seed potatoes in Co. Antrim (1890s)

This is not an image of “Irish slaves” or indentured servants but of two women in Glenshesk, Co. Antrim planting potatoes. The photograph was taken by Robert J. Welch for the Congested Districts Boards in the late 1890s.


21. The Damm family, Los Angeles, 1987

The “Irish slaves” meme is also used to deny the existence of white privilege. It is often accompanied by an image of the Damm family taken by the photographer Mary Ellen Mark in Los Angeles in 1987.


22. Italian Miners in Belgium (c. 1900)

This photograph was recently published on the far-right “Against Globalist Agenda” Facebook page and appended with the title “Irish slaves imported to America”

But this photo actually depicts miners in Belgium in the early 20th century.


23. A photograph of the Cliffs of Moher

This meme uses a wistful photograph of the Cliffs of Moher. Here is the uncropped original.


24. An advert for two runaway Irish servants

“Make a toast to all the Irish Slaves who died making America great.”

“It says indented servants?”

“Shut up.”


25. An image from a Human Trafficking website and a photograph of President Obama’s visit to Moneygall, Ireland

This meme was created by conservative artist JP Hawkins in 2o13. https://twitter.com/jphawkins2009/status/615982442361413632
The caption reads “Obama visits Ireland, but fails to point out that the Irish were 1st slaves! Why?” The background image is a stock image taken from the Shutter Stock website and is tagged ‘Domestic Violence’.

26. A photo of the Irish actor Cillian Murphy

I know what you are thinking. I have no idea either.



12 years a slave: Hollywood récompensera-il le premier film bondage sur l’esclavage de l’histoire ? (Uncle Tom’s cabin meets Justine: is history really served when slavery flicks go from spaghetti western to torture porn ?)

22 février, 2014
https://i0.wp.com/screenrobot.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/12-years-a-slave-solomon-new-york.jpghttps://i1.wp.com/www-deadline-com.vimg.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/12-Years-a-Slave-Hanging-Scene__140129072127.jpgIl faut avoir le courage de vouloir le mal et pour cela il faut commencer par rompre avec le comportement grossièrement humanitaire qui fait partie de l’héritage chrétien. (..) Nous sommes avec ceux qui tuent. André Breton
Bien avant qu’un intellectuel nazi ait annoncé ‘quand j’entends le mot culture je sors mon revolver’, les poètes avaient proclamé leur dégoût pour cette saleté de culture et politiquement invité Barbares, Scythes, Nègres, Indiens, ô vous tous, à la piétiner. Hannah Arendt (1949)
Après Auschwitz, nous pouvons affirmer, plus résolument que jamais auparavant, qu’une divinité toute-puissante ou bien ne serait pas toute bonne, ou bien resterait entièrement incompréhensible (dans son gouvernement du monde, qui seul nous permet de la saisir). Mais si Dieu, d’une certaine manière et à un certain degré, doit être intelligible (et nous sommes obligés de nous y tenir), alors il faut que sa bonté soit compatible avec l’existence du mal, et il n’en va de la sorte que s’il n’est pas tout-puissant. C’est alors seulement que nous pouvons maintenir qu’il est compréhensible et bon, malgré le mal qu’il y a dans le monde. Hans Jonas
Christs, Vierges, Pietàs, Crucifixions, enfers, paradis, offrandes, chutes, dons, échanges: la vision chrétienne du monde semble revenir en force. Où? Dans le domaine de l’art le plus contemporain. (…) L’homme y est réinterprété comme corps incarné, faible, en échec. Cette religion insiste sur l’ordinaire et l’accessible, elle est hantée par la dérision, la mort et le deuil. Après une modernité désincarnée proposant ses icônes majestueuses, on en revient à une image incarnée, une image d’après la chute. En profondeur, il se dit là un renversement des modèles de l’art lui-même: A Prométhée succède Sisyphe ou mieux le Christ souffrant, un homme sans modèle, sans lien, inscrit dans une condition humaine à laquelle il ne peut échapper. Yves Michaud (4e de couverture, L’art contemporain est-il chrétien, Catherine Grenier)
C’est comme une fête foraine, les jeux avec les pinces… Le monde est atroce, mais il y a bien pire : c’est Dieu. On ne peut pas comprendre Haïti. On ne peut même pas dire que Dieu est méchant, aucun méchant n’aurait fait cela. Christian Boltanski
Le grand ennemi de la vérité n’est très souvent pas le mensonge – délibéré, artificiel et malhonnête – mais le mythe – persistant, persuasif et irréaliste. John Kennedy
Cette Administration met en avant un faux choix entre les libertés que nous chérissons et la sécurité que nous procurons… Je vais donner à nos agences de renseignement et de sécurité les outils dont ils ont besoin pour surveiller et éliminer les terroristes sans nuire à notre Constitution et à notre liberté. Cela signifie l’arrêt des écoutes téléphoniques illégales de citoyens américains, l’arrêt des lettres de sécurité nationale pour espionner les citoyens américains qui ne sont pas soupçonnés d’un crime. L’arrêt de la surveillance des citoyens qui ne font rien de plus que protester contre une mauvaise guerre. L’arrêt de l’ignorance de la loi quand cela est incommode. Obama (août 2007)
Qu’est donc devenu cet artisan de paix récompensé par un prix Nobel, ce président favorable au désarmement nucléaire, cet homme qui s’était excusé aux yeux du monde des agissements honteux de ces Etats-Unis qui infligeaient des interrogatoires musclés à ces mêmes personnes qu’il n’hésite pas aujourd’hui à liquider ? Il ne s’agit pas de condamner les attaques de drones. Sur le principe, elles sont complètement justifiées. Il n’y a aucune pitié à avoir à l’égard de terroristes qui s’habillent en civils, se cachent parmi les civils et n’hésitent pas à entraîner la mort de civils. Non, le plus répugnant, c’est sans doute cette amnésie morale qui frappe tous ceux dont la délicate sensibilité était mise à mal par les méthodes de Bush et qui aujourd’hui se montrent des plus compréhensifs à l’égard de la campagne d’assassinats téléguidés d’Obama. Charles Krauthammer
Les drones américains ont liquidé plus de monde que le nombre total des détenus de Guantanamo. Pouvons nous être certains qu’il n’y avait parmi eux aucun cas d’erreurs sur la personne ou de morts innocentes ? Les prisonniers de Guantanamo avaient au moins une chance d’établir leur identité, d’être examinés par un Comité de surveillance et, dans la plupart des cas, d’être relâchés. Ceux qui restent à Guantanamo ont été contrôlés et, finalement, devront faire face à une forme quelconque de procédure judiciaire. Ceux qui ont été tués par des frappes de drones, quels qu’ils aient été, ont disparu. Un point c’est tout. Kurt Volker
L’abolition est due au grand réveil religieux: sous l’impulsion des pasteurs, des centaines de milliers d’Anglais signent des pétitions contre l’esclavage. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau (…) Le système esclavagiste était rentable et il aurait pu s’adapter à la nouvelle période. On a même calculé que la productivité d’un esclave pouvait être équivalente, voire supérieure, à celle d’un salarié. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau
La traite n’avait pas pour but d’exterminer un peuple. L’esclave était un bien qui avait une valeur marchande qu’on voulait faire travailler le plus possible. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau
« Cargaison » précieuse face au risque financier que prenait l’armateur, leurs conditions de détention s’améliorèrent au cours des siècles, leur taux de mortalité étant de 10 % à 20 %, avec des pics à 40 %. Pour les historiens, l’estimation la plus probable s’établit à 13 % sur les quatre siècles que dure la traite alors que la mortalité moyenne d’un équipage était tout juste inférieure. Wikipedia
On dispose de peu d’éléments sur le nombre de captifs décédés sur le sol africain. (…) Raymond L. Cohn, un professeur d’économie dont les recherches sont centrées sur l’histoire économique et les migrations internationales estime que 20 à 40 % des captifs mouraient au cours de leur transport à marche forcée vers la côte, et que 3 à 10 % disparaissaient en y attendant les navires négriers. On arrive à un total compris entre 23 et 50 %. (…) À la fin du XVIIIe siècle, en Guadeloupe, le taux de mortalité des esclaves oscillait entre 30 et 50 pour mille. En métropole, le taux de mortalité était compris entre 30 et 38 pour mille.  (…) Pour les négriers nantais, la mortalité moyenne était de 17,8 %. Il ne s’agit que d’une moyenne. Certaines traversées pouvaient se faire sans aucun décès tandis que d’autres pouvaient enregistrer une mortalité de 80 % voire davantage. Wikipedia
Pour le XVIe siècle, le nombre des esclaves chrétiens razziés par les musulmans est supérieur à celui des Africains déportés aux Amériques. Il est vrai que la traite des Noirs ne prendra vraiment son essor qu’à la fin du XVIIe siècle, avec la révolution sucrière dans les Antilles. Mais, selon Davis, il y aurait eu environ un million de Blancs chrétiens réduits en esclavage par les barbaresques entre 1530 et 1780. Mais il ne faut pas se focaliser sur la question des chiffres, afin d’établir une sorte d’échelle de Richter des esclavages. Ce que le travail de Davis permet d’affirmer, c’est que cet esclavage des chrétiens entre le XVIe et le XVIIIe siècle renvoie à une réalité non négligeable. Rien de plus. S’il est resté pour une large part ignoré, c’est qu’il n’a pas laissé beaucoup de traces. Les esclaves blancs étaient en effet principalement, à 90%, des hommes, qui ne faisaient pas souche en terre d’Islam, à l’inverse des Africains aux Amériques. C’est aussi que le questionnement est souvent premier en histoire (on se pose des questions, puis l’on recherche les sources permettant éventuellement d’y répondre) et que cet esclavage n’a pas beaucoup intéressé les historiens. (…) Il est différent à plusieurs titres. Tout d’abord, cet esclavage ne répond pas à la même logique. Au départ, les barbaresques se livrent à des opérations de course et de piraterie sur les côtes de la Méditerranée, comme c’est l’usage chez certains peuples marins depuis la plus Haute Antiquité. On avait pris l’habitude depuis l’époque byzantine de rédiger des traités prévoyant l’échange réciproque d’esclaves. Puis, les chrétiens se mobilisant pour «racheter» leurs proches tombés en esclavage, l’affaire devint plus rentable pour les razzieurs. C’est paradoxalement cette perspective financière qui accentua les raids musulmans à partir du XVIe siècle. En devenant directement et assez facilement monnayables, les esclaves devinrent des proies plus séduisantes que les navires ou les cargaisons. Les barbaresques se mirent alors à multiplier leurs razzias sur les côtes de la Méditerranée, notamment en Italie du Sud. Dans le cas de la traite transatlantique, l’esclavage répondait à un autre but : fournir une main-d’oeuvre bon marché aux colonies. Les Noirs ne pouvaient être rachetés mais seulement – rarement – se racheter eux-mêmes. Ils firent souche en Amérique, ce qui ne fut jamais le cas des chrétiens. (…) On ne devrait pas en effet parler d’une «traite» des Blancs car les musulmans cherchaient de l’argent plus ou moins rapidement, ils ne se sont pas livrés à un trafic de main-d’oeuvre. Au bout de quelques années, les esclaves chrétiens étaient soit rachetés et ils rentraient chez eux, ou ils disparaissaient. Le taux de mortalité était assez fort. Autour de 15%, selon Davis. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau
A la différence de l’islam, le christianisme n’a pas entériné l’esclavage. Mais, comme il ne comportait aucune règle d’organisation sociale, il ne l’a pas non plus interdit. Pourtant, l’idée d’une égalité de tous les hommes en Dieu dont était porteur le christianisme a joué contre l’esclavage, qui disparaît de France avant l’an mil. Cependant, il ressurgit au XVIIe siècle aux Antilles françaises, bien que la législation royale y prescrive l’emploi d’une main-d’oeuvre libre venue de France. L’importation des premiers esclaves noirs, achetés à des Hollandais, se fait illégalement. (…) Le mouvement part d’Angleterre, le pays qui a déporté au XVIIIe siècle le plus de Noirs vers l’Amérique. La force du mouvement abolitionniste anglais repose principalement sur la prédication des pasteurs évangélistes. Il en résulte une interdiction de la traite par l’Angleterre (1806) et les autres puissances occidentales (France, 1817), puis une abolition de l’esclavage lui-même dans les colonies anglaises (1833) et françaises (1848). Décidée par l’Europe, la suppression de la traite atlantique est imposée par elle aux Etats pourvoyeurs d’esclaves de l’Afrique occidentale. (…) Cependant, rien de pareil n’a eu lieu dans le monde musulman. L’esclavage étant prévu par l’islam, il eût été impie de le remettre en cause. Aussi, l’autre grande forme de la traite vers l’Afrique du Nord et le Moyen-Orient continua de plus belle au XIXe siècle, qui correspondit à son apogée. Et, parallèlement, des Européens continuaient d’être razziés en Méditerranée et réduits en esclavage à Alger, Oran, Tunis ou Salé (Rabat). D’où l’expédition de 1830 à Alger. Finalement, ce fut la colonisation qui mit presque entièrement fin à la traite musulmane. Jean-Louis Harouel
How likely is it that the chief White House butler not only witnessed his mother raped and his father murdered by a plantation owner’s racist son but also had an intermittently estranged son of his own who became, first, one of the Fisk University student heroes of the Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins; second, one of the original Freedom Riders; third, so close an aide to King that he was in the Memphis motel room with Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson when King was assassinated; fourth, a beret-wearing Black Panther in Oakland; fifth, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress; sixth, a leader of the South Africa divestment movement; and, seventh, a successful candidate for Congress? Hendrik Hertzberg
The Butler is fiction, although its audience may assume otherwise. Those cagey words “inspired by a true story” can be deceptive. The script was triggered by Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election.” Published after Obama’s landmark victory, and later spun into a book, it unearthed the story of former White House butler Eugene Allen, who served American presidents for 34 years. But screenwriter Danny Strong (HBO’s Game Change) has created a fictional butler named Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), whose life mirrors the drama of the civil rights movement with cut-glass symmetry. Straining to serve an overcharged agenda, The Butler is a broadly entertaining, bluntly inspirational history lesson wrapped around a family saga that gives new resonance to the term “domestic drama.” Director Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) is not known for subtlety, and this movie is no exception. But at the heart of its sprawling narrative, he has corralled some fine performances. Whitaker navigates gracefully between his public and private personae—White House butlers he says, have two faces: their own “and the ones we got to show the white man.” As Cecil stoically weathers the upheavals of history, and his splintered family, we can feel him being gradually crushed under the weight of his own quiet dignity, yet mustering shy increments of resistance over the decades. Between his role as a virtually mute servant/sage in the White House and a beleaguered patriarch trying to hold together his middle-class family, this a character with a lot on his plate. The story’s long march begins with Cecil’s boyhood on a cotton plantation in the South in 1926, where he sees his father shot dead in a field for looking the wrong way at a white man. Cecil is adopted by a thin-lipped matriarch who tells him, “I’m going to teach you how to be a house nigger.” Which sounds strange coming from the mouth of Vanessa Redgrave. The term “house nigger,” and the n-word in general, recurs again and again, shocking us each time, and never letting us forget that there’s no higher house than the White House. A model of shrewd obedience, Cecil learns to make the perfect martini, to be invisible in a room, and to overhear affairs of estate in stony silence—unless asked for his opinion, which he’ll pretend to offer with a wry, Delphic diplomacy that makes the questioner feel validated. The script goes out of its way to ennoble Cecil’s work, plucking a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. —”the black domestic defies racial stereotyping by being hardworking and trustworthy … though subservient, they are subversive without even knowing it.” The Uncle Tom issue is front and centre, especially in Cecil’s feud with his radicalized son Louis (David Oyelowo), who rejects his father as a race traitor. The conflict comes to a head amid a family debate about the merits of Sidney Poitier, a legendary actor brashly dismissed by Louis as “a white man’s fantasy of what he wants us to be.” The fondly nostalgic references to In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner may fly over the heads of younger viewers. But it’s a lovely scene, mixing rancour and wit and a deft touch. Although this is a movie on a mission, it does have a sense of humour. When Cecil’s eldest son, shows up to dinner in his Black Panther beret and black leather, with a girlfriend sporting a vast Angela Davis Afro, it’s pure caricature as Daniels presents a whole other take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, played as both drama and farce. Brian D. Johnson
The best aspect about America is its egalitarianism. The country respects and rewards the talented and the sincere. And despite serious racial issues, we saw America electing a black President, creating history. And as Hollywood runs up to the Academy Awards on March 2, one of the questions is, will Steve McQueen be the first black director to win the Oscar. Interestingly, his 12 Years A Slave is all about the struggle of one black man to escape humiliating captivity he faces in the white man’s den. At the moment, McQueen – though with an emotionally engaging film behind him – is not the favourite to walk away with the best director statuette. But if he does, he would be the first black helmer to actually clinch this Oscar, although there have been two other black directors who were nominated in the past. One of them was John Singleton for the 1992 Boyz n the Hood, and the other was Lee Daniels in 2009 for Precious. McQueen’s win could be as historic as Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 triumph with The Hurt Locker. She was the first woman director to have won the best director Oscar. In a way, McQueen’s nomination comes in a year when black moviemakers have done exceedingly well. Fruitvale Station – about a real incident where a black teenager was killed by the police in Oakland — got the big prize at the Sundance Film Festival. And works like 42 (the black baseball player, Jackie Robinson biopic) and The Butler (probing the African American role in U.S. history) have been, along with 12 Years A Slave, lauded by critics. On top of this, Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been talking about lack of diversity in the race for the Oscars. The Hindustan Times
Cheryl Boone Isaacs … est la première Afro-américaine à prendre la direction de la prestigieuse Académie des Arts et des Sciences du Cinéma à Hollywood, et la troisième femme choisie pour le job. Cheryl Boone Isaacs vient d’être élue au poste suprême du comité des Oscars. Gala
12 Years a Slave a définitivement enterré Le Majordome L’une des surprises des Oscars 2014, c’est l’absence du Majordome qui n’a donc aucune nomination. Eliminé des Golden Globes, on pouvait encore imaginer que le film de Lee Daniels soit présent dans la course aux Oscars. Raté. Le Majordome est peut-être sorti trop tôt (en août aux USA) et surtout, il s’est fait enterrer par le drame de Steve McQueen. Sur un sujet proche (l’esclavage et le combat pour les droits civiques), la fresque de Lee Daniels semble bien sage face au déchaînement de violence, de conscience et de surcinéma du film de McQueen. Avec son sujet édifiant, ses performances intenses et sa mise en scène puissante, 12 Years a Slave a le profil type du « film à Oscars ». Mais on sait que certains votants risquent d’être rebutés par sa violence. Finalement, Lee Daniels aurait été un bon compromis avec ses prestations moins agressives et ses stars plus facilement oscarisables (Oprah Winfrey, ignoré pour son retour au ciné après Beloved et quinze ans d’absence, et surtout Forest Whitaker). Première
Avec ce grand spectacle typiquement hollywoodien (les oscars vont pleuvoir !), le cinéaste réussit l’osmose délicate entre le film commercial et le cinéma d’auteur. Depuis Hunger, par exemple, on sait qu’à l’instar de Theo Angelopoulos ou Andreï Tarkovski il adore les plans fixes démesurément étirés, mais calculés à la seconde près, qui créent une réalité parallèle, plus vraie que la vraie. On en a plusieurs ici, dont celui, totalement incongru dans un film américain, où le héros, lynché, est suspendu à une corde, ses pieds touchant le sol par intermittence. Il attend. Il entend des enfants jouer et rire au loin. La durée même de cette séquence magnifique fait naître la peur. On dirait un suspense à la Hitchcock… Question sadisme, Steve McQueen est un orfèvre : dans Hunger, on le sentait radieux de détailler, une à une, les plaies sur le corps meurtri de Michael Fassbender. Il ne semble pas mécontent, ici, de filmer un à un les coups de fouet reçus par la bien-aimée du frustré. Mais curieusement, ce pointillisme lui permet, à chaque film, de fuir le réalisme. Son art repose sur l’artifice. Sous sa caméra, le destin de Solomon Northup n’est plus un fait divers, mais une abstraction lyrique. Presque un opéra. Télérama
Je peux dire que j’aimé ce film. Bien sur il est très didactique et manichéen ( les gentils blancs du nord, le héros Brad Pitt quand même très gonflé de se donner le rôle du sauveur en tant que producteur du film!!!!) mais c est un film qui reste très fort , tres beau et plein d humanités , avec une belle réalisation , de bons acteurs, une lenteur assumée et salutaire . L intérêt de ce film pour moi est surtout que j y ai emmené ma fille de 14 ans et qu elle a beaucoup aimé. Ce genre de film est un bon rappel de ce dont est capable l humanité lorsqu il n y a pas d égalité entre les gens, lorsque les lois permettent à certains de se croire supérieur , nul est à l abris de devenir un bourreau lorsque l on le laisse faire !!! Cela paraît évident mais dans un contexte mondial de montée des intolérances , du racisme, dans un pays Côme la France où certains trouvent comique de comparer une ministre à une guenon , je pense malheureusement que ce film à encore un rôle à jouer!!! Un film scolaire disent certains, c est vrai! A faire voire au scolaire!! Oui Paulineeliane | 21/02/2014 à 11h51
Difficile de trouver plus contradictoire que Django Unchained de Quentin Tarantino et 12 Years A Slave de Steve McQueen : les deux films – dans lesquels figurent d’ailleurs Brad Pitt et Michael Fassbender – revisitent la même histoire sombre (l’esclavagisme) avec une approche si différente qu’ils se révèlent complémentaires. Autrement dit, ici, chez Steve McQueen, on n’est pas venu pour rire. Chose que l’on savait déjà pour avoir vu ses précédents films, Hunger et Shame qui avaient autant à voir avec des spectacles de Florence Foresti que Véronique Sanson avec un groupe de métal allemand. (…) Comme dans Hunger et Shame, qui parlaient d’oppression et de claustration – l’univers carcéral pour le premier, l’addition sexuelle pour le second -, la mise en scène de Steve McQueen se révèle aussi virtuose que discutable comme lors de ce plan-séquence qui semble durer une vie et qui nous rapproche de la mort. On y voit Solomon pendu à une corde, sur la pointe des pieds, pataugeant dans la boue pour éviter l’asphyxie. McQueen obtient sur la durée un vrai malaise. Tout circule, tout y est montré, dénoncé : le voyeurisme, la passivité, l’indifférence, l’exploitation, l’obscénité, la cruauté ordinaire etc. On est bien loin de la fresque académique, policée. Et, en même temps, il y a un tour de force ostentatoire, une volonté de s’afficher en grand cinéaste rétif aux normes et aux conventions, au-dessus de ce qu’il doit filmer. Steve McQueen avoue dans le dossier de presse : « Je ne voulais pas minimiser ce qui lui est arrivé. Il ne s’agit pas de choquer les gens – cela ne m’intéresse pas -, mais il s’agit de faire preuve de responsabilité face à cette histoire. » TF1
Fidèle à ses motifs favoris, le dolorisme et l’incarcération, physique ou mentale (l’agonie de l’activiste irlandais Bobby Sands dans Hunger, l’aliénation au sexe dans Shame), McQueen concentre son propos sur la réalité crue des sévices dont étaient quotidiennement victimes des millions d’individus. Passages à tabac, viols, tortures, assassinats ou travail forcé entraînant la mort, séparation des familles, humiliation permanente sans oublier le maintien systématique dans l’analphabétisme. Le cinéaste joue sur toute la gamme de la révulsion, alternant chocs brutaux (long plan séquence d’une flagellation) et insoutenable immobilisme (scène de pendaison où, tandis que l’homme agonise en se hissant sur les orteils, une normalité écœurante bourdonne autour de lui). Toutefois, McQueen a pris le parti de faire de cette addition d’horreurs l’exclusif argument de son réquisitoire. Cette virulence rageuse finit par occulter involontairement une dimension essentielle. L’ignominie de l’esclavage est tout entière contenue dans son caractère institutionnel, dans le fait qu’il répondait à des besoins économiques précis. Le droit des planteurs à disposer des individus à leur guise, pour se remplir les poches ou pour assouvir leurs pires pulsions, en est la conséquence. Or, représenter les esclavagistes comme des sadiques compulsifs (Michael Fassbender en roue libre) revient à faire le procès de l’anomalie, d’une folie sanguinaire dont cette institution a toléré l’existence. Comme si la dénonciation de la mécanique d’un système abominable ne suffisait pas, et que pour susciter l’émotion – une vertu américaine -, il fallait renoncer à pointer du doigt la source du mal pour n’en montrer que les effets pervers. Libération
12 Years a Slave uses sadistic art to patronize history Brutality, violence and misery get confused with history in 12 Years a Slave, British director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the 1853 American slave narrative by Solomon Northup, who claims that in 1841, away from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., he was kidnapped and taken South where he was sold into hellish servitude and dehumanizing cruelty. 12-years-a-slave-filmFor McQueen, cruelty is the juicy-arty part; it continues the filmmaker’s interest in sado-masochistic display, highlighted in his previous features Hunger and Shame. Brutality is McQueen’s forte. As with his fine-arts background, McQueen’s films resemble museum installations: the stories are always abstracted into a series of shocking, unsettling events. With Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), McQueen chronicles the conscious sufferance of unrelenting physical and psychological pain. A methodically measured narrative slowly advances through Northup’s years of captivity, showcasing various injustices that drive home the terrors Black Africans experienced in the U.S. during what’s been called “the peculiar institution.” Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin’s1973 The Exorcist. That’s right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with Hostel, The Human Centipede and the Saw franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend “a conversation about race.” (…) For commercial distributor Fox Searchlight, 12 Years a Slave appears at an opportune moment when film culture–five years into the Obama administration–indulges stories about Black victimization such as Precious, The Help, The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Blue Caprice. (What promoter Harvey Weinstein has called “The Obama Effect.”) This is not part of social or historical enlightenment–the too-knowing race-hustlers behind 12 Years a Slave, screenwriter John Ridley and historical advisor Henry Louis Gates, are not above profiting from the misfortunes of African-American history as part of their own career advancement. But McQueen is a different, apolitical, art-minded animal. The sociological aspects of 12 Years a Slave have as little significance for him as the political issues behind IRA prisoner Bobby Sands’ hunger strike amidst prison brutality visualized in Hunger, or the pervy tour of urban “sexual addiction” in Shame. McQueen takes on the slave system’s depravity as proof of human depravity. (…) It proves the ahistorical ignorance of this era that 12 Years a Slave’s constant misery is excused as an acceptable version of the slave experience. McQueen, Ridley and Gates’ cast of existential victims won’t do. Northup-renamed-Platt and especially the weeping mother Liza (Adepero Oduye) and multiply-abused Patsey (Lupita Nyong‘o), are human whipping posts–beaten, humiliated, raped for our delectation just like Hirst’s cut-up equine. (…) These tortures might satisfy the resentment some Black people feel about slave stories (“It makes me angry”), further aggravating their sense of helplessness, grievance–and martyrdom. It’s the flipside of the aberrant warmth some Blacks claim in response to the superficial uplift of The Help and The Butler. And the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like 12 Years a Slave to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history. But, as with The Exorcist, there is no victory in filmmaking this merciless. The fact that McQueen’s harshness was trending among Festivalgoers (in Toronto, Telluride and New York) suggests that denial still obscures the history of slavery: Northup’s travail merely makes it possible for some viewers to feel good about feeling bad (as wags complained about Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as an “official” Holocaust movie–which very few people wanted to see twice). McQueen’s fraudulence further accustoms moviegoers to violence and brutality.The very artsiness of 12 Years a Slave is part of its offense. The clear, classical imagery embarrasses Quentin Tarantino’s attempt at visual poetry in Django Unchained yet this “clarity” (like Hans Zimmer’s effective percussion score) is ultimately depressing. McQueen uses that art staple “duration” to prolong North’s lynching on tiptoe and later, in endless, tearful anticipation; emphasis on a hot furnace and roiling waves adds nature’s discomfort; an ugly close-up of a cotton worm symbolizes drudgery; a slave chant (“Run, Nigger, Run,”) contrasts ineffectual Bible-reading; and a shot of North’s handwritten plea burns to embers. But good art doesn’t work this way. Art elates and edifies–one might even prefer Q.T.’s jokey ridiculousness in Django Unchained, a different kind of sadism. (…) Steve McQueen’s post-racial art games and taste for cruelty play into cultural chaos. The story in 12 Years a Slave didn’t need to be filmed this way and I wish I never saw it. Armand White
As is the case with “Django Unchained”, McQueen’s film is a vehicle for his preoccupations. With Tarantino, these primarily revolve around revenge, a theme common to so many of the Hong Kong gangster or samurai movies that he has absorbed. For McQueen, the chief interest is in depicting pain with some of the most dramatic scenes involving whippings and other forms of punishment. I was expecting the worst after seeing McQueen’s “Hunger”, a film about the Provo IRA hunger strike led by Bobby Sands that was more about bedsores and beatings than politics. Thankfully, the latest film is a lot more restrained than I had expected but still mostly focused on the physical torments of being a slave. I found myself wondering if the casting of Sarah Paulson as the sadistic wife of a sadistic plantation owner was deliberate since she is part of the company of actors featured on “American Horror Story”, the AMC cable TV show that pushes the envelope in terms of graphic scenes of torture, dismemberment, etc. This season Paulson is playing a witch, as part of a series on Black witches taking revenge on their white witch enemies who had tormented them during slavery. I half expected Paulson’s character to stick a pin in a Solomon Northup voodoo doll. While one cannot gainsay the importance of Solomon Northup’s memoir that was used by the abolitionist movement in the same way that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was, I have to wonder whether McQueen’s film was hampered by a story that was essentially one-dimensional. If you take the opportunity to read “12 Years a Slave” , you will be struck by the underdeveloped relationships between Northup and other characters. Both Parks and McQueen take liberties with the memoir to flesh out the film with such relationships but there is still something missing. In the memoir and in the films, there is never any sense of the emotional pain of being separated from your family—something that cuts far deeper than a whip. Louis Proyect
When the abolitionists invited an ex-slave to tell his story of experience in slavery to an antislavery convention, and when they subsequently sponsored the appearance of that story in print, they had certain clear expectations, well understood by themselves and well understood by the ex-slave, too. (…) We may think it pretty fine writing and awfully literary, but the fine writer is clearly David Wilson rather than Solomon Northup. (…) The dedication, like the pervasive style, calls into serious question the status of ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ as autobiography and/or literature. James Olney
The prominent New York politician and abolitionist, Henry Northup, sensed an opportunity. Henry had helped Solomon escape from Louisiana, and as a descendant of the family that originally owned Solomon’s ancestors, perhaps felt personally responsible for him as well. But Henry was also a politician with an agenda. He wanted to promote the abolitionist cause and gain media attention for a lawsuit he hoped to file against Solomon’s kidnappers. Put simply, the book was written “with a purpose,” as the historian Ira Berlin puts it in his introduction to the new Penguin edition. (The media strategy worked, though only partially: The kidnappers were soon arrested but acquitted four years later after the media had moved on.) Perhaps more cynically, some people wanted to cash in on Northup’s story. Henry asked a lawyer and fledging poet, David Wilson, if he’d be willing to interview Solomon and turn his story into a book. Though a respected legal figure, the 32-year-old Wilson had little success as a writer and jumped at the chance. Thus, “12 Years a Slave” wasn’t even written by Solomon Northup but by a white amanuensis. Eric Herschthal
There were four million slaves in the U.S. in 1860 and several hundred thousand slave owners. It wasn’t just a homogeneous system. It had every kind of human variation you can imagine. There were black plantation owners in Louisiana, black slave owners. (…) Remember, this book is one of the most remarkable first-person accounts of slavery. But it’s also a piece of propaganda. It’s written to persuade people that slavery needs to be abolished. He doesn’t say anything about sexual relations he may have had as a slave. There’s no place for such a discussion because of the purpose of the book. (…) Harriet Jacobs was condemned by many people for revealing this, even antislavery people. (…) Obviously, it wasn’t a best seller. Maybe it will be now. But it’s widely known. It’s used all over the place in history courses. Along with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, this is probably the most widely read of what we call the slave narratives. (…) The daddy, I suppose, of all this was “Glory,” which came out in the late ‘80s. “Roots,” of course, comes before that. All of them suffer from what I see as the problem of Hollywood history. Even in this movie, there’s a tendency toward: You’ve got to have one hero or one figure. That’s why historians tend to be a little skeptical about Hollywood history, because you lose the sense of group or mass. (…) I think this movie is much more real, to choose a word like that, than most of the history you see in the cinema. It gets you into the real world of slavery. That’s not easy to do. Also, there are little touches that are very revealing, like a flashback where a slave walks into a shop in Saratoga. Yes, absolutely, Southerners brought slaves into New York State. People went on vacation, and they brought a slave. Foner
La Seconde Guerre mondiale a duré cinq ans, mais il y a des centaines et des centaines de films sur cette guerre et sur l’Holocauste. L’esclavage a duré quatre siècles, mais moins de 20 films y sont consacrés. Steve McQueen
I am British. My parents are from Grenada. My mother was born in Trinidad. Grenada is where Malcolm X’s mother comes from. Stokely Carmichael is Trinidadian. We could go on and on. It’s about that diaspora. (…) I made this film because I wanted to visualize a time in history that hadn’t been visualized that way. I wanted to see the lash on someone’s back. I wanted to see the aftermath of that, psychological and physical. I feel sometimes people take slavery very lightly, to be honest. I hope it could be a starting point for them to delve into the history and somehow reflect on the position where they are now. (…) I think people are ready. With Trayvon Martin, voting rights, the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and a black president, I think there’s a sort of perfect storm of events. I think people actually want to reflect on that horrendous recent past in order to go forward. Steve McQueen
When I was in Savannah, Ga., they were telling me how they used to have special chains for the Igbos [a Nigerian ethnic group]. I told the man, “I’m Igbo.” Not having any sense of the internationalism of this event is a bad thing. I loved the fact that there were people from different places coming together to tell this story. Chiwetel Ejiofor
We’re talking about the reduction of truth to accuracy. What matters ultimately in a work of narrative is if the world and characters created feels true and complete enough for the work’s purposes. Isaac Butler
This is a minor point, but I felt the film possibly over-emphasised Solomon Northup’s social standing in New York state prior to his enslavement. In the film, Northup appears as a wealthy, successful individual, making a good living as a carpenter and musician. He wears smart clothes and appears to live in a tolerant, racially integrated community where skin colour does not matter. But in reality, Northern black people were everyday victims of white racism and discrimination, and in the free states of the North, black people were typically the ‘last hired and first fired’. Notably, in his autobiography Northup himself describes the everyday “obstacle of color” in his life prior to his kidnapping and subsequent enslavement. Nevertheless, I can understand why the filmmakers wanted to present a strong juxtaposition between Northup’s life as a free man in the North and the physical and mental trauma he endured while enslaved in the South. Emma McFarnon
At the beginning of 12 Years a Slave, the kidnapped freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), has a painful sexual encounter with an unnamed female slave in which she uses his hand to bring herself to orgasm before turning away in tears. The woman’s desperation, Solomon’s reserve, and the fierce sadness of both, is depicted with an unflinching still camera which documents a moment of human contact and bitter comfort in the face of slavery’s systematic dehumanization. (…) And yet, for all its verisimilitude, the encounter never happened. It appears nowhere in Northup’s autobiography, and it’s likely he would be horrified at the suggestion that he was anything less than absolutely faithful to his wife. Director Steve McQueen has said that he included the sexual encounter to show « a bit of tenderness … Then after she’s climaxes, she’s back … in hell. » The sequence is an effort to present nuance and psychological depth — to make the film’s depiction of slavery seem more real. But it creates that psychological truth by interpolating an incident that isn’t factually true. This embellishment is by no means an isolated case in the film. For instance, in the film version, shortly after Northup is kidnapped, he is on a ship bound south. A sailor enters the hold and is about to rape one of the slave women when a male slave intervenes. The sailor unhesitatingly stabs and kills him. This seems unlikely on its face—slaves are valuable, and the sailor is not the owner. And, sure enough, the scene is not in the book. A slave did die on the trip south, but from smallpox, rather than from stabbing. Northup himself contracted the disease, permanently scarring his face. It seems likely, therefore, that in this instance the original text was abandoned so that Ejiofor’s beautiful, expressive, haunting features would not go through the entire movie covered with artificial Hollywood scar make-up. Instead of faithfulness to the text, the film chooses faithfulness to Ejiofor’s face, unaltered by trickery. Other changes seem less intentional. Perhaps the most striking scene in the film involves Patsey, a slave who is repeatedly raped by her master, Epps, and who as a consequence is jealously and obsessively brutalized by Mistress Epps. In the movie version, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) comes to Northup in the middle of the night and begs him, in vivid horrific detail, to drown her in the swamp and release her from her troubles. (…) in the book, it is Mistress Epps who wants to bribe Northup to drown Patsey. Patsey wants to escape, but not to drown herself. The film seems to have misread the line, attributing the mistress’s desires to Patsey. (…) In short, it seems quite likely that the single most powerful moment in the film was based on a misunderstood antecedent. (…) Often published by abolitionist presses or in explicit support of the abolitionist cause, slave narratives represented themselves as accurate, first-person accounts of life under slavery. Yet, as University of North Carolina professor William Andrews has discussed in To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, the representation of accuracy, and, for that matter, of first-person account, required a good deal of artifice. To single out just the most obvious point, Andrews notes that many slave narratives were told to editors, who wrote down the oral account and prepared them for publication. Andrews concludes that « It would be naïve to accord dictated oral narratives the same discursive status as autobiographies composed and written by the subjects of the stories themselves. »  12 Years a Slave is just such an oral account. Though Northup was literate, his autobiography was written by David Wilson, a white lawyer and state legislator from Glens Falls, New York. While the incidents in Northup’s life have been corroborated by legal documents and much research, Andrews points out that the impact of the autobiography—its sense of truth—is actually based in no small part on the fact that it is not told by Northup, but by Wilson, who had already written two books of local history. Because he was experienced, Andrews says, Wilson’s « fictionalizing … does not call attention to itself so much » as other slave narratives, which tend to be steeped in a sentimental tradition « that often discomfits and annoys 20th-century critics. » Northup’s autobiography feels less like fiction, in other words, because its writer is so experienced with fiction. Similarly, McQueen’s film feels true because it is so good at manipulating our sense of accuracy. The first sex scene, for example, speaks to our post-Freud, post-sexual-revolution belief that, isolated for 12 years far from home, Northup would be bound to have some sort of sexual encounters, even if (especially if?) he does not discuss them in his autobiography. The difference between book and movie, then, isn’t that one is true and the other false, but rather that the tropes and tactics they use to create a feeling of truth are different. The autobiography, for instance, actually includes many legal documents as appendices. It also features lengthy descriptions of the methods of cotton farming. No doubt this dispassionate, minute accounting of detail was meant to show Northup’s knowledge of the regions where he stayed, and so validate the truth of his account. To modern readers, though, the touristy attention to local customs can make Northup sound more like a traveling reporter than like a man who is himself in bondage. Some anthropological asides are even more jarring; in one case, Northup refers to a slave rebel named Lew Cheney as « a shrewd, cunning negro, more intelligent than the generality of his race. » That description would sound condescending and prejudiced if a white man wrote it. Which, of course, a white man named David Wilson did. A story about slavery, a real, horrible crime, inevitably involves an appeal to reality—the story has to seem accurate if it is to be accepted as true. But that seeming accuracy requires artifice and fiction—a cool distance in one case, an acknowledgement of sexuality in another. And then, even with the best will in the world, there are bound to be mistakes and discrepancies, as with Mistress Epps’s plea for murder transforming into Patsey’s wish for death. Given the difficulties and contradictions, one might conclude that it would be better to openly acknowledge fiction. From this perspective, Django Unchained, which deliberately treats slavery as genre, or Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which acknowledges the role of the present in shaping the past through a fantasy time-travel narrative, are, more true than 12 Years a Slave or Glory precisely because they do not make a claim to historical accuracy. But refusing to try to recapture the experience and instead deciding to, say, treat slavery as a genre Western, can be presumptuous in its own way as well. The writers of the original slave narratives knew that to end injustice, you must first acknowledge that injustice exists. Accurate stories about slavery—or, more precisely, stories that carried the conviction of accuracy, were vital to the abolitionist cause. And, for that matter, they’re still vital. Outright lies about slavery and its aftermath, from Birth of a Nation to Gone With the Wind, have defaced American cinema for a long time. To go forward more honestly, we need accounts of our past that, like the slave narratives themselves, use accuracy and art in the interest of being more true. That’s what McQueen, Ejiofor, and the rest of the cast and crew are trying to do in 12 Years a Slave. Pointing out the complexity of the task is not meant to belittle their attempt, but to honor it. Noah Berlatsky

Oncle Tom ou les infortunes de la vertu ?

Réalisateur plasticien d’avant garde britannique récemment venu au cinéma avec deux films célébrant le martyre des prisonniers de l’IRA en grève de la faim (« Hunger« ) et les joies tristes de l’addiction à la pornographie (« Shame« ), radicalité et sauvagerie digne des meilleures installations ou vidéos d’avant-garde (masturbation à deux, flagellations esquisement dolorisantes à la Mel Gibson, viol en plan jouissivement subjectif, pendaison lente à souhait),  film tournant rapidement entre morceaux de bravoure et interminables plans séquences  au concours de sévices, adaptation du même titre d’une célèbre histoire d’esclave en fuite (Douze ans d’esclavage, brûlot abolitionniste écrit en fait par un avocat blanc (un certain David Wilson) un an après et avec le même succès que La Case de l’Oncle Tom), infortuné héros passant d’une improbable bourgeoisie à un monde de dégénérés où l’on massacre au moindre caprice des hommes et des femmes qu’il avait alors coûté une petite fortune de faire venir d’Afrique, étiquette de rigueur « inspirée d’une histoire vraie », dérision systématique du christianisme sans lequel il n’y aurait pas eu d’abolition, omerta systématique des fournisseurs africains et arabes de la traite sans parler des razzias en Europe, réalisateur et acteurs d’origine africaine ou habitués des films d’horreur ou de perversion, brève et ultime caution de l’acteur-producteur Brad Pitt en sauveur venu de nulle part, nouvelle présidente noire des oscars …

Alors qu’avec la pluie de récompenses qui, à une semaine d’oscars pour la première fois dirigés par une personne de couleur, continue à pleuvoir sur le chef d’oeuvre absolu sur l’esclavage que nous ont annoncé les critiques, la pression monte sur Hollywood pour consacrer le premier réalisateur noir de l’histoire …

Et qu’un an après après les deux oscars du western spaghetti de l’esclavage de Tarantino (et deux des mêmes acteurs: Pitt et Fassbender), le pauvre « Majordome » n’a toujours pas récolté la moindre nomination

Comment ne pas voir avec l’auteur même de ce véritable concours de sévices de deux heures qu’il va désormais falloir infliger aux enfants de nos écoles …

L’ultime effet de la présidence d’un homme qui, dès avant même sa prise de fonction, avait non seulement déjà donné au monde le prix Nobel de la paix le plus rapide de l’histoire …

Mais réussi à reprendre et amplifier, des  liquidations ciblées à la mise sur écoutes de la planète entière, à peu près l’ensemble des mesures politiques de son prédécesseur honni ?

« 12 Years a Slave » : l’esclave se rebiffe

McQueen résume l’esclavage américain à un concours de sévices.

Bruno Icher

Libération

21 janvier 2014

En un peu plus d’un an, le cinéma américain aura donc produit trois films de grande envergure consacrés à ce pan d’histoire toujours incandescent qu’est la monstruosité de l’esclavage : Django Unchained de Quentin Tarantino, Lincoln de Steven Spielberg et, enfin, 12 Years a Slave de Steve McQueen. Un curieux triptyque, hétérogène et discordant, mais dont la proximité tient davantage du symptôme que de la coïncidence, comme pour souligner que la question est loin d’être réglée dans le pays dont Barack Obama est le président depuis cinq ans.

Cible. Cette lacune mémorielle relève, du moins dans la représentation populaire qui en a été faite, de l’évidence. Depuis près d’un siècle, en gros depuis le révisionniste Naissance d’une nation de David Wark Griffith, et même en comptant le très aimable Autant en emporte le vent et l’Esclave libre de Raoul Walsh, le cinéma s’obstine à regarder ailleurs, vouant à l’oubli, voire au déni, cette honte nationale, contrairement au génocide indien, l’autre péché originel de l’Amérique.

La liste est longue des événements et des personnalités dont l’industrie s’est toujours pudiquement détournée, depuis les grandes révoltes d’esclaves en Virginie ou en Louisiane (Nat Turner, Charles Deslondes, Denmark Vesey…) jusqu’aux pionniers de l’abolitionnisme dont Frederick Douglass, premier homme politique noir américain. Steve McQueen a d’ailleurs parfaitement résumé le contexte dans une interview au Guardian : «Hollywood a fait plus de films sur les esclaves romains que sur les esclaves américains.»

C’est donc probablement avec le désir de pulvériser un des derniers tabous du cinéma que le réalisateur britannique s’est lancé dans le projet, mettant tant de force dans ses coups qu’il a pris le risque de manquer sa cible. Il a adapté le livre de Solomon Northup, charpentier et musicien noir de l’Etat de New York, kidnappé et vendu en 1841 par deux escrocs. Miraculeusement sauvé en 1853, l’homme a passé le reste de son existence à raconter le calvaire de ces douze années de captivité dans des plantations de Louisiane où il fut la victime et le témoin de l’atroce condition des esclaves.

Fidèle à ses motifs favoris, le dolorisme et l’incarcération, physique ou mentale (l’agonie de l’activiste irlandais Bobby Sands dans Hunger, l’aliénation au sexe dans Shame), McQueen concentre son propos sur la réalité crue des sévices dont étaient quotidiennement victimes des millions d’individus. Passages à tabac, viols, tortures, assassinats ou travail forcé entraînant la mort, séparation des familles, humiliation permanente sans oublier le maintien systématique dans l’analphabétisme. Le cinéaste joue sur toute la gamme de la révulsion, alternant chocs brutaux (long plan séquence d’une flagellation) et insoutenable immobilisme (scène de pendaison où, tandis que l’homme agonise en se hissant sur les orteils, une normalité écœurante bourdonne autour de lui).

Sadiques.

Toutefois, McQueen a pris le parti de faire de cette addition d’horreurs l’exclusif argument de son réquisitoire. Cette virulence rageuse finit par occulter involontairement une dimension essentielle. L’ignominie de l’esclavage est tout entière contenue dans son caractère institutionnel, dans le fait qu’il répondait à des besoins économiques précis. Le droit des planteurs à disposer des individus à leur guise, pour se remplir les poches ou pour assouvir leurs pires pulsions, en est la conséquence.

Or, représenter les esclavagistes comme des sadiques compulsifs (Michael Fassbender en roue libre) revient à faire le procès de l’anomalie, d’une folie sanguinaire dont cette institution a toléré l’existence. Comme si la dénonciation de la mécanique d’un système abominable ne suffisait pas, et que pour susciter l’émotion – une vertu américaine -, il fallait renoncer à pointer du doigt la source du mal pour n’en montrer que les effets pervers.

Voir aussi:

12 Years a Slave

TF1

05 décembre 2013

22/01/2014

Les États-Unis, quelques années avant la guerre de Sécession. Solomon Northup, jeune homme noir originaire de l’État de New York, est enlevé et vendu comme esclave. Face à la cruauté d’un propriétaire de plantation de coton, Solomon se bat pour rester en vie et garder sa dignité. Douze ans plus tard, il va croiser un abolitionniste canadien et cette rencontre va changer sa vie…

La critique : Puissant mais forcément douteux.

Difficile de trouver plus contradictoire que Django Unchained de Quentin Tarantino et 12 Years A Slave de Steve McQueen : les deux films – dans lesquels figurent d’ailleurs Brad Pitt et Michael Fassbender – revisitent la même histoire sombre (l’esclavagisme) avec une approche si différente qu’ils se révèlent complémentaires. Autrement dit, ici, chez Steve McQueen, on n’est pas venu pour rire. Chose que l’on savait déjà pour avoir vu ses précédents films, Hunger et Shame qui avaient autant à voir avec des spectacles de Florence Foresti que Véronique Sanson avec un groupe de métal allemand.

En effet, le parcours de Solomon Northup, soutenu par l’interprétation émotionnelle de Chiwetel Ejiofor, mari et père de famille riche, vivant dans un état de New York, drogué, kidnappé puis réduit à travailler comme esclave dans des champs de coton en Louisiane, met sens dessus dessous. Comme dans Hunger et Shame, qui parlaient d’oppression et de claustration – l’univers carcéral pour le premier, l’addition sexuelle pour le second -, la mise en scène de Steve McQueen se révèle aussi virtuose que discutable comme lors de ce plan-séquence qui semble durer une vie et qui nous rapproche de la mort. On y voit Solomon pendu à une corde, sur la pointe des pieds, pataugeant dans la boue pour éviter l’asphyxie. McQueen obtient sur la durée un vrai malaise. Tout circule, tout y est montré, dénoncé : le voyeurisme, la passivité, l’indifférence, l’exploitation, l’obscénité, la cruauté ordinaire etc. On est bien loin de la fresque académique, policée. Et, en même temps, il y a un tour de force ostentatoire, une volonté de s’afficher en grand cinéaste rétif aux normes et aux conventions, au-dessus de ce qu’il doit filmer. Steve McQueen avoue dans le dossier de presse : « Je ne voulais pas minimiser ce qui lui est arrivé. Il ne s’agit pas de choquer les gens – cela ne m’intéresse pas -, mais il s’agit de faire preuve de responsabilité face à cette histoire. »

McQueen ne cherche pas l’apitoiement, le pleurnichage. Il préfère intimider. C’est exactement ce que Abdellatif Kechiche recherchait avec Vénus Noire, le film qu’il avait réalisé avant La vie d’Adèle et qui, moins linéaire, plus complexe, affichait une radicalité et une sauvagerie encore plus inouïes. Kechiche proposait une expérience infiniment plus forte, plus métaphysique, que celle, plus physique, de McQueen. Comme la Vénus Hottentote de Kechiche, Solomon plante ses yeux dans les nôtres. Le passé regarde le présent, en lambeaux.

Romain LE VERN

12 Years a Slave

Bien des livres et des films, depuis longtemps, ont raconté l’esclavage en Amérique. On sait moins, cependant, ou pas assez, qu’avant même la guerre de Sécession, à la frontière invisible entre Etats abolitionnistes et esclavagistes (fifty-fifty, semble-t-il), des hommes de main, sortes de marchands de sommeil de l’époque, kidnappaient des Blacks, libres citoyens américains, et les vendaient à des propriétaires terriens sans scrupule. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a réellement existé (1) . Son sort est d’autant plus tragique qu’il se croit, non sans inconscience, à l’abri de l’horreur. Il vit dans l’Etat de New York, s’habille comme les bourgeois blancs qu’il fréquente et savoure, avec femme et enfants, sa renommée naissante de musicien. D’où sa stupéfaction de se retrouver, soudain, victime d’un piège ourdi en Louisiane par deux tristes sires et plongé dans un cauchemar qu’il pensait réservé aux autres. Un corps, il n’est plus que ce corps anonyme sans la moindre parcelle d’âme, balancé d’une plantation l’autre, selon les revers de fortune de ses divers propriétaires. Son calvaire va durer douze ans, de 1841 à 1853…

C’est ce temps immobile que filme le cinéaste, cette lente chute du héros à travers plusieurs cercles de l’enfer. Il observe, surtout, les ravages du mal sur des esprits dits civilisés. L’inconscience des bourreaux le trouble et leurs failles le fascinent. Le film faiblit, d’ailleurs, lorsqu’il s’attarde sur des silhouettes à la psychologie simplette : saint Brad Pitt, archange miraculeux qui libère le héros, ou Paul Dano, jeune démon sans nuances, qui l’enfonce. C’est à son comédien favori, Michael Fassbender, que le cinéaste réserve le rôle le plus soigné, le plus ambigu, le plus maléfique. Après en avoir fait un nouveau Messie (dans Hunger) et un pharisien moderne ( dans Shame), il le métamorphose en nid à complexes, en paratonnerre de frustrations : un patient du Dr Freud avant la lettre. Un être apeuré de ne pas se montrer à la hauteur d’une classe sociale qu’il méprise. Et totalement dominé par des pulsions sexuelles qui le poussent à se punir en châtiant l’objet de ses désirs — une jeune esclave noire qu’il adore et détruit. Il est clair, pour Steve McQueen, que c’est la frustration qui engendre le mal : l’aveuglement sur soi et la haine de l’autre sont indissolublement liés, comme le couteau et la plaie.

Avec ce grand spectacle typiquement hollywoodien (les oscars vont pleuvoir !), le cinéaste réussit l’osmose délicate entre le film commercial et le cinéma d’auteur. Depuis Hunger, par exemple, on sait qu’à l’instar de Theo Angelopoulos ou Andreï Tarkovski il adore les plans fixes démesurément étirés, mais calculés à la seconde près, qui créent une réalité parallèle, plus vraie que la vraie. On en a plusieurs ici, dont celui, totalement incongru dans un film américain, où le héros, lynché, est suspendu à une corde, ses pieds touchant le sol par intermittence. Il attend. Il entend des enfants jouer et rire au loin. La durée même de cette séquence magnifique fait naître la peur. On dirait un suspense à la Hitchcock…

Question sadisme, Steve McQueen est un orfèvre : dans Hunger, on le sentait radieux de détailler, une à une, les plaies sur le corps meurtri de Michael Fassbender. Il ne semble pas mécontent, ici, de filmer un à un les coups de fouet reçus par la bien-aimée du frustré. Mais curieusement, ce pointillisme lui permet, à chaque film, de fuir le réalisme. Son art repose sur l’artifice. Sous sa caméra, le destin de Solomon Northup n’est plus un fait divers, mais une abstraction lyrique. Presque un opéra. — Pierre Murat

(1) Solomon Northup a relaté son aventure dans un livre, Twelve Years a slave.

“Je veux faire des films, pas de l’argent”, Steve McQueen, cinéaste intransigeant

Entretien | Il enflamme Hollywood en réveillant la violence d’histoires vraies enfouies dans les mémoires. Rencontre avec Steve McQueen, réalisateur de “12 Years a slave”.

Télérama

25/01/2014

Propos recueillis par Frédéric Strauss – Télérama n° 3341

Son homonymie avec un acteur célèbre aurait pu lui sembler malencontreuse, ou simplement peu pratique. Mais Steve McQueen ignore superbement la star qui l’a précédé. « Question suivante », répond-il quand on l’invite à nous ­parler de son patronyme. Et quand on s’enquiert de sa famille, originaire de la Grenade : « Question suivante. » On ose demander ce que faisaient ses parents : « Ils travaillaient ! »

Massif, ce cinéaste britannique de 44 ans impressionne aussi par un tempérament étonnamment irascible. L’atmosphère est ­tendue ; la rencontre, dans un hôtel parisien, un mauvais moment à passer… Mais, au fond, qu’importe, puisque la parole malgré tout se livre, aussi réfléchie, généreuse et profonde qu’elle se plaît à être cassante et lapidaire.

L’intransigeance de ce Steve McQueen pas du tout séducteur exprime aussi une attitude envers le cinéma. Il n’y est venu qu’en 2008, alors qu’il était depuis plusieurs années un créateur reconnu dans le domaine des installations vidéo, un artiste d’envergure célébré par le prix Turner en 1999. C’est avec cette autorité qu’il a abordé la réalisation. Montrant d’emblée une maîtrise impressionnante. Et s’attaquant à des sujets ambitieux, chargés de vérité, de souffrance : dans Hunger, la grève de la faim de l’Irlandais Bobby Sands, membre de l’IRA ; dans Shame, l’addiction maladive à la pornographie.

Et aujourd’hui, l’esclavage dans 12 Years a slave, adaptation d’un récit publié aux Etats-Unis en 1853 (et désormais disponible sous le titre Douze Ans d’esclavage, aux éditions Entremonde). Avec ce nouveau film, qui a touché aux Etats-Unis un large public, Steve McQueen laisse sa grande rigueur formelle évoluer vers une forme de cinéma plus classique. Mais il ne relâche en rien la tension de son regard, qui continue à nous faire voir la réalité en face. Avec une dureté salutaire, naturelle chez lui.

Il semble que vous ayez gardé un souvenir assez dur de votre scolarité à Londres : est-ce parce que vous avez été victime d’attitudes racistes ?

Pas d’attaques personnelles, non. Mais les élèves étaient encore prisonniers de leur classe sociale. Quand je suis ­retourné dans mon lycée, pour une ­remise de prix, il y a onze ans, le directeur a fait un discours disant que, dans les années 80, à l’époque où j’y étais, ce lycée était institutionnellement raciste, car les seuls élèves dont on se préoccupait vraiment étaient ceux qui, venant de milieux favorisés, avaient des chances d’aller à Cambridge. Les élèves noirs ou de milieux défavorisés ne comptaient pas. C’était quelque chose que je savais, mais de l’entendre dit à voix haute et très officiellement, c’était à la fois étrange et très intéressant.

Quand avez-vous compris que vous pourriez trouver votre voie dans l’expression visuelle ?

Depuis le tout premier jour ! J’ai toujours dessiné, c’était dans mes gènes. Il n’y a pas eu de révélation me faisant soudain comprendre que j’étais un artiste. J’ai simplement fait ce que j’aimais, toujours. Après le lycée, je suis entré dans une école d’art, j’ai passé une année pendant laquelle tout le monde était libre d’imaginer devenir photographe, graphiste, peintre… J’ai choisi les beaux-arts. Je voulais peindre. Mais du jour où j’ai mis la main sur une caméra, tout a changé. Je n’ai plus pensé qu’à faire des films, faire de l’art avec le langage du cinéma.

“Le cinéma, c’est le pouvoir du récit, comme le roman.”

Vous avez tourné trois films de cinéma après avoir réalisé, quinze années durant, des films d’art et des installations vidéo. Votre regard change-t-il d’une discipline à l’autre ?

Non, je suis un artiste, c’est tout. La différence, c’est que l’art est abstrait, comme la poésie, qui se sert du langage d’une manière fragmentée. Le cinéma, c’est le pouvoir du récit, comme le roman. On utilise donc les mêmes mots, qu’on fasse des films d’art ou des films commerciaux, mais on utilise ces mots différemment. Les écrivains qui sont aussi des poètes ont la même expérience que moi.

Dans une de vos créations les plus connues, Charlotte (2004), vous filmez en gros plan l’œil de Charlotte Rampling et votre doigt qui le touche. Est-ce une volonté de déranger, justement, le regard ?

Mon envie n’était pas de déranger. Je n’avais jamais rencontré Charlotte Rampling. Je l’avais bien sûr vue au ­cinéma et dans les magazines, mais toujours dans des images. Ce qui m’intéressait, c’était d’accéder à son visage directement, comme si je retraversais à l’envers toutes les images d’elle, pour arriver à sa présence réelle. Quand j’ai touché son œil, j’ai eu une décharge électrique, et Charlotte aussi. C’était très étrange. La peau autour de l’œil de Charlotte était lourde. C’était comme un bijou dont la beauté se cachait sous un voile.

Tous vos films de cinéma racontent des expériences humaines extrêmes. Il y a quand même là une envie de défi ?

Oui et non. Pour que je tourne un film de cinéma, et que j’accepte donc tous les sacrifices que ça représente, il me faut une raison très forte. Par exemple, l’histoire de Bobby Sands et des grévistes de la faim, que je racontais dans Hunger. Une histoire forte parce qu’elle n’avait jamais été racontée. Dix hommes étaient morts dans une prison britannique après avoir cessé de s’alimenter en signe de protestation, et tout le monde faisait comme si ça n’avait jamais existé. Voilà pourquoi il fallait faire ce film. Ça a peut-être quelque chose d’un défi, mais il s’agit d’abord pour moi d’exprimer ce qui fait surgir des émotions violentes.

Vos films donnent le sentiment que vous montrez des choses jusque-là invisibles…

Effectivement. Quand Hunger est sorti, les Anglais ont reconnu pour la première fois les atrocités commises dans la prison de Maze, en Irlande du Nord. Le film a permis de libérer une parole, des gens ont admis ce qu’ils avaient toujours refusé de reconnaître. La même chose se produit avec 12 Years a slave, qui ouvre une discussion sur l’esclavage qui n’avait jamais eu lieu. C’est comme une pierre qu’on jette à la surface d’un lac et qui déclenche un effet de vague.

“Je veux raconter les histoires qu’on cache sous le tapis.”

Le pouvoir du cinéma est de nous obliger à voir ?

Le pouvoir du cinéma est énorme. Mais je ne suis pas engagé dans une croisade. Je suis un cinéaste, un conteur d’histoires. Je participe à l’industrie du divertissement. Avec la volonté de raconter les histoires qu’on cache sous le tapis.

Montrer l’esclavage, c’est faire apparaître ce qui était caché ?

Je n’avais vu aucun film montrant vraiment la réalité de l’esclavage, qui a pourtant duré quatre cents ans. La Seconde Guerre mondiale n’a duré que cinq ans, et les films sur cette guerre et sur l’Holocauste sont devenus un genre à part entière, et des classiques du cinéma. Mais des films sur l’esclavage, il y en a eu si peu, à peine une vingtaine. Les gens ont toujours eu peur de cette période de l’Histoire, et c’est compréhensible car c’était horrible, violent, infâme. Ça ne peut qu’embarrasser tout le monde, mais il faut pourtant regarder les choses en face, montrer ce passé pour comprendre notre présent et comprendre aussi, possiblement, notre avenir.

Michael Fassbender et Chiwetel Ejiofor, dans le dernier film

Michael Fassbender et Chiwetel Ejiofor, dans le dernier film du Britannique, 12 Years a slave. © DR

Comment en êtes-vous venu à raconter l’histoire vraie que retrace 12 Years a slave ?

Je voulais parler d’un Noir américain qui vivait libre dans le Nord des Etats-Unis et était arraché à la vie normale qu’il menait pour être réduit à l’état d’esclave, dans le Sud. Un homme auquel tout le monde pouvait s’identifier. Mon idée n’était pas de raconter le destin d’un Noir venu d’Afrique, car cela avait été fait dans la série télé Racines, en 1977. Le scénario n’était pas facile à développer.

Ma femme, Bianca Stigter, qui est historienne, a commencé des recherches et a découvert ce livre, 12 Years a slave, de Solomon Northup. Elle me l’a apporté en me disant :« Je crois que j’ai trouvé ce que tu veux. » C’était vraiment un euphémisme, car chaque page de ce livre racontait exactement ce que j’avais voulu faire sans y parvenir. Les détails donnés, le sentiment d’un récit lyrique, tout était à couper le souffle. Quand j’ai terminé cette lecture, je m’en suis voulu de n’avoir pas eu connaissance de l’existence d’un tel livre. Et puis j’ai réalisé que personne, autour de moi, ne le connaissait.

Un téléfilm adapté du même livre avait été diffusé en 1984 par la télé américaine, mais il a été oublié, aussi…

Sans même s’arrêter à ce téléfilm de Gordon Parks, Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, on doit souligner que le livre a été publié il y a cent soixante ans. Et pendant tout ce temps, il est resté dans l’ombre. Pourquoi est-ce que je connais Anne Frank et pas Solomon Northup ? Pour moi, ce livre était l’équivalent, dans l’histoire de l’Amérique, du Journal d’Anne Frank.

“L’esclavage était une industrie mondiale qui dépassait largement les Etats-Unis.”

Il fallait donc un cinéaste extérieur aux Etats-Unis pour dire toute l’importance de ce livre ?

Je ne me considère pas comme quelqu’un d’extérieur aux Etats-Unis. Mes parents sont venus des Antilles, et je fais partie de cette diaspora. La seule différence entre moi et des Noirs américains, c’est que leurs ancêtres ont pris le chemin qui partait à droite et les miens, celui qui partait à gauche. La mère de Malcom X venait de la Grenade, où mes parents sont nés. Colin Powell, Sidney Poitier, Marcus Garvey, Harry Belafonte, tous ces gens-là sont issus de familles des Antilles. L’esclavage était une industrie mondiale qui dépassait largement les Etats-Unis.

Votre film montre un monde où les sentiments n’ont plus leur place : tout est haine ou indifférence, endurcissement…

Non, il y a des sentiments très profonds dans ce film ! Bien sûr, pour survivre, Solomon doit mettre ses sentiments de côté. Mais il ne peut pas devenir aussi inhumain que le monde où il se retrouve. S’endurcir totalement lui est impossible. Il reste un être humain. Les forces de l’esprit lui permettent de tenir. C’était, de toute façon, le seul choix qui restait aux esclaves, mes ancêtres : décider de ne pas mourir. Subir des ­situations inhumaines, endurer la souffrance, mais vivre. Tenir bon, pour l’amour de leurs enfants.

Une scène très impressionnante montre Solomon pendu, ses pieds touchant à peine le sol, et les autres esclaves obligés de l’ignorer…

S’ils décident de l’aider, ils seront pendus à côté de lui. Avec cette scène, je voulais montrer l’esclavage comme une torture physique et mentale. Je me souviens d’avoir tourné un film dans une mine en Afrique du Sud et res­senti ce climat de terreur : les gens faisaient comme s’ils ne nous voyaient pas, ils avaient été habitués à obéir à une loi. C’est quelque chose qui a existé dans tous les pays où la terreur a régné, dans les régimes fascistes, dans la France occupée. Et ça existe encore.

Vous semblez avoir voulu éviter le sentimentalisme d’un certain cinéma américain…

Oui, ce qui m’intéresse, c’est la réalité, montrer ce qu’elle était et ne pas utiliser cette reconstitution à une autre fin. Soit on fait vraiment un film sur l’esclavage, soit on ne fait rien. Je ne voulais pas d’une vision édulcorée. Pourtant, l’histoire semble un conte. Un conte très sombre qu’auraient pu écrire les frères Grimm. Solomon est jeté dans un monde tellement terrible que ça ne semble pas réel. Quand j’ai lu le livre, je me disais : est-ce de la science-fiction ? Cela a-t-il bel et bien eu lieu ?

Votre film arrive après Le Majordome et d’autres films signés par des cinéastes noirs abordant la question des discriminations raciales. Le signe d’un vrai changement ?

Absolument, quelque chose s’est produit. Je ne sais pas combien de temps cela durera. On ne peut mésestimer, dans ce phénomène, le rôle du président Obama. Avec ce président noir, une autre perspective est apparue, le droit à une expression nouvelle a été donné. Ceux qui ne voulaient pas soutenir ce genre de projets le font. Et peut-être même que certains se disent que ces histoires ont aujourd’hui des atouts commerciaux. Il y a encore beaucoup de films à faire sur l’esclavage. Non pas que ce soit une obligation morale. Mais il s’agit d’histoires très prenantes, très fortes, voilà pourquoi il faut les raconter. Parce que les gens voudront ­aller au cinéma pour voir quelque chose de jamais vu.

Le retentissement de 12 Years a slave aux Etats-Unis vous ouvre les portes de Hollywood : êtes-vous intéressé par cette opportunité ?

Les gens pensent qu’il n’y a que cette voie, Hollywood. C’est une illusion. Ma motivation n’est pas là. Je veux seulement faire les meilleurs films possibles. A Hollywood ou ailleurs. De toute façon, je ne sais pas ce que c’est, Hollywood. J’y suis peu allé. J’y ai rencontré des gens très bien, curieusement. Mais ça reste loin de moi, car je n’ai jamais mêlé l’art au monde des affaires. Sinon, je porterais des chemises à rayures avec des bretelles, je travaillerais à Wall Street ou à la City de Londres. Mais l’argent est la dernière chose à laquelle je pense. Le fait que 12 Years a slave soit devenu un tel succès est une surprise. Je comprends que ça intéresse beaucoup de gens, qui me voient comme un cinéaste capable de faire un succès au box-office. Mais je veux faire des films, pas de l’argent.

Steve McQueen en quelques dates

1969 Naissance à Londres

1993 Bear, premier film d’art qui le fait connaître.

2003 Exposition au musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.

2008 Hunger, premier film de cinéma, Caméra d’or au festival de Cannes.

2013 Grande rétrospective de ses créations d’art contemporain au Schaulager de Bâle.

2014 12 Years a slave dans la course aux oscars.

12 years a slave

Ecran large

Simon Riaux

22 nov. 2013

Un blanc au cou tanné par le soleil explique à une douzaine d’esclaves comment récolter la canne à sucre. Un homme ingère mécaniquement un repas frugal, avant de tenter une expérience calligraphique à l’aide de jus de mûres. Dans l’obscurité du cabanon où lui et ses semblables s’entassent pour dormir, une compagne d’infortune essaie de lui soutirer une affection tarie depuis longtemps. Les images s’entrechoquent, s’affrontent et s’annulent, difficile d’en retirer un sens, une temporalité, leur unité se dérobe à nos yeux. En quelques plans et moins de cinq minutes, Steve McQueen se casse volontairement les dents sur un impossible défi : retranscrire la réalité de l’esclavage. Puisque nous ne pouvons appréhender les tenants et aboutissants de cette condition, le réalisateur effectue un retour en arrière pour faire sien le dispositif du texte autobiographique dont s’inspire 12 Years a slave, soit l’histoire d’un homme libre, parfaitement étranger au concept de servitude, transformé du jour au lendemain en simple objet amputé de sa moindre parcelle d’humanité.

Ce principe, très loin de n’être qu’un simple dispositif articulant le récit, s’avère le moteur essentiel de son sens. Car le caractère et la personnalité de Solomon Northup permettent au spectateur de s’identifier tout à fait à cet individu libre, heureux, qui a tout fait pour préserver son quotidien des turpitudes de l’époque. Il y est parvenu et autorise le public, quelque soit ses connaissances du sujet abordé, son rapport à l’histoire ou à son propre passé d’embarquer à ses côtés. Steve McQueen et son œuvre se situent ainsi aux antipodes d’un Majordome désireux de flatter le public, de lui infliger une caresse de cathéchèse qui n’a d’universelle que le nom.

Le film n’en deviendra que plus terrible et impitoyable. Nous ne sommes pas ici face à un simple drame historique, ni même à une tragédie brillamment construite et exécutée. Ce qui se joue sous nos yeux est la déconstruction systématique du rêve américain. Ce rêve que Solomon vit sans en être tout à fait conscient, dont toutes les figures se retrouveront brisées à ses pieds. D’abord convaincu que le piège dans lequel il est tombé ne se refermera pas tout à fait sur lui, il se persuadera ensuite que son instruction pourra le prémunir des pires traitements, il lui faudra enfin accepter que son courage, son humanité comme sa persévérance ne pourront rien contre ceux qui le possèdent désormais. Cet itinéraire d’une noirceur absolue, le métrage le balise de séquences simultanément splendides et implacables, à l’image de cet homme tout juste lynché puis pendu, dont les orteils s’étirent pour lui offrir un sursis de vie, alors qu’autour de lui celle de la plantation se déroule imperturbable. On pense bien évidemment au Strange Fruit de Billie Holliday, tétanisé par une horreur cristalline, dont l’acuité pure nous saisit à la gorge.

Mais McQueen, non content de parsemer son film de nombreux morceaux de bravoure et autres plans séquences, n’oublie jamais qu’il traite de personnages avant de manier concepts et figures mythologiques. À la manière de Hunger ou Shame, ce sont l’enfermement et les rapports de domination qui innervent le scénario, les relations éminemment perverses de déprédation qui motivent cette étude d’une période aussi ténébreuse que mal connue. Servi par des acteurs magnétiques, baignés dans la lumière crue et irréelle de Louisiane, le récit explore pour mieux les révéler les tréfonds d’un mal sans fin, dont on ne se relève pas. Car, et c’est là le plus terrible message délivré par 12 Years a slave, on ne sort pas de l’esclavage. Si Solomon sera ultimement sauvé des griffes de l’ogre Epps (impérial Fassbender), il ne retrouvera jamais sa fierté d’homme ou sa dignité de citoyen. En témoigne la dernière réplique du personnage, réduit à s’excuser d’être une victime intégrale. La phagotrophie de l’homme par l’homme est une plaie qui ne se referme pas, une indignité qui ne connaît pas l’oubli. Point de commémoration ou de réconciliation chez McQueen, mais le dévoilement impudique d’une cicatrice véritable.

Can’t Trust It

Armond White

City arts

Oct 16, 2013

12 Years a Slave uses sadistic art to patronize history

Brutality, violence and misery get confused with history in 12 Years a Slave, British director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the 1853 American slave narrative by Solomon Northup, who claims that in 1841, away from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., he was kidnapped and taken South where he was sold into hellish servitude and dehumanizing cruelty.

12-years-a-slave-filmFor McQueen, cruelty is the juicy-arty part; it continues the filmmaker’s interest in sado-masochistic display, highlighted in his previous features Hunger and Shame. Brutality is McQueen’s forte. As with his fine-arts background, McQueen’s films resemble museum installations: the stories are always abstracted into a series of shocking, unsettling events. With Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), McQueen chronicles the conscious sufferance of unrelenting physical and psychological pain. A methodically measured narrative slowly advances through Northup’s years of captivity, showcasing various injustices that drive home the terrors Black Africans experienced in the U.S. during what’s been called “the peculiar institution.”

Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin’s1973 The Exorcist. That’s right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with Hostel, The Human Centipede and the Saw franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend “a conversation about race.” The only conversation this film inspires would contain howls of discomfort.

For commercial distributor Fox Searchlight, 12 Years a Slave appears at an opportune moment when film culture–five years into the Obama administration–indulges stories about Black victimization such as Precious, The Help, The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Blue Caprice. (What promoter Harvey Weinstein has called “The Obama Effect.”) This is not part of social or historical enlightenment–the too-knowing race-hustlers behind 12 Years a Slave, screenwriter John Ridley and historical advisor Henry Louis Gates, are not above profiting from the misfortunes of African-American history as part of their own career advancement.

But McQueen is a different, apolitical, art-minded animal. The sociological aspects of 12 Years a Slave have as little significance for him as the political issues behind IRA prisoner Bobby Sands’ hunger strike amidst prison brutality visualized in Hunger, or the pervy tour of urban “sexual addiction” in Shame. McQueen takes on the slave system’s depravity as proof of human depravity. This is less a drama than an inhumane analysis–like the cross-sectional cut-up of a horse in Damien Hirst’s infamous 1996 museum installation “Some Comfort Gained From the Acceptance of the Inherent Lies in Everything.”

hirst some comfort gained

Because 12 Years of Slave is such a repugnant experience, a sensible viewer might be reasonably suspicious about many of the atrocities shown–or at least scoff at the one-sided masochism: Northup talks about survival but he has no spiritual resource or political drive–the means typically revealed when slave narratives are usually recounted. From Mandingo and Roots to Sankofa, Amistad, Nightjohn and Beloved, the capacity for spiritual sustenance, inherited from the legacy of slavery and survival, was essential (as with Baby Sugg’s sermon-in-the-woods in Beloved and John Quincy Adams and Cinque’s reference to ancestors in Amistad) in order to verify and make bearable the otherwise dehumanizing tales.

It proves the ahistorical ignorance of this era that 12 Years a Slave’s constant misery is excused as an acceptable version of the slave experience. McQueen, Ridley and Gates’ cast of existential victims won’t do. Northup-renamed-Platt and especially the weeping mother Liza (Adepero Oduye) and multiply-abused Patsey (Lupita Nyong‘o), are human whipping posts–beaten, humiliated, raped for our delectation just like Hirst’s cut-up equine. Hirst knew his culture: Some will no doubt take comfort from McQueen’s inherently warped, dishonest, insensitive fiction.

These tortures might satisfy the resentment some Black people feel about slave stories (“It makes me angry”), further aggravating their sense of helplessness, grievance–and martyrdom. It’s the flipside of the aberrant warmth some Blacks claim in response to the superficial uplift of The Help and The Butler. And the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like 12 Years a Slave to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history. But, as with The Exorcist, there is no victory in filmmaking this merciless. The fact that McQueen’s harshness was trending among Festivalgoers (in Toronto, Telluride and New York) suggests that denial still obscures the history of slavery: Northup’s travail merely makes it possible for some viewers to feel good about feeling bad (as wags complained about Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as an “official” Holocaust movie–which very few people wanted to see twice). McQueen’s fraudulence further accustoms moviegoers to violence and brutality.

The very artsiness of 12 Years a Slave is part of its offense. The clear, classical imagery embarrasses Quentin Tarantino’s attempt at visual poetry in Django Unchained yet this “clarity” (like Hans Zimmer’s effective percussion score) is ultimately depressing. McQueen uses that art staple “duration” to prolong North’s lynching on tiptoe and later, in endless, tearful anticipation; emphasis on a hot furnace and roiling waves adds nature’s discomfort; an ugly close-up of a cotton worm symbolizes drudgery; a slave chant (“Run, Nigger, Run,”) contrasts ineffectual Bible-reading; and a shot of North’s handwritten plea burns to embers. But good art doesn’t work this way. Art elates and edifies–one might even prefer Q.T.’s jokey ridiculousness in Django Unchained, a different kind of sadism.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in AmistadMcQueen’s art-world background recalls Peter Greenaway’s high-mindedness; he’s incapable of Q.T.’s stupid showmanship. (He may simply be blind to American ambivalence about the slave era and might do better focusing on the crimes of British imperialism.) Instead, every character here drags us into assorted sick melancholies–as Northup/Platt, Ejiofor’s sensitive manner makes a lousy protagonist; the benevolent intelligence that worked so well for him as the translator in Amistad is too passive here; he succumbs to fate, anguish and torment according to McQueen’s pre-ordained pessimism. Michael Fassbender’s Edwin Epps, a twisted slaveholder (“a nigger-breaker”) isn’t a sexy selfish lover as Lee Daniels flirtatiously showed in The Butler; Epps perverts love in his nasty miscegenation with Patsey (whose name should be Pathos).

And Alfre Woodard as a self-aware Black plantation mistress rapidly sinks into unrescuable psychosis. Ironically, Woodard’s performance is weird comic relief–a neurotic tribute to Butterfly McQueen’s frivolous Hollywood inanity but from a no-fun perspective. By denying Woodard a second appearance, director McQueen proves his insensitivity. He avoids any hopefulness, preferring to emphasize scenes devoted to annihilating Nyong’o’s body and soul. Patsey’s completely unfathomable longing for death is just art-world cynicism. McQueen’s “sympathy” lacks appropriate disgust and outrage but basks in repulsion and pity–including close-up wounds and oblivion. Patsey’s pathetic corner-of-the-screen farewell faint is a nihilistic trope. Nothing in The Exorcist was more flagrantly sadistic.

***

Some of the most racist people I know are bowled over by this movie. They may have forgotten Roots, never seen Sankofa or Nightjohn, disliked Amistad, dismissed Beloved and even decried the violence in The Passion of the Christ, yet 12 Years a Slave lets them congratulate themselves for “being aghast at slavery.” This film has become a new, easy reproof to Holocaust deniers. But remember how in Public Enemy’s “Can’t Truss It,” pop culture’s most magnificent account of the Middle Passage, Chuck D warned against the appropriation of historical catastrophe for self-aggrandizement: “The Holocaust /I’m talkin’ ‘bout the one still goin’ on!”

The egregious inhumanity of 12 Years a Slave (featuring the most mawkish and meaningless fade-out in recent Hollywood history) only serves to perpetuate Hollywood’s disenfranchisement of Black people’s humanity. Brad Pitt, one of the film’s producers, appears in a small role as a helpful pacifist—as if to save face with his real-life multicultural adopted family. But Pitt’s good intentions (his character promises “There will be a reckoning”) contradict McQueen, Ridley and Gates’ self-serving motives. The finite numeral in the title of 12 Years a Slave compliments the fallacy that we look back from a post-racial age, that all is in ascent. But 12 Years a Slave is ultimate proof that Hollywood’s respect for Black humanity is in absurd, patronizing, Oscar-winning decline.

Steve McQueen’s post-racial art games and taste for cruelty play into cultural chaos. The story in 12 Years a Slave didn’t need to be filmed this way and I wish I never saw it.

7 Films About Slavery

Screening Slavery

Louis Proyect

Counterpunch

December 20-22, 2013

In a podcast discussion between veteran film critic Armond White and two younger film journalists focused on their differences over “12 Years a Slave” (White, an African-American with a contrarian bent hated it), White argued in favor of benchmarks. How could the two other discussants rave about Steve McQueen’s film without knowing what preceded it? That was all the motivation I needed to see the two films White deemed superior to McQueen’s—“Beloved” and “Amistad”—as well as other films about slavery that I had not seen before, or in the case of Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Queimada” and Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Sansho the Bailiff” films I had not seen in many years. This survey is not meant as a definitive guide to all films about the “peculiar institution” but only ones that are most familiar. Even if I characterize a film as poorly made, I still recommend a look at all of them since as a body of work they shed light on the complex interaction of art and politics, a topic presumably of some interest to CounterPunch readers.

“Django Unchained”

Since I walked out of Tarantino’s film after twenty minutes at a press screening last year, I only decided to watch it in its entirety to complete this survey. As is the case with “12 Years a Slave”, which was voted best film of 2013 by my colleagues in New York Film Critics Online, Tarantino’s film was considered a Major Statement about slavery a year earlier.

As I sat through the first twenty minutes last year, I found myself growing increasingly uneasy with the frequency of the word “nigger”. Yes, I understood that the Old South was full of racists but I could not help but feel that it was just Tarantino up to his old tricks of using the word in a kind of “bad boy” gesture to ramp up his mostly young, white, and male audience especially when the word was used by white characters, including ones played by Tarantino himself. This year I could not help but be reminded of Miami Dolphins Richie Incognito’s bullying messages to teammate Jonathan Martin.

I say this as someone who has enjoyed Tarantino’s past work, with their trademark mash-up of pop culture and ultra-violence. This time around the jokes seemed stale and the violence gratuitous. For example, there’s a scene in which a posse of racists led by plantation owner Don Johnson advance on Django and his fellow bounty-hunter played by Christoph Waltz. The posse is wearing KKK-type hoods for reasons not exactly clear to me. Why would there be a need in a Slavocracy to conceal your identity when lynchings took place in broad daylight, often administered by the cops? Apparently the hoods were a comic prop for Jonah Hill, who in a cameo role complained about not being able to see properly through the eyeholes. This Mel Brooks type shtick went on for what seemed an eternity. If I had been one of Tarantino’s trusted advisers, I would have told him that it was bad enough to use such a lame joke and even worse to keep it going so long. But when you have generated millions of dollars for Harvey Weinstein, nobody is in such a position. What Tarantino wants, Tarantino gets.

Having sat through the entire film this go-round, I could devote thousands of words to what was wrong but will just offer just one brief observation. Samuel Jackson played a “house Negro”, who as Malcolm X used to put it “loved the master more than they loved themselves.” What Tarantino has done is transform this into “hating Black people more than he hates himself”. As Stephen, Leonard DiCaprio’s servant, Jackson demonstrates a sadistic pleasure in seeing “niggers” beaten and killed. Is there any evidence from the history of slave society that any Black servant ever descended into such a degraded and psychopathic state? Tarantino’s excuse, of course, is that he is not making history—only a movie. I could buy this if the movie was wittier and more quickly paced. At 165 minutes, it is sixty minutes too long. But as a Major Statement on slavery, it is not.

“12 Years a Slave”

Despite the perception that Steve McQueen was the first to make a film based on his “discovery” of a neglected memoir by the main character, there was an earlier version made by Gordon Parks for PBS American Playhouse in 1985 titled “Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” that can be seen on Amazon.com. Parks took greater liberties with Solomon Northup’s memoir than McQueen but essentially they tell the same story.

Parks is best known for “Shaft”, the 1971 “blaxploitation” classic. His version of Solomon Northup is somewhat evocative of the genre since his hero is heavily muscled and equal to any man, Black or white, in a fist fight. Adding his own concerns to the memoir, Parks depicts Northup as the object of resentment from other slaves for his literacy, vocabulary, and generally sounding like a white man. They want to drag him down to their level, something he resists.

McQueen takes similar liberties, transforming Harriet Shaw, the Black wife of a cruel plantation owner, into someone with snarling contempt for her own people in the absence of any such evidence in Northup’s memoir.

As is the case with “Django Unchained”, McQueen’s film is a vehicle for his preoccupations. With Tarantino, these primarily revolve around revenge, a theme common to so many of the Hong Kong gangster or samurai movies that he has absorbed. For McQueen, the chief interest is in depicting pain with some of the most dramatic scenes involving whippings and other forms of punishment.

I was expecting the worst after seeing McQueen’s “Hunger”, a film about the Provo IRA hunger strike led by Bobby Sands that was more about bedsores and beatings than politics. Thankfully, the latest film is a lot more restrained than I had expected but still mostly focused on the physical torments of being a slave. I found myself wondering if the casting of Sarah Paulson as the sadistic wife of a sadistic plantation owner was deliberate since she is part of the company of actors featured on “American Horror Story”, the AMC cable TV show that pushes the envelope in terms of graphic scenes of torture, dismemberment, etc. This season Paulson is playing a witch, as part of a series on Black witches taking revenge on their white witch enemies who had tormented them during slavery. I half expected Paulson’s character to stick a pin in a Solomon Northup voodoo doll.

While one cannot gainsay the importance of Solomon Northup’s memoir that was used by the abolitionist movement in the same way that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was, I have to wonder whether McQueen’s film was hampered by a story that was essentially one-dimensional. If you take the opportunity to read “12 Years a Slave” , you will be struck by the underdeveloped relationships between Northup and other characters. Both Parks and McQueen take liberties with the memoir to flesh out the film with such relationships but there is still something missing. In the memoir and in the films, there is never any sense of the emotional pain of being separated from your family—something that cuts far deeper than a whip. Northup comes across as someone completely outraged by the injustice of being kidnapped and sold into slavery and little else. Who can blame him? But much more is needed to create the kind of drama found in “Sansho the Bailiff” that is discussed later.

“Beloved”

Just 8 minutes short of three hours, this Jonathan Demme film based on a Toni Morrison novel is as overextended and self-indulgent as “Django Unchained” but much worse. It was produced by Oprah Winfrey and features her in the role of Sethe, a former slave living in the outskirts of Cincinnati. In the opening scene, household utensils are hurled about by poltergeists in a manner now familiar from films like…like “Poltergeist” actually.

Not long afterwards Paul D. (Danny Glover) shows up to save the day. As a former slave from the same plantation as Sethe, he is looking for work and to rekindle a relationship with her. It helps that he is able to quell the poltergeists, the answer to a haunted woman’s dreams.

But that’s not the end of Sethe’s woes. About an hour into the film, Sethe and Paul D. return home to discover a young woman has materialized on their front lawn out of nowhere. Essentially she takes over from the poltergeists creating a strange bond with Sethe based on a kind of craving for attention so extreme that Sethe’s teenaged daughter Denver is tempted to run away, just as her two younger brothers did after the poltergeist intervention of the opening scene.

Eventually we discover that Beloved, the name of the mysterious young woman, is a supernatural presence spawned by a tragic event that took place on the plantation Sethe fled. Although the screenwriter and the director did not intend it as such, I found Beloved so weird that it was hard for me to get deeper into the troubled relationship between Sethe and her new quasi-adopted daughter.

Perhaps that’s a function of a misbegotten adaptation of Morrison’s novel but just as likely it is my reaction to a heavy dose of magical realism that suffuses the novel and the film. As anybody who has read my critique of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” understands, magical realism makes me break out in hives even when it is the work of Nobelists like Toni Morrison or Gabriel García Márquez.

The overripe aesthetics, however, cannot compensate for what is essentially the same fare as “12 Years a Slave”, namely a horror show about beatings, degradation, and racism. Unlike “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave”, “Beloved” was not hailed as a great film when it came out. Some critics viewed it as a sign of Jonathan Demme’s decline; others saw it as the result of Oprah Winfrey’s vanity. With such an enormous emotional and financial commitment to the film, Winfrey underwent a major bout of depression when it bombed at the box office and in the press. People like Jeff St. Clair, whose film savvy I hold in high regard, are fans of “Beloved”. That’s reason enough to give it a shot on Amazon.com. I can’t imagine myself watching it again, however.

“Amistad”

If you are looking for evidence that Stephen Spielberg is one of the few genuine auteurs on the scene today (a term coined by François Truffaut to describe how certain directors shape their films according to a unique creative vision), there’s no better place to look than this 1997 film based on an historical event, the slave revolt of 1839 that led to a historic trial with a happy ending.

The slaves function pretty much as ET did, strange creatures only wishing to go home while John Quincy Adams, the ex-president who argued their case before the Supreme Court, is a kind of prequel to Abraham Lincoln—an enlightened white politician who frees the slaves. What’s missing, however, is the viewpoint of the slaves. Unlike ET, they are capable of seeing the world just like us. But David Franzoni’s script treats them as exotic objects, all the more unknowable through their use of a native language that frequently goes un-subtitled. This is all the more egregious in the opening scene of the film when they commandeer the ship, murdering the entire crew except for the captain and his mate who are ordered to sail them back to Africa. In this scene, not a single word comes out of the slaves’ mouths except at the maximum volume and accompanied by grimacing of the sort seen on the faces of arch-villains in the silent movies of the 1920s. One imagines Spielberg directing his Black actors, “Louder…and arch your eyebrows higher”. I suspect that Paul Greenglass, the director of “Captain Phillips”, must have studied the film carefully in order to develop an approach to his Somali pirate characters.

“Amistad” is basically courtroom drama with Matthew McConaughey as the defense attorney (upon appeal, John Quincy Adams played by Anthony Hopkins takes over.) He argues on strictly legalistic grounds that the slaves were taken from Sierra Leone, a colony of Great Britain that had declared slavery illegal. It has all the dramatic intensity of the debate in the House of Representatives that occupied the final hour of “Lincoln”. If that is your cup of tea, the film is worth watching.

“Sansho the Bailiff”

Despite the fact that this film took place under feudalism, the major characters were slaves rather than peasants paying tribute of the sort dramatized in “The Seven Samurai” and other classics. Furthermore, even if they were Japanese, they had much in common with Solomon Northup insofar as they were free people kidnapped and sold into slavery.

The film was made by Kenji Mizoguchi in 1954 and is regarded as one of the greatest ever made in Japan. I would include it in my list of the ten greatest ever made.

After a feudal governor is banished to a far-off province because of his too generous treatment of the serfs, his wife Tamaki, his young son Zushio, and Zushio’s younger sister Anju proceed on foot to the distant home of a family relative. On their way, they are delivered by a supposedly well-meaning older woman into the arms of slavers who sell the two children to Sansho the Bailiff and the mother to a remote brothel on an island. They were victims just as was Solomon Northup who went to Washington, DC to play his fiddle for good wages at a circus but ended up on the auction block.

Unlike “12 Years a Slave”, the relationships between brother and sister are extremely well-developed. That, of course, is the license afforded by fiction. You are not bounded by the need to be accurate. Imagination rules. There’s a scene that mirrors the one in McQueen’s film in which Northup is forced to whip Patsey for a trivial offense. In “Sansho the Bailiff”, Zushio is ordered to brand the forehead of a seventy-year old slave who tried to run away. Unlike Northup, he has become so hardened by the punishment meted out to him by Sansho’s thugs that he follows this order unflinchingly. Afterwards Anju cries out to him that he has forsaken the values that their father taught them: “Without mercy, man is not a human being.”

Throughout their ordeal, brother and sister never forget their mother. They (and we) pine for their reunion. Eventually Zushio escapes Sansho’s compound, and makes his way to a feudal lord who felt remorse over his father’s treatment, so much so that he promotes him governor over Sansho as repentance. Zushio’s first act is to free all the slaves, even if this means violating feudal laws and resigning from his post.

Apart from the human drama, Mizoguchi was a great visual poet who made the Japanese countryside his greatest protagonist alongside the enslaved children and their long-lost mother. Although I am not that impressed with Anthony Lane’s film reviews in the New Yorker magazine, I am happy to repeat his words about “Sansho the Bailiff” as reported in Wikipedia: “I have seen Sansho only once, a decade ago, emerging from the cinema a broken man but calm in my conviction that I had never seen anything better; I have not dared watch it again, reluctant to ruin the spell, but also because the human heart was not designed to weather such an ordeal.”

“Queimada”

That’s the title of the 1969 Italian film directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, best known for “Battle of Algiers”, that can now be seen for free on Youtube. The English version is titled “Burn!” and though unfortunately missing about 20 minutes from the uncut version still fairly serviceable.

There is probably no other film that conveys the complexity of the colonial revolution than “Queimada”, which means burned in Italian. This is the name of a fictional Caribbean island that bears a striking resemblance to Cuba and Haiti even if it is ruled by Portuguese rather than the Spanish or French. It got its name from the peasant revolts that frequently led to sugar crops being burned.

Sir William Walker, played by Marlin Brando as if he was reprising his Fletcher Christian role, is a functionary of a British sugar company sent to Queimada to manipulate the slaves into overthrowing their masters. Unlike his American Filibuster namesake who went to Nicaragua to reinstate slavery, the British mercenary saw the benefits of abolishing slavery just as Great Britain did long before Lincoln. In a meeting with Portuguese plantation owners, Walker makes the case for free labor in distinctly non-abolitionist terms:

Gentlemen, let me ask you a question. Now, my metaphor may seem a trifle impertinent, but I think it’s very much to the point. Which do you prefer – or should I say, which do you find more convenient – a wife, or one of these mulatto girls? No, no, please don’t misunderstand: I am talking strictly in terms of economics. What is the cost of the product? What is the product yield? The product, in this case, being love – uh, purely physical love, since sentiments obviously play no part in economics.

Quite. Now, a wife must be provided with a home, with food, with dresses, with medical attention, etc, etc. You’re obliged to keep her a whole lifetime even when she’s grown old and perhaps a trifle unproductive. And then, of course, if you have the bad luck to survive her, you have to pay for the funeral!

It’s true, isn’t it? Gentlemen, I know it’s amusing, but those are the facts, aren’t they? Now with a prostitute, on the other hand, it’s quite a different matter, isn’t it? You see, there’s no need to lodge her or feed her, certainly no need to dress her or to bury her, thank God. She’s yours only when you need her, you pay her only for that service, and you pay her by the hour! Which, gentlemen, is more important – and more convenient: a slave or a paid worker?

This is mostly a film about the villainous but charismatic Sir William Walker but there is also a lot more of the viewpoint and agency of the slaves than in “Amistad”. That is to be expected when the screenwriter is somebody like Franco Solinas, who was a partisan during WWII and a long-time member of the CP. But one certainly would have not suspected that Solinas also wrote Spaghetti Westerns of the sort that inspired “Django Unchained”. In an eye-opening profile of “un-American Westerns” by J. Hoberman in the New York Review of Books, we learn that these were Spaghetti Westerns with a difference:

Déclassé, outlandish, and brutal, The Big Gundown has the standard Spaghetti Western virtues; its originality lay in making its true protagonist the fugitive. The irrepressible Cuchillo (played by Tomas Milian) turns out to be a disillusioned supporter of Benito Juarez with a class analysis (he is in fact an innocent witness to the crime). Van Cleef’s character realizes that he is the tool of ruthless plutocrats and capitalist running dogs. Thus, Solinas would use the Western as an arena in which to play out the struggle dramatized in The Battle of Algiers. “Political films are useful on the one hand if they contain a correct analysis of reality and on the other if they are made in such a way to have that analysis reach the largest possible audience,” he told an interviewer in 1967.

Too bad this angle was missing in “Django Unchained”. It would have made for a better film as well as better politically.

“Quilombo”

This amounts to saving the best for last. Like “Burn!”, this subtitled 1984 Brazilian film can be watched for free on Youtube. Quilombo is the word for escaped slave settlement. After seeing this joyous celebration of African freedom, I feel like presenting a petition to the Hollywood studios that they make movies about slave revolts or liberation struggles next year rather than another Major Statement about how terrible slavery was.

Based on historical events, the escape of slaves to the mountains of Palmares in 17th century Brazil, the film is a celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture with children using the capoeira against their would-be Portuguese captors. This high-kicking form of martial arts was disguised as a dance in order to prevent its practitioners being punished for developing combat skills.

The escaped slaves reconstitute themselves as African communities in the highlands and freely choose kings to lead them in struggle against a much better armed foe. The finale of the film depicts a battle in the Palmares that is as exciting as anything I have seen in a Japanese or American costume drama like “Braveheart” or “Seven Samurai”.

And throughout, there is the film score by Gilberto Gil that contains some of the greatest music he ever composed, including the song “Quilombo.”

Your first reaction to “Quilombo” is to question whether such a scenario could apply to the United States since we never saw a Palmares, or did we? While the immediate post-Civil War period under Reconstruction was not an attempt to recreate African life in the wilderness, the net effect was even more emancipating—to use the right word.

Hollywood has never made a single film about Black Power in the Deep South until 1873 when the Democrats and Republicans cut a deal to put the racists back into power in Dixie. Well, I take that back. There were a couple, now that I remember, one called “Gone with the Wind” and the other “Birth of a Nation”. Isn’t it about time that we had a movie with sympathetic major characters that are Black legislators in Mississippi or Alabama to atone for the racist crap of the past? Someone get Oprah Winfrey on the phone and line up a couple of million dollars or so. That’s all we need to make a great movie, since the reality it is based on is so inspiring.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

12 Years as Slave

Bruce Bennet

Mad about movies

Jan, 2014

Wince-inducing statement film

The much-heralded “12 Years a Slave” takes the most brutal and dehumanizing acts of the antebellum American South and displays them in an unrelenting fashion, making it both an incredibly uncomfortable and unforgettable movie.

But the question remains: To what end are these events depicted?

Devoid of any meaningful psychological analysis of either the slave owners who perpetuated unspeakable atrocities or of the slaves who were their victims, “12 Years a Slave” serves primarily as a graphic, suffocating sad collection of horrendous images that pummels the audience for over two hours.

For that you can bet there will be many industry accolades–the film is already the frontrunner to take home the best picture Oscar at next month’s Academy Awards. Hollywood, after all, loves to recognize those films it deems IMPORTANT.

For its shock value and the subject material involved, “12 Years” is groundbreaking and worthy of discussion. But shouldn’t there be more to the “hard truth” than simply being hard to watch?

Director Spike Jonze is known for his art-house films that often portray the myriad indignities a human body can suffer, and it appears he’s culled from Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir all the lynchings, beatings, rapings, and other abominations and made a well-crafted, superbly-acted horror show.

Northrup is portrayed nobly and sensitively by terrific British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, (Outstanding in “Dirty Pretty Things”) and the screenplay written by John Ridley describes how the New York-born “free negro” was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery to work on the plantations of Louisiana. Forced to take another name and not reveal his true identity or details about his wife and family, Northrup works for several plantation owners, including a malevolent sadist (Michael Fassbender) and another who is less cruel (Benedict Cumberbatch). Northrup decides to (mostly) cooperate, incredulously witnessing that this is by no means a guarantee of mercy.

No doubt “12 Years a Slave” will provoke comparison to films like “Schindler’s List” that have attempted to make a visceral statement about evil men perpetrating vile acts against other men. But while Spielberg weaved a complex story with layered emotional complexity around his occasionally graphic imagery, Jonze’s film appears obsessed with the gruesomeness of the act itself. Many scenes go on so long that the initial shock wears off and the viewer’s attention is distracted from the grotesque nature of the scene itself to the unbridled determination of the filmmakers to make a statement.

Indeed, “12 Years a Slave” is an unsettling film to watch. Sometimes challenging, even shocking material can have profound merit in the realm of artistic endeavor. Examining an important topic like slavery, an adaptation of Northrup’s memoir could have had remarkable educational, even inspirational value.

But “12 Years a Slave” is generally more concerned with making its audience wince than with forging an indelible imprint on the soul.

Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and sexuality.

Grade: C+

Bruce Bennett has been the primary contributor to Mad About Movies since it began in 2003. He is an award winning film and theater critic who, since 2000, has been writing a weekly column in The Spectrum daily newspaper in southern Utah as well as serving as a contributing editor of “The Independent,” a monthly entertainment magazine. He is also the co-host of “Film Fanatics” a movie review show which earned a Telly in 2009. Bruce is also a featured contributor at: RottenTomatoes.com

His motto: « I see bad movies so you don’t have to. »

Will Steve McQueen be the first black director to win an Oscar?

Gautaman Bhaskaran

Hindustan Times

February 08, 2014

The best aspect about America is its egalitarianism. The country respects and rewards the talented and the sincere. And despite serious racial issues, we saw America electing a black President, creating history.

And as Hollywood runs up to the Academy Awards on March 2, one of the questions is, will Steve McQueen be the first black director to win the Oscar. Interestingly, his 12 Years A Slave is all about the struggle of one black man to escape humiliating captivity he faces in the white man’s den.

At the moment, McQueen – though with an emotionally engaging film behind him – is not the favourite to walk away with the best director statuette. But if he does, he would be the first black helmer to actually clinch this Oscar, although there have been two other black directors who were nominated in the past. One of them was John Singleton for the 1992 Boyz n the Hood, and the other was Lee Daniels in 2009 for Precious.

McQueen’s win could be as historic as Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 triumph with The Hurt Locker. She was the first woman director to have won the best director Oscar.

In a way, McQueen’s nomination comes in a year when black moviemakers have done exceedingly well. Fruitvale Station – about a real incident where a black teenager was killed by the police in Oakland — got the big prize at the Sundance Film Festival. And works like 42 (the black baseball player, Jackie Robinson biopic) and The Butler (probing the African American role in U.S. history) have been, along with 12 Years A Slave, lauded by critics.

On top of this, Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been talking about lack of diversity in the race for the Oscars.

Curiously, while black American helmers have done poorly, black actors have fared very well.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the protagonist Solomon Northup in 12 Years A Slave.

Solomon Northup (played by Ejiofor) was a free man who was abducted and sold into slavery.

Benedict Cumberbatch will also be seen in this film portraying the role of the benevolent slave master William Ford.

A shocking still with Sarah Paulson and Lupita Nyong’o.

Lupita Nyong’o has been appreciated for her stellar performance in the film.

Hattie McDaniel was the first black actor to win an Oscar in a supporting role way back in 1939 for Gone with the Wind – that brilliant movie on the American Civil War adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s only novel.

During the 1960s, Sidney Poitier took the best actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field. He was remarkable as a handyman helping some nuns to raise a chapel in a desert. Black actors, however, had to wait 40 long years before the Oscar went to Denzel Washington – Training Day in 2001. That year came as double whammy for black artists. Halle Berry became the first black to win the best actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball.

More recently, the likes of Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker and Viola Davis have been nominated for Academy Awards, and have won in some cases.

But no Oscar has ever rolled on to a black producer’s lap. Ditto, a black director. Will McQueen change this by beating his rivals?

An Escape From Slavery, Now a Movie, Has Long Intrigued Historians

Michael Cieply

The NYT

September 22, 2013

LOS ANGELES — In the age of “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” questions about the accuracy of nonfiction films have become routine. With “12 Years a Slave,” based on a memoir published 160 years ago, the answers are anything but routine.

Written by John Ridley and directed by Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave,” a leading contender for honors during the coming movie awards season, tells a story that was summarized in the 33-word title of its underlying material.

Published by Derby & Miller in 1853, the book was called: “Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.”

The real Solomon Northup — and years of scholarly research attest to his reality — fought an unsuccessful legal battle against his abductors. But he enjoyed a lasting triumph that began with the sale of some 30,000 copies of his book when it first appeared, and continued with its republication in 1968 by the historians Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon.

Speaking on Friday, Mr. Ridley said he decided simply to “stick with the facts” in adapting Northup’s book for the film, which is set for release on Oct. 18 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Mr. Ridley said he was helped by voluminous footnotes and documentation that were included with Ms. Eakin’s and Mr. Logsdon’s edition of the book.

For decades, however, scholars have been trying to untangle the literal truth of Mr. Northup’s account from the conventions of the antislavery literary genre.

The difficulties are detailed in “The Slave’s Narrative,” a compilation of essays that was published by the Oxford University Press in 1985, and edited by Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Mr. Gates is now credited as a consultant to the film, and he edited a recent edition of “Twelve Years a Slave.”)

“When the abolitionists invited an ex-slave to tell his story of experience in slavery to an antislavery convention, and when they subsequently sponsored the appearance of that story in print, they had certain clear expectations, well understood by themselves and well understood by the ex-slave, too,” wrote one scholar, James Olney.

Mr. Olney was explaining pressures that created a certain uniformity of content in the popular slave narratives, with recurring themes that involved insistence on sometimes questioned personal identity, harrowing descriptions of oppression, and open advocacy for the abolitionist cause.

In his essay, called “I Was Born: Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature,” Mr. Olney contended that Solomon Northup’s real voice was usurped by David Wilson, the white “amanuensis” to whom he dictated his tale, and who gave the book a preface in the same florid style that informs the memoir.

“We may think it pretty fine writing and awfully literary, but the fine writer is clearly David Wilson rather than Solomon Northup,” Mr. Olney wrote.

In another essay from the 1985 collection, titled “I Rose and Found My Voice: Narration, Authentication, and Authorial Control in Four Slave Narratives,” Robert Burns Stepto, a professor at Yale, detected textual evidence — assurances, disclaimers and such — that Solomon Northup expected some to doubt his story.

“Clearly, Northup felt that the authenticity of his tale would not be taken for granted, and that, on a certain peculiar but familiar level enforced by rituals along the color line, his narrative would be viewed as a fiction competing with other fictions,” wrote Mr. Stepto.

Mr. Stepto did not question Mr. Northup’s veracity; but he spotted one prominent example of a story point that conformed neatly to expectations. Mr. Northup’s account of being saved with the help of a Canadian named Samuel Bass (played in the film by Brad Pitt), wrote Mr. Stepto, “represents a variation on the archetype of deliverance in Canada.”

In an interview by phone on Friday, David A. Fiske — who recently joined Clifford W. Brown Jr. and Rachel Seligman in writing “Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave” — said he believed he had now identified an Ontario-born man as the actual Samuel Bass to whom Northup referred.

Mr. Fiske, who did some paid research for the film, said that overall he had high confidence in the accuracy of Northup’s account. “He had a literalist approach to recording events,” he said.

Both Mr. Olney and Mr. Stepto had a further reservation, however. Each noted that a dedication page added to “Twelve Years a Slave” — which devoted the book to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and called it “another key” to her novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — helped blur the line between literal and literary truth.

“The dedication, like the pervasive style, calls into serious question the status of ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ as autobiography and/or literature,” Mr. Olney wrote.

Still, Mr. Ridley said the heavily documented story, with its many twists and turns, had an unpredictability that is a hallmark of the real.

“Life happens, it’s a lot stranger than the false beats that occur when people try to jam a narrative” into an expected framework, he said.

Voir aussi:

How 12 Years a Slave Gets History Right: By Getting It Wrong

Steve McQueen’s film fudges several details of Solomon Northup’s autobiography—both intentionally and not—to more completely portray the horrors of slavery.

Noah Berlatsky

Oct 28 2013

At the beginning of 12 Years a Slave, the kidnapped freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), has a painful sexual encounter with an unnamed female slave in which she uses his hand to bring herself to orgasm before turning away in tears. The woman’s desperation, Solomon’s reserve, and the fierce sadness of both, is depicted with an unflinching still camera which documents a moment of human contact and bitter comfort in the face of slavery’s systematic dehumanization. It’s scenes like these in the film, surely, that lead critic Susan Wloszczyna to state that watching 12 Years a Slave makes you feel you have « actually witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for the first time. »

And yet, for all its verisimilitude, the encounter never happened. It appears nowhere in Northup’s autobiography, and it’s likely he would be horrified at the suggestion that he was anything less than absolutely faithful to his wife. Director Steve McQueen has said that he included the sexual encounter to show « a bit of tenderness … Then after she’s climaxes, she’s back … in hell. » The sequence is an effort to present nuance and psychological depth — to make the film’s depiction of slavery seem more real. But it creates that psychological truth by interpolating an incident that isn’t factually true.

This embellishment is by no means an isolated case in the film. For instance, in the film version, shortly after Northup is kidnapped, he is on a ship bound south. A sailor enters the hold and is about to rape one of the slave women when a male slave intervenes. The sailor unhesitatingly stabs and kills him. This seems unlikely on its face—slaves are valuable, and the sailor is not the owner. And, sure enough, the scene is not in the book. A slave did die on the trip south, but from smallpox, rather than from stabbing. Northup himself contracted the disease, permanently scarring his face. It seems likely, therefore, that in this instance the original text was abandoned so that Ejiofor’s beautiful, expressive, haunting features would not go through the entire movie covered with artificial Hollywood scar make-up. Instead of faithfulness to the text, the film chooses faithfulness to Ejiofor’s face, unaltered by trickery.

It seems quite likely that the single most powerful moment in the film was based on a misunderstood antecedent.

Other changes seem less intentional. Perhaps the most striking scene in the film involves Patsey, a slave who is repeatedly raped by her master, Epps, and who as a consequence is jealously and obsessively brutalized by Mistress Epps. In the movie version, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) comes to Northup in the middle of the night and begs him, in vivid horrific detail, to drown her in the swamp and release her from her troubles. This scene derives from the following passage at the end of Chapter 13 of the autobiography:

Nothing delighted the mistress so much as to see [Patsey] suffer, and more than once, when Epps had refused to sell her, has she tempted me with bribes to put her secretly to death, and bury her body in some lonely place in the margin of the swamp. Gladly would Patsey have appeased this unforgiving spirit, if it had been in her power, but not like Joseph, dared she escape from Master Epps, leaving her garment in his hand.

As you can see, in the book, it is Mistress Epps who wants to bribe Northup to drown Patsey. Patsey wants to escape, but not to drown herself. The film seems to have misread the line, attributing the mistress’s desires to Patsey. Slate, following the lead of scholar David Fiske (see both the article and the correction) does the same. In short, it seems quite likely that the single most powerful moment in the film was based on a misunderstood antecedent.

Critic Isaac Butler recently wrote a post attacking what he calls the « realism canard »—the practice of judging fiction by how well it conforms to reality. « We’re talking about the reduction of truth to accuracy, » Butler argues, and adds, « What matters ultimately in a work of narrative is if the world and characters created feels true and complete enough for the work’s purposes. » (Emphasis is Butler’s.)

His point is well-taken. But it’s worth adding that whether something « feels true » is often closely related to whether the work manages to create an illusion not just of truth, but also of accuracy. Whether it’s period detail in a costume romance or the brutal cruelty of the drug trade in Breaking Bad, fiction makes insistent claims not just to general overarching truth, but to specific, accurate detail. The critics Butler discusses may sometimes reduce the first to the second, but they do so in part because works of fiction themselves often rely on a claim to accuracy in order to make themselves appear true.

This is nowhere more the case than in slave narratives themselves. Often published by abolitionist presses or in explicit support of the abolitionist cause, slave narratives represented themselves as accurate, first-person accounts of life under slavery. Yet, as University of North Carolina professor William Andrews has discussed in To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, the representation of accuracy, and, for that matter, of first-person account, required a good deal of artifice. To single out just the most obvious point, Andrews notes that many slave narratives were told to editors, who wrote down the oral account and prepared them for publication. Andrews concludes that « It would be naïve to accord dictated oral narratives the same discursive status as autobiographies composed and written by the subjects of the stories themselves. »

12 Years a Slave is just such an oral account. Though Northup was literate, his autobiography was written by David Wilson, a white lawyer and state legislator from Glens Falls, New York. While the incidents in Northup’s life have been corroborated by legal documents and much research, Andrews points out that the impact of the autobiography—its sense of truth—is actually based in no small part on the fact that it is not told by Northup, but by Wilson, who had already written two books of local history. Because he was experienced, Andrews says, Wilson’s « fictionalizing … does not call attention to itself so much » as other slave narratives, which tend to be steeped in a sentimental tradition « that often discomfits and annoys 20th-century critics. » Northup’s autobiography feels less like fiction, in other words, because its writer is so experienced with fiction. Similarly, McQueen’s film feels true because it is so good at manipulating our sense of accuracy. The first sex scene, for example, speaks to our post-Freud, post-sexual-revolution belief that, isolated for 12 years far from home, Northup would be bound to have some sort of sexual encounters, even if (especially if?) he does not discuss them in his autobiography.

We can’t « actually witness … American slavery » on film or in a book. You can only experience it by experiencing it. Pretending otherwise is presumptuous.

The difference between book and movie, then, isn’t that one is true and the other false, but rather that the tropes and tactics they use to create a feeling of truth are different. The autobiography, for instance, actually includes many legal documents as appendices. It also features lengthy descriptions of the methods of cotton farming. No doubt this dispassionate, minute accounting of detail was meant to show Northup’s knowledge of the regions where he stayed, and so validate the truth of his account. To modern readers, though, the touristy attention to local customs can make Northup sound more like a traveling reporter than like a man who is himself in bondage. Some anthropological asides are even more jarring; in one case, Northup refers to a slave rebel named Lew Cheney as « a shrewd, cunning negro, more intelligent than the generality of his race. » That description would sound condescending and prejudiced if a white man wrote it. Which, of course, a white man named David Wilson did.

A story about slavery, a real, horrible crime, inevitably involves an appeal to reality—the story has to seem accurate if it is to be accepted as true. But that seeming accuracy requires artifice and fiction—a cool distance in one case, an acknowledgement of sexuality in another. And then, even with the best will in the world, there are bound to be mistakes and discrepancies, as with Mistress Epps’s plea for murder transforming into Patsey’s wish for death. Given the difficulties and contradictions, one might conclude that it would be better to openly acknowledge fiction. From this perspective, Django Unchained, which deliberately treats slavery as genre, or Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which acknowledges the role of the present in shaping the past through a fantasy time-travel narrative, are, more true than 12 Years a Slave or Glory precisely because they do not make a claim to historical accuracy. We can’t « actually witness … American slavery » on film or in a book. You can only experience it by experiencing it. Pretending otherwise is presumptuous.

But refusing to try to recapture the experience and instead deciding to, say, treat slavery as a genre Western, can be presumptuous in its own way as well. The writers of the original slave narratives knew that to end injustice, you must first acknowledge that injustice exists. Accurate stories about slavery—or, more precisely, stories that carried the conviction of accuracy, were vital to the abolitionist cause.

And, for that matter, they’re still vital. Outright lies about slavery and its aftermath, from Birth of a Nation to Gone With the Wind, have defaced American cinema for a long time. To go forward more honestly, we need accounts of our past that, like the slave narratives themselves, use accuracy and art in the interest of being more true. That’s what McQueen, Ejiofor, and the rest of the cast and crew are trying to do in 12 Years a Slave. Pointing out the complexity of the task is not meant to belittle their attempt, but to honor it.

Voir également:

How Accurate Is 12 Years a Slave?

12 Years a Slave We’ve sorted out what’s fact and what’s fiction in the new Steve McQueen movie.

Forrest Wickman

Slate

Steve McQueen’s devastating new movie, 12 Years a Slave, begins with the words “based on a true story” and ends with a description of what happened to Solomon Northup and his assailants after he was restored to freedom. What happens in between, as Northup is kidnapped into 12 years of slavery in the South, frequently beggars the imagination. Should you believe even the most incredible details of its story?

With a few rare exceptions, yes. 12 Years a Slave is based on the book of the same name, which was written by Northup with the help of his “amanuensis” and ghostwriter, David Wilson. Aspects of the story’s telling have been questioned by some historians for matching the conventions of the slave narrative genre a little too neatly, but its salient facts were authenticated by the historian Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon for their landmark 1968 edition of the book. (They were also reported at the time of the book’s release—in the New York Times and elsewhere.)

As adapted by screenwriter John Ridley from Northup’s book and Eakin and Logsdon’s footnotes, the film adaptation hews very closely to Northup’s telling. While much of the story is condensed, and a few small scenes are invented, nearly all of the most unbelievable details come straight from the book, and many lines are taken verbatim. As Frederick Douglass wrote of the book upon its release in 1853, “Its truth is stranger than fiction.”

Solomon Northup was the son of Mintus Northup, who was a slave in Rhode Island and New York until his master freed him in his will. Solomon was born a free man and received an unusually good education for a black man of his time, eventually coming to work as a violinist and a carpenter. As in the movie, he was married to Anne Hampton, who was of mixed race, and they had three children—Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alonzo. His wife and children were away when he was offered an unusually profitable gig from his eventual kidnappers, who called themselves Hamilton and Brown.

The movie prefaces its scenes of Northup in New York with a flash-forward that is McQueen and Ridley’s invention: Solomon, while enslaved, turns to find an unidentified woman in bed with him. She grabs his hand and uses it to bring herself to orgasm. McQueen has said of the scene: “I just wanted a bit of tenderness—the idea of this woman reaching out for sexual healing in a way, to quote Marvin Gaye. She takes control of her own body. Then after she’s climaxed, she’s back where she was. She’s back in hell, and that’s when she turns and cries.

In his book, Northup refused to say whether Hamilton and Brown were guilty of his kidnapping. He notes that he got extraordinary headaches after having a drink with them one night, and became sick and delirious soon afterward, but cannot conclude with assurety that he was poisoned. “Though suspicions of Brown and Hamilton were not unfrequent,” he writes, “I could not reconcile myself to the idea that they were instrumental to my imprisonment.”

Northup came around to accepting their role in his kidnapping and unlawful sale—an unusual occurrence, but not unique to Northup—soon after the book was published. “Hamilton” and “Brown” weren’t even their real names. A judge, Thaddeus St. John of New York, read the book soon after its release, and realized that he himself had run into the two kidnappers when they were with Northup. Their real names were Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell, but they asked that St. John, who knew them, not use their real names around Northup. The next time St. John saw them, they had come into some newfound wealth: They carried ivory canes and sported gold watches. Northup and St. John eventually met up, recognized each other immediately, and brought their case against Merrill and Russell. (A note about the case appeared in the New York Times.) Merrill and Russell apparently got off unpunished, after their case was dropped on technicalities.

The Journey Into Slavery

The movie’s telling of Northup’s journey into slavery in Louisiana matches Northup’s account almost exactly. Northup says he was beaten with a paddle until the paddle broke, only to be whipped after that, all just for asserting his true identity. We see this in the movie. But an attempted mutiny by Northup and others ends much differently in the film than it does in his own account.

Northup did hatch an elaborate plan to take over a ship with a freeman named Arthur and a slave named Robert (played in the movie by Michael K. Williams). But that plan did not end with Robert coming to the defense of Eliza (Adepero Oduye) against an apparent rape attempt by a sailor, and then being stabbed by that sailor. What foiled their plans was simpler: Robert got smallpox and died.

Northup gives a more charitable account of his onetime master, William Ford, than the movie does. “There never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford,” Northup writes, adding that Ford’s circumstances “blinded [Ford] to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery.” The movie, on the other hand, frequently undermines Ford, highlighting his hypocrisy by, for example, overlaying his sermons with the mournful screams of his slave Eliza.

Northup actually had two violent encounters with Tibeats. The first scuffle, over a set of nails, is shown in the movie: According to Northup, Tibeats tried to whip him, Northup resisted, and eventually Northup grabbed Tibeats’ whip and beat his aggressor. Afterward, Northup was left bound and on the point of hanging for several hours, before Ford rescued him.

In the book, there is a second brawl over another of Tibeats’ unreasonable demands. According to Northup, he again prevailed, but was afraid of the repercussions, and so this time attempted to run away. Unable to survive on his own in the surrounding swamps, he eventually returned in tatters to Ford, who had mercy on him.

Judging from Northup’s book, Epps was even more villainous and repulsive than the movie suggests. In addition to his cruel “dancing moods”—during which he would force the exhausted slaves to dance, screaming “Dance, niggers, dance,” and whipping them if they tried to rest—Epps also had his “whipping moods.” When he would come home drunk and overcome with one of these moods, he would drive the slaves around the yard, whipping them for fun.

There’s another small change. The scene that introduces Epps—his reading of Luke 12:47 as a warning to slaves—is actually borrowed from another of the book’s characters: Ford’s brother-in-law, Peter Tanner. In the movie, Northup’s time with Tanner—with whom he lived after his first fight with Tibeats—is omitted.

Northup does not portray the relationship between Epps and Patsey as explicitly as the movie does, but he does refer to Epps’ “lewd intentions” toward her. As we see in the film, Mistress Epps encourages Master Epps to whip her, out of her own jealousy. This culminates in the horrible whipping shown in the movie, which Northup describes as “the most cruel whipping that ever I was doomed to witness,” saying she was “literally flayed.” Her request afterward that Northup kill her, to put her out of her misery, is the movie’s own invention, but it’s a logical one: Patsey is described as falling into a deep depression and, it’s implied, dreaming of the relief death would offer her.*

As in the book, Mistress Shaw is the black wife of a plantation owner. However, Patsey’s conversation with Shaw is invented. McQueen and Ridley said they wanted to give Woodard’s character a voice.

As unlikely as his character is—an abolitionist in Louisiana, and a contrarian who everyone likes—Bass is drawn straight from the book’s account. His argument with Epps (“but begging the law’s pardon, it lies,” “There will be a reckoning yet”) is reproduced almost verbatim.

The real Bass, in fact, did more for Northup, sending multiple letters on his behalf, meeting with him in the middle of the night to hear his story, and—when they initially got no response from their letters—vowing to travel up to New York himself, to secure Northup’s freedom. The process took months, and Northup’s freedom eventually came from Bass’s first letter after all, so the movie understandably chooses to elide all this.

The Return Home

Northup’s return home is much as it is in the book, including Solomon’s learning that his daughter Margaret (who was 7 years old when he last saw her) now had a child of her own, named Solomon Northup. One devastating detail is left out: After 12 years apart, Margaret did not recognize her father.

*Correction, Nov. 4, 2013: This post was corrected to suggest a scene from the movie 12 Years a Slave was drawn from the book. The original article was accurate: Patsey’s plea for Northup to kill her was an invention of the movie. The original language has been restored.

Voir encore:

Historian at the Movies: 12 Years a Slave reviewed

Emma McFarnon

13th January 2014

As part of our new series, Dr Emily West, an associate professor of history at the University of Reading, reviews 12 Years a Slave – a true story about a free black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery

Q: Did you enjoy the film?

A: The subject matter made 12 Years a Slave a very uncomfortable film to watch, although some of the actors gave astonishing performances.

I thought Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Solomon Northup) acted with incredible intensity, as did Michael Fassbender, who played Northup’s violent and sadistic master, Edwin Epps.

Steve McQueen’s unique direction used lingering close ups and poignant imagery of rural Louisiana in the days of slavery, which only added to the great tragedy of Northup’s harrowing story.

Enslaved people commonly described having ‘trees of scars’ on their backs – the result of brutal whippings they received from their masters or other people, and this film shockingly displayed the regularity of such treatment.

Moreover, we also witnessed, in truly horrific fashion, the myriad of circumstances under which enslaved men and women’s ‘trees of scars’ came into being. In one incident, Edwin Epps forces Solomon Northup at gunpoint to whip another slave, Patsey, until she collapses from pain. Yet Patsey’s only ‘crime’ was to leave her plantation in search of a bar of soap to clean herself.

Overall, I was pleased to see the highly realistic depictions of enslaved women’s lives in this film, especially the often-brutal sexual assaults they endured at the hands of white men. For example, Edwin Epps rapes Patsey and takes a sadistic pleasure in seeing her whipped. Mrs Epps, the plantation mistress, reacts in a typically jealous fashion by ‘blaming the victim’, and lashing out violently against Patsey.

White women rarely sought to help their enslaved women enduring sexual abuse.

Q: Was the film historically accurate?

A: I have never seen a film represent slavery so accurately. The film starkly and powerfully unveiled the sights and sounds of enslavement – from slaves picking cotton as they sang in the fields, to the crack of the lash down people’s backs.

I found the scene in the New Orleans slave market especially moving because of the juxtaposition between the refined, mid-19th-century house, from which a trader sold enslaved people, and the raw nakedness and commodification of the black bodies within it.

The trader made men and women strip naked for potential purchasers who looked inside slaves’ mouths to check the quality of their teeth. Buyers also ran their hands down slaves’ backs and arms to check for physical strength and agility, and no doubt they also viewed the naked enslaved women in terms of their sexual attractiveness and childbearing ability.

It was heartbreaking to see Solomon Northup’s friend, Eliza, so cruelly separated from her two children, Emily and Randall, as they were all sold to different owners.

We also heard a lot about the ideology behind enslavement. Masters such as William Ford (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Edwin Epps, although very different characters, both used an interpretation of Christianity to justify their ownership of slaves. They believed the Bible sanctioned slavery, and that it was their ‘Christian duty’ to preach the scriptures to their slaves.

Q: What did the film get right?

A: The film depicted the overall slave regime and all its horrors extremely well, but it also added depth and nuance to our understanding of slavery’s complexities. Masters such as Edwin Epps commonly hired out their slaves in times of economic need, and in the film we see Solomon Northup and other enslaved men being hired to a man to chop sugar cane – a crop grown primarily in Louisiana in the United States.

I was also impressed by the film’s awareness of social class: Solomon Northup comes into contact with various white men of lower social standing, some of whom are paid by Epps to labour alongside slaves. Indeed, it is one of these men, known only as ‘Bass’ (played by Brad Pitt), who helps Northup escape his ordeal. Bass brings an acquaintance of Solomon Northup to the plantation to confirm his free status, after which Northup returns to his family.

The film also got the smaller details right. For example, all enslaved people leaving their plantations had to have a written pass, in case they came across white patrollers (people employed to track down runaway slaves). When Solomon Northup leaves his plantation on an errand for Mrs Epps, he wore such a pass around his neck.

The film also succeeded in highlighting the stark visual contrast between the opulence of plantations mansions and the dingy, cramped, over-crowded quarters of the enslaved.

Q: What did it miss?

A: This is a minor point, but I felt the film possibly over-emphasised Solomon Northup’s social standing in New York state prior to his enslavement. In the film, Northup appears as a wealthy, successful individual, making a good living as a carpenter and musician. He wears smart clothes and appears to live in a tolerant, racially integrated community where skin colour does not matter.

But in reality, Northern black people were everyday victims of white racism and discrimination, and in the free states of the North, black people were typically the ‘last hired and first fired’. Notably, in his autobiography Northup himself describes the everyday “obstacle of color” in his life prior to his kidnapping and subsequent enslavement.

Nevertheless, I can understand why the filmmakers wanted to present a strong juxtaposition between Northup’s life as a free man in the North and the physical and mental trauma he endured while enslaved in the South.

Voir encore:

An Essentially American Narrative

A Discussion of Steve McQueen’s Film ‘12 Years a Slave’

Interviews by NELSON GEORGE

The NYT

October 11, 2013

Amid comic book epics, bromantic comedies and sequels of sequels, films about America’s tortured racial history have recently emerged as a surprisingly lucrative Hollywood staple. In the last two years, “The Help,” “Lincoln, » »Django Unchained, » »42” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” have performed well at the box office, gathering awards in some cases and drawing varying degrees of critical acclaim.

The latest entry in this unlikely genre is “12 Years a Slave,” the director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir. A free black man living in Saratoga, N.Y., Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into brutal servitude in the Deep South. During his ordeal, he labors at different plantations, including the one owned by the sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who has a tortured sexual relationship with the slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o).

Following a buzzed-about preview screening at the Telluride Film Festival and the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, “12 Years a Slave” arrives in theaters Friday amid much online chatter that it may be headed for Oscar nominations. But Mr. Ejiofor, who portrays Northup, and Mr. McQueen, known for the bracingly austere “Hunger” and “Shame,” both say that getting audiences to see an uncompromisingly violent and quietly meditative film about America’s “peculiar institution” is still a challenge even with the presence of a producer, Brad Pitt, in a small role.

While the material was developed by Americans (including the screenwriter John Ridley) the director and most of the major cast members are British, a topic of concern among some early black commentators.

On a sweltering afternoon in SoHo last month, the author and filmmaker Nelson George led a round-table discussion at the Crosby Street Hotel with Mr. Ejiofor and Mr. McQueen. Joining them to provide a wider historical and artistic context were the Columbia University professor Eric Foner, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” among other books; and the artist Kara Walker, whose room-size tableaus of the Old South employing silhouettes have redefined how history and slavery are depicted in contemporary art and influenced many, including the “12 Years a Slave” production team. Current civil rights issues including the New York police practice of stop and frisk, recently declared unconstitutional; sexuality and slavery; Hollywood’s version of American history; and the themes of Obama-era cinema were among the topics of the sharp but polite dialogue. These are excerpts from the conversation.

Mr. Ejiofor, center, in the film &ldquo;12 Years a Slave.&rdquo;

Jaap Buitendijk/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Mr. Ejiofor, center, in the film “12 Years a Slave.”

Q. I wanted to start with contemporary analogues. One thing that came to mind was stop and frisk, a way the New York City police could stop a black or Latino male. I thought of Solomon as a character who, for a lot of contemporary audiences, would be that young black person. [To Mr. McQueen and Mr. Ejiofor] When you were seeking a way into the slave story, was what happens now part of that?

Steve McQueen Absolutely. History has a funny thing of repeating itself. Also, it’s the whole idea of once you’ve left the cinema, the story continues. Over a century and a half to the present day. I mean, you see the evidence of slavery as you walk down the street.

What do you mean?

McQueen The prison population, mental illness, poverty, education. We could go on forever.

Chiwetel, how did you balance what’s going on in the world with [Northup’s] reality?

Chiwetel Ejiofor That wasn’t the approach for me. I was trying to tell the story of Solomon Northup as he experienced his life. He didn’t know where all this was going. My journey started finishing a film in Nigeria. The last day, I went to the slave museum in Calabar, which was four or five rooms and some books, some interesting drawings of what they thought happened to people when the boats took them over. I left the following day and came to Louisiana. In my own way, I traveled that route.

Professor, your reaction to the film, its place in the contemporary discussion about slavery.

Eric Foner I believe this is a piece of history that everybody — black, white, Asian, everybody — has to know. You cannot understand the United States without knowing about the history of slavery. Having said that, I don’t think we should go too far in drawing parallels to the present. Slavery was a horrific institution, and it is not the same thing as stop and frisk. In a way, putting it back to slavery takes the burden off the present. The guys who are acting in ways that lead to inequality today are not like the plantation owner. They’re guys in three-piece suits. They’re bankers who are pushing African-Americans into subprime mortgages.

Kara, what are your thoughts on this?

Kara Walker There’s a uniquely American exuberance for violence or an exuberance for getting ahead in the world and making a name for themselves. I’m talking about the sort of plantation class that fought for the entrenchment of the slave system. That’s not something that can be overlooked when you think about the mythology of what it means to be an American, that one can become a self-made man if one is white and male and able.

Foner One of the things I liked about the movie and the way it portrayed violence, it’s pretty hard to take sometimes. But what it really highlights is the capriciousness of it. The owners, at one moment they’re trying to be pleasant, and the next moment they’re whipping you. You’re always kind of on this edge of not knowing. In fact slavery is like that at large. You don’t know when you’re going to be sold away from your family. People like to have some kind of stability in their life, but you can’t as a slave.

Servitude and Sexuality

There’s a lot of things to say about sex in the film, but one of the things that is going to leap out is Alfre Woodard’s character [Mistress Shaw, described in the book as the black wife of a white plantation owner].

McQueen In the book, she doesn’t say anything. I had a conversation with John Ridley, and I said: “Look, we need a scene with this woman. I want her to have tea.” It was very simple. Give her a voice.

Walker It’s not that it was that uncommon. That planter would be sort of the crazy one, the eccentric one, and she’s getting by.

Ejiofor It was against the law to marry, but it did happen.

Foner There were four million slaves in the U.S. in 1860 and several hundred thousand slave owners. It wasn’t just a homogeneous system. It had every kind of human variation you can imagine. There were black plantation owners in Louisiana, black slave owners.

Walker I was going to ask a question about a black woman who appears, a mysterious woman Solomon has sex with. She has sex with him, rather. I thought she was going to be a character in the film, and then she wasn’t.

McQueen Slaves are working all day. Their lives are owned, but those moments, they have to themselves. I just wanted a bit of tenderness — the idea of this woman reaching out for sexual healing in a way, to quote Marvin Gaye. She takes control of her own body. Then after she’s climaxed, she’s back where she was. She’s back in hell, and that’s when she turns and cries.

Solomon has a wife beforehand. In the film it seems as if he lived with Eliza [a fellow slave]. Then obviously [he has] some kind of relationship with Patsey, a friendship. But I wondered about Solomon’s own sexual expression.

Ejiofor His sexuality felt slightly more of a tangent. I think the real story is where sex is in terms of power.

Foner Remember, this book is one of the most remarkable first-person accounts of slavery. But it’s also a piece of propaganda. It’s written to persuade people that slavery needs to be abolished. He doesn’t say anything about sexual relations he may have had as a slave. There’s no place for such a discussion because of the purpose of the book.

Walker But in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” [by Harriet Ann Jacobs] and other slave narratives written by women, that’s always kind of the subtext, because there are children that are produced, relationships that are formed or allegiances that are formed with white men in order to have freedom.

Foner Harriet Jacobs was condemned by many people for revealing this, even antislavery people.

Walker Yes, but it’s always the subtext. Even “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It’s like, there’s little mulatto children, and that’s the evidence.

Unlike most American directors, you’re not cutting all over the place. You put the camera there, and you let us experience the moment that is part of the lore of America, the slave master raping the black female slave [Patsey].

McQueen I didn’t want people to get out of it. Within that you see his actual love for her in a way. Obviously, the love isn’t given back to him, and it’s a horrendous rape.

Walker Staying on that scene and coming back to Patsey over and over, she is abused and deteriorating and wanting to die. We don’t need to see that scene over and over again.

McQueen I have huge sympathy for Epps, though. He’s in love with this woman and he doesn’t understand it. Why is he in love with this slave? He goes about trying to destroy his love for her by destroying her. The madness starts.

A View From Abroad

One of the things that has come up in early response to the film is a question from some black folks in America about the perspective, the fact that you are both foreigners, as it were.

Walker It will never be right for the black folks in America, I’m sorry. You can say it’s a historical document ——

McQueen Can I jump in there, please? I am British. My parents are from Grenada. My mother was born in Trinidad. Grenada is where Malcolm X’s mother comes from. Stokely Carmichael is Trinidadian. We could go on and on. It’s about that diaspora.

Ejiofor When I was in Savannah, Ga., they were telling me how they used to have special chains for the Igbos [a Nigerian ethnic group]. I told the man, “I’m Igbo.” Not having any sense of the internationalism of this event is a bad thing. I loved the fact that there were people from different places coming together to tell this story.

McQueen The only thing you can say about it is: Why was this book lost in America?

Foner Obviously, it wasn’t a best seller. Maybe it will be now. But it’s widely known. It’s used all over the place in history courses. Along with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, this is probably the most widely read of what we call the slave narratives.

The Past in Hollywood’s Lens

Foner [To McQueen] I think it’s good that you are not a Hollywood director. Most Hollywood history is self-important in a way that this movie is not.

Walker The audience is intelligent. They could actually stand in Solomon’s shoes and go through the adventure together instead of the kind of voice-over Hollywood black Americana thing. That’s what I’m talking about with ownership. Over the years, you have this kind of heavy-handed style of narration. Cicely Tyson comes out with the makeup on and tells her story in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

Can I bring up those heavy-handed Hollywood movies, since we’re on that topic? “Lincoln” as well as, obviously, “Django.” It seems like in the last few years, there have been black historical dramas that have been made out of Hollywood. We can throw in “The Help,” “The Butler.” There’s one theory that this is all a reaction to Obama’s presidency.

Ejiofor There’s probably not one cause. I’d say that’s true for a couple of those movies. Obama gets elected. People think we haven’t done the Jackie Robinson story yet. And some of these stories are great stories. The received idea has been it doesn’t sell well. But you have a couple of movies do incredibly good business.

Walker But Obama also wrote his autobiography. I think that might be a part of it, not just that there’s a person in power, but that he’s a best-selling author, getting large portions of America — black, white and other — to become a part of his story.

Foner The daddy, I suppose, of all this was “Glory,” which came out in the late ‘80s. “Roots,” of course, comes before that. All of them suffer from what I see as the problem of Hollywood history. Even in this movie, there’s a tendency toward: You’ve got to have one hero or one figure. That’s why historians tend to be a little skeptical about Hollywood history, because you lose the sense of group or mass.

Ejiofor But that’s movies as well.

Walker I was going to disagree a little bit. I didn’t find him particularly heroic, in that Frederick Douglass sense. He’s a little bit more compromised by more than just slavery. There’s this past, what he does or doesn’t do for Patsey. All of that makes him a much more complicated figure in a way.

McQueen I don’t think we should underplay Obama’s presidency and the effect of these films coming to fruition. The problem is: When he’s not the president anymore, will these films still exist?

The Historical Moment

[To the filmmakers] There’s a lot of talk about awards for the film. Is that relevant to you?

Ejiofor I’m always nervous when people start talking about hype and heat. It’s a story about a man who went through something remarkable. I feel like that still deserves its own reflection.

McQueen I made this film because I wanted to visualize a time in history that hadn’t been visualized that way. I wanted to see the lash on someone’s back. I wanted to see the aftermath of that, psychological and physical. I feel sometimes people take slavery very lightly, to be honest. I hope it could be a starting point for them to delve into the history and somehow reflect on the position where they are now.

[To Walker and Foner] What are your feelings about the impact it will have on people?

Walker I’m a sponge for historical images of black people and black history on film. It doesn’t happen often enough, and it doesn’t happen artfully enough most of the time when it does happen. I came away with this really kind of awful sense that I didn’t want to leave. The texture of the film made me want to stay in this space that would not be hospitable to me. Thinking also about who would see the film, I think about my parents, in Georgia. I think about the theater where they will see the film. People will go to the mall to see one of those Tyler Perry films and action films. Would this film make it there, and if it did, would it translate? My hope was that this film would reach that audience down there and have that sort of complicated space open up for them that wasn’t just an easy laugh or an easy cry.

Foner I think this movie is much more real, to choose a word like that, than most of the history you see in the cinema. It gets you into the real world of slavery. That’s not easy to do. Also, there are little touches that are very revealing, like a flashback where a slave walks into a shop in Saratoga. Yes, absolutely, Southerners brought slaves into New York State. People went on vacation, and they brought a slave.

McQueen I think people are ready. With Trayvon Martin, voting rights, the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and a black president, I think there’s a sort of perfect storm of events. I think people actually want to reflect on that horrendous recent past in order to go forward.

Oscar Whisper Campaigns: The Slurs Against ’12 Years,’ ‘Captain Phillips,’ ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Butler’

Scott Feinberg

10/23/2013

THR’s awards analyst breaks down how this year’s top contenders are being targeted for accuracy — and how they’re fighting back.

How do you know it’s awards season in Hollywood? When people start trash-talking good movies! As this year’s race to the Dolby gets underway, here are five examples of how contenders are being targeted — and defended.

FILM: 12 Years a Slave

CRITICISM: The best picture frontrunner is always targeted, and this one is no exception. No one disputes its central facts — in mid-19th century America, a free black man from the north named Solomon Northup was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south — which were recounted in Northup’s autobiography and substantiated by historians. But an article in The New York Times on Sept. 22 dredged up and highlighted a 1985 essay by another scholar, James Olney, that questioned the « literal truth » of specific incidents in Northup’s account and suggested that David Wilson, the white « amanuensis » to whom Northup had dictated his story, had taken the liberty of sprucing it up to make it even more effective at rallying public opinion against slavery.

BACKLASH: Henry Louis Gates, one of America’s most well-known and respected scholars of black history and a co-editor of the 1985 compilation of essays in which Olney’s piece was included, served as a paid consultant on the film and spoke out in its defense after the Times article. « I know Northup’s narrative like the back of my hand and [the filmmakers] followed the text with great fidelity, » he told Mother Jones. « There’s no question about the historical accuracy. They did a wonderful job. »

FILM: Captain Phillips

CRITICISM: The New York Post ran a story on Oct. 13 with the headline « Crew Members: ‘Captain Phillips’ Is One Big Lie, » wherein it quoted several people who served under Richard Phillips on the cargo ship that he was captaining when it was hijacked — who were not named — ridiculing the film’s heroic portrayal of him. According to them, Phillips had a reputation for recklessness, disregarded warnings about piracy that could have prevented the incident and has since reframed the facts to make himself appear more heroic. The Post reported that crewmembers who cooperated with the film « were paid as little as $5,000 for their life rights by Sony and made to sign nondisclosure agreements — meaning they can never speak publicly about what really happened on that ship. »

BACKLASH: Many dismissed the Post story because it didn’t identify the crewmembers, who might be among the nine currently suing the cargo company for not better protecting them. Additionally, director Paul Greengrass wrote during a Reddit « Ask Me Anything » session that he and former 60 Minutes producer Michael Bronner, a colleague, « researched the background of the Maersk Alabama hijacking in exhausting detail over many months » and are « 100 percent satisfied that the picture we present of these events in the film … is authentic. I stand by the picture I give in the film, absolutely. » Phillips’ chief mate Shane Murphy also told a reporter emphatically, « The movie is accurate. »

FILM: Gravity

CRITICISM: Critics have cheered the drama for portraying space so convincingly, but some scientists have received it less kindly. On Oct. 6, noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson fact-checked it on Twitter in a series of 20 late-night tweets, pointing out, among other things, that satellites orbit Earth west to east so it’s strange that their debris orbited east to west; that the Hubble, the International Space Station and a Chinese Space Station are actually too far apart to be within sightlines of one another; and that, in zero-gravity conditions, a person would not drift away just because a tether is disconnected.

BACKLASH: On Oct. 10, Tyson posted a long note to Facebook remarking that he was « stunned » by the amount of media attention that his tweets received and stating, for the record, that he actually enjoyed the film. « For a film « to ‘earn’ the right to be criticized on a scientific level is a high compliment indeed, » he insisted, and he said that he regretted « not first tweeting the hundred things the movie got right. » Additionally, astronaut Buzz Aldrin wrote a guest column in the Oct. 11 issue of THR in which he asserted, « I was so extravagantly impressed by the portrayal of the reality of zero gravity. Going through the space station was done just the way that I’ve seen people do it in reality. » He acknowledged that the film was not devoid of scientific errors, but wrote that he was overall « very, very impressed » with it.

FILM: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

CRITICISM: The film revolves around one Cecil Gaines, a black man who worked in the White House under each president from Eisenhower to Reagan. The character is based on Eugene Allen, a black man who worked in the White House under each president from Truman through Reagan. In addition to that minor discrepancy, critics have highlighted the fact that the real man had one son, not two; that the son he had was neither killed in Vietnam, as one fictional son is, nor a radical member of the Black Panther party who later ran for elected office, as the other is; that he did not leave his job out of displeasure with Reagan’s Apartheid policy, but was actually particularly fond of the Reagans and just retired; and that there is no record of him ever meeting President Obama, although he did attend Obama’s first inauguration.

BACKLASH: The film advertises itself as being « inspired by true events, » not faithfully re-creating them, so those associated with it suggest that these creative liberties should be non-issues. To this end, the WGA has officially classified Danny Strong’s script as an original screenplay, not one adapted from Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article that it acknowledges in its credits, and The Weinstein Co. is pushing it for a best original screenplay Oscar nomination.

FILM: Saving Mr. Banks

CRITICISM: Critics of the drama about the making of Mary Poppins say that it presents a sanitized, whitewashed version of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks), noting that Disney’s movie studio, which financed and is distributing the film, would never associate itself with anything else. Disney was, in fact, not just a happy-go-lucky dreamer, but also a somewhat controversial figure: a hardcore right-winger who clashed bitterly with labor unions and whose views toward racial and religious minorities were not always admirable — facts that are, of course, not touched upon in Banks. According to Hanks, Disney wouldn’t even allow the filmmakers to show three-packs-a-day smoker Disney with a cigarette in his hands.

BACKLASH: The film has been wholeheartedly endorsed by composer Richard Sherman, who was one of only two songwriters ever under contract to Disney — the other was his late brother and collaborator Robert, with whom he co-wrote the score for Mary Poppins — and who knew Walt better than just about anyone who is alive today. It’s hard to imagine that he would so closely align himself with a film that misrepresented Disney’s essence.

In 12 Years a Slave, a broken Christianity

Valerie Elverton Dixon

Faithstreet

Religion ought to connect us.

The root of the word is ligare. It is the same root as the word ligature, the stuff that holds the skeleton together. At its best, religion helps us to see the spiritual ligature that connects us, and shows us that the notion that we are individual particles floating separate and apart in a beam of sunlight is a deception. We are tied together by the breath of life.

When religion rips, tears, breaks, fractures, it leaves our fragile humanity broken, dazed, confused, and dangerous. From this brokenness true horrors are born. One such abomination was the slave system in the United States depicted in the recently-released movie “12 Years a Slave.” This movie, based on a true story, follows Solomon Northup from his comfortable life as a free African American musician living with this wife and two children in New York state to a life in slavery after he is kidnapped in Washington, D.C. It is a powerful film that tells a powerful story that many people in the United Sates do not want to remember.

The movie shows us a fractured Christianity. People take their Bible in pieces. A slave owner uses a tiny fragment of Scripture to justify torture. An African American woman who has found favor with her master, who lives well with servants serving her, finds solace in the story of the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. She believes that God in God’s own time will deliver an epic punishment for the sin of slavery. Another fragment. Then there is the white itinerant worker who tells the slave owner that there is no justice in slavery, that there are laws that apply to all human beings equally.

Did the slave system break religion or did a broken religion allow the slave system?

In the movie we see how the songs of faith —Roll Jordan Roll— gave enslaved people the strength to endure the degradations of slavery. And those indignities were numerous: children sold away from parents causing ceaseless lamentation, the humiliation of losing sovereignty over one’s own body. Someone else can use your body for work, sex, revenge, physical and psychological torture, and the satisfaction of their own insane will-to-power.

We see the sad fact that oppression oppresses everyone—slave master, mistress, all classes and all races. Everyone is afraid.

Thomas Jefferson knew this to be true about slavery. In his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” he describes African Americans through the lens of white supremacy. His prediction on the possibility of the races ever living together in harmony in the United States is thoroughly pessimistic. However he is clear-eyed when he sees the harm slavery does to both master and slave. He writes: “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.” (Query XVIII) He writes further: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.”

The fear of such retribution has kept white supremacy in place all these years. The fear that if oppressed people ever get power that they will perpetrate the same oppression as was perpetrated against them forces people to continue living inside delusions of race, class, sex, sexual orientation. And we too often use religion as a justification for this fear.

I say: 12 Years a Slave is a difficult movie to watch, but an important movie to see. It is important to see so that we may knit together the various strands of our religious faith and let it bind us back to true human unity, back to our own humanity, back to justice and even to love.

Valerie Elverton Dixon is the founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.

Voir encore:

12 Years a Slave

What could any of us do, but pray for mercy?

Kenneth R. Morefield

Christianity today

October 18, 2013

I’d be skeptical of any review of 12 Years a Slave (which won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend and releases to theaters next month) that does not begin and end with « Lord, have mercy on us. » For all its technical merits, the film stands or falls as a moral argument: « Slavery is an evil that should befall no one, » says Bass, played by the film’s producer – Brad Pitt – in a small but crucial role.

12 Years a Slave makes plenty of assertions. Some are subtle; most are painfully simple. But all of them come in an immersive experience that operates from the inside out, that moves the viewer by engaging the whole person – body, mind, and soul.

The story is based on the narrative of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black citizen from New York who is kidnapped while on a trip to Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery. We’re meant to assume that he is drugged by his white performing partners.

When he awakes in a basement cell, the camera pans slowly upward to the Washington skyline, juxtaposing icons of freedom and democracy with the painful image of imprisonment and oppression. It is a forceful shot, perhaps the most on-the-nose of the film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if less sympathetic reviewers accuse McQueen of being too heavy handed.

Except how can one be too heavy handed about slavery? Isn’t part of our irritation because we want, need, and have come to expect our individual and corporate failures to be forgiven as soon as they are acknowledged and glossed over in safe abstractions and historical generalizations?

In many ways, Northrup, an educated free man, is the ideal avatar for the modern audience. He, like us, does not come to slavery naturally or easily. Also like us, he tries and fails to understand slavery, master its internal logic, and use his intelligence to do the right things in order to survive. Solomon frequently replies with some form of « just as instructed » when confronted by power, as though perfectly following instructions gives some modicum of protection in a world where nobody forces the rich and powerful to be fair and reasonable.

But what if there is no rhyme or reason, no logic, no right move to be played? How can someone find protection in being a perfect slave, when slavery itself is a series of irreconcilable orders and impossible commands? We all like to believe that we could transcend these circumstances, that the values and beliefs instilled in us could equip us to make the right decisions. But what about when one must always do more with less – with, for instance, a quota system that calls for whipping a man at the end of each day if he picks less than average? When the demands of a mistress and those of a master are in conflict, how can one please them both? What about when the choice is between picking up a lash or consigning others to the noose?

It’s also convenient to think that we would be like Bass, aware of the evils of slavery and willing to risk our own safety to confront it. But Bass acts out of a sense of duty, not personal goodness. In a scene that may resonate the most with modern audiences, Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) gives in to evil against his own inclination for the most prosaic of reasons – debt – and the film shines here, and throughout, when it illustrates and explores different kinds of bondage without undercutting the place of total enslavement in the hierarchy of evils.

Of course, we would all rather be in debt than enslaved. But perhaps by seeing how going against conscience chips away at our humanity (rather than simply blasting it to smithereens), we begin to understand how some of the conflicts faced by the characters are primal and eternal, not just political or of the moment. Because 12 Years a Slave frames its moral conundrums in these terms, it feels the most contemporarily relevant of all the depictions of slavery we see at the movies.

It seems important here to understand how the film depicts religion and, specifically, Christianity. McQueen often lets the sound or dialogue from one scene continue after the visuals have transferred to the next, and this device is used pointedly when the words of sermons given by Master Ford are superimposed onto the reality of the lives his slaves live. And Master Epps’s (Fassbinder) theology is openly repugnant to modern sensibilities—he uses the language of the Bible (« that’s scripture ») to insist that God has appointed the order of slave and master. After one brutal act of torture, he proclaims that « there is no sin, » since a man may do as he pleases with his property.

Yet the film is not simply and only anti-Christian. Certainly, Pitt’s character speaks and acts in moral terms. But more than that, 12 Years doesn’t shy away from showing the inexpressibly complicated relationship the slaves have with the God of their oppressors. Embittered by the hypocrisy and sanctimony of the slave-owners and angry at God’s seeming abandonment of him and his fellow slaves, Solomon often rages silently, as all his doubts and anger must be repressed.

Others are able to find solace in furtive expression of faith. One prays, « God love him; God bless him; God keep him » over a buried comrade. Even that moment comes with some bitterly cynical overtones: God keep him better than he kept him in this life.

Yet the film’s emotional zenith comes in a cathartic moment when Solomon participates in a spiritual. Ejiofor is able to convey so much in his vocal inflections: anger, despair, renewal, and, finally hope. Hope for what? Earlier he has said, « I don’t want to survive; I want to live. » The spiritual, I would argue, indicates that he can hope to survive until one day he will live again.

The other masterful scene in the film is Solomon’s farewell to Patsy, a fellow slave whom the film painfully but rightly never mentions again. The resolution to Solomon’s story is laced with pain, not triumph, as he comes to realize that with new life comes survivor’s guilt—and grief for all those still waiting to live again.

God have mercy on us all until they do.

Caveat Spectator

12 Years a Slave is rated R, as it should be. It contains multiple usages of painful language, depictions of lynching, murder, and torture. There is nudity and depictions of human sexuality. A major theme of the film is the dehumanizing effects of slavery. In presenting such a theme, it is often painful to watch, as it should be.

Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I & II, and the founder of 1More Film Blog.

Voir aussi:

The Realism Canard, Or: Why Fact-Checking Fiction Is Poisoning Criticism.

Isaac Butler

Parabasis

October 09, 2013

(UPDATE: Hello Dish readers and others who have been sent here from various corners of the internet. Welcome! This is Parabasis, a blog about culture and politics. I’m Isaac Butler, an erstwhile theater director and writer. I write most (but not all) of this site. You all might be particularly interested in The Fandom Issue, a special week-long series we did devoted to issues of fandom in popular culture.)

Every work of fictional narrative art takes place within its own world. That world may resemble our world. But it is never our world. It is always the world summoned into being in the gap between its creators and its audience.

Yet at the same time, the art we experience shapes our view of the world. As Oscar Wilde puts it in the Decay of Lying:

Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life. This results not merely from Life’s imitative instinct, but from the fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realise that energy. It is a theory that has never been put forward before, but it is extremely fruitful, and throws an entirely new light upon the history of Art.

Wilde discusses this in terms of appreciating sunsets through the lens of Turner; perhaps our modern day equivalent is juries being incapable of understanding that real world evidence gathering isn’t like CSI.

This odd tension– that narrative art creates its own world yet helps shape our view of ours– has given birth to (or at least popularity to) a new brand of criticism that measures a story against real life to point out all the ways that it is lacking. You’ve seen it before, right? « Five Things Parks & Rec gets right about small town budgeting bylaws. » Now with Gravity busting box office records, we’re getting astronauts and scientists telling us that there are many points where the film departs from real life. Entire critical careers are now founded on churning out « What X Gets Right/Wrong About Y » blog posts, posts that often completely ignore issues of aesthetics, construction, theme or effect to simply focus on whether in « real life » a given circumstance of a story would be possible.

In real life, people don’t talk the way they do in movies or television or (especially) books. Real locations aren’t styled, lit, or shot the way they are on screen. The basic conceits of point of view in literature actually make no sense and are in no way « realistic. » Realism isn’t verisimilitude. It’s a set of stylistic conventions that evolve over time, are socially agreed upon, and are hotly contested. The presence of these conventions is not a sign of quality. Departure from them is not a sign of quality’s absence.

The Realism Canard is the most depressing trend in criticism I have ever encountered. I would rather read thousands of posts of dismissive snark about my favorite books than read one more blog post about something that happened in a work of fiction wasn’t realistic or factually accurate to our world as we know it. Dismissive snark, after all, just reflects badly on whomever wrote it (at best) and (at worst) cheapens the work it is written about. The Realism Canard gradually cheapens art itself over time. It’s worse that the reduction of art to plot, or to « content. » Those can still form the basis of interesting conversations. Instead, we’re talking here not only about the complete misreading of what something is (fiction vs. nonfiction), but the holding of something to a standard it isn’t trying to attain and often isn’t interested in (absolute verisimilitude). We’re talking about the reduction of truth to accuracy. We’re talking about reducing the entire project of fiction so that we can, as Grover Norquist said of the Federal Government, get it to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub.

And I suspect on some level this is part of the point of the The Realism Canard. That art in its size and complexity is too much to handle sometimes, and too troubling. That even though we say fiction’s job is to take us out of ourselves, we don’t really want to be pushed. So we must take it down a peg, to a point where it is beneath us and thus can be put in its place. And the easiest way to do this is to cross check it against « real life » and find it lacking.

Take this piece about Breaking Bad in The New Inquiry. It has some interesting points to make about the show’s racial politics, but before it can get there it, it must shrink the show to manageable size by trying to come up with ways that its depiction of the drug trade isn’t « realistic, » landing on the show’s overemphasis on the purity of Walter’s meth. Set aside that the author’s critique of the show’s purity emphasis on realism grounds is wrong (purity matters because Walt is a wholesaler and the purer his product is the more that it can be stepped on by the people he sells it to), and set aside that the purity matters for character reasons (no one has ever been able to do what Walt figures out). The accuracy question with regard to Breaking Bad is a complete sideshow. Breaking Bad is not a work of realism. Its aesthetic and language is highly stylized, and its plotting is all clockwork determinism, as anyone who has watched the second season can attest. It’s not trying to exist in our world. It’s trying to exist in its world. You might as well criticize it for having a sky that’s yellower than ours.

I don’t mean to pick on that TNI piece, it just happened to be the latest one I’d read. At least it has something beyond factchecky questions to ask. Once you get through that bit, it’s well written and eye opening to some racial dynamics I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t fully considered. But still. The Realism Canard is a problem, and it’s everywhere (here’s another one from Neil deGrasse Tyson about Gravity) and I feel it spreading more than ever over the internet’s criticosphere.

Are there exceptions to this? Obviously. There are works where the idea that what you are watching is a fictional representation of things fairly close to our own world is part of the works’ value, whether it be « based on a true story » films like Zero Dark Thirty and The Fifth Estate or social issue (and agit prop) works like Won’t Back Down. And there are ways of discussing the differences between art and life that illuminate rather than reduce. That ask the question « what does it mean that they changed this thing about our world? » rather than assuming some kind of cheating or bad faith. Or ways that treat these differences not as a form of criticism, but rather a form of interesting trivia. Or, in the case of Mythbusters, edutainment.

There is also the issue of representational politics, particularly in light of what we know of narrative’s deep intertwining with the processes of stereotype formation in the brain. But I do not think it’s inconsistent to argue for diverse representations of the underrepresented– and more characters that are fully rounded– and the imaginative power of art.

What matters ultimately in a work of narrative is if the world and characters created feels true and complete enough for the work’s purposes. It does not matter, for example, that the social and economic structure of The Hunger Games makes absolutely no sense. What matters is whether or not the world works towards the purposes of the novel rather than undermining them. People praise August Wilson’s portrayal of poor and working class African American life in Pittsburgh, but many of his plays feature an off stage character who is over three hundred years old and has magic powers. One of them ends with a cat coming back from the dead.

The Wire’s « realism » and « accuracy » are both shouted from the rooftops, but, for all of its deeply known and felt and researched world-building, it abandons both when it needs to. There is no way that Hamsterdam would exist in present day Baltimore. It’s a thought experiment, an attempt to game out what drug legalization might be like. No one really cares, because it works within the confines of the show. Season 5’s fake serial killer plotline is not actually any more preposterous than Hamsterdam. But it doesn’t work largely because the shortened episode order left Simon et al without enough time to adequately set it up and the tonal shift in Season 5 to a more satirical, broadly-painted mode feels abrupt and off-putting. The problem, in other words, has nothing to do with whether it would really happen, or how journalism or policing really work. It’s about the world the show has created and its integrity.

Voir de même:

12 Years a Slave: the book behind the film

As Steve McQueen’s Oscar favourite 12 Years a Slave opens at cinemas, Sarah Churchwell returns to the 1853 memoir that inspired it – one of many narratives that exposed the brutal truth about slavery, too long ignored or sentimentalised by Hollywood

Sarah Churchwell

The Guardian

10 January 2014

In 1825 a fugitive slave named William Grimes wrote an autobiography in order to earn $500 to purchase freedom from his erstwhile master, who had discovered his whereabouts in Connecticut and was trying to remand Grimes back into slavery. At the end of his story the fugitive makes a memorable offer: « If it were not for the stripes on my back which were made while I was a slave, I would in my will, leave my skin a legacy to the government, desiring that it might be taken off and made into parchment, and then bind the constitution of glorious happy and free America. » Few literary images have more vividly evoked the hypocrisy of a nation that exalted freedom while legitimising slavery.

12 Years a Slave: A True Story of Betrayal, Kidnap and Slavery (Hesperus Classics)

by Solomon Northup

The Life of William Grimes was the first book-length autobiography by a fugitive American slave, in effect launching a new literary genre, the slave narrative. (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, published in 1789, is widely regarded as the first ever, but Equiano published his book in Britain.) Scholars have identified about 100 American slave narratives published between 1750 and 1865, with many more following after the end of the civil war. The most famous are those by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, but the release of a new film has stirred interest in the account of a man named Solomon Northup. His book, Twelve Years a Slave, one of the longest and most detailed slave narratives, was a bestseller when it appeared in 1853. Directed by Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, the film version, which opens in the UK today, has already been hailed as an Oscars front-runner.

This is something of an accomplishment for the first major Hollywood film to be inspired by a slave’s account of his own suffering. America’s vexed relationship with its legacy of slavery has always been reflected in its cinema; landmark films such as the virulently racist Birth of a Nation (1915), the first film ever screened at the White House, and the blockbuster apologia for slavery that was Gone With the Wind (1939), whitewashed in every sense popular images of institutionalised slavery. Slave narratives are the most powerful corrective we have to such distortions and evasions, firsthand accounts from some of the people who suffered the atrocities of slavery.

Gone with the Wind Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Feature

Unlike most authors of slave narratives, Northup was not a fugitive when he co-authored his book with a white man named David Wilson: he was a free man who had been kidnapped as an adult and sold into slavery. In 1841 the 33-year-old son of a former slave was living in upstate New York with his wife and children. He could read and write, was a skilled violinist, had done some farming and was working as a carpenter. One day he was approached by two white men who made him a generous financial offer to join a travelling music show. Without telling his wife or friends (thinking, he wrote, that he would be back before he was missed), Northup travelled to Washington DC with them, where he was drugged, had his free papers stolen, and awoke in chains on the floor of the notorious Williams Slave Pen (ironically now the site of the Air and Space Museum). Protesting that he was a free man, Northup was beaten nearly to death and warned that he would be killed if he ever spoke up again. He was a slave now, and had no rights. Describing his march through the nation’s capital in chains, Northup delivers an embittered denunciation in the same spirit as that of William Grimes: « So we passed, handcuffed and in silence, through the streets of Washington – through the capital of a nation, whose theory of government, we were told, rests on the foundation of man’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! Hail! Columbia, happy land, indeed! »

Taken to New Orleans, Northup was sold at auction, and sent to the plantations of Louisiana bayou country. For the next 12 years, along with several hundred other local slaves, Northup was beaten, whipped, starved, and forced to work six days a week (with three days off at Christmas, « the carnival season with the children of bondage »), for a series of increasingly venal masters. Only on Sundays were slaves permitted to work for themselves, earning a few pennies to purchase such necessities as eating utensils. (Good Christian slave-owners would whip a slave and pour salt into the wounds, but wouldn’t dream of breaking the sabbath.)

At first, Northup found himself in the comparatively benign hands of William Ford, a minister who never questioned the slave system he had inherited, but never abused his slaves either. But soon Ford was in financial difficulties, and sold Northup to the vicious John Tibeats, an irrational, violent man who nearly killed Northup more than once. After attempting to run away, and being passed to another merciless owner, Northup was sold to Edwin Epps, a drunken, sadistic bully, who ran the plantation where Northup would work until he was finally rescued.

Along the way Northup chronicles in some detail life on a plantation, cataloguing everything from the method for cultivating cotton and sugar cane to the proper handles for various axes. And he explains the penal system of torture and threat that all slaves endured. The barbarity of slave life was not limited to the large structural injustice of bondage: it also licensed masters to behave as unreasonably as they pleased. The daily unfairnesses that resulted were, in Northup’s telling, often the most intolerable aspect of slavery. Once Tibeats flew at Northup with an axe, threatening to cut off his head for using the wrong nails, although the nails had been given to Northup by the overseer. He tells of a young slave doing a task as instructed, then sent on another task, only to be whipped for not finishing the first, despite having been ordered to interrupt it. « Maddened at such injustice, » the young slave seized an axe and « literally chopped the overseer in pieces »; he continued to justify his action even as the rope was put around his neck.

12 YEARS A SLAVE Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

For female slaves, bondage often included another agony: rape. Rape is a theme in most slave narratives; the 1857 autobiography of William Anderson (comprehensively subtitled Twenty-four Years a Slave; Sold Eight Times! In Jail Sixty Times!! Whipped Three Hundred Times!!! or The Dark Deeds of American Slavery Revealed) goes further, addressing the incest that often ensued: the slave south, he writes, « is undoubtedly the worst place of incest and bigamy in the world ». Northup does not mention the endemic incest of slavery, but he does dwell on the torment of a fellow slave named Patsey, who was repeatedly raped by Epps. The narrative euphemises Epps’s assaults with conventionally acceptable phrases such as « lewd intentions ». But the implications are clear: « If she uttered a word in opposition to her master’s will, the lash was resorted to at once, to bring her to subjection. » Meanwhile Patsey was constantly attacked by her mistress, for « seducing » her husband. Northup tried to reason with Mrs Epps: « She being a slave, and subject entirely to her master’s will, he alone was answerable. » But Mrs Epps continued to persecute Patsey, resorting to such petty tyrannies as denying her soap. When Patsey ran to a neighbouring plantation to borrow some, Epps accused her of meeting a lover. He had her stripped naked, turned face down, tied hand and foot to four stakes, and whipped until she was flayed, at which point brine was poured upon her back. Patsey survived, but Northup writes that the ordeal broke her.

Eventually a Canadian named Bass came to Epps’s plantation and was heard voicing abolitionist sentiments, a dangerous heresy in the slaveholding south. Northup’s narrative stages a debate between Bass and Epps: Epps offers the standard justification for slavery, that black people were naturally bestial and ignorant, and thus deserved subjugation. Bass counters with the circular nature of this argument: « You’d whip one of them if caught reading a book, » Bass points out. « They are held in bondage, generation after generation, deprived of mental improvement, and who can expect them to possess much knowledge? … If they are baboons, or stand no higher in the scale of intelligence than such animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it … Talk about black skin, and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on this bayou as white as either of us? And what difference is there in the colour of the soul? Pshaw! The whole system is as absurd as it is cruel. »

This is one of the most surprising aspects of Northup’s narrative: its clarity about the workings of the « peculiar institution » as a system. Chattel slavery, Northup writes, « brutalised » master and slave alike; this is why slave-owners behaved so monstrously, even against their best financial interests (a dead slave, after all, was lost money). Surrounded by appalling human suffering on a daily basis, slave-owners became inured and desensitised to it, « brutified and reckless of human life ». Northup goes further, declaring: « It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. » In the same spirit, he repeatedly insists that not all slave-owners were depraved, defending William Ford and others he encountered. These people were not inherently evil; rather, « the influence of the iniquitous system necessarily fosters an unfeeling and cruel spirit ». Equally modern is the book’s cogency about the madness of a race-based slavery in which so-called « black » slaves could in fact be lighter skinned than their owners. Northup pointedly describes one slave, who was « far whiter than her owner, or any of his offspring. It required a close inspection to distinguish in her features the slightest trace of African blood. »

It was Bass who came to Northup’s aid, risking his own life to get a letter to Northup’s family and friends in New York. They took the letter to a white man named Henry Northup, a relative of the man who had owned and freed Solomon’s father. Henry Northup travelled to Louisiana in early 1853, where he was assisted by the local authorities, who offered their support on the basis that the whole slave system depended on the « good faith » of distinguishing between free men and slaves. This is one way of putting it, although there was not much good faith evident in chattel slavery. A far more likely explanation relates back to the fact that many slaves had white skin: it was in the best interests of any free person in a slave country to protect the rights of other free people. Solomon Northup was liberated, and the two Northup men (sharing a name only by virtue of the system they were engaged in fighting), travelled together to Washington DC, where they tracked down the men who had sold Solomon into slavery and brought them to trial.

The defence offered by the slave-traders comes as a shock to the reader: they argued that Solomon Northup had voluntarily sold himself into slavery. As defences go, this may not sound convincing, but the argument was actually that Northup had agreed to engage in a scam with his « kidnappers »: they would sell Northup into slavery, secure his release with his free papers, and then divide the proceeds. The case was never argued in the nation’s capital, however: Northup was unable to testify in court because he was black.

The trial made it into the newspapers, fanning the flames of a heated national debate about the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Designed to mediate between the demands of slaveholders and the rights recognised by free states in the struggle over the status of runaway slaves, the law criminalised helping runaways and declared that if a person were accused of being a fugitive slave, an affidavit by the claimant was sufficient to establish title. Those identified as fugitive slaves had no right to a jury trial and could not testify on their own behalf, which unsurprisingly led to a great surge in the number of free black people who were conscripted into slavery. Like Solomon Northup, they could not testify in their own defence.

Beloved Kimberly Elise, Oprah Winfrey and Thandie Newton in Beloved.

The blatant injustice of the new law, and the widespread feeling that slave states’ rights had trumped those of free states, led to a great outcry. For the next decade, the papers were filled with stories such as that of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who in 1856 murdered her baby rather than see it forced into slavery (the true story that inspired Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved). When Garner was brought to trial, abolitionists used the case to argue that the Fugitive Slave Law was not only unconstitutional; it was so twisted that it had driven a mother to murder her own child in order to save it from « the seething hell of American slavery ». But the law was clear: Garner and her family were returned to slavery. The presiding commissioner ruled that « it was not a question of feeling to be decided by the chance current of his sympathies; the law of Kentucky and of the United States made it a question of property ».

Reading countless such stories in the newspapers, an abolitionist teacher named Harriet Beecher Stowe began writing a novel, which she based in part on an 1849 slave narrative called The Life of Josiah Henson. In June 1851 the first instalment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in the Nationalist Era, an abolitionist magazine. Readers were gripped, and when the book was published in 1852 its sales were spectacular: 20,000 copies were sold in the first three weeks, 75,000 in the first three months; 305,000 in the first year. By 1857 Uncle Tom’s Cabin was still selling 1,000 copies a week, and during the civil war the (probably apocryphal) story circulated that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe he greeted her by saying, « So this is the little lady who started this great war. »

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was calculated to appeal to the conflicted emotions of 19th-century Americans, making them feel the suffering and injustice of slavery, rather than offering philosophical or legal arguments against it. Stowe uses the techniques of sentimental fiction to show the devastating effects of slavery on family life, charging that it is the Christian duty of every good woman in the nation to fight against it. In one key chapter, a senator’s wife, « a timid, blushing little woman », challenges her husband explicitly on the Fugitive Slave Law, informing him that it’s « downright cruel and unchristian » and chastising him for his support of it: « You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It’s a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I’ll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance … I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow. » It was a brilliantly effective strategy, cutting across the divided heart of antebellum America and persuading white Christians across the country to join the abolitionist cause.

Unsurprisingly, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was excoriated in the south as malicious propaganda; slavery advocates argued that theirs was a benign, paternalistic system. No one had ever heard of such viciousness as that shown, for example, by Stowe’s villain, the cruel Simon Legree, who owns a cotton plantation in the Red River region of Louisiana. Determined to vindicate her depiction of American slavery, Stowe published A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853, in which she listed a number of documentary sources that corroborated her account. One slave she contacted was the runaway Harriet Jacobs, who had been giving abolitionist speeches in the north-east; instead of letting Stowe tell her story, Jacobs decided to write her own, which was published in 1861 as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. An account that Stowe did use in her Key was the story of Northup, which she had read about in the New York Times, and whose experience on a plantation near the Red River closely resembled her portrait of life on Legree’s fictional plantation.

That same year, Northup and David Wilson, a white lawyer and aspiring author, published Twelve Years a Slave, which was dedicated to Stowe and marketed as « another Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin ». It was a huge success, selling 30,000 copies in its first two years, three times as many as had The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass when it appeared in 1845. Several more editions followed, and the press continued to cover the story of Northup’s ultimately fruitless efforts to prosecute the men who had kidnapped him. Meanwhile, he may have been working with the Underground Railroad to help fugitive slaves escape to Canada, and began travelling around the north-east making speeches in support of abolition. He was also involved in several theatre productions based on his book, but none were successful.

Over the years, Northup’s book fell into obscurity; when slave narratives began to enter the American curriculum in the 1980s, they were generally represented by those of Douglass and Jacobs, which are both self-authored and stylistically superior to Northup’s ghost-written account. There is some irony to this latter point, as both Jacobs and Douglass were initially accused of being incapable of writing such fine books, an assumption that owed something to racism but more to the denial of literacy to American slaves. As Henry Louis Gates Jr, an expert on slave narratives and consultant on the film 12 Years a Slave, has noted, literacy « was the very commodity that separated animal from human being, slave from citizen ». Douglass writes in My Bondage of the moment when, having learned to read, he realised that his illiteracy was itself « the bloody whip, for my back, and here was the iron chain; and my good, kind master, he was the author of my situation ». With literacy Douglass « now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty – to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man … From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. »

Slave-owners understood this, too, and responded savagely to any slave’s attempts to learn to read or write; a common punishment was amputation. As a result, literacy among slaves was very low and most fugitive slaves relied on white « amanuenses » to record their stories for them. Even the few who could write were still edited or endorsed by white abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison or Lydia Maria Child, a patronage system that offered insufficient challenge to the pro-slavery argument that slaves were incapable of learning. When slave narratives were rediscovered in the 20th century, the fact that most had been ghosted or edited by white people once again raised the question of their authenticity: many historians repeated the century-old charge that the narratives were exaggerated or fabricated by abolitionists. Unfortunately, much of the US coverage of McQueen’s film has rehearsed these invidious questions, but the underlying truths of the atrocities of slavery are beyond dispute, and not altered by the fact that any narrative is, by definition, constructed.

In the case of Northup, his account was verified by the historian who recovered his story, a woman named Sue Eakin. Twelve years old when she discovered a copy of Northup’s narrative in a local plantation in 1930, Eakin was intrigued to find it described the area in which she lived. Six years later, as a student at Louisiana State University, she found a copy of the book in a local bookstore. The owner sold it to her for 25 cents, telling her it was worthless: « There ain’t nothing to that old book. Pure fiction. » Eakin would devote her life, she later said, to proving him wrong.

Eakin set about discovering everything she could about Northup’s life, tracking down its details, using the legal and financial records of the men who owned him to corroborate his account of his enslavement. (Northup himself quotes more than once from such records: « The deed of myself from Freeman to Ford, as I ascertained from the public records in New-Orleans on my return, was dated June 23d 1841. »)

Unlike many slave narratives, Northup’s named names: the people who mistreated him were still alive, and their own records substantiate the facts of his story. Eakin died in 2009; three years later amateur historian David Fiske published Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery. Between them, Eakin and Fiske established that Northup played a significant role in his book’s composition, working closely with Wilson over the three months they wrote it. Fiske even found reports of corroboration made by Edwin Epps himself, from union soldiers who met him in Louisiana during the civil war: « Old Mr Epps yet lives, and told us that a greater part of the book was truth, » they reported in 1866.

In her extensive notes to Twelve Years a Slave, Eakin adds some fascinating details to Northup’s story. He alludes early in his narrative to habits of « shiftlessness and extravagance » into which he had fallen before his capture; Eakin remarks that such habits might help explain the court records showing he was convicted of three incidences of assault, as well as arrests for public drunkenness. His capricious decision to accompany his kidnappers to Washington also seems characteristic, and Eakin even hints that the conspiracy theory of Northup’s abduction may not have been entirely implausible. She was unable to ascertain what happened to Northup after 1863; there were rumours that he was kidnapped again, or murdered, but Fiske found evidence that Northup was in Vermont in the 1860s, and reports that his lectures may have become viewed as a local nuisance. Northup may have « given up, resorted to drink, and sunk below the surface ». Or perhaps he lit out like Huck Finn for the territory of the west.

These less than hagiographic details have not made their way into McQueen’s film, and given that it was produced as a corrective to a century of Hollywood sentimentalising and glorifying slavery, this is neither surprising nor objectionable. It seems McQueen also underplayed Northup’s insistence that not all his owners were cruel – again this is understandable, especially given that Northup’s protestations may have been designed to placate white readers. But slaves don’t have to be saints or their masters monsters in order for slavery to be an atrocity: our stories will remain trapped in simplistic pieties until we can admit that a man could be a rogue and still have been martyred by a barbaric system in a land that has yet to accept the terms of William Grimes’s offer, and admit how bound its constitution is by the flayed skin of its victims.

• Steve McQueen’s film is on general release.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch

based on the 1853 autobiography ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ by Solomon Northup

This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture. I doubt not hundreds have been as unfortunate as myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and are at this moment wearing out their lives on plantations… -Solomon Northup, 1853, Twelve Years a Slave

Questioning the Story:

During what years was Solomon Northup a slave?

Like in the movie, the real Solomon Northup was tricked and sold into slavery in 1841 and did not regain his freedom until January 3, 1853.

Was Solomon Northup married with two children?

In researching the 12 Years a Slave true story, we discovered that Solomon Northup married Anne Hampton on Christmas Day, 1828. Unlike the movie, they had three children together, not two. Their daughter Margaret and son Alonzo are portrayed in the movie, while their other child, Elizabeth, was omitted. At the time of the kidnapping, Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo were 10, 8 and 5, respectively.

Solomon Northup with Wife Anne and Children

Left: From back to front, actors Kelsey Scott, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Quvenzhané Wallis and Cameron Zeigler portray the Northup family in the movie. Right: Solomon Northup is reunited with his wife and children at the end of his 1853 memoir.

While enslaved, did Solomon Northup pleasure a woman he discovered was in bed with him?

No, the flash-forward scene that unfolds early in the 12 Years a Slave movie is entirely fictitious and was created by director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley. « I just wanted a bit of tenderness—the idea of this woman reaching out for sexual healing in a way, to quote Marvin Gaye. She takes control of her own body. Then after she’s climaxed, she’s back where she was. She’s back in hell, and that’s when she turns and cries. »

Did Solomon Northup really play the violin?

Yes. During our investigation into the 12 Years a Slave true story, we learned that Solomon began playing the violin during the leisure hours of his youth, after he finished his main duty of helping his father on the farm. In his memoir, he calls the violin « the ruling passion of my youth, » going on to say, « It has also been the source of consolation since, affording pleasure to the simple beings with whom my lot was cast, and beguiling my own thoughts, for many hours, from the painful contemplation of my fate. »

Did two men really trick Solomon into going to Washington, D.C. with them?

Yes. Solomon met the two men in the village of Saratoga Springs, New York. The men had heard that Solomon was an « expert player of the violin ». They identified themselves using fake names and told him that they were part of a circus company that was looking for someone with his precise musical talent. The two men, later identified as Joseph Russell and Alexander Merrill, asked Solomon to accompany them on a short journey to New York City and to participate with them in performances along the way. They only delivered one performance to a sparse crowd, and it consisted of Russell and Merrill performing somewhat elementary feats like tossing balls, frying pancakes in a hat, ventriloquism and causing invisible pigs to squeal.

Once in New York City, Russell and Merrill encouraged Solomon to go to Washington, D.C. with them, reasoning that the circus would pay him high wages, and since it was the summer season, the troupe would be traveling back north anyway.

Did Solomon’s kidnappers really drug him?

As he indicated in his autobiography, the real Solomon Northup is not positive that he was in fact drugged, however, he remembers various clues that led him to that conclusion. He had spent the day with Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell making stops at a number of saloons in Washington, D.C. They were observing the festivities that were part of the great funeral procession of General Harrison. At the saloons, the two men would serve themselves, and they would then pour a glass and hand it to Solomon. As he states in his memoir, he did not become intoxicated.

By late afternoon, he fell ill with a severe headache and nausea. His sickness progressed until he was insensible by evening. He was unable to sleep and was stricken with severe thirst. He recalls several people entering the room where he had been staying. They told him that he needed to come with them to see a physician. Shortly after leaving his room and heading into the streets, his memory escapes him and the next thing he remembers is waking up handcuffed and chained to the floor of the Williams Slave Pen in Washington, D.C.

Solomon Northup Washington Slave Pen

Left: Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wakes up handcuffed and chained to the floor of a Washington, D.C. slave pen in the movie. Right: An 1860s photograph of a real Alexandria, Virginia slave pen.

Why didn’t Solomon tell anyone that he was a free man?

Shortly after his kidnapping, Solomon did try to tell the slave dealer James H. Birch (spelled « Burch » in the book and movie) that he was a free man. Like in the movie, he also told Birch where he was from and asked Birch to remove the irons that were shackling him. The slave dealer refused and instead called upon another man, Ebenezer Rodbury, to help hold Solomon down by his wrists. To suppress Solomon’s claims of being a free man, Birch whipped him with a paddle until it broke and then with a cat-o’-nine tails, delivering a severe number of lashes. Solomon addresses the lashings in his memoir, « Even now the flesh crawls upon my bones, as I recall the scene. I was all on fire. My sufferings I can compare to nothing else than the burning agonies of hell! » Following the lashings, Birch told Solomon that he would kill him if he told anyone else that he was a free man.

Below is a picture of Birch’s slave pen in Alexandria, Virginia, circa 1865. It had been used to house slaves being shipped from Northern Virginia to Louisiana. The building still stands today and is currently home to the offices of the Northern Virginia Urban League. It should be noted again that this is not the D.C. slave pen where Solomon was held. Solomon was held at the Williams Slave Pen (aka The Yellow House), which was the most notorious slave pen in the capital. The Williams Slave Penn was located at roughly 800 Independence Avenue SW, one block from the Capitol, and is now the site of the headquarters of the Federal Aviation Administration.

James H. Birch

Left: The real James H. Birch’s slave pen in Alexandria, Virginia, circa 1865. Right: Actor Christopher Berry portrays slave dealer Birch (spelled « Burch » in the movie).

Did a sailor really murder one of the slaves on the ship?

No. The real Solomon Northup did come up with a plan to take over the brig Orleans along with two other slaves, Arthur and Robert. However, unlike what happens in the film, Robert did not die after being stabbed when he came to the defense of Eliza, who in the movie is on the verge of being raped by a sailor. Instead, Robert died from smallpox and the plan to take over the ship was scrapped.

Was Solomon Northup’s name really changed?

Yes. Evidence discovered while researching the true story behind 12 Years a Slave confirmed that Solomon Northup’s name was in fact changed to Platt Hamilton. An official record of the name appears on the April 1841 manifest of the brig Orleans, the ship that carried Northup southward from the Port of Richmond, Virginia to the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana. The portion of the ship’s manifest that displays the name « Platt Hamilton » is pictured below. -Ancestry.com

Brig Orleans Manifest

Solomon Northup’s slave name Platt Hamilton appears on the April 1841 ship manifest of the brig Orleans, supporting his story.

Is William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) accurately portrayed in the movie?

No. The movie paints William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a hypocrite, contradicting his Christian sermons by overlaying them with his slave Eliza’s agonizing screams. In his memoir, Solomon Northup offers the utmost words of kindness for his former master, stating that « there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. » Northup blames William Ford’s circumstances and upbringing for his involvement in slavery, « The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery. » He calls the real William Ford a « model master », going on to write, « Were all men such as he, Slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness. »

Did Northup really get into a scuffle with Tibeats over a set of nails?

Yes. Like in the movie, the scuffle over the nails resulted in a carpenter named John M. Tibeats trying to whip Northup, but Northup fended off the attack, grabbed the whip, and began to strike his attacker. Afterward, Tibeats fetched two overseers that he knew on neighboring plantations. The men bound Northup and put a noose around his neck. They led him out to a tree where they were going to hang him, but were stopped and chased off by Mr. Chapin, a just overseer who worked for William Ford. When Ford returned from a trip later that day, he personally cut the cord from Northup’s wrists, arms, and ankles, and he slipped the noose from Northup’s neck.

Not depicted in the movie, the 12 Years a Slave true story brings to light a second scuffle that Northup got into with Tibeats while Ford and Chapin were away, resulting in Tibeats chasing Northup with an axe. Fearing impending retaliation from Tibeats, that time he ran away. However, Northup returned to the plantation after being unable to survive on his own in the harshness of the surrounding swamps. Even though he was forgiven by Ford, the plantation owner decided to sell Northup in part to prevent any more feuds with Tibeats. To Northup’s misfortune, he ended up being bought by a much crueler master, Edwin Epps.

Was Edwin Epps really as cruel as the movie portrays?

Yes. In fact, the real Edwin Epps was crueler than actor Michael Fassbender portrays him to be in the movie. In addition to Edwin Epps being overcome by « dancing moods », where he would force the exhausted slaves to dance, in real life, Epps also had his « whipping moods ». Epps usually found himself in a « whipping mood » when he was drunk. He would drive the slaves around the yard and whip them for fun.

Edwin Epps House

The real Edwin Epps house (left) prior to its restoration and relocation. The single story Louisiana cottage was less grand than the house shown in the movie. Northup helped to build the home for Epps’ family.

Did Edwin Epps really obsess over his female slave Patsey?

Yes, but the movie puts more focus on Edwin Epps’s alternating passion for and disgust with Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) than Northup’s memoir. In his book, the real Solomon Northup refers to Epps’s « lewd intentions » toward Patsey, especially when he was intoxicated.

Did Edwin Epps really chase after Solomon with a knife?

Yes. In the movie, after Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) fetches Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), he tells her not to look in Epps direction and to continue on walking. Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who was half intoxicated and contemplating satisfying his lewd intentions toward Patsey, demands to know exactly what Solomon said to Patsey. When Solomon refuses to tell him, he chases after Solomon with a knife, eventually tripping over the fence of a pig pen. In the book, he does chase after Solomon with a knife, but there is no mention of him tripping over the fence.

Did Mistress Epps really encourage her husband to whip Patsey?

Yes. Despite Patsey having a remarkable gift for picking cotton quickly, she was one of the most severely beaten slaves. This was mainly due to Mistress Epps encouraging her husband Edwin to whip Patsey because, as Northup writes, Patsey had become the « slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress. » Northup goes on to describe her as the « enslaved victim of lust and hate », with nothing delighting Mistress Epps more than seeing Patsey suffer. Northup states that it was not uncommon for Mistress Epps to hurl a broken bottle or billet of wood at Patsey’s face.

As portrayed in the 12 Years a Slave movie, in his book Northup describes one of the whippings that Patsey received as being « the most cruel whipping that ever I was doomed to witness—one I can never recall with any other emotion than that of horror ». It was during this whipping that Epps forced Northup to deliver the lashings. After Northup pleaded and reluctantly whipped Patsey more than forty times, he threw down the whip and refused to go any further. It was then that Epps picked up the whip and applied it with « ten-fold » greater force than Northup had.

Edwin Epps and Patsey

Left: Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) pleads with her master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Right: A drawing in Northup’s 1853 memoir depicts the « staking out and flogging » of Patsey, who can be seen on the ground. Epps is shown directing Solomon to continue the lashings after Solomon throws down the whip and refuses.

Did Patsey really beg Solomon to end her life?

No. This pivotal, emotionally-charged scene is perhaps the movie’s biggest blunder with regard to the true story. It was most likely unintentional and is the result of the filmmakers misreading a line in Northup’s autobiography. In the book, Northup is discussing the suffering of Patsey, who was lusted for by her master and hated by his jealous wife.

« Nothing delighted the mistress so much as to see [Patsey] suffer, and more than once, when Epps had refused to sell her, has she tempted me with bribes to put her secretly to death, and bury her body in some lonely place in the margin of the swamp. Gladly would Patsey have appeased this unforgiving spirit, if it had been in her power, but not like Joseph, dared she escape from Master Epps, leaving her garment in his hand. »

It is rather obvious that it is Mistress Epps who wants to bribe Northup to kill Patsey. Patsey wants to escape like Joseph, not kill herself. It seems that the filmmakers misread the line, attributing Mistress Epps’ wishes to Patsey. It is a little discouraging to realize that this crucial scene was likely the result of a misunderstood antecedent. -TheAtlantic.com

Did Patsey and Mistress Shaw really talk over tea?

No. In the movie, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard), the black wife of a plantation owner, have a conversation over tea. This scene was invented for the film. Director Steve McQueen wanted to give Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard) a voice.

Did Armsby betray Northup by letting Epps know about Northup’s letter to his friends in New York?

Yes. In his memoir, Northup describes Armsby as a man who came to the plantation looking to fill the position of overseer but was reduced to labor with the slaves. In an effort to better his role on the plantation, he divulged Northup’s secret to Edwin Epps. When Epps confronted Northup, he denied ever writing the letter and Epps believed him.

Although it is not shown in the movie, this was not the first time that Solomon Northup tried to have someone help him send a letter home. When he was on the ship that brought him south, a sailor helped him mail a letter he’d written. That letter actually made it home to New York and was obtained by attorney Henry B. Northup, a relative of Solomon’s father’s former master. Since Solomon was not yet aware of his final destination, he could not provide a location in the letter. Officials in New York told Henry that no action would be taken until they knew where to look for Solomon.

Was Brad Pitt’s character, Samuel Bass, based on a real person?

Yes. Samuel Bass’s portrayal in the 12 Years a Slave movie is very accurate to how Northup describes him in the book, including his argument with Edwin Epps. Much of what Bass (Brad Pitt) says during that scene is taken almost verbatim from the book, « …but begging the law’s pardon, it lies. … There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet—yes, Epps, there’s a day coming that will burn as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s a coming as sure as the Lord is just. »

Did the real Samuel Bass help to free Northup?

Yes. Like in the movie, Samuel Bass, who also appears in Northup’s autobiography, was influential in Northup’s release. As the movie indicates, Samuel Bass was a Canadian who was in Louisiana doing carpentry work for Northup’s owner, Edwin Epps. Northup began assisting Bass and eventually decided to confide in him after he learned that Bass was against slavery. After Solomon shared his story of being tricked and kidnapped into slavery, Samuel Bass became determined to help him, even vowing to travel to New York himself. Bass wrote letters on Solomon’s behalf to various individuals back in New York. The first of these letters ended up being the one that set in motion the events that led to Solomon’s release from slavery in early 1853. -Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave

Henry B. Northup

Attorney Henry B. Northup, a relative of Solomon’s father’s former master, rescued Solomon from slavery.

Who was responsible for Solomon Northup’s release?

The letters written by Samuel Bass that were sent to New York eventually caught the attention of New York Whig attorney Henry B. Northup, who was a relative of Solomon’s father’s former master. Henry was a part of the family that took in Solomon’s father Mintus after he was freed.

Realizing the injustice, Henry made the long journey south to Louisiana and successfully brokered a deal for Solomon’s release. After he rescued Solomon, he returned home with him and fought to bring Solomon’s kidnappers to justice. Henry was also instrumental in securing a publisher for the memoir that would tell Solomon’s story, and in finding the ghost writer, David Wilson, who lived within five miles of Henry’s home. Henry hoped that the book would alert the public to his case against Solomon’s two kidnappers.

Were Solomon Northup’s parents slaves?

Our exploration into the true story behind 12 Years a Slave brought to light the fact that Solomon’s father Mintus Northup was a former slave who had been emancipated in approximately 1798. His mother had never been a slave. She was a mulatto and was three quarters white (her name is never mentioned in the book). Solomon was therefore born a free man in 1807, at a time when slavery still existed in New York. Solomon’s father had been a slave to Capt. Henry Northup, a Loyalist who freed Mintus around 1798 as part of a provision in his will. Mintus took his master’s surname.

What happened to Solomon Northup after he was freed?

Ghost Writer David Wilson

With input from Northup, ghost writer David Wilson, an attorney and great orator, wrote the memoir.

Upon his return home to Saratoga Springs, New York, Northup shared his story and gave interviews to the local press. His story became well known in the North and he started to speak at abolitionist rallies. An 1855 New York State Census confirms that he had indeed returned to his wife Anne, as the two were together again. He also lists himself as a land owner and a carpenter.

In the hands of a ghost writer by the name of David Wilson (pictured), Northup started to provide input for his book. It was published around the middle of July, 1853, after just three and a half months of research, writing, and interviews by the white ghost writer Wilson, who was himself a prominent New York lawyer and author of two books about local history. Henry Northup, the attorney who helped to free Solomon, also contributed to the production of the book and encouraged its speedy publication in an effort to garner public interest in bringing Northup’s kidnappers to trial.

Were Solomon Northup’s kidnappers ever brought to justice?

No. With the help of public interest in Northup, partially as the result of his book, attorney Henry Northup set his sights on two men, Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell, who were believed to have played pivotal roles in the kidnapping. The two men were arrested but never convicted. Disagreements over where the case should be tried, New York or the District of Columbia, led to the decision over jurisdiction to be sent to the New York Supreme Court and then to the New York Court of Appeals. This was after three of the four counts against the two men had already been dropped since it was determined that these counts originated in Washington, D.C., not the state of New York.

During this time, the men in custody applied for release. Joseph Russell’s bail was nominal and Alexander Merrill’s bail was set at $800. The New York Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower courts, citing that the indictment legally could not be split, with one count being valid while the other three were ruled invalid due to issues over jurisdiction. In May of 1857, the case was discharged and the two men were never brought to trial. -Twelve Years a Slave – Dr. Sue Eakin Edition

When and how did Solomon Northup die?

The last known details about Solomon Northup’s life are mostly speculative and no one is certain of his exact fate. It is believed that he might have been involved with the Underground Railroad up until the start of the American Civil War. There are also reports of angry mobs disrupting speeches that he gave at abolitionist rallies. This includes speeches that he was giving in Canada in the summer of 1857. Some believe that this could have led to him being murdered, while others have conjectured that it’s possible he was kidnapped again, or that his two former kidnappers who had been on trial went looking for Northup and killed him. Certain members of his family have passed down the story that he had been killed in Mississippi in 1864, but there is no evidence to support that claim. An 1875 New York State Census lists his wife Anne’s marital status as « Widowed ». No grave of Solomon Northup has ever been found. -Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave

Is it possible that Solomon Northup planned his kidnapping with the two men in order to split the profits?

Though the idea might seem far-fetched, there has always been some conjecture that Solomon Northup was a willing accomplice to his kidnappers, Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell. The theory was that Northup planned to split with Merrill and Russell the profits from being sold into slavery after he would either escape or have Merrill and Russell subsequently arrange for him to be freed. In a response to reader inquiries, a newspaper column that appeared in The Saratoga Press at the time goes as far as to raise the possibility that the case against Merrill and Russell was thrown out for such reasons.

« We would answer by saying that since the indictment was found, the District Attorney was placed in possession of facts that whilst proving their guilt in a measure, would prevent a conviction. To speak more plainly, it is more than suspected that Sol Northup was an accomplice in the sale, calculating to slip away and share the spoils, but that the purchaser was too sharp for him, and instead of getting the cash, he got something else. »

According to the testimony of John S. Enos, Alexander Merrill had attempted this scenario earlier in his kidnapping career. Yet, with regard to Northup, no evidence was ever found to prove that he was involved in his own kidnapping and the events chronicled in his book Twelve Years a Slave have been widely accepted as being none other than the true story. -Twelve Years a Slave – Dr. Sue Eakin Edition

Voir aussi:

ADDITIONAL HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

by historian David Fiske

David Fiske’s interest in Solomon Northup began in the 1990s, when he visited the Old Fort House Museum in Fort Edward, New York. This house is possibly the only structure still standing in which Northup resided. An exhibit at the museum mentioned Northup’s book, Twelve Years a Slave, and Fiske became curious and slowly began researching N orthup’s life after his rescue. He recently worked with several other researchers, Professor Clifford Brown and Rachel Seligman to write a full biography of Northup: Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave.

Q: Solomon Northup was not the only free black pers on who was kidnapped and sold as a slave – can you talk about how much of a problem kidnapping was before the Civil War and if black people in the North were aware of the threat of bei ng kidnapped? Blacks (both free persons and slaves) were kidnappe d and sold as slaves even in colonial times. The despicable practice was carried on with greater fre quency after 1808, the year that the federal government banned the importation of slaves. Slaves could no longer be brought into the U.S. from other countries–a very good thing–but there was an unfortunate side-effect. The supply of additional slave labor (much desired by plantation owners in t he South) was reduced, causing the value of slaves to rise–which made it very profitable for criminals to kidnap black people and transport them to a sla ve market where they could be sold. Slave traders, anx ious to acquire slaves to send to the South, probably did not ask questions about where these bl ack people had come from. In New York State, the law recognized that kidnappi ng could be accomplished by trickery, because the statute against kidnapping included an old word “in veigling,” which meant the same thing. The law further provided that those accused of kidnapping c ould not argue as a defense that their victims had left with them willingly. Citizens in the northern states, including blacks, had some idea of the possibility of black people be ing lured away and sold as slaves. An acquaintance of S olomon Northup, Norman Prindle, claimed, after Northup’s return to the North, that back in 1841 he had warned Northup that the men he met in Saratoga might have other plans for him once they g ot him south. However, Northup either trusted the men or was so much in need of money that he decided to take the risk.

Q: What did Solomon Northup do after he was rescued from slavery? Northup was reunited with his family (who had reloc ated from Saratoga to Glens Falls) a few weeks after being freed. Remarkably, in the first few day s of February 1853, he appeared at anti-slavery 32 meetings with several famous abolitionists (includi ng Frederick Douglass). Just one month earlier, he had still been a slave! The general public was very interested in his story of kidnapping, slavery, and rescue, and he worked with David Wilson, an attorney and author, to compo se a book, Twelve Years a Slave . The book was quite popular, and Northup traveled around giving l ectures and selling copies of his book. He was also involved with some theatrical productions based on his narrative. One newspaper noted that, during Northup’s travels, he was generous toward fugitive slaves he encountered. Given his personal experience as a sla ve, it is understandable (predictable, even) that h e would want to help others who had escaped from a li fe of servitude. There is evidence that he participated in the Underground Railroad, working w ith a Vermont minister to help escaped slaves reach freedom in Canada. The last reference to Northup’s presence was a reco llection by the minister’s son, who said that Northup had visited his father once after the Emanc ipation Proclamation in 1863. After that, no newspaper articles or personal papers have been fou nd that mention contact with Northup. Neither the circumstances of his death, nor his burial site, ar e known.

Q: What did Northup’s family do while he was a slav e in Louisiana? As Northup mentioned in Twelve Years a Slave , his wife Anne had a successful career as a cook a t various dining establishments in the Saratoga/Glens Falls area of New York. After the disappearance of her husband–along with his earnings–she probably needed additional income. In the fall of 1841 she moved to New York City with her family. She worked there for the wealthy woman, Madame Eliza Jumel (who was once the wife of Vice President Aaro n Burr). Anne was Madame Jumel’s cook and resided at her mansion in Washington Heights (which is today open to the public as the Morris-Jumel Mansion). Her children filled other roles: Elizabe th assisted at the mansion, Margaret served as a playmate for a young girl who was related to Jumel, and Alonzo was a footman and did minor chores. The family’s stay with Jumel lasted from one to tw o years, after which mother and children returned to Saratoga. After a few years, the family moved to Glens Falls, a bit north of Saratoga, where Anne ran the kitchen at the Glens Falls Hotel. The famil y (which now included Margaret’s husband Philip Stanton and their children) was living in Glens Fal ls in 1853 when Northup was rescued and rejoined his family. In the 1860s, the family (though apparently not Nor thup himself) moved to nearby Moreau (to a neighborhood known as Reynolds Corners). Anne proba bly still worked as a cook locally, and during the summers she would work at a hotel at Bolton Lan ding on Lake George. Anne died in 1876 at Reynolds Corners.

Q: Why was the book Twelve Years a Slave so popular before the Civil War? Northup’s book was not the only one that gave a fir st-hand account of slavery, but his had a unique perspective because he was a free man who had becom e a slave, whereas other writers had grown up as slaves. Northup was able to make comparisons bet ween his life as a free person and his life as a slave. In addition, Northup’s book was surprisingly even-handed. He did not condemn all Southerners–he mentions how several of them, such a s Master Ford and overseer Chapin (whose name 33 in real life was Chafin), had treated him kindly. A s one review of the book in a northern newspaper said at the time: “Masters and Overseers who treat ed slaves humanely are commended; for there, as here, were good and bad men.” Authors of slave narratives who had escaped slavery by running away had an extra motivation to portray slavery in a very bad light–they had to jus tify why they had become fugitives. Northup, however, should never have been a slave in the firs t place (“if justice had been done,” he told Samuel Bass, “I never would have been here”). Northup ther efore had little motivation to exaggerate the evils of slavery. He surely describes the many sufferings endured by slaves, but he also tells about their everyday life, the ways they supported one another, and the few occasional sources of pleasure they had. By telling the good as well as the bad, Northu p’s account came across as authentic and convincing.

Q: Did Solomon Northup help with the Underground Ra ilroad once he was free again and how did he get involved? In the early 1860s (and possibly earlier) he worked on the Underground Railroad in Vermont. The Underground Railroad was a system run by anti-slave ry advocates which helped slaves who had run away from the South. Northup, Tabbs Gross (another black man) and Rev. John L. Smith energetically helped fugitives make their way north, to Canada an d freedom. The details of how Northup became involved are not known, but it seems likely that, during his lecture tours, he at some point met Gross, a former slave w ho traveled around New York and New England at the same time as Northup, and who also gave lecture s. At any rate, the minister’s son recalled later o n that Northup and Gross were constantly at work aidi ng fugitives. Northup no doubt tackled this mission with his customary initiative and competenc e, and ended up keeping many fugitives from being returned to servility.

Q: What became of Northup’s slave masters — Willia m Prince Ford, Edwin Epps and Mistress Epps? William Prince Ford was forced to sell Northup afte r he experienced financial difficulties The man he sold him to, John M. Tibaut (called Tibeats in Nort hup’s book and in the film) could not afford to pay Northup’s full value, so Ford was in a way still a part-owner. This is why Ford was able to prevent Tibaut from murdering Northup. Ford was a prominent Baptist minister, serving several congregations. One of them, the Springhill Baptist Church, expelle d him for heresy, partly because he had allowed a Methodist to take communion at the church (an examp le of his generous spirit). Ford wore several other hats: in addition to operating the lumber mi ll where Northup worked, Ford manufactured bricks and mattresses. The woman Ford was married to while Northup was his slave, Martha (Tanner) Ford passed away in 1849, and he got married a second time, to Mary Daw son. Rev. Ford passed away on August 23, 1866 and was buried in a cemetery known as the Old Chene y Cemetery in Cheneyville, Louisiana. Edwin Epps had wanted to contest Northup’s removal from his possession, but his legal counsel 34 advised him that the case was so clear-cut (due to documents presented in court in Marksville, Louisiana, which proved Northup had been born free) , that he should simply give up Northup rather than incur pointless legal expenses, and he did so. Epps gave up drink while Northup was still his slav e, since Northup mentions that in his book. Epps continued working his plantation after Northup’s de parture. The 1860 Federal Census shows that he had assets amounting to over $20,000. During the Civil War some northern soldiers sought out the Epps plantation as the army worked its way through Louisiana. They found many people, both black and white, who remembered Northup and his fiddle-playing, and they even located Epps. Wha t Northup wrote in his book, Epps told the soldiers, was mostly true, and in a back-handed com pliment to Northup he told them that he was an “unusually smart nigger.” Epps died on March 3, 186 7. His place of burial is uncertain. The house that Northup and carpenter Samuel Bass wo rked on for Epps still exists. It has avoided destruction several times, and has also been moved several times. It is now located on the campus of the Louisiana State University at Alexandria, and i t has been declared a historic structure. Mistress Epps, whose maiden name was Mary Robert, b ecame the “Natural Tutrix” (or guardian) of her and her husband’s minor children following Epps ’ death. However she died soon afterward. Many, if not all, of the children left Louisiana and relo cated to various places in Texas.

Q: Were the men involved in Solomon Northup’s kidna pping ever brought to justice? The slave trader in Washington, D.C. who purchased Northup from the men who lured him away from Saratoga was identified as James H. Birch, and was brought up on charges in that city when Northup was on his way home from Louisiana. In Washington, the law at that time did not permit black people to testify in court, and without Northup’s testimo ny, there was little evidence of the crime, so Birc h was not convicted. It surely helped that Birch had some influential friends in the city. In 1854, over a year after Northup was freed, a man who had read Twelve Years a Slave helped to identify the two men who had taken Northup to Washi ngton. (Their real names were Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell–they had given Northup aliases. They were arrested, jailed, indicted, and put on trial. After various delays and appeals, the case a gainst them was dropped without explanation in 1857 . Their only punishment was the seven months they spe nt in jail while awaiting trial before they were released on bail.

Q: Solomon Northup was able to read and write–how d id he get his education? In New York State, blacks had never been formally e xcluded from the schools. In the city of Albany, slave children in colonial times attended school al ongside white children. Even when slavery was still allowed in New York, a state law specified that sla ve owners had to teach their slaves to read, so tha t they could read the Bible. As time went on, some large cities had separate sch ools for black students (which was permitted under state law). During his childhood, Northup lived in small towns in Washington County, which would not have had enough money to establish separate sch ools for blacks, so he probably attended school with white pupils from his neighborhood. Acquaintan ces of Northup and his father (who was illiterate 35 but whom Northup wrote made sure his sons received an education) were Quakers, to whom education was very important, so that may have offered extra encouragement for him to learn. Northup tells of his love of reading as a boy, so he probably built on what basic, formal schooling he received due to his curiosity and intelligence.

Q: Is it true that 12 Years a Slave was actually written by a ghost writer named David Wilson, who was an abolitionist? David Wilson certainly assisted Northup with his bo ok, but he was not a ghost writer. Ghost writers typically write behind the scenes on behalf of some one else, implying that a book was actually authored by that person. When the book was first pu blished in 1853, Wilson was clearly identified as its editor–he even wrote an Editor’s Preface. Ther e was nothing furtive about Wilson having been helped with the writing of the book. The precise method of Wilson’s and Northup’s collab oration is not known, but based on Wilson’s preface, newspaper reports at the time, and a lette r written later on by a relative of one of the prin cipals in Northup’s story, Wilson extensively interviewed Northup, undoubtedly taking copious notes. Northup, who during his years of slavery had no way to record information, must have constantly reviewed in his head the events he had experienced, committing to memory the details of people he had met and places he had been. Wilson wrote that h e was entirely convinced of the authenticity of Northup’s recounting, because Northup had « invariab ly repeated the same story without deviating in the slightest particular. » Even Edwin Epps, located by Union soldiers when the y reached Louisiana during the Civil War, admitted that Northup had pretty much told the trut h in his book. After Wilson had put the words onto paper, Northup reviewed them closely. He « carefully perused the manuscript, dictating an alteration wherever the mo st trivial inaccuracy has appeared, » Wilson says. I t is likely that the writing style–with its literary flourishes and turns of phrase–can be attributed to Wilson, but Northup was clearly satisfied that Wils on got all the facts right and he was also comfortable with the final wording. Though Wilson has sometimes been described as an ab olitionist, there is no evidence of that. One newspaper at the time said of Wilson: « I believe he never was suspected of being an Abolitionist–he may be anti-slavery–somewhat conservative. » A few y ears after Twelve Years a Slave was published, Wilson was identified as a member of the American P arty (called the “Know-Nothings”), which had no strong stance concerning slavery. In Wilson’s ow n words, in his preface to the book, he writes « Unbiased, as he conceives, by any prepossessions o r prejudices, the only object of the editor has bee n to give a faithful history of Solomon Northup’s lif e, as he received it from his lips. » 36 SHIP MANIFEST FOR THE BRIG ORLEANS, THE VESSEL THAT TRANSPORTED NORTHUP TO LOUISIANA AFTER HIS CAPTURE 37

Voir enfin:

I Was Born »: Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature

James Olney

Jstor

Callaloo, No. 20 (Winter, 1984), pp. 46-73

The Johns Hopkins University Press

Anyone who sets about reading a single slave narrative or even two or three slave narratives might be forgiven the natural assumption that such a narrative will be, or ought to be, a unique production; for – so would go the unconscious argument – are not slave narratives autobiography, and is not every autobiography the unique tale, uniquely told, of a unique life ? If such a reader should proceed to take up another half dozen narrative show ever (and there is a great lot of them from which to choose the half dozen), a sense not of uniqueness but of overwhelming sameness is almost certain to be the result. And if our reader continues through two or three dozen more slave narratives, still having  hardly begun to broach the whole body of material (one estimate puts the number of extant narratives at over six thousand), he is sure to come away dazed by the mere repetitiveness of it all: seldom will he discover anything new or different but only, always more and more of the same. This raises a number of difficult questions both for the student of autobiography and the student of Afro-American literature. Should the narrative be so cumulative and so invariant ? Why so repetitive and so much alike ? Are the slave narratives classifiable under some larger grouping (are they history or literature or autobiography or polemical writing ? and what relationship do these larger groupings bear to one another?); or do the narratives represent a mutant development really different in kind from any other mode of writing that might initially seem to relate to them as parent, as sibling, as cousin, or as some other formal relation? What narrative mode, what manner of do we find in the slave narratives, and story-telling, what is the place of memory both in this particular variety of narrative and in autobiography more generally? What is the relationship of the slave narratives to later narrative modes and later thematic complexes of Afro-American writing? The questions are multiple and manifold. I propose to come at them and to offer some tentative answers by first making some observations about autobiography and its special nature as a memorial, creative act; then outlining some of the common themes and nearly invariable conventions of slave narratives; and finally attempting to determine the place of the slave narrative 1) in the spectrum of autobiographical writing 2) in the historyof American literaturea, and 3) in the making of an Afro-American literary tradition.

I have argued elsewhere that there are many different ways that we can legitimately understand the word and the act of autobiography; here, however, I want to restrict myself to a fairly conventional and common-sense understanding of autobiography. I will not attempt to define autobiography but merely to describe a certain kind of autobiographical performance – not the only kind by any means but the one that will allow us to reflect most clearly on what goes on in slave narratives. For present purposes, then, autobiography may be understood as a recollective/narrative act in which the writer, from a certain point in his life – the present -, looks back over the events of that life and recounts them in such a way as to show how that past history has led to this present state of being. Exercising memory, in order that he may recollect and narrate, the autobiographer is not a neutral and passive recorder but rather a creative and active shaper.

Recollection, or memory, in this way a most creative faculty, goes backward so that narrative its twin and counterpart may go forward: memory and narration move along the same line only in reverse direc tions. Or as in Heraclitus, the way up and the way down, the way back and the way forward, are one and the same. When I say that memory is immensely creative I do not mean that it creates for its events that never occurred (of course this can happen too, but that is another matter). What I mean instead is that memory creates the significance of events in discovering the pattern into which those events fall. And such a pattern, in the kind of autobiography where memory rules, will be at eleologic alone bringing us,in and through narration and asit were by an inevitable process, to the end of all past moments which is the present. It is in the inter lay of past and resent,of present memory over on its to reflecting past experience way becoming present being, that events are liftedout of time to be resituated not in mere chronological sequence but in patterned significance.

Paul Ricoeur,in apaper on « Narrative and Hermeneutics,makes the ina different but in a that allows us to sort point slightly way way out theplace of timeand memoryboth in autobiographyin general and in theAfro-Americanslave narrative in particular. »Poiesis, »according to Ricoeur’s analysis, »bothreflectasnd resolvestheparadox of time »;and he continues: »It reflects it to the extent that the act of combinesinvarious two emplotment proportions temporal and theother The first be chronological non-chronological. may one called theepisodicdimension.It characterizesthestoryas made out ofevents.The secondis the dimension thanks to which dimensions, configurational the plot construessignificantwholes out of scatteredevents. »‘ In autobiographyit is memory that in there collecting and retelling of events,effects »emplotment »it is memory that,shaping the past act is for »thecon- cording configuration present, responsible to the ofthe dimension »that »construes wholesout of scat- figurational significant teredevents. »Itisforthisreasonthatina classicofautobiographical literature like for is not Augustine’s Confessions, example, memory only I should verysubject writing. imagine, the mode but becomes the ofthe however,thatanyreaderofslavenarrativeiss mostimmediatelystruck by thealmostcompletedominanceof « theepisodicdimension, »the totallack of dimension, »and thevirtual nearly any « configurational absence of any referenceto memoryor any sense thatmemorydoes anythingbut make the past factsand eventsof slaveryimmediately presentto thewriterand his reader.(Thus one oftengets, »I can see evennow …. I can stillhear. .. ., » etc.) Thereis a verygood reason forthis,butitsbeinga verygood reasondoes notaltertheconsequence thattheslave narrative,witha veryfewexceptions,tendsto exhibit a highlyconventionalr,igidlyfixedformthatbearsmuchthesamerela- tionshiptoautobiographyina fullsenseas paintingbynumbersbears to paintingas a creativeact.

I say there is a good reason for this, and there is: The writerof a slave narrative finds himself in an irresolvably tight bind as a result of the very intention and premise of his narrative, which is to give a picture of »slavery as it is. »Thus it is the writer’s claim, it must be his claim, that he is not he is not and he is not emplotting, fictionalizing, performinagnyactofpoiesis(=shaping, making).To givea truepic- tureof slaveryas it it reallyis, he mustmaintainthathe exercises a clear-glassn,eutralmemorythatisneithercreativenorfaulty-indeed, ifitwerecreativeitwould be eo ipso faulty for »creative »would be understood by skeptical readers as a synonym for »lying. »Thus the ex-slave narrator is debarred from use of a memory that would make anything of his narrative beyond or other than the purely, merely episodic, and he is denied access, by the very nature and intent of his venture, to the configuration a dimension of narrative.

Of the kind of memorycentralto the act of autobiographyas I describeditearlier,ErnstCassirerhas written: »Symbolicmemoryis theprocessby whichmannotonlyrepeatshispastexperiencebutalso

reconstructshisexperienceI.maginationbecomesa necessaryelement oftruerecollection.I »n thatword »imagination,h »owever,liesthejoker foran ex-slavewho would writethenarrativeof his lifein slavery.

Whatwe findAugustinedoinginBook X oftheConfessions-offering up a disquisitionon memorythatmakesbothmemoryitselfand the narrativethatitsurroundsfullysymbolic-would be inconceivablein aslavenarrativeO.fcourseex-slavesdoexercisememoryintheirnar- ratives,buttheynevertalkaboutitas Augustinedoes,as Rousseau does, as Wordsworthdoes, as Thoreau does, as HenryJamesdoes, as

a hundredother (notto novelistslike do. autobiographers say Proust)

Ex-slavescannot talk about it because of the premisesaccordingto

whichtheywrite,one of thosepremisesbeingthatthereis nothing

doubtfulor about on the it is assumed mysterious memory: contrary,

to be a clear,unfailingrecordof eventssharpand distincthatneed

onlybe transformeidntodescriptivelanguagetobecomethesequen- tialnarrativeofa lifeinslavery.Inthesameway,theex-slavewriting his narrativecannotaffordto put thepresentin conjunctionwiththe past (again withveryrarebut significanetxceptionsto be mentioned later)forfearthatin so doinghe will appear, fromthepresent,to be

and so and the As a theslave reshaping distorting falsifying past. result,

narrativeis most oftena non-memorialdescriptionfittedto a pre- formedmold,a moldwithregulardepressionshereandequallyregular prominencetshere-virtuallyobligatoryfiguress,cenes,turnsofphrase, observances,and authentications-thatcarryoverfromnarrativeto narrativeand giveto themas a groupthespeciescharacterthatwe designateby thephrase »slave narrative. »

Whatisthisspeciescharacterbywhichwemayrecognizea slave narrativeT?hemostobvious markisthatitisanextreme-

mixed distinguishing orallofthe

ly productiontypicallyincludingany following:

an engravedportraitor photographof the subjectof the narrative; authenticatintgestimonialsp,refixedor postfixed;poeteicpigraphss,nat- chesofpoetryin thetext,poemsappended;illustrationbsefore,in the middleof,orafterthenarrative ofthenarrative

itself;2interruptions

properby way of declamatoryaddressesto the readerand passages thatas to stylemightwell come froman adventurestory,a romance,

ora novelof a ofdocuments-letters sentiment; bewilderingvariety

to and fromthe narrator,bills of sale, newspaperclippings,notices

of slave auctionsand of escaped slaves, certificateosf marriage,of

manumission,ofbirthand death,wills,extractsfromlegalcodes-

thatappear beforethetext,in thetextitself,in footnotes,and in ap-

pendices;and sermonsand anti-slaveryspeechesand essaystackedon

at theend to demonstrate activitiesof thenarrator.In post-narrative

pointingout the extremelymixednatureof slave narrativesone im-

mediatelyhas to acknowledgehow mixedand impureclassic autobiographieasre or can be also. The lastthreebooks ofAugustine’s

Confessions,forexample,areina differenmtodefromtherestofthe

volume, and Rousseau’s Confessions,which begins as a novelistic

romanceand ends in a paranoid shambles,can hardlybe considered

modallyconsistentandallofa piece.Orifmentionismadeofthelet-

ters and to slave thenone thinks prefatory appended narratives, quickly

of thelettersat thedivideof Franklin’sAutobiography,whichhave muchthesameextra-textueaxlistenceasletterastoppositeendsofslave narratives.But all thissaid, we mustrecognizethatthenarrativelet-

tersortheappendedsermonshaven’tthesameintentionas theFranklin

lettersorAugustine’sexegesisofGenesis;andfurtherm,oreimportant,

all themixed, elementsinslavenarratives heterogeneoush,eterogeneric

come to be so regular,so constant,so indispensableto themode that theyfinallyestablisha setofconventions-a seriesofobservancesthat become virtuallyde riguer-for slave narrativesunto themselves.

The conventionsforslave narrativeswereso earlyand so firmly establishedthatone can imaginea sortof masteroutlinedrawnfrom thegreatnarrativesand guidingthelesserones. Such an outlinewould look somethinglike this:

A. Anengravedportrait,signedbythenarrator.

B. A titlepage thatincludestheclaim,as an integralpartoftheti- tle, »WrittenbyHimself »(orsomeclosevariant: »Writtenfroma state- mentof FactsMade by Himself »;or « Writtenby a Friend,as Related to Him by BrotherJones »;etc.)

C. A handfulof testimonialsand/orone or moreprefacesor in-

troductionwsritteneitherbyawhiteabolitionistfriendofthenarrator

(WilliamLloyd Garrison,WendellPhillips)or by a whiteamanuen-

sis/editor/author forthetext(JohnGreenleafWhit- actuallyresponsible

tier,David Wilson,LouisAlexisChamerovzow),inthecourseofwhich

prefacethereaderis told thatthenarrativeis a « plain,unvarnished

tale »and thatnaught »hasbeensetdowninmalice,nothingexaggerated,

nothingdrawnfromtheimagination »-indeed,thetale,itis claimed, understatesthe horrorsof slavery.

D. A poeticepigraph,bypreferencferomWilliamCowper. E. Theactualnarrative:

1. a firstsentencebeginning, »I was born … , » thenspecifyinga placebutnota dateofbirth;

2. a accountof often a white sketchy parentage,, involving father;

3. descriptionofa cruelmaster,mistresso,roverseer,detailsoffirst observedwhippingandnumerousubsequentwhippingsw,ithwomen veryfrequentlythe victims;

4. anaccountofoneextraordinarilsytrong,hardworkingslave- often »pureAfrican »-who, because thereis no reasonforit,refuses

to be whipped;

5. recordofthebarriersraisedagainstslaveliteracyandtheover-

whelmingdifficultieesncounteredin learningto read and write;

6. descriptionofa « Christian »slaveholder(oftenofonesuchdying in terror)and theaccompanyingclaimthat »Christian »slaveholders

are invariablyworsethanthoseprofessingno religion;

7. descriptionoftheamountsandkindsoffoodandclothinggiven

toslaves,theworkrequiredofthem,thepatternofa day,a week, a year;

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51

8. account of a slave auction, of familiesbeing separated and

destroyed,ofdistraughmtothersclingingtotheirchildrenastheyare tornfromthem,of slave cofflesbeingdrivenSouth;

9. descriptionofpatrols,offailedattempt(s)toescape,ofpursuit by men and dogs;

10. descriptionofsuccessfulattempt(s)toescape,lyingbyduring

theday, travellingby nightguidedby theNorthStar,receptionin a freestatebyQuakerswho offera lavishbreakfastand muchgenial

thee/thouconversation;

11. takingofa newlastname(frequentlyonesuggestedbya white abolitionistt)oaccordwithnewsocialidentityas a freeman,butreten- tionoffirstnameas a markofcontinuityofindividualidentity;

12. reflectionosn slavery.

F. Anappendixorappendicescomposedofdocumentarymaterial-

billsofsale,detailsofpurchasefromslavery,newspaperitems-, fur-

therreflectionosn slavery,sermons,anti-slaveryspeeches,poems,ap- peals to thereaderforfundsand moralsupportin thebattleagainst

slavery.

Aboutthis’MasterPlan forSlave Narratives(« theironyofthephras-

neitherunintentionanlor twoobservations ing being insignificant)

shouldbe made: First,thatitnotonlydescribesratherlooselya great manylessernarrativebsutthatitalso describesquitecloselythegreatest ofthemall, NarrativeoftheLifeofFrederickDouglass, An American Slave, WrittenbyHimself,3whichparadoxicallytranscendstheslave narrativemode whilebeingat thesame timeitsfullest,mostexact representativeS;econd, thatwhat is beingrecountedin thenarratives is nearlyalways therealitiesof theinstitutionof slavery,almostnever

ofthenarrator(here,as often, emotional, growth

theintellectual, moral

Douglass succeedsin beingan exceptionwithoutceasingto be thebest

example:he goesbeyondthesingleintentionofdescribingslavery,but he also describesitmoreexactlyand moreconvincinglythananyone else). The lives of thenarrativesare never,or almostnever,therefor themselveasnd fortheirown intrinsic, interesbtut

intheircapacityas illustrationosfwhatslaveryisreallylike.Thusin

one sensethenarrativelivesoftheex-slaveswereas muchpossessed

and used by the abolitionistsas theiractual lives had been by

slaveholders.This is why JohnBrown’sstoryis titledSlave Lifein

unique nearlyalways

and subtitled »A NarrativeoftheLife, and only Sufferings,

Georgia

EscapeofJohnBrown,A FugitiveSlave, »anditiswhyCharlesBall’s story (which reads like historicalfictionbased on very extensive research)is called Slaveryin theUnitedStates,withthesomewhatex- tendedsubtitle »A NarrativeoftheLifeand AdventureosfCharlesBall, A BlackMan, who livedfortyearsinMaryland,SouthCarolinaand Georgia,as a slave, undervariousmasters,and was one yearin the

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52

navywithCommodoreBarney,duringthelatewar. Containingan ac- countof themannersand usages of theplantersand slaveholdersof theSouth-a descriptionoftheconditionandtreatmenotftheslaves, withobservationusponthestateofmoralsamongsthecottonplanters,

and the and

perils sufferings fugitive escaped

ofa slave,who twice from thecottoncountry. »Thecentralfocusofthesetwo,as ofnearlyall

thenarrativesi,s slavery,an institutionand an externalreality,rather thana particularand individualifeas itis knowninternallyand sub-

thenarratives are all trainedon one and the same objectivereality,theyhave a

Thismeansthatunlike in jectively. autobiography general

coherentand definedaudience,theyhave behindthemand guidingthem

an organizedgroup of « sponsors, »and theyare possessed of very specificmotives,intentionsa,ndusesunderstoodbynarratorss,pon- sors,and audiencealike: to revealthetruthof slaveryand so to bring about itsabolition.How, then,could thenarrativesbe anythingbut verymuchlike one another?

Severaloftheconventionsofslave-narrativweritingestablishedby

thistriangularelationshipofnarratora,udience,and sponsorsand the logicthatdictatesdevelopmentofthoseconventionswillbearand will reward closer scrutiny.The conventionsI have in mind are both thematicand formaland theytendto turnup as oftenin theparapher- naliasurroundingthenarrativesas inthenarrativesthemselvesI.have alreadyremarkedontheextra-textualelttersocommonlyassociated

withslavenarrativeasndhave that

suggested they logic

havea different about themfromthelogicthatallows or impelsFranklinto include similarlyaliendocumentsinhisautobiographyt;hesameistrueofthe

signedengravedportraitsor photographso frequentlyto be foundas

inslavenarrativesT.he andthe

frontispieces portrait signature(which

one mightwell findin othernineteenth-centurayutobiographical documentsbutwithdifferenmtotivation),liketheprefatoryandap-

pendedletters,thetitulartag « Writtenby Himself, »and thestandard

opening »I was born, »are intendedto attestto thereal existenceof

a narrator,thesensebeingthatthestatusofthenarrativewillbe con-

tinuallycalledintodoubt,so itcannotevenbegin,untilthenarrator’s

realexistenceisfirmlyestablishedO.fcoursetheargumentoftheslave

narrativesis thattheeventsnarratedare factualand truthfualnd that

theyallreallyhappenedtothenarratorb,utthisisa second-stageargu-

ment;priorto theclaimoftruthfulnesisthesimple,existentiacllaim:

« I exist. » lettersall Photographs,portraitss,ignaturesa,uthenticating

makethesameclaim: »Thismanexists. »Onlythencanthenarrative

begin.And how do mostofthemactuallybegin?Theybeginwiththe existentiacllaimrepeated. »I was born »are thefirstwordsofMoses Roper’sNarrativea,nd theyarelikewisethefirstwordsofthenarratives ofHenryBibband HarrietJacobs,ofHenryBox Brown4and William

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53

Wells Brown,of FrederickDouglass5and JohnThompson,of Samuel RinggoldWardandJamesW. C. Penningtono,fAustinStewardand JamesRoberts,ofWilliamGreenand WilliamGrimes,ofLevinTilmon and PeterRandolph,ofLouis Hughesand LewisClarke,ofJohnAn- drewJacksonandThomasH. Joneso,fLewisCharltonandNoahDavis, ofJamesWilliamsand WilliamParkerand Williamand EllenCraft (wheretheopeningassertionis variedonlyto theextentofsaying, »My wifeand myselfwereborn »).6

We can see thenecessityforthisfirstand mostbasic assertionon thepartoftheex-slaveinthecontrarysituationofan autobiographer likeBenjaminFranklinW.hileanyreaderwasfreetodoubtthemotives ofFranklin’msemoir,noonecoulddoubthis andsoFranklin

existence, beginsnotwithanyclaimsorproofsthathewasbornandnowreally

existsbutwithan explanationofwhyhe has chosento writesucha

documentas theone in hand. Withtheex-slave,however,it was his

existenceand his nothisreasonsfor thatwerecalled identity, writing,

intoquestion:iftheformercould be establishedthelatterwould be obviousand thesamefromone narrativeto another.Franklincitesfour motivesforwritinghisbook(tosatisfydescendantsc’uriosityt;ooffer an exampleto others;to providehimselfthepleasureofrelivingevents inthetelling;tosatisfyhisownvanity),andwhileonecanfindnar- rativesby ex-slavesthatmighthave in themsomethingofeach ofthese motives-JamesMars, forexample,displaysin partthefirstof the motives,Douglass inpartthesecond,JosiahHensoninpartthethird, and SamuelRinggoldWardinpartthefourth-thetruthis thatbehind everyslave narrativethatis in any way characteristiocr representative thereis the one same persistentand dominantmotivation,which is determinedbytheinterplayofnarrator,sponsors,and audienceand whichitselfdeterminetshenarrativeintheme,content,and form.The themeis therealityof slaveryand thenecessityof abolishingit; the contentisa seriesofeventsanddescriptiontshatwillmakethereader see and feeltherealitiesofslavery;and theformis a chronological, episodicnarrativebeginningwithan assertionof existenceand sur- roundedby various testimonialevidencesforthatassertion.

In thetitleand subtitleofJohnBrown’snarrativecitedearlier-Slave

in A Narrative the

Life Georgia: of Life,Sufferings, Escape of

and John Brown,AFugitiveSlave-we seethatthethemepromisestobetreated on two levels, as it were titularand subtitular:the social or institu-

tionaland thepersonalor individual.What typicallyhappensin the

actualnarrativese,speciallythebestknownand mostreliableofthem,

is thatthesocial theme,therealityofslaveryand thenecessityof abolishingit,trifurcateosn thepersonallevelto becomesubthemesof

and freedom not sightcloselyrelatedmattersn,evertheleslseadintooneanotherinsuch

and at first literacyi,dentity, which,though obviously

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54

a that end

and

up beingaltogetherinterdependent virtually

Nar-

way they

as thematicstrands.Here,as so often,

indistinguishable Douglass’

rativeis at oncethebestexample,theexceptionaclase,and thesupreme

achievementT.hefulltitleofDouglass’bookisitselfclassic:Narrative

of the Life of FrederickDouglass, An AmericanSlave, Writtenby

Himself.7Thereis muchmoreto thephrase »writtenby himself, »of

course,thanthemerelaconicstatementofa fact:itisliterallya part

ofthenarrativeb,ecominganimportanthematicelementintheretell-

ingofthelifewhereinliteracy,identitya,nda senseoffreedomare

all and withouthefirst, to

acquiredsimultaneously according Douglass, thelattertwo would neverhave been. The dual factof literacyand

identity(« written »and »himself »r)eflectbsackontheterribleironyof the phrase in apposition, »An AmericanSlave »: How can both of these-« American »and « Slave »-be true?And thisin turncarriesus back to thename, « FrederickDouglass, » whichis writtenall around thenarrativei:n thetitle,on the and as thelastwords

of the text:

Sincerelyand earnestlyhopingthatthislittlebook may do somethingtowardthrowinglighton theAmericanslave system, andhasteningthegladdayofdeliverancetothemillionsofmy

brethrenin bonds-faithfullyrelyingupon the power of truth, love, and justice,forsuccessin myhumbleefforts-andsolemn-

lypledgingmyselfanew to thesacredcause,–I subscribemyself, FREDERICK DOUGLASS

« Isubscribemyself »-IwritemyselfdowninlettersI,underwritmey identityand myverybeing,as indeedI have done in and all through theforegoingnarrativethathas broughtmeto thisplace,thismoment, thisstateof being.

The to utterhis and more to utterit in ability name, significantly

themysteriouscharactersona pagewhereitwillcontinuetosound

insilenceso as readerscontinuetoconstruethe iswhat long characters,

Douglass’ Narrativeis about, forin thatletteredutteranceis assertion ofidentityand inidentityisfreedom-freedomfromslavery,freedom fromignorance,freedomfromnon-being,freedomeven fromtime. WhenWendellPhillips,ina standardletterprefatorytoDouglass’Nar- rative,says thatin thepast he has always avoided knowingDouglass’ « real name and birthplace » because it is « still dangerous, in Massachusetts,forhonestmentotelltheirnames, »oneunderstands wellenoughwhathe meansby « yourrealname »and thedangerof tellingit-« Nobody knowsmyname, »JamesBaldwinsays.Andyet

in a veryimportantway Phillipsis profoundlywrong,forDouglass had beensayinghis »realname »eversinceescapingfromslaveryin

engravedportrait,

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55

theway in whichhe wentabout creatingand assertinghis identityas a freeman:FrederickDouglass.IntheNarrativehesayshisrealname notwhenhe revealsthathe « was born »FrederickBaileybutwhenhe putshissignaturbeelowhisportraibteforethebeginningand subscribes himselfagain aftertheend of thenarrative.Douglass’ name-changes and self-namingare highlyrevealingat each stage in his progress: « FrederickAugustusWashingtonBailey »by thenamegivenhimby hismotherh,ewasknownas »FrederickBailey »orsimply »Fred »while growingup; heescapedfromslaveryunderthename »Stanley, »but whenhe reachedNew York took thename « FrederickJohnson. »(He wasmarriedinNewYorkunderthatname-and givesacopyofthe marriagecertificatien thetext-by theRev. J.W. C. Penningtonwho had himselfescapedfromslaverysometenyearsbeforeDouglass and who wouldproducehisown narrativesomefouryearsafterDouglass.) Finally,in New Bedford,he foundtoo manyJohnsonsand so gave to

hishost( one ofthetoo the many-Nathan Johnson) privilege

ofnam- inghim, »buttoldhimhe mustnottakefromme thenameof ‘Frederick.’

Imustholdontothat,topreservea senseofmyidentity.T »husa new social identitybut a continuityof personalidentity.

In narratingtheeventsthatproducedbothchangeand continuity in his life,Douglass regularlyreflectsback and forth(and herehe is verymuchtheexception)fromthepersonwrittenabout to theperson writingf,romanarrativeofpasteventstoapresentnarratorgrown out of thoseevents.In one marvellouslyrevealingpassage describing thecoldhesufferefdromas a child,Douglasssays,’My feethavebeen so crackedwiththefrost,thatthepen withwhichI am writingmight belaidinthegashes. »One mightbeinclinedtoforgethatitisa vastly

writtenabout,butitis a personwriting person very

different fromthe

and effectivreeminderto referto the in- significant immensely writing

strumentas a way ofrealizingthedistancebetweentheliterate,ar- ticulatewriterand the illiterate,inarticulatesubjectof the writing. Douglasscouldhavesaidthatthecoldcausedlesionsinhisfeeta quarter ofan inchacross,butinchoosingthewritinginstrumenhteldat the presentmoment-« the pen withwhichI am writing »-by one now known to the world as FrederickDouglass, he dramatizeshow far removedhe is fromtheboy once called Fred(and other,worsenames, of course)withcracksin his feetand withno moreuse fora pen than foranyoftheothersignsand appendagesoftheeducationthathehad beendeniedand thathewouldfinallyacquireonlywiththegreatest

success,as we feelin difficulty greatest, telling

butalso withthe most thequalityofthenarrativenow flowingfromtheliteraland symbolic

heholdsinhishand.Herewehave andfreedom, pen literacyi,dentity,

theomnipresenthematictrioof themostimportantslave narratives, all conveyedin a singlestartlingimage.8

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56

Thereis, however,onlyone FrederickDouglass amongtheex-slaves who told theirstoriesand the storyof slaveryin a singlenarrative, and in even the best known, most highlyregardedof the other narratives-those,forexample,by WilliamWellsBrown,CharlesBall, HenryBibb,JosiahHenson,SolomonNorthup,J.W. C. Pennington, and Moses Roper–all theconventionsare observed-conventionsof content,theme,form,and style-but theyremainjustthat:conven- tionsuntransformeadndunredeemedT.hefirsthreeoftheseconven- tionalaspectsofthenarrativesare,as I have alreadysuggested,pretty clearlydeterminebdy therelationshibpetweenthenarratorhimselfand thoseI have termedthesponsors(as wellas theaudience)ofthenar- rative.Whentheabolitionistsinvitedan ex-slaveto tellhisstoryof

experiencein slaveryto an anti-slaveryconvention,and when they

subsequentlysponsoredtheappearanceof thatstoryin print,1t0hey

had certainclear wellunderstood themselveasnd well expectations, by

understoodby theex-slavetoo, about thepropercontento be observ- ed, theproperthemeto be developed,and theproperformto be follow- ed. Moreover,content,theme,and formdiscoveredearlyon an ap-

propriatestyleand thatappropriatestylewas also thepersonalstyle displayedby thesponsoringabolitionistsin thelettersand introduc- tionstheyprovidedso generouslyforthenarrativesI.tisnotstrange, ofcourse,thatthestyleofan introductionand thestyleofa narrative shouldbe one and thesame in thosecases whereintroductionand nar- rativewerewrittenbythesameperson-CharlesStears writingin- troductionandnarrativeofBoxBrown,forexample,orDavid Wilson writingprefaceand narrativeof Solomon Northup.What is strange,

and a deal more is theinstancein whichthe perhaps, good interesting,

styleoftheabolitionistintroducercarriesoverintoa narrativethat iscertifiedas « WrittenbyHimself, »andthislatterinstanceisnotnear- lyso isolatedas onemightinitiallysuppose.I wanttolooksomewhat at threevariationson thatI taketo

closely stylisticinterchange repre-

sentmoreor less the of be- adequately spectrum possiblerelationships

tweenprefatorystyleand narrativestyle,or moregenerallybetween sponsorand narrator:HenryBox Brown,wheretheprefaceand nar- rativeare bothclearlyin themannerof CharlesStearns;SolomonNor- thup,wherethe enigmaticalprefaceand narrative,althoughnot so clearlyas inthecaseofBoxBrown,areneverthelesbsothintheman- nerofDavid Wilson;andHenryBibb,wheretheintroductionissign- ed byLuciusC. Matlackand theauthor’sprefacebyHenryBibb,and wherethenarrativeis « Writtenby Himself »-but wherealso a single

is in controlof author’s and narrativealike. style introduction, preface,

HenryBox Brown’sNarrative,we are told on the title-page,was WRITTEN FROM A

STATEMENT OF FACTS MADE BY HIMSELF. WITH REMARKS UPON THE REMEDY FOR SLAVERY. BY CHARLES STEARNS.

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57

Whetheritis intentionaolr not,theorderoftheelementsand thepunc- tuationofthissubtitle(withfullstopsafterlinestwoand three)make

itveryunclearjustwhatis beingclaimedabout authorshipand stylistic responsibilityforthenarrative.Presumablythe »remarksupon the remedyforslavery »are by CharlesStearns(who was also, at 25 Cor- nhill,Boston,thepublisherof theNarrative),but thistitle-pagecould wellleavea readerindoubtaboutthepartyresponsibleforthestylistic mannerofthenarration.Such doubtwillsoon be dispelled,however, ifthereaderproceedsfromCharlesStearns' »preface »to Box Brown’s « narrativet »o CharlesStearns' »remarksupon theremedyforslavery. » The is a most most most

preface poetic, high-flown, grandiloquent perorationthat,oncecrankedup, carriesrightoverintoand through thenarrativetoissueintheappendedremarkswhichcometoan end in a REPRESENTATION OF THE BOX in whichBox Brownwas

transportedfromRichmondto Philadelphia.Thus fromthepreface:

seesomenewthing,n’ortogratifyanyinclinationonthepartofthe hero of thefollowingstoryto be honoredby man, is thissimpleand touchingnarrativeoftheperilsofa seekerafterthe’boon ofliberty,’ introducedto thepubliceye . … , » etc.-the sentencegoes on three timeslongerthanthisextractd,escribingasitproceeds »thehorridsuf-

ofone as, ina shutoutfromthe ofheaven, ferings portableprison, light

and nearly deprived of its balmy air, he pursued his fearful journey…..  » As is usual in suchprefaces,we are addresseddirectly

« Not forthe of to a desireto ‘hearand purpose administering prurient

by

theauthor: »O reader,as this tale,letthe you peruse heart-rending

tearofsympathyrollfreelyfromyoureyes,and letthedeep fountains

ofhumanfeelingw,hichGodhasimplantedinthebreastofeveryson

anddaughterofAdam,burstforthfromtheirenclosure,untila stream

shallflowtherefromon to thesurroundingworld,ofso invigorating

and a nature,as toarousefromthe’deathofthesin’of purifying slavery,

and cleansefromthepollutionsthereof,all withwhom you may be connected. »We maynotbe overwhelmedbythesenseofthissentence but surelywe mustbe by its richrhetoricalmanner.

Thenarrativeitselfw,hichisallfirstpersonand »theplainnarrative ofourfriend, »as theprefacesays,beginsinthismanner:

I amnotabouttoharrowthefeelingsofmyreadersbya ter-

rificrepresentationof theuntoldhorrorsof thatfearfuslystem

ofoppressionw,hichforthirty-thrleoengyearsentwineditssnaky

foldsaboutmysoul,as theserpentofSouthAmericacoilsitself

aroundtheformofitsunfortunatveictim.It is notmypurpose

to descenddeeplyintothedarkand noisomecavernsofthehell

of and fromtheir abode thoselost slavery, drag frightful spirits

who hauntthesouls of thepoor slaves, daily and nightlywith theirfrightfuplresence,and withthefearfusloundoftheirter-

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58

rificinstrumentosf torture;forotherpens farabler thanmine

have that ofthelaborofan effectuallpyerformed portion exposer

of the enormitiesof slavery. Sufficeittosayofthispieceoffinewritingthatthepen-than which therewereothersfarabler-was heldnotbyBoxBrownbutbyCharles Stearnsand thatitcouldhardlybe furtheremovedthanitisfromthe penheldbyFrederickDouglass,thatpenthatcouldhavebeenlaidin thegashesin his feetmade by thecold. At one pointin his narrative Box Brownis made to say (afterdescribinghow his brotherwas turn- ed away froma streamwiththeremark »We do not allow niggersto fish »), »Nothingdaunted,however,by thisrebuffm, ybrotherwent

successfulin his obtain- undertaking,

to another and was place,

quite

inga plentifuslupplyofthefinnytribe. » »It maybe thatBox Brown’s

storywas toldfrom »a statementoffactsmadebyhimself, »butafter

thosefactshavebeendressedup intheexoticrhetoricaglarmentspro-

videdbyCharlesStearnsthereispreciouslittleofBoxBrown(other

thanthe of thebox itself)thatremainsin thenarrative. representation

And indeed for everyfact thereare pages of self-conscious,self-

gratifyings,elf-congratulatorpyhilosophizingby CharlesStearns,so thatifthereis any lifehereat all it is thelifeof thatman expressed in his veryown overheatedand foolishprose.12

David Wilsonis a good deal morediscreethanCharlesStearns,and

the relationshipof prefaceto narrativein Twelve Years a Slave is

thereforae deal more butalso more than great questionable, interesting,

intheNarrativeofHenryBox Brown.Wilson’sprefaceis a page and a halflong; Northup’snarrative,witha song at theend and threeor

fourappendices,is threehundredthirtypages long. In the preface Wilsonsays, « Many of thestatementcsontainedin thefollowingpages are corroboratedby abundantevidence-othersrestentirelyupon Solomon’sassertionT.hathehasadheredstrictlytothetrutht,heeditor, at least, who has had an opportunityof detectingany contradiction or discrepancyin his statementsi,s well satisfied.He has invariably repeated the same story without deviating in the slightest particular…. « 13 Now Northup’snarrativeis not only a verylong onebutisfilledwitha vastamountofcircumstantial andhence

detail,

itstrainsa reader’scredulitysomewhatto be toldthathe « invariably

repeatedthesame storywithoutdeviatingin theslightestparticular. » Moreover,sincethestyleofthenarrative(as I shallargueina mo-

ment)isdemonstrablynotNorthup’sown,wemightwellsuspecta fill- inginand fleshingouton thepartof-perhaps notthe »onliebegetter » butatleast-theactualauthorofthenarrativeB.utthisisnotthemost

of Wilson’s in the nor theone performance preface

interestinagspect thatwillrepayclosestexamination.Thatcomeswiththeconclusion of theprefacewhichreads as follows:

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It is believedthatthefollowingaccountofhis [Northup’s]ex-

perienceon Bayou Boeufpresentsa correctpictureof Slavery, in all itslightsand shadows,as itnow existsin thatlocality.Un-

biased,as heconceives,byanyprepossessionsorprejudices,the onlyobjectoftheeditorhasbeentogiveafaithfuhlistoryof Solomon Northup’slife,as he receivedit fromhis lips.

In the ofthat accomplishment object,

thenumerousfaultsof and of it be withstanding style expression may

foundto contain.

To sortout,asfaraspossible,whatisbeingassertedherewewould

do well to startwiththefinalsentence,whichis relativelyeasy to understand.To acknowledgefaultsin a publicationand to assume

forthemis ofcoursea in responsibility commonplacegesture prefaces,

thoughwhythequestionofstyleand expressionshouldbe so impor- tantingiving »afaithfuhlistory »ofsomeone’slife »as…receiv-

ed . . . fromhislips »isnotquiteclear;presumablythevirtuesofstyle

he trustshe has succeeded,not-

itwhatever expression superadded history give

and are to thefaithful to

literarymeritsitmaylayclaimto,andinsofaras thesefallshortthe

authorfeelsthe need to acknowledgeresponsibilityand apologize. Neverthelessp,uttingthisambiguityaside,thereisno doubtaboutwho isresponsibleforwhatinthissentence,which,ifI mightreplacepro- nounswithnames,would read thus: »In theaccomplishmenotf that object,David Wilsontruststhathe [David Wilson]has succeeded,not-

thenumerousfaultsof and of which

withstanding

David Wilsonassumes

style expression[for

it be found thereader responsibility] may by

penetrableboth in syntaxand in the assertiontheyare presumably designedto make. Castingthefirststatementas a passive one (« It is

believed.. . ») and danglinga participlein the second (« Unbias- ed . . . « ), so thatwe cannotknowineithercase towhomthestate- mentshould be attached,Wilson succeeds in obscuringentirelythe authoritybeingclaimedforthenarrative.1I4t would take too much

to the the (one however, space analyze syntax, psychology might, glance

at thefamiliaruse ofNorthup’sgivenname),and thesenseofthese

affirmationsb,ut I would challengeanyone to diagramthe second sentence(« Unbiased . . . « ) withany assuranceat all.

As to thenarrativeto whichtheseprefatorysentencesrefer:When

we get a sentencelike this one describingNorthup’sgoing into a

swamp-« My midnightintrusionhad awakenedthefeatheredtribes

tocontain. »Thetwoprecedingsentencesh,owever,arealtogetherim-

relativesofthe tribeo’fBoxBrown/Charles which [near ‘finny Steams],

seemedto throngthemorassin hundredsof thousands,and theirgar-

rulousthroatspouredforthsuchmultitudinoussounds-therewas such

a of sullen in thewaterall aroundme- fluttering wings-such plunges

that I was affrightedand appalled » (p. 141)-when we get such a

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60

sentencewe maythinkitprettyfinewritingand awfullyliteraryb,ut thefinewriterisclearlyDavid WilsonratherthanSolomonNorthup. Perhapsa betterinstanceofthewhiteamanuensis/sentimentnaolvelist

hismannered overthefaithful as receivedfromNor- laying style history

thup’slipsistobefoundinthisdescriptionofa Christmascelebration wherea huge meal was providedby one slaveholderforslaves from surroundingplantations: »Theyseat themselvesat therustictable- themaleson one side,thefemaleson theother.The twobetweenwhom theremayhavebeenan exchangeoftendernessi,nvariablymanageto sitopposite;fortheomnipresenCtupid disdainsnottohurlhisarrows into the simpleheartsof slaves » (p. 215). The entirepassage should be consultedto get the fulleffectof Wilson’s stylisticextravagances whenhepullsthestopsout,butanyreadershouldbe forgivenwho declinestobelievethatthislastclause,withitsreferencteo « thesimple heartsofslaves »and its inverted

self-conscious, syntax(« disdainsnot »), was writtenby someonewho had recentlybeen in slaveryfortwelve

years. »Red, »we aretoldbyWilson’sNorthup, »isdecidedlythefavorite coloramongtheenslaveddamselsofmyacquaintance.Ifa redribbon does notencircletheneck,you willbe certainto findall thehairoftheir wooly heads tiedup withred stringsof one sortor another »(p. 214). In the light of passages like these, David Wilson’s apology for « numerousfaultsof styleand of expression »takes on all sortsof in- terestingnew meaning.The rustictable, the omnipresentCupid, the simpleheartsofslaves,and thewoollyheadsofenslaveddamsels,like thefinnyand featheredtribes,mightcomefromanysentimentanlovel ofthenineteenthcentury-one,say,byHarrietBeecherStowe;and so it comes as no greatsurpriseto read on the dedicationpage the following: »To HarrietBeecherStowe:WhoseName,Throughouthe World,IsIdentifiedwiththeGreatReformT:hisNarrative,Affording AnotherKey to UncleTom’s Cabin, Is RespectfullyDedicated. » While notsurprisingg,iventhestyleofthenarrative,thisdedicationdoes lit- tleto clarifytheauthoritythatwe are asked to discoverin and behind thenarrative,and thededication,like thepervasivestyle,calls into seriousquestionthestatusof Twelve Yearsa Slave as autobiography and/orliterature.15

ForHenryBibb’snarrativeLuciusC. Matlacksuppliedan introduc-

tionin a mightypoeticvein in whichhe reflectson theparadox that

outofthehorrorsofslaveryhave comesomebeautifulnarrativepro-

ductions. »Gushingfountainsof poetic thought,have startedfrom

beneaththerod ofviolence,thatwilllongcontinueto slakethefeverish

thirstofhumanityoutraged,untilswellingtoa flooditshallrushwith

wastingviolenceovertheill-gottenheritageoftheoppressor.Startling

incidents far

authenticated, excelling touchingpathos,

fictionin their fromthepenofself-emancipatesdlaves,do nowexhibitslaveryinsuch

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61

revoltingaspects,as to securetheexecrationsof all good men,and

becomea monumentmoreenduringthanmarble,intestimonystrong

as sacredwritagainstit. »16The pictureMatlackpresentsof an outrag-

ed humanitywitha feverishthirstforgushingfountainstartedup by

therodofviolenceisa peculiaroneandonethatseems,psychologically

speaking, not very healthy. At any rate, the narrativeto which

Matlack’sobservationshaveimmediatereferencweas,ashesays,from

the of a slave severaltimes), pen self-emancipated (self-emancipated

anditdoesindeedcontain incidentwsithmuch

startling touchingpathos

about them;butthereallycuriousthingabout Bibb’snarrativeis that

itdisplaysmuchthesame florid,sentimentald,eclamatoryrhetoricas

we findin or as-told-tonarrativesand also in ghostwritten prefaces

suchas thoseby CharlesStearns,Louis AlexisChamerovzow,and LuciusMatlackhimselfC.onsidertheaccountBibbgivesofhiscourt- shipandmarriage.Havingdeterminedbya hundredsignsthatMalin- dalovedhimevenashelovedher-« I couldreaditbyheralwaysgiv- ingme thepreferencoef hercompany;by herpressinginvitationsto visiteven in oppositionto her mother’swill. I could read it in the languageofherbrightand sparklingeye,penciledby theunchangable fingerofnature,thatspakebutcouldnotlie »(pp. 34-35)-Bibb decid- ed to speak and so, as he says, « broachedthe subjectof marriage »:

I said, »I neverwillgivemyheartnorhandtoanygirlinmar-

untilI firstknowhersentiments the sub- riage, upon all-important

jectsof Religionand Liberty.No matterhow well I mightlove her,norhow greatthesacrificein carryingout theseGod-given principles.And I herepledgemyselffromthiscourseneverto be shakenwhilea singlepulsationofmyheartshallcontinueto throbforLiberty. »

Anddidhis »deargirl »funkthechallengethusproposedbyBibb? Farfromit-if anythingsheprovedmorehigh-mindedthanBibb himself.

WiththisideaMalindaappearedtobewellpleased,andwith a smileshelookedmeinthefaceandsaid, »Ihavelongenter- tained the same views, and this has been one of the greatest reasonswhyI havenotfeltinclinedtoenterthemarriedstatewhile a slave;Ihavealwaysfelta desiretobefree;Ihavelongcherish- ed a hope thatI shouldyetbe free,eitherby purchaseor running away.InregardtothesubjectofReligion,Ihavealwaysfeltthat itwas a good thing,and somethingthatI would seekforat some futureperiod. »

Itisalltothegood,ofcourse,thatnoonehaseverspokenorcould everspeakasBibbandhisbelovedaresaidtohavedone-no one,that is,outsidea bad, sentimentanlovelofdatec. 1849.17Thoughactual- lywrittenbyBibb,thenarrativef,orstyleandtone,mightas wellhave

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62

beentheproductofthepenofLuciusMatlack.Butthecombination ofthesentimentarlhetoricofwhitefictionand whitepreface-writing witha realisticpresentationofthefactsofslavery,all paradingunder the bannerof an authentic-and authenticated-personalnarrative, producessomethingthatis neitherfishnorfowl.A textlikeBibb’sis committedtotwoconventionaflormst,heslavenarrativeandthenovel ofsentimenta,nd caughtbybothitis unableto transcendeither.Nor

Considerone smallbutrecurrenatnd tellingdetailin therelation- shipofwhitesponsorto black narrator.JohnBrown’snarrative,we are toldby Louis AlexisChamerovzow,the »Editor »(actuallyauthor) of Slave Lifein Georgia,is « a plain, unvarnishedtale of real Slave- life »;EdwinScrantom,inhisletter »recommendatoryw, »ritesto Austin Stewardofhis Twenty-TwoYearsa Slave and FortyYearsa Freeman, « Letitsplain,unvarnishedtalebe sentout,and thestoryofSlavery and its abominations,again be told by one who has feltin his own personitsscorpionlash,and theweightofitsgrindingheel »;thepreface writer(« W. M. S. ») forExperienceofa Slave inSouthCarolinacalls it « theunvarnished,but ower truetale of JohnAndrewJackson,the

ofhis »ex-slave, »saysof TheNarrativeofJamesWilliams, »Thefollow- ingpagescontainthesimpleand unvarnishedstoryofan AMERICAN SLAVE »; RobertHurnardtellsus thathe was determinedto receive and transmitSolomon Bayley’sNarrative »in his own simple,unvar- nished style »; and HarrietTubman too is given the « unvarnished » honorifibcySarahBradfordinherprefaceto ScenesintheLifeofHar- rietTubman: »Itisproposedinthislittlebooktogivea plainandun- varnishedaccountofsomescenesandadventureisnthelifeofa woman who, thoughone of earth’slowly ones, and of dark-huedskin,has shownan amountofheroisminhercharacterarelypossessedbythose ofanystationinlife. »Thefactthatthevarnishislaidonverythickly indeedin severalof these(Brown,Jackson,and Williams,forexam-

is but it is not theessential whichis to ple) perhapsinteresting, point,

be foundin therepeateduse of just thisword-« unvarnished »-to describeall thesetales.The OxfordEnglishDictionarywilltellus (which we shouldhave surmisedanyway)thatOthello,anotherfigureof »dark- huedskin »butvastlyheroiccharacterf,irstusedtheword »unvarnish- ed »-« I willa roundunvarnish’dtaledeliver/Of mywholecourseof love »;andthat,atleastsofarastheOED recordgoes,theworddoes notturnup againuntilBurkeuseditin1780,some175yearslater(« This

UncleTom’sCabin sensibility produced

is thereasonfarto seek:the that

was closelyalliedto theabolitionistsensibilitythatsponsoredtheslave narrativesand largelydeterminedthe formthey should take. The master-slaverelationshipmightgo undergroundor itmightbe turned insideout but it was not easily done away with.

Carolinianslave »;JohnGreenleafWhittier, the escaped apparently dupe

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63

is a true,unvarnished,undisguisedstateoftheaffair »).I doubtthat anyonewould imaginethatwhiteeditors/amanuensehsad an obscure passagefromBurkeinthebackoftheircollectivemind-or deepdown inthatmind-when theyrepeatedlyusedthiswordtocharacterizethe narrativeoftheirex-slaves.No, itwas certainlya Shakespeareanhero theywereunconsciouslyevoking,and notjustany Shakespeareanhero but always Othello, theNoble Moor.

Various narratorsof documents »writtenby himself »apologize for

theirlack of grace or styleor writingability,and again various nar-

rators thattheirsare factual,realistic but say simple, presentations;

noex-slavethatI havefoundwhowriteshisownstorycallsitan « un-

varnished »tale: thephraseis specificto whiteeditors,amanuenses, writersa,ndauthenticatorMs.oreover,toturnthematteraround,when

an ex-slavemakesan allusionto Shakespeare(whichis naturallya very infrequenotccurrencet)osuggestsomethingabouthissituationorim-

ofhis theallusionis neverto Othello.Frederick plysomething character,

Douglass, forexample,describingall theimaginedhorrorsthatmight overtakehimand hisfellowsshouldtheytryto escape,writes, »I say,

thispicturesometimesappalled us, and made us:

‘ratherbear those ills we had, Than flyto others,thatwe knew not of. »‘

Thus it was in the lightof Hamlet’s experienceand characterthat

Douglass saw his own, not in the lightof Othello’s experienceand

character.Not so WilliamLloyd Garrison,however,who says in the

prefaceto Douglass’ Narrative, »I am confidenthatit is essentially

trueinallitsstatementst;hatnothinghasbeensetdowninmalice,

nothingexaggeratedn,othingdrawnfromtheimagination…. « 18We can be sure that it is entirelyunconscious,this regularallusion to

Othello,butitsaysmuchaboutthepsychologicarlelationshipofwhite patronto black narratorthattheformershouldinvariablysee thelat- ter not as Hamlet, not as Lear, not as Antony, or any other Shakespeareanhero but always and only as Othello.

When you shall theseunluckydeeds relate,

Speak of themas theyare. Nothingextenuate,

Nor set down aughtin malice. Then mustyou speak Of one thatlov’d not wiselybut too well;

Of one not easily jealous, but, beingwrought, Perplex’din the extreme….

TheMoor, Shakespeare’sor Garrison’s,wasnoble,certainlyb,uthe

was also a creatureofunreliablecharacterand irrational passion-such,

at least,seemsto havebeenthelogicoftheabolitionistsa’ttitudetoward

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64

theirex-slavespeakersand narrators-and it was just as well forthe whitesponsorto keep him,ifpossible,on a prettyshortleash. Thus itwas thattheGarrisonians-thoughnotGarrisonhimself-wereop- posed to theidea (and lettheiroppositionbe known)thatDouglass and WilliamWellsBrownshouldsecurethemselveasgainsttheFugitive Slave Law by purchasingtheirfreedomfromex-mastersa;nd because it mightharmtheircause theGarrisoniansattemptedalso to prevent WilliamWellsBrownfromdissolvinghismarriage.The reactionfrom theGarrisoniansand fromGarrisonhimselfwhenDouglass insisted

ongoinghisownwayanyhowwasbothexcessiveandrevealing,sug- gestingthatforthemtheMoor had ceased to be noble whilestill,un-

fortunatelyr,emaininga Moor. My Bondageand My Freedom,Gar-

risonwrote, »initssecondportion,is reekingwiththevirusofper-

sonal towardsWendell and theold malignity Phillips,myself, organiza-

tionists and and basenesstowardsas true generally, fullofingratitude « 19

and disinterestefdriendsas any man everyethad upon earth. That

thissimplyis not trueof My Bondage and My Freedomis almostof

secondaryinterestowhatthewordsI haveitalicizedrevealofGar-

rison’sattitudetowardhis ex-slaveand theunconsciouspsychology

ofbetrayed,outragedproprietorshilpyingbehindit.And whenGar-

risonwroteto his wifethatDouglass’ conduct »has been impulsive,

inconsiderateand highlyinconsistent »and to Samuel J. May that

Douglasshimselfwas « destitutoefeveryprincipleofhonor,ungrateful

to thelast and malevolentin the is clear: degree spirit, »20 picture pretty

forGarrison,Douglass had becomeOthellogonewrong,Othellowith all his dark-huedskin,his impulsivenessand passion but none of his nobilityof heroism.

TherelationshiopfsponsortonarratordidnotmuchaffecDtouglass’ ownNarrative:hewas capableofwritinghisstorywithoutaskingthe Garrisoniansl’eave or requiringtheirguidance.ButDouglass was an

manand an writera,nd othernar- extraordinary altogetherexceptional

rativesby ex-slaves,even thoseentirely »Writtenby Himself, »scarce- ly riseabove thelevel of thepreformedi,mposedand acceptedcon- ventional.Of thenarrativesthatCharlesNicholsjudgesto have been writtenwithoutthehelpofan editor-thoseby »FrederickDouglass, WilliamWells Brown,JamesW. C. Pennington,Samuel Ringgold Ward, Austin Steward and perhaps Henry Bibb »21-none but Douglass’ has any genuineappeal in itself,apartfromthetestimony itmightprovideaboutslavery,oranyrealclaimtoliterarymeritA.nd whenwegobeyondthisbarehandfulofnarrativestoconsiderthose writtenunderimmediateabolitionistguidanceand control,we find, as we mightwell expect,even less of individualdistinctionor distinc- tivenessas thenarratorshow themselvesmoreor less contentto re- main slaves to a prescribed,conventional,and imposed form; or

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65

perhapsitwould be morepreciseto say thattheywerecaptiveto the abolitionistintentionsand so thequestionof theirbeingcontentor

otherwisheardlyenteredin.Justasthetriangularelationshiepmbracing sponsor,audience,and ex-slavemadeofthelattersomethingotherthan an entirelyfreecreatorinthetellingofhislifestory,so also itmade

ofthenarrativperoduced(alwayskeepingtheexceptionaclase inmind) somethingotherthanautobiographyinanyfullsenseand something otherthanliteraturein any reasonableunderstandingof thattermas

an act of creativeimagination.An autobiographyor a piece of im- aginativeliteraturemay of courseobservecertainconventions,but it cannotbe only,merelyconventionalwithoutceasingto be satisfac- toryas eitherautobiographyor literaturea,nd thatis thecase, I should say, withall theslave narrativesexceptthegreatone by Frederick Douglass.

Butherea mostinterestinpgaradoxarises.Whilewemaysaythat

theslavenarrativedso notqualifyas eitherautobiographyorliterature,

and whilewe mayargue,againstJohnBaylissand GilbertOsofskyand others,thattheyhave no realplace inAmericanLiterature(justas we mightargue,and on thesame grounds,againstEllenMoers thatUncle Tom’sCabinisnota greatAmericannovel),yettheundeniablefact is thattheAfro-American traditiontakesitsstart,in themecer-

literary

tainlybut also oftenin contentand form,fromtheslave narratives.

RichardWright’sBlack Boy, whichmanyreaders(myselfincluded) would take to be his supremeachievementas a creativewriter,pro- videstheperfectcase inpoint,thougha hostofotherscouldbe adduc- ed thatwouldbe nearlyas exemplary(DuBois’ variousautobiographical works;Johnson’sAutobiographyofan Ex-ColouredMan; Baldwin’s autobiographicalfictionand essays; Ellison’sInvisibleMan; Gaines’ AutobiographyofMissJanePittman;MayaAngelou’swritinge;tc.). In effectW, rightlooks back to slave narrativesat thesame timethat he projectsdevelopmentsthatwould occurin Afro-Americanwriting afterBlackBoy(publishedin1945).ThematicallyB,lackBoyreenacts boththegeneral,objectiveportrayaloftherealitiesofslaveryas an institution(transmutedto whatWrightcalls « The EthicsofLivingJim Crow » in thelittlepiece thatlies behindBlack Boy) and also thepar-

ticular,individualcomplexof literacy-identity-freedtohmatwe find at the thematicenterof all of the most importantslave narratives. IncontentandformaswellBlackBoyrepeats,mutatismutandism,uch of thegeneralplan givenearlierin thisessaydescribingthetypicalslave narrativeW:rightl,iketheex-slave,afteramoreorlesschronological, episodicaccountof theconditionsof slavery/JimCrow, includinga

vivid of the or near

particularly description difficulty impossibility-

butalso theinescapablenecessity-ofattainingfullliteracy,tellshow he escapedfromsouthernbondage,fleeingtowardwhathe imagined

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66

would be freedom,a new and the to exercisehis identity, opportunity

hard-wonliteracyina northernf,ree-statceity.Thathedidnotfind

exactlywhat he expectedin Chicago and New York changesnothing about Black Boy itself:neitherdid Douglass findeverythinghe an-

ticipatedor desiredin theNorth,but thatpersonallyunhappyfactin

no way affectshis Narrative.Wright,impelledby a nascentsense of

freedomthatgrewwithinhim in directproportionto his increasing

literacy(particularlyin thereadingofrealisticand naturalistifciction),

fledtheworldoftheSouth,and abandonedtheidentitythatworld

had imposeduponhim(« I was whatthewhiteSouthcalleda ‘nigger »‘),

insearchofanotheridentity,theidentityofa writer,preciselythat

writerwe know as « RichardWright. » »Fromwherein thissouthern

darknesshadIcaughtasenseoffreedom? »2W2rightcoulddiscover

only one answer to his question: « It had been only through

books . . . thatI hadmanagedtokeepmyselfaliveina negativelyvital

way » (p. 282). It was in his abilityto construelettersand in thebare

possibilityofputtinghislifeintowritingthatWright »caughta sense

offreedom »and knewthathe mustworkout a new « I could identity.

submitandlivethelifeofa genialslave, »Wrightsays, »but, »headds,

« thatwas impossible »(p. 276). Itwas impossiblebecause,likeDouglass and otherslaves,he had arrivedat thecrossroadswherethethreepaths

of freedom

literacy,identity, met, knowledge

and aftersuch therewas

no turningback.

BlackBoy resembleslave narrativeisn manywaysbutin otherways

itis differenftromits and ancestors.It is ofmore crucially predecessors

thantrivial that narrativedoes not with insignificance Wright’s begin

« Iwasborn, »norisitundertheguidanceofanyintentionorimpulse otherthanitsown, and whilehis book is largelyepisodicin structure, itis also-precisely by exerciseofsymbolicmemory-« emplotteda »nd

insucha as toconstrue wholesout « configurational » way « significant

ofscatteredevents. »UltimatelyW,rightfreedhimselfromtheSouth-

atleastthisiswhathisnarrativerecounts-andhewasalsofortunate-

lyfree,as theex-slavesgenerallywerenot,fromabolitionistcontrol

and freeto exercisethatcreativememorythatwas peculiarlyhis. On

thepenultimatpeageofBlackBoyWrightsays, »I was leavingtheSouth to flingmyselfintotheunknown,to meetothersituationsthatwould

perhapselicitfromme otherresponses.And ifI could meetenough

ofa different and I learn life,then,perhaps,gradually slowly might

who I was, whatI mightbe. I was notleavingtheSouthto forgethe South,butso thatsomedayI mightunderstandit,mightcometoknow whatitsrigorshaddonetome,toitschildrenI. fledso thatthenumb- nessofmydefensivelivingmightthawout and letmefeelthepain- yearslaterandfaraway-of whatlivingintheSouthhadmeant. »Here Wrightnotonlyexercisesmemorybutalso talksaboutit,reflecting

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67

on itscreative,therapeuticr,edemptivea,nd liberatingcapacities.In his conclusionWrightharksback to thethemesand theformof the

slavenarrativesa,ndatthesametimeheanticipatesthemeandform in a greatdeal of morerecentAfro-Americanwriting,perhapsmost notablyinInvisibleMan. BlackBoyislikea nexusjoiningslavenar- rativesof thepast to themostfullydevelopedliterarycreationsof the presentt:hroughthepowerofsymbolicmemoryittransformtsheearlier narrativemodeintowhateveryonemustrecognizeas imaginative, creativeliteratureb,othautobiographyand fiction.In theirnarratives we mightsay, theex-slavesdid thatwhich,all unknowinglyon their partandonlywhenjoinedtocapacitiesandpossibilitiesnotavailable to them,led righton to the traditionof Afro-Americanliteratureas we know it now.

NOTES

1ProfessorRicoeurhas generouslygivenme permissionto quote fromthisunpublishedpaper.

2 I haveinmindsuchillustrationass thelargedrawingreproduced

as to Andrew a SlaveinSouth frontispiece John Jackson’Esxperienceof

Carolina(London:Passmore& Alabaster,1862),describedas a « Fac-

simileofthegimletwhichI usedtoborea holeinthedeckofthevessel »;

theengraveddrawingofa torturemachinereproducedon p. 47 ofA Narrativeof the Adventuresand Escape of Moses Roper, from

AmericanSlavery(Philadelphia:Merrihew& Gunn, 1838); and the « REPRESENTATION OF THE BOX, 3 feet1 inchlong,2 feetwide, 2 feet6 incheshigh, »in whichHenryBox Browntravelledby freight fromRichmondto Philadelphia,reproducedfollowingthetextof the Narrativeof HenryBox Brown,Who Escaped fromSlaveryEnclosed in a Box 3 FeetLong and 2 Wide. Writtenfroma Statementof Facts Made by Himself.WithRemarksupon theRemedyforSlavery.By CharlesSteams. (Boston: Brown& Stearns,1849). The verytitleof Box Brown’sNarrativedemonstratesomethingof themixedmode of slavenarrativesO.nthequestionofthetextofBrown’snarrativesee also notes4 and 12 below.

3 Douglass’NarrativedivergesfromthemasterplanonE4(hewas himselftheslave who refusedto be whipped),E8 (slave auctionshap- penednottofallwithinhisexperienceb,uthedoestalkofthesepara- tionof mothersand childrenand thesystematicdestructionof slave families),and E10 (he refusesto tellhow he escaped because to do so would close one escape routeto thosestillin slavery;in theLifeand TimesofFrederickDouglass he revealsthathis escape was different fromtheconventionalone). Forthepurposesofthepresentessay-

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68

and also, I think,in general-the Narrativeof 1845 is a much more

and a betterbook than twolater

interesting Douglass’ autobiographical

texts:My Bondage and My Freedom(1855) and Lifeand Timesof

FrederickDouglass (1881). These lattertwo are diffuseproductions

(Bondage and Freedomis threeto fourtimeslongerthanNarrative,

Lifeand Timesfiveto sixtimeslonger)thatdissipatethefocalizedenergy

of the Narrativein lengthyaccounts of post-slaveryactivities-

abolitionistspeeches,recollectionsoffriendst,ripsabroad,etc.Inin-

terestingways it seemsto me thattherelativeweaknessof thesetwo

laterbooksisanalogoustoa similarweaknessintheextendedversion

of RichardWright’sautobiographypublishedas AmericanHunger (orginallyconceivedas partofthesametextas BlackBoy).

4 This is true of the version labelled « firstEnglish edition »-

NarrativeoftheLifeofHenryBox Brown,WrittenbyHimself(Man- chesterL:ee&Glynn,1851)-butnotoftheearlierAmericanedition- NarrativeofHenryBox Brown,Who EscapedfromSlaveryEnclosed ina Box3 FeetLongand2 Wide.Writtenfroma StatementofFacts Made by Himself.WithRemarksupon theRemedyforSlavery.By

CharlesSteams. (Boston:Brown& Stearns,1849). On thebeginning of theAmericaneditionsee thediscussionlaterin thisessay, and on therelationshipbetweenthetwo textsof Brown’snarrativesee note 12 below.

5 Douglass’ Narrative begins this way. Neither Bondage and FreedomnorLifeand Timesstartswiththeexistentiaalssertion.This

is one thing,thoughby no meanstheonlyor themostimportantone,

thatremovesthelattertwobooks fromthecategoryofslavenarrative.

It is as ifby 1855 and evenmoreby 1881 FrederickDouglass’ existence

and his weresecure and wellknownthat identity enough sufficiently

he no longerfeltthenecessityof thefirstand basic assertion.

6 WiththeexceptionofWilliamParker’s »The Freedman’sStory » (publishedin theFebruaryand March1866issuesofAtlanticMonthly) all thenarrativelsistedwere Thereare more

separatepublications. many brief »narratives »-so briefthat theyhardlywarrantthe title »nar-

rative »:froma singleshortparagraphtothreeorfourpagesinlength-

thirtysuchinthecollectionofBenjaminDrewpublishedas TheRefugee: A North-SideViewofSlavery.I havenottriedtomultiplytheinstances by citingminorexamples;thoselistedin thetextincludethemostim- portantofthenarratives-Roper,Bibb,W. W. Brown,Douglass, Thompson, Ward, Pennington,Steward, Clarke, the Crafts-even JamesWilliams,thoughitisgenerallyagreedthathisnarrativiesa fraud perpetratedon an unwittingamanuensis,JohnGreenleafWhittierI.n additionto thoselistedin thetext,thereare a numberof othernar- rativesthatbeginwithonlyslightvariationson theformulaictag-

that with »I was born »;thereare,for or begin example,twenty-five

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69

WilliamHayden: »Thesubjectofthisnarrativweasborn »;MosesGran-

dy: »MynameisMosesGrandy;Iwasborn »;AndrewJackson »:I,An-

drew was Elizabeth lifehas beenan event- Jackson, born »; Keckley: »My

fulone. I was born »; Thomas L. Johnson: »Accordingto information

receivedfrommymotheri,fthereckoningis correctI, was born… « 

more thantheseis thevariation Solomon Perhaps interesting playedby

Northup,who was born a freeman in New York State and was kid- nappedand sentintoslaveryfortwelveyears;thushe commencesnot with »I was born »butwith »Havingbeenborna freeman »-as itwere theparticipialcontingencythatendowshisnarrativewitha special poignancyand a markeddifferencferomothernarratives.

Thereis a niceand ironicturnon the »I was born »insistencein the

ratherfoolishscenein UncleTom’s Cabin (ChapterXX) whenTopsy

famouslyopinesthatshewas notmadebutjust »grow’d. »MissOphelia catechizesher: » ‘Wherewereyou born? »Neverwas born!’persisted

Topsy. » Escaped slaves who hadn’tTopsy’s peculiarcombinationof Stowe-icresignationand manichighspiritsin thefaceofan imposed

non-existencweere toassertoverandover, »I non-identity, impelled

was born. »

7 Douglass’titleisclassictothedegreethatitisvirtuallyrepeated

by HenryBibb, changingonly thename in theformulaand inserting « Adventures,p »resumablyto attractspectacle-lovinrgeaders:Narrative oftheLifeand AdventuresofHenryBibb,An AmericanSlave, Writ-

tenby Himself.Douglass’ Narrativewas publishedin 1845, Bibb’s in 1849.I suspectthatBibbderivedhistitledirectlyfromDouglass. That ex-slaveswritingtheirnarrativeswereaware ofearlierproductionsby fellowex-slaves(and thuswereimpelledto samenessin narrativeby outrightimitationas well as by theconditionsof narrationadduced inthetextabove) ismadeclearintheprefaceto TheLifeofJohnThomp- son,A FugitiveSlave; ContainingHis Historyof25 YearsinBondage, andHisProvidentialEscape.WrittenbyHimself(WorcesterP:ublish- edbyJohnThompson,1856),p. v: « Itwas suggestedtomeabouttwo yearssince,afterrelatingto manythemainfactsrelativeto mybon- dage and escape to theland of freedom,thatit would be a desirable thingtoputthesefactsintopermanentform.I firstsoughttodiscover whathadbeensaidbyotherpartnersinbondageonce,butinfreedom now…. » Withthisforewarningthereadershouldnotbe surprised to discoverthatThompson’snarrativefollowstheconventionsof the formverycloselyindeed.

8 However much Douglass changed his narrativein successive incarnations-theopeningparagraph,forexample,underwentcon- siderabletransformation-hcehose to retainthissentenceintact.It oc- curson p. 52 oftheNarrativeoftheLifeofFrederickDouglass . . . ed. BenjaminQuarles (Cambridge,Mass., 1960); on p. 132 ofMy Bon-

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70

dageandMyFreedom,intro.PhilipS. Foner(NewYork,1969);and on p. 72 ofLifeand TimesofFrederickDouglass, intro.RayfordW.

Logan (New York, 1962).

9 For convenienceI have adopted thislistfromJohnF. Bayliss’in-

troductiontoBlackSlaveNarratives(NewYork,1970),p. 18.Aswill be apparent,however,I do notagreewiththepointBaylisswishesto

make withhis list. Having quoted fromMarion Wilson Starling’sun- publisheddissertation, »The Black Slave Narrative:Its Place in AmericanLiteraryHistory, »to theeffecthattheslave narrativese,x- cept those fromEquiano and Douglass, are not generallyvery distinguishedasliteratureB,aylisscontinues: »Starlingisbeingunfair heresincethenarrativesdo showa diversityofinterestinsgtyles… Theleadingnarratives,uchas thoseofDouglass,WilliamWellsBrown, Ball,Bibb,Henson,Northup,Penningtona,nd Roperdeservetobe con- sideredfora in American a the

place literature, place beyond historical. »Since Ball’s narrativewas writtenby one « Mr. Fisher »and

Northup’sbyDavid Wilson,andsinceHenson’snarrativsehowsa good

dealofthecharlantryonemightexpectfroma manwhobilledhimself

toincludethemamongthoseslavenarrativesaidtoshowthegreatest literarydistinctionT.o putitanotherway,itwouldbeneithersurpris- ingnorspeciallymeritoriouisfMr. Fisher(a whiteman),David Wilson (a whiteman),andJosiahHenson(TheOriginalUncleTom)wereto display »a diversityofinterestinsgtyles »whentheirnarrativesareput alongsidethoseby Douglass, W. W. Brown,Bibb, Penningtona,nd

Butthe fact,as I shall in thetext,is that Roper. reallyinteresting argue

theydo not show a diversityof interestinsgtyles.

10Here we discoveranotherminorbut revealingdetailof thecon-

vention itselfJ.ustasitbecameconventionatlohavea establishing sign-

ed and so it became at least portrait authenticatinlgetters/prefaces,

semi-conventionatlo have an imprintreadingmore or less like this:

« Boston:Anti-SlaveryOffice,25 Cornhill. »A Cornhilladdressis given

for,amongothers,thenarrativesof Douglass, WilliamWells Brown,

Box Brown,Thomas Jones,JosiahHenson,Moses Grandy,and James

as ‘The UncleTom, »itseemsatbesta errorfor Original strategic Bayliss

Williams.The lastoftheseis especiallyinterestinfgor,althoughitseems thathisnarrativeis at least Williamsis on this

semi-fraudulent, point,

as on so

11NarrativeofHenryBoxBrown…. (Boston:Brown& Stears,

many others,altogetherepresentative.

merely

1849), p. 25.

12 The questionof thetextof Brown’sNarrativeis a good deal more

complicatedthanI have space to show, but thatcomplicationrather

thaninvalidates above. The textI strengthens my argument analyze

above was publishedin Boston in 1849. In 1851 a « firstEnglishedi- tion »was publishedinManchesterwiththespecification »Writtenby

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Himself. »It would appear that in preparingthe Americanedition Steamsworkedfroma ms.copyofwhatwouldbe publishedtwoyears lateras thefirstEnglishedition-or fromsome ur-textlyingbehind both. In any case, Stearnshas laid on theTrue AbolitionistStylevery heavily,but thereis already,in theversion »Writtenby Himself, »a good deal of theabolitionistmannerpresentin diction,syntax,and tone.IfthefirstEnglisheditionwas reallywrittenbyBrownthiswould makehiscase parallelto thecase ofHenryBibb,discussedbelow,where theabolitioniststyleinsinuatesitselfintothetextand takesoverthe styleof thewritingeven when thatis actuallydone by an ex-slave. Thisis nottheplace forit,buttherelationshipbetweenthetwotexts, thevariationsthatoccurin them,and theexplanationforthosevaria- tionswould providethesubjectforan immenselyinterestinsgtudy.

13 TwelveYearsa Slave: NarrativeofSolomonNorthup,a Citizen

of New-York,Kidnapped in WashingtonCity in 1841, and Rescued in 1853,froma CottonPlantationNear theRed River,in Louisiana

(Auburn:Derby & Miller,1853), p. xv. Referencesin thetextare to thisfirstedition.

14 IamsurprisedthatRobertStepto,inhisexcellentanalysisofthe internawl orkingsoftheWilson/Northupbook, doesn’tmakemoreof thisquestionofwheretolocatetherealauthorityofthebook. SeeFrom BehindtheVeil:A StudyofAfro-AmericanNarrative(Urbana,Ill., 1979), pp. 11-16.

Whether or not,Gilbert misleadsreaders intentionally Osofskybadly

ofthebook

calledPuttin’On Ole Massa whenhefails unfortunately

toincludethe »Editor’sPreface »byDavid Wilsonwithhisprintingof

TwelveYearsa Slave: NarrativeofSolomonNorthup.Thereis nothing

inOsofsky’stexttosuggesthatDavid WilsonoranyoneelsebutNor-

thuphad anythingto do withthenarrative-on thecontrary: »Nor-

thup,Brown,andBibb,astheirautobiographiesdemonstratew,ere

menof wisdomand talent.Each was of his

creativity, capable writing life with (PuttinO’nOleMassa York,

story sophistication » [New

p. 44). Northuppreciselydoes notwritehislifestory,eitherwithor

1969],

withoutsophisticationa,nd Osofskyis guiltyof badly obscuringthis fact.Osofsky’sliteraryjudgementw,ithtwo-thirdosfwhichIdonot

agree,is that »TheautobiographieosfFrederickDouglass,HenryBibb,

and SolomonNorthupfuseimaginativestylewithkeennessofinsight.

They are penetratingand self-criticasl,uperiorautobiographyby any standards »(p. 10).

15 To anticipateone possibleobjection,I would arguethatthecase is essentiallydifferenwtithTheAutobiographyofMalcolmX, written

byAlexHaley. To putitsimply,thereweremanythingsincommon between Haley and Malcolm X; between white ama- nuenses/editors/authoransdex-slaves,ontheotherhand,almost nothingwas shared.

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72

16 Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An AmericanSlave, WrittenbyHimself.Withan IntroductionbyLucius C. Matlack (New York: Publishedby the Author; 5 Spruce Street, 1849), p. i. Page citationsin the textare fromthisfirstedition.

Itisa thatinmodern ofslavenarratives-the greatpity reprintings

threeinOsofsky’sPuttinO’nOleMassa,forexample-theillustrations in theoriginalsare omittedA. modemreadermissesmuchoftheflavor ofa narrativelikeBibb’swhentheillustrationss,o fullofpathosand tendersentimentn,otto mentionsomeexquisitecrueltyand violence, arenotwiththetext.The twoillustrationosn p. 45 (captions: »Can

a motherforgethersucklingchild? »and « The tendermerciesof the

wickedare cruel »),theone on p. 53 (« Nevermindthemoney »),and

theone on p. 81 (« My heartis almostbroken »)can be takenas typical.

An interestinpgsychologicalfactabout theillustrationisn Bibb’snar-

rativeis thatof thetwenty-onetotal,eighteeninvolvesome formof

physicalcruelty,tortureo,rbrutalityT.heuncaptionedillustrationof

133 of two naked slaves on whom some infernal is be- p. punishment

ingpractisedsaysmuchabout(inMatlack’sphrase)thereader’sfeverish thirstforgushingbeautifulfountains »startedfrombeneaththerod of violence. »

17 Or 1852, thedate of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. HarrietBeecherStowe recognizeda kindrednovelisticspiritwhenshereadone (justas David Wilson/SolomonNorthupdid). In 1851,whenshewas writingUncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe wroteto FrederickDouglass sayingthatshe was seekinginformationabout lifeon a cottonplantationforhernovel: « I have beforeme an able paper writtenby a southernplanterin which thedetails& modusoperandiaregivenfromhispointofsight-I am anxioustohavesomemorefromanotherstandpoint-Iwishtobe able tomakea picturethatshallbegraphic& truetonatureinitsdetails- Such a personas HenryBibb, ifin thiscountry,mightgive me just thekindofinformationI desire. »Thisletteris datedJuly9, 1851and has been transcribedfroma photographicopy reproducedin Ellen Moers, HarrietBeecherStowe and AmericanLiterature(Hartford, Conn.: Stowe-DayFoundation,1978),p. 14.

18 Sincewritingtheabove, I discoverthatinhisLifeand Times

Douglass saysoftheconclusionofhisabolitionistwork, »Othello’soc-

cupationwasgone »(NewYork:Collier-Macmillan1,962,p. 373),but thisstillseemstomerathera differenmtatterfromthewhitesponsor’s invariantallusionto Othelloin attestingto thetruthfulneosfs theblack narrator’saccount.

A contemporaryreviewerofTheInterestingNarrativeoftheLife of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, theAfricanwrote,in The GeneralMagazineandImpartialReview(July1789), »Thisis’a round unvarnishedtale’ofthechequeredadventuresofan African …. « (see

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73

appendixto vol. I of The Lifeof Olaudah Equiano, ed. Paul Edwards [London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1969].

JohnGreenleafWhittiert,houghstungonceinhissponsorshipof JamesWilliams’Narrative,didnotshrinkfroma second,similarven-

ture,writingi,n his « introductorynote » to theAutobiographyof the Rev. JosiahHenson (Mrs. HarrietBeecherStowe’s « Uncle Tom ») – also knownas UncleTom’sStoryofHis LifeFrom1789to 1879-« The earlylifeoftheauthor,as a slave, . . . provesthatintheterriblepic- turesof ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ thereis ‘nothingextenuateor aughtset downinmalice »‘(Boston:B. B. Russell& Co., 1879,p. viii).

19 Quoted by Philip S. Foner in the introductionto My Bondage

and My Freedom,pp. xi-xii.

20 BothquotationsfromBenjaminQuarles, « The BreachBetween

DouglassandGarrison, »JournaolfNegroHistory,XXIII(April1938), p. 147, note 19, and p. 154.

21 ThelistisfromNichols’unpublishedoctoraldissertation(Brown

University1,948), « A Studyof theSlave Narrative, »p. 9. 22BlackBoy:A RecordofChildhoodandYouth(NewYork,1966),

p. 282.

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That, the integrity of the piece and of the world it creates, of its internal logics and rules, is what matters. My hope was always that as genre gestures got more integrated into mainstream literature and television and film, the overreliance on realism-based critiques would fade. Instead, it’s intensified and is becoming a major mode of critical discourse. It’s sad, really. There’re so many more riches to be discovered in fiction if we could just let ourselves see them and not be so afraid that it might take us somewhere new.


Cinéma: Le Majordome ou la subversion par le service (The Butler: when subservience becomes subversive)

23 octobre, 2013
https://i1.wp.com/www.awardsdaily.com/wp-content/uploads//2013/06/butlerwindow-1370279347.jpgQuiconque veut être grand parmi vous, qu’il soit votre serviteur; et quiconque veut être le premier parmi vous, qu’il soit votre esclave. C’est ainsi que le Fils de l’homme est venu, non pour être servi, mais pour servir et donner sa vie comme la rançon de plusieurs. Jésus (Matthieu 20: 26-28)
il n’y a pas de travail insignifiant. Tout travail qui aide l’humanité a de la dignité et de l’importance. Il doit donc être entrepris avec une perfection qui ne recule pas devant la peine. Celui qui est appelé à être balayeur de rues doit balayer comme Michel-Ange peignait ou comme Beethoven composait, ou comme Shakespeare écrivait. Il doit balayer les rues si parfaitement que les hôtes des cieux et de la terre s’arrêteront pour dire : « Ici vécut un grand balayeur de rues qui fit bien son travail. Martin Luther King
Le domestique noir défie les stéréotypes raciaux en étant assidu et digne de confiance… bien que serviles, ils sont subversifs sans même le savoir. Martin Luther King Jr.
Le grand ennemi de la vérité n’est très souvent pas le mensonge – délibéré, artificiel et malhonnête – mais le mythe – persistant, persuasif et irréaliste. John Kennedy
Il n’aura même pas eu la satisfaction d’être tué pour les droits civiques. Il a fallu que ce soit un imbécile de petit communiste. Cela prive même sa mort de toute signification. Jackie Kennedy
It was people like Eugene and Helene Allen who helped build the black middle class in this country. And that is a big reason why I took this role. Oprah Winfrey
Ce qui était exceptionnel, c’était de faire un film sur une famille afro-américaine. Il y en a eu très peu. Je me souviens de Diahann Carroll dans Claudine (de John Berry) ou de Cicely Tyson dans Sounder (de Martin Ritt). Le reste, c’est mon histoire, c’est notre parcours . Lee Daniels
Devinez lequel des deux a grandi dans une Virginie sous le coup de la ségrégation, a pris un travail à la Maison-Blanche et est monté jusqu’au titre de maître d’hôtel, la plus haute position dans le service dédié à la Maison-Blanche? Devinez lequel menait une vie heureuse et paisible, et a été marié à la même femme pendant 65 ans? Et lequel avait un fils qui a honorablement servi au Vietnam et n’a jamais émis la moindre protestation durant l’ère pré- et post- droits civiques? Maintenant, devinez quel majordome a grandi dans une ferme de Géorgie, a vu son patron violer sa mère, puis son père s’élever contre ce viol, puis se faire tirer une balle dans la tête en réponse? Devinez quel majordome ressent si profondément la peine des injustices raciales de l’Amérique qu’il quitte son travail à la Maison-Blanche et rejoint son fils dans un mouvement de protestation? (…) La position de mon père sur la levée des sanctions sud-africaines dans les années 80 n’avait rien à voir avec la question strictement raciale. Il avait à faire avec la géopolitique de la guerre froide. Les faits n’ont pas d’importance pour les propagandistes créatifs de Hollywood. La vérité est trop compliquée et pas assez dramatique au goût des scénaristes, qui pensent en terme de minute, pas de contexte, quand il s’agit d’un conservateur. Contrairement à ce que les libéraux de Hollywood pensent, mon père ne voyait pas les gens en couleurs. Il les voyait en tant qu’individus américains. Michael Reagan
Les petits garçons et les petites filles américains s’assiéront ensemble dans n’importe quelle école – publique ou privée – sans aucune distinction de couleur. La ségrégation, la discrimination et le racisme n’ont pas leur place en Amérique. Vice President Richard Nixon (Campagne Eisenhower, octobre 1956)
No one should ever deny the senseless tragedies that dogged the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s, including the murders of Emmett Till in 1955, of Medgar Evers in 1963, of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner 1964, and of course, of Martin Luther King in 1968. But by 1986, the United States was a different place. The Butler’s negative reimagination comes at a real social cost. Watching the movie, the viewer comes away thinking that the civil rights movement has largely failed. But the actual record is more upbeat. It is unfortunate that Daniels did not start The Butler during the Truman years. In 1948, Truman decided to desegregate the U.S. armed forces by executive order. That action would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the Second World War, given the dominant southern presence in the military. Hence, the United States had the dubious distinction of fighting Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan with segregated armed forces. Perhaps an executive order is not cinematic stuff. But the same cannot be said of baseball’s racial integration in 1947, when a determined Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson up from a farm team in Montreal to the Brooklyn Dodgers. That story was the subject of 1950 movie and the more recent film 42 released this year. This transformative event was done, not through legislation, but voluntarily by one courageous man who took the risk that a major backlash might follow. Change was happening at the state level as well. In 1947, New Jersey abolished segregation by a state constitutional amendment. When these changes are executed voluntarily, they are less likely to face the massive resistance that followed the Supreme Court’s decision on racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, handed down in June 1954 and itself the culmination of a long campaign that first chopped away at segregation in railroad transportation and law school education. In time, of course, the cultural clash crystallized in the highly confrontational sit-ins that occupy much of the screen time in The Butler. It is these cases that led to the passage of Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which deals with access of all persons to public accommodations. Its basic command reads that all persons are entitled to ”the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. Richard A. Epstein
Pourquoi les Démocrates feraient-ils l’impasse sur leur propre histoire entre 1848 et 1900 ? Peut-être parce que ce n’est pas le genre d’histoire des droits civiques dont ils veulent parler – peut-être parce que ce n’est pas le genre d’histoire de droits civiques qu’ils veulent avoir sur leur site Web. David Barton
How likely is it that the chief White House butler not only witnessed his mother raped and his father murdered by a plantation owner’s racist son but also had an intermittently estranged son of his own who became, first, one of the Fisk University student heroes of the Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins; second, one of the original Freedom Riders; third, so close an aide to King that he was in the Memphis motel room with Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson when King was assassinated; fourth, a beret-wearing Black Panther in Oakland; fifth, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress; sixth, a leader of the South Africa divestment movement; and, seventh, a successful candidate for Congress? Hendrik Hertzberg
The Butler is fiction, although its audience may assume otherwise. Those cagey words “inspired by a true story” can be deceptive. The script was triggered by Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election.” Published after Obama’s landmark victory, and later spun into a book, it unearthed the story of former White House butler Eugene Allen, who served American presidents for 34 years. But screenwriter Danny Strong (HBO’s Game Change) has created a fictional butler named Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), whose life mirrors the drama of the civil rights movement with cut-glass symmetry. Straining to serve an overcharged agenda, The Butler is a broadly entertaining, bluntly inspirational history lesson wrapped around a family saga that gives new resonance to the term “domestic drama.” Director Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) is not known for subtlety, and this movie is no exception. But at the heart of its sprawling narrative, he has corralled some fine performances. Whitaker navigates gracefully between his public and private personae—White House butlers he says, have two faces: their own “and the ones we got to show the white man.” As Cecil stoically weathers the upheavals of history, and his splintered family, we can feel him being gradually crushed under the weight of his own quiet dignity, yet mustering shy increments of resistance over the decades. Between his role as a virtually mute servant/sage in the White House and a beleaguered patriarch trying to hold together his middle-class family, this a character with a lot on his plate. The story’s long march begins with Cecil’s boyhood on a cotton plantation in the South in 1926, where he sees his father shot dead in a field for looking the wrong way at a white man. Cecil is adopted by a thin-lipped matriarch who tells him, “I’m going to teach you how to be a house nigger.” Which sounds strange coming from the mouth of Vanessa Redgrave. The term “house nigger,” and the n-word in general, recurs again and again, shocking us each time, and never letting us forget that there’s no higher house than the White House. A model of shrewd obedience, Cecil learns to make the perfect martini, to be invisible in a room, and to overhear affairs of estate in stony silence—unless asked for his opinion, which he’ll pretend to offer with a wry, Delphic diplomacy that makes the questioner feel validated. The script goes out of its way to ennoble Cecil’s work, plucking a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. —”the black domestic defies racial stereotyping by being hardworking and trustworthy … though subservient, they are subversive without even knowing it.” The Uncle Tom issue is front and centre, especially in Cecil’s feud with his radicalized son Louis (David Oyelowo), who rejects his father as a race traitor. The conflict comes to a head amid a family debate about the merits of Sidney Poitier, a legendary actor brashly dismissed by Louis as “a white man’s fantasy of what he wants us to be.” The fondly nostalgic references to In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner may fly over the heads of younger viewers. But it’s a lovely scene, mixing rancour and wit and a deft touch. Although this is a movie on a mission, it does have a sense of humour. When Cecil’s eldest son, shows up to dinner in his Black Panther beret and black leather, with a girlfriend sporting a vast Angela Davis Afro, it’s pure caricature as Daniels presents a whole other take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, played as both drama and farce. Brian D. Johnson
The film opens with young Cecil in Macon, Georgia, in the 1920s, working in a cotton field alongside his father. His mother (Mariah Carey) is raped by a white plantation overseer, Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer), loud enough for everyone to hear. When Westfall returns, Cecil’s father shows his anger, and Westfall shoots him dead in front of Cecil and the other plantation workers. The plantation matriarch (Vanessa Redgrave) then decides that Cecil should leave the fields to become a “house nigger” and learn to serve her family. Those appear to be the inventions of screenplay writer Danny Strong; they are never mentioned in Haygood’s piece.Eugene Allen was born in 1919, and, like Cecil, he grew up on a plantation (in Virginia, not Georgia). He, too, became a “house boy” for a white family. When he spoke to Haygood about his childhood, “There was nary a hint of bitterness in his voice about his upbringing.” Allen left the plantation in hopes of finding better work, as Cecil does—but unlike his fictional counterpart, he never broke into a hotel restaurant to steal food. (He did, however, land a job at a Virginia hotel as a waiter, as Cecil ultimately does in North Carolina.) Allen learned of a job at a country club in Washington, D.C., a fact that aligns with Cecil’s move to the nation’s capital. But their entries to the White House differ considerably: Allen learned via word of mouth that Alonzo Fields, a black maître d’ at the White House, was looking for pantry workers, and he went to talk to him. He began working there in 1952, during the Truman administration, but didn’t get promoted to butler until several years later. In the movie, the White House calls Gaines after a white senior staffer witnesses Cecil in action at the D.C. hotel—a point Cecil, in voiceover, emphasizes proudly. Aisha Harris

Attention: une subversion peut en cacher une autre !

Mère violée, père assassiné, fils ainé panthère noire, cadet tué au Vietnam, président démocrate assassiné par le racisme, présidents républicains congénitalement racistes …

Comment devant l’histoire de ce « nègre de maison » qui finit majordome de la Maison-Blanche et qui, pendant 34 ans et de Truman à Reagan, servit huit présidents  …

Et malgré l’invraisemblable accumulation, sans parler des contre-vérités anti-républicaines, de péripéties à la Forrest Gump et de stars de la pop ou d’Hollywood que se sent obligé de lui adjoindre le film de  Lee Daniels …

Comme le véritable accident industriel que s’est révélé être l’arrivée du premier président noir à la Maison Blanche ….

Ne pas repenser à ces milliers de pères et mères de famille sans lesquels il n’y aurait pas de classe moyenne noire aujourd’hui aux Etats-Unis …

Ceux dont Martin Luther King évoquait  la dignité et l’importance …

Comme celle du balayeur de rues qui « balaye comme Michel-Ange » …

Ou du domestique noir qui par sa servilité même devient « subversif sans même le savoir » …

Mais surtout à cette ultime subversion à laquelle avait appelé le Christ …

A savoir celle de la grandeur du service et du don de soi ?

The Butler: Hit and miss, though Oprah steals every scene

Brian D. Johnson

August 16, 2013

This is turning out to be an exceptional year for black filmmakers mining true stories of race and violence in America. Last month saw the release of Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, an explosive drama about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man who was shot dead by police while handcuffed in an Oakand subway station on New Year’s Day in 2009. At next month’s Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most hotly anticipated premieres is Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, about Solomon Northrup, a free-born African American who was kidnapped in 1841, sold into slavery, and rescued by a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt). And opening this week is Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a star-studded epic inspired by the life of a dedicated butler who served under eight presidents in the White House while the civil rights movement raged outside its walls.

Unlike the other two movies, The Butler is fiction, although its audience may assume otherwise. Those cagey words “inspired by a true story” can be deceptive. The script was triggered by Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election.” Published after Obama’s landmark victory, and later spun into a book, it unearthed the story of former White House butler Eugene Allen, who served American presidents for 34 years. But screenwriter Danny Strong (HBO’s Game Change) has created a fictional butler named Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), whose life mirrors the drama of the civil rights movement with cut-glass symmetry.

Straining to serve an overcharged agenda, The Butler is a broadly entertaining, bluntly inspirational history lesson wrapped around a family saga that gives new resonance to the term “domestic drama.” Director Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) is not known for subtlety, and this movie is no exception. But at the heart of its sprawling narrative, he has corralled some fine performances. Whitaker navigates gracefully between his public and private personae—White House butlers he says, have two faces: their own “and the ones we got to show the white man.” As Cecil stoically weathers the upheavals of history, and his splintered family, we can feel him being gradually crushed under the weight of his own quiet dignity, yet mustering shy increments of resistance over the decades. Between his role as a virtually mute servant/sage in the White House and a beleaguered patriarch trying to hold together his middle-class family, this a character with a lot on his plate. The real surprise is Oprah Winfrey, who’s blessed with a juicy, freewheeling role, and shows once and for all she can really act, stealing every scene with a saucy gravitas, if there can be such a thing. With a performance that’s charismatic yet deeply grounded, she sails through a character arc that ranges from drunken feints at infidelity to ferocious loyalty—undercut with droll asides that are impeccably timed.

The story’s long march begins with Cecil’s boyhood on a cotton plantation in the South in 1926, where he sees his father shot dead in a field for looking the wrong way at a white man. Cecil is adopted by a thin-lipped matriarch who tells him, “I’m going to teach you how to be a house nigger.” Which sounds strange coming from the mouth of Vanessa Redgrave. The term “house nigger,” and the n-word in general, recurs again and again, shocking us each time, and never letting us forget that there’s no higher house than the White House.

A model of shrewd obedience, Cecil learns to make the perfect martini, to be invisible in a room, and to overhear affairs of estate in stony silence—unless asked for his opinion, which he’ll pretend to offer with a wry, Delphic diplomacy that makes the questioner feel validated. The script goes out of its way to ennoble Cecil’s work, plucking a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. —”the black domestic defies racial stereotyping by being hardworking and trustworthy … though subservient, they are subversive without even knowing it.”

The Uncle Tom issue is front and centre, especially in Cecil’s feud with his radicalized son Louis (David Oyelowo), who rejects his father as a race traitor. The conflict comes to a head amid a family debate about the merits of Sidney Poitier, a legendary actor brashly dismissed by Louis as “a white man’s fantasy of what he wants us to be.” The fondly nostalgic references to In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner may fly over the heads of younger viewers. But it’s a lovely scene, mixing rancour and wit and a deft touch. Although this is a movie on a mission, it does have a sense of humour. When Cecil’s eldest son, shows up to dinner in his Black Panther beret and black leather, with a girlfriend sporting a vast Angela Davis Afro, it’s pure caricature as Daniels presents a whole other take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, played as both drama and farce.

The story is a bit of a slog. It unfolds against a parade of presidents that amounts to a clumsy sideshow of cameos. Some are dismal, beginning with a ludicrous incarnation of Dwight D. Eisenhower by Robin Williams desperately trying not to look like Robin Williams. John Cusack’s Nixon is a bad joke. James Marsden’s John F. Kennedy is too young and callow—JFK as just another pretty face. But Liev Schreiber throws some mustard on a snappy portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson. And an almost unrecognizable Allan Rickman creates a masterful Ronald Reagan, complemented by Jane Fonda’s brief, brilliant turn as Nancy. First The Newsroom, now this; Hanoi Jane has grown up to be an expert at playing ballsy Republican grand dames.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, it does its job. The tragic events of America’s race war, no matter how schematically presented, burn through the narrative with potency. Intercutting horrific scenes of bigots disrupting a lunch counter protest in the South with shots of a black butlers setting fine china for a White House dinner may be contrived, but they’re brutally effective.

With his hit-and-miss direction, it’s as if Daniels is the movie’s ultimate butler, juggling an overloaded tray as he tries to serve all sides of history at once. He’s most assured in the scenes of Cecil’s extended family, which swing from rollicking banter to bitter conflict, and least comfortable in his role as history teacher. Every so often I kept wishing Spike Lee were behind the camera, cutting through clichés. Though The Butler‘s tidy sentiments can be cloying, it’s hard to remain unmoved—and unimpressed by the stubbornly authentic performances by Whitaker and Oprah, which will likely be remembered at Oscar time.

Voir aussi:

Top 5 Inaccuracies in ‘The Butler’

Christian Toto

Breitbart

16 Aug 2013

The new political drama Lee Daniels’ The Butler takes its cues from a Washington Post article about a black servant named Eugene Allen who worked in eight presidential administrations.

That part of the story is essentially unchanged. The rest of the film, a movie stuffed with politics, historical re-creations and presidential imitations, is rife with inaccuracies that should be corrected.

Note: Some story spoilers ahead …

President Ronald Reagan was indifferent to the suffering of people of color. Breitbart News reported this week that Reagan biographer Craig Shirley shredded this notion by detailing the president’s legislative achievements and personal outtreach to his black peers.

The Democrats helped pass the Civil Rights Act: This is more of an inaccuracy by omission. The film showcases how both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson rallied on behalf of civil rights, but what’s left out is the voting record on the historic Civil Rights Act. Turns out « 80 percent of the “no” votes in the Senate came from Democrats, including the late Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Albert Gore (Tenn.), father of the future vice president, » so Republicans teamed up with President Johnson to pass the legislation.

President Nixon dismissed black Americans–save for their votes: The film shows Nixon (John Cusack) promoting his upcoming election battle with John F. Kennedy by giving campaign buttons to the butler and his fellow black servers. Later, Nixon talks up black enterprise but only with an eye on winning votes. Moviefone.com notes Nixon’s record on school integration outpaced his predecessors, and Allen has spoken fondly of Nixon in press interviews.

The Butler disliked President Reagan: The real Eugene Allen has expressed affection for all the presidents he served, noting he voted for each when they were inhabiting the White House. A framed picture of the Reagans was displayed on Allen’s living room wall, and he noted that Nancy Reagan gave him a warm hug when he finally retired. Hardly sounds like the character in the movie, played by Forest Whitaker, who appeared to be fed up with the Reagans and quit for that very reason.

The Butler met Obama: The film uses a framing device of the titular Butler waiting to meet personally with President Barack Obama. There’s no official record of such a meeting, although Allen was a VIP guest at Obama’s swearing in.

Extra: Screenwriter Danny Strong (Game Change) took tremendous liberties with Allen’s life beyond the name change to Cecil Gaines. Strong gave the butler two sons, not one, made the main character’s wife (Oprah Winfrey) a heavy drinker and fictionalized much of his life story prior to entering the White House.

Voir également:

« The Butler » Distorts Race Relations

Richard A. Epstein

Hoover

August 20, 2013

The film’s retelling of history comes at a real social cost.

Next year, this nation will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That occasion will rightly give rise to many reflections about how far this nation has come and where it will go in the future.

One early entrant into this dialogue is The Butler, a new film by Lee Daniels. In the movie, Forest Whitaker plays the fictional butler Cecil Gaines, who worked for seven presidential administrations from Eisenhower to Reagan. The movie was inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, who did in fact serve in the White House between 1952 and 1986 under eight presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. Days after Barack Obama was elected president, an affectionate account of Allen’s service was written up by Wil Haygood in the Washington Post.

But Allen’s story stands in stark contrast to the fictional Cecil Gaines’.

A Tale of Two Butlers

Born in 1919, Eugene Allen grew up in segregated Virginia, and slowly worked his way up the butler profession, largely without incident. Unlike the fictional Cecil Gaines, he did not watch the boss rape his mother on a Georgia farm, only to shoot a bullet through his father’s head as he starts to protest the incident, leading Cecil years later to escape his past for a better future.

Instead, over a period of years, Allen rose from a “pantry man” to the highest position in White House service, Maître d’hôtel. His life was marked by quiet distinction and personal happiness. He was married to the same woman, Helene, for 65 years. He had one son, Charles, who served in Vietnam. During the Reagan years, Nancy Reagan invited Allen and his wife to a state dinner as guests. When he retired shortly afterwards, “President Reagan wrote him a sweet note. Nancy Reagan hugged him, tight,” according to the story in the Washington Post. During service, he never said a word of criticism about any president. Nor was his resignation an act of political protest.

The fictional Cecil, however, does not come to the White House under Truman, but arrives in 1957, just in time for one of the defining events of the civil rights movement—namely, President Eisenhower’s reluctant but firm decision to move federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, after Orval Faubus quite literally barred the school room door.

In general, the movie is full of hype. Cecil’s wholly fictional older son Louis gets involved in the civil rights movement from the time of the sit-ins through the rise of the Black Panther movement, and a younger brother, who professes pride in his country pays the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. Cecil’s wife, Gloria, falls prey to alcoholism and a time has a shabby affair with the guy next door. Gaines’ service is marked by quiet frustration, knowing that black workers suffered a 40 percent wage deficit that lasted under the Reagan years, while being excluded from well-deserved promotions. When the weight of these injustices hit him, Cecil resigns to join his son Louis in a protest movement. When Slate’s, Aisha Harris was asked “How True is The Butler?” her candid answer was “not much.”.

The Dangers of Docudrama

Why is Lee Daniels not content to tell the real story? The obvious answer is that his version makes for a better movie. Another explanation is that his tale is more downbeat so that it can belittle some of the progress that the civil rights movement has made over this time.

No one should ever deny the senseless tragedies that dogged the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s, including the murders of Emmett Till in 1955, of Medgar Evers in 1963,

of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner 1964, and of course, of Martin Luther King in 1968. But by 1986, the United States was a different place.

The Butler’s negative reimagination comes at a real social cost. Watching the movie, the viewer comes away thinking that the civil rights movement has largely failed. But the actual record is more upbeat. It is unfortunate that Daniels did not start The Butler during the Truman years. In 1948, Truman decided to desegregate the U.S. armed forces by executive order.

That action would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the Second World War, given the dominant southern presence in the military. Hence, the United States had the dubious distinction of fighting Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan with segregated armed forces.

Perhaps an executive order is not cinematic stuff. But the same cannot be said of baseball’s racial integration in 1947, when a determined Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson up from a farm team in Montreal to the Brooklyn Dodgers. That story was the subject of 1950 movie and the more recent film 42 released this year. This transformative event was done, not through legislation, but voluntarily by one courageous man who took the risk that a major backlash might follow.

Change was happening at the state level as well. In 1947, New Jersey abolished segregation by a state constitutional amendment. When these changes are executed voluntarily, they are less likely to face the massive resistance that followed the Supreme Court’s decision on racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, handed down in June 1954 and itself the culmination of a long campaign that first chopped away at segregation in railroad transportation and law school education.

Sit-Ins and Public Accommodations

In time, of course, the cultural clash crystallized in the highly confrontational sit-ins that occupy much of the screen time in The Butler. It is these cases that led to the passage of Title II of the

1964 Civil Rights Act, which deals with access of all persons to public accommodations.

Its basic command reads that all persons are entitled to ”the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

To most people, the argument in favor of this section is easy enough to understand. These rights are basic entitlements of citizens, and die-hard segregationists abridged them. The sustained moral indignation directed to segregationists in the movie is deserved. But some of the long-term legal implications of Title II of the CRA are more difficult to unpack.

My take runs as follows. In general it is a mistake for any government law to require one private person to do business with another against his will: the principle of freedom of organization is fundamental to a just society. The major counterweight to that, on classical liberal theory, is in cases of monopoly, which meant in bygone days railroads and inns on isolated roads.

At first blush, there are no such monopolies in luncheon counters. Standard neoclassical economics predicts that some firms will cater to African American clientele if others choose to shun them. To that confident prediction, the obvious reply was, that just didn’t happen. It is at this point that the true horror of southern system of segregation becomes clear. The old south was a closed society, which did not allow for the free entry of these competitive firms that would have transformed its culture.

It had two means of enforcement: (1) Private violence backed by a police force that either turned a blind eye to private force, or openly backed it, and (2) state regulatory bodies that could use their power over public utilities like power and light to punish those firms that broke the color line.

A solution to this problem neutralizes these two forces and then lets entry do its work. But in a federal system, it is hard for the central government to use its limited powers to exert so fundamental a change. The bottom line, therefore, is either to impose the duty from without or watch the system of southern dominance chew up its citizens by propping up the status quo ante.

The question then arises of how best to change the system. As a rhetorical matter, the only path that works is an appeal to fundamental rights. No argument about institutional imperfections could put the public accommodation provisions over the top. Indeed, it is worthy to note that the national businesses subject to these regulations often begged for federal intervention under Title II as a means to neutralize local pressures that kept them from integrating. Indeed, the success of Title II has been so great that the provision enforces itself, so that direct regulation and private litigation occupy only a tiny corner of that world.

Nonetheless, the flawed conceptual arguments for Title II did create serious complications in others areas. The parallels to private housing and to employment are not nearly so easy to draw. In the early years, the insistence on color-blind employment relations actually had the unfortunate effect of limiting private affirmative action programs when businesses and unions came, rightly in my view, to see these as social imperatives in the aftermath of the violence of the 1960s. On the other side, the constant use of disparate impact tests in education, housing, and employment led to an overreach by the new civil rights establishment of today.

My quarrel with The Butler is that its wrong narrative of the evolution of race relations serves to strengthen a set of misguided government programs at a time when it is no longer possible to bless all actions of the civil rights movement.

Richard A. Epstein, the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law, New York University Law School, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago. His areas of expertise include constitutional law, intellectual property, and property rights. His most recent books are Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law (2011), The Case against the Employee

Voir encore:

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”: An Oscar-worthy historical fable

Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey shine in a clunky but powerful yarn about race and American history

Andrew O’Hehir

Aug 15, 2013

There’s a scene about midway through “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” – an ungainly title for an ungainly picture – that captures many of the movie’s contradictions, and its surprising power. It’s 1968, and Martin Luther King Jr. (Nelsan Ellis) is discussing the Vietnam War with some of his closest aides and friends. “How many of your parents support the war?” he asks this group of African-American men. Almost all of them raise their hands. King then asks Louis Gaines (David Oyelowo), a young man sitting next to him, what his father does for a living. “My father’s a butler,” Louis says, not without embarrassment. He doesn’t tell King that his father, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), is a butler at the White House, and was almost certainly in the room during King’s historic meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office.

Black domestic workers, King tells Louis, have played an important role in the struggle for civil rights. At first Louis assumes this is meant as mockery, but King presses on. Maids, butlers, nannies and other domestics have defied racist stereotypes by being trustworthy, hardworking and loyal, King says; in maintaining other people’s households and raising other people’s children, they have gradually broken down hardened and hateful attitudes. Their apparent subservience is also quietly subversive. This poignant and humbling recognition of the sacrifices made by millions of African-Americans who appeared to have no voice is an important turning point for Louis, in his consideration of his father’s life, but it also captures King’s extraordinary philosophical depth in a few moments. In case there isn’t enough going on in that scene, let us note that it takes place in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Minutes or hours later, the great civil rights leader will step outside onto the balcony and be shot dead.

I’d be hard-pressed to describe “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” as a good movie. It’s programmatic, didactic and shamelessly melodramatic. (Danny Strong’s screenplay is best viewed as fictional, although it’s loosely based on the true story of longtime White House butler Eugene Allen, who died in 2010.) Characters constantly have expository conversations built around historical markers, from the murder of Emmett Till to the Voting Rights Act. Every time Cecil serves coffee in the Oval Office, he stumbles upon epoch-making moments: Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams) debating whether to send federal troops to desegregate the schools in Little Rock; Richard Nixon (John Cusack) plotting a black entrepreneurship program to undercut the Black Panthers; or Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) telling Republican senators he plans to defy Congress and veto sanctions against South Africa. Cecil and Louis, the warring father and son played by Whitaker and Oyelowo, might as well come with labels: Cecil is following in the footsteps of Booker T. Washington; Louis in those of W.E.B. Du Bois.

But “The Butler” is indisputably an important film and a necessary one, arriving at the end of the summer of Paula Deen and George Zimmerman and the Detroit bankruptcy, a summer that has vividly reminded us that if America’s ancient racial wounds have faded somewhat, they have never healed. For a black filmmaker to tell this fraught and complicated story now, in a mainstream picture with an all-star cast, is significant all on its own. Faulkner’s observation that the past is never dead and isn’t even past has come to sound trite through endless repetition by politicians and journalists, but it speaks to our country in 2013, and to the impact of this movie. And before I wander too far afield, “The Butler” is also a showcase for numerous terrific black actors, including Whitaker, Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, not to mention a fiery and sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated supporting role for Oprah Winfrey as Cecil’s wife, Gloria.

For someone of my generation, the civil rights movement may seem like an overly familiar pop-culture topic. But it’s been more than 20 years since “Malcolm X,” “Mississippi Burning” and “The Long Walk Home,” and closer to 40 years since groundbreaking TV specials like “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” or the miniseries “King.” Much of the sweep of history in “The Butler,” which begins in the Jim Crow Deep South of the 1920s and ends with a black man in the White House, may seem like a dim, black-and-white flicker to many younger Americans.

Daniels, previously the director of “Precious” and “The Paperboy” (forever famous as the movie in which Nicole Kidman pees all over Zac Efron), may not be a subtle storyteller, but he delivers big, emotional moments with considerable force. He makes the impact of the Kennedy and King assassinations seem real and present by focusing on individuals and details – Cecil, trying to comfort a sobbing, blood-spattered Jackie Kennedy (Minka Kelly) – and his re-creation of the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins of 1960, or the Birmingham street scenes when dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers, possess a startling violence and freshness. In a time when a dominant current in American conservatism is dedicated to erasing both history and science, to insisting that “there are no lessons in the past,” it’s useful to be reminded how much about contemporary American life is shaped and conditioned by those events.

Daniels performs another public service by turning the well-meaning condescension of “The Help” upside down and telling the story of a black domestic worker and his family entirely from their point of view, with minor supporting characters that include five United States presidents. (Cecil also served under Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, but they’re only seen in news footage.) The parade of famous white actors playing White House occupants is bizarre and almost arbitrary – Cusack looks nothing like Nixon, although James Marsden is well cast as JFK and Liev Schreiber makes a surprisingly good Johnson – but that’s a sideshow attraction. (Daniels understands precisely how he’s twisting the knife with Jane Fonda’s cameo as Nancy Reagan, by the way.) The main event is a terrific cast of African-American principals, headlined by the immensely dignified performance of Whitaker, playing a man who has raised himself by his own wits and almost Nietzschean willpower from the brutal cotton fields of Georgia to the corridors of power.

As a boy, Cecil witnesses his mother raped and his father murdered by a white overseer, and that’s the background his son – raised in the polite, formal segregation of 1950s Washington – can never understand. Then the overseer’s guilt-ridden mother (Vanessa Redgrave) takes Cecil in and trains him as a “house nigger,” a polite, well-dressed automaton who is almost invisible and virtually silent. (I quote that offensive expression because it’s important and recurs several times.) The instruction delivered to Cecil over and over, including at the White House, is that he sees and hears nothing, and that a room should feel empty when he is in it. Whatever Daniels’ flaws as a filmmaker may be, in all his movies he’s acutely sensitive to the possibilities of human communication, even in impossible situations. Redgrave’s character clearly feels for Cecil and gives him what little she can; in her own way, she too is a victim of the system that has destroyed his family.

Over the years, Cecil makes his way from Georgia to North Carolina to a luxury hotel in Washington and finally to the segregated service staff of the White House. (Implausibly enough, it was Ronald Reagan, a font of old-school racist policy and personal generosity, who finally insisted on equal treatment for black employees.) He learns the intricacies of wine and whiskey, builds up an autodidact’s vocabulary and masters the fine art of being charming without appearing confrontational. Every black person in this line of work (Cecil observes in voice-over) has two faces, of necessity – one for his white employers and clientele, one for his family and friends. Whitaker plays Cecil as a man making a long, lonely trek uphill with a heavy load on his back, and the film’s other black characters all deal with life under a racist system in their own way.

Cecil’s friend Howard (Terrence Howard) is a good-time Charlie and numbers runner; Cecil’s colleagues at the White House include foulmouthed ladies’ man Carter (Gooding) and educated, upward-bound James (Kravitz). I suppose Winfrey is customarily too busy playing her own public persona to play dramatic roles, but she’s damn good at it; the proud, angry, boozing, cheating and ultimately ferociously loyal Gloria has a vivid and very non-Oprah reality about her. If Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong intend the tension between Cecil’s bootstraps assimilationism and Louis’ Freedom Rider-turned-Panther radicalism to be the movie’s central driving force, it doesn’t quite work. In a picture driven by a vibrant portrayal of African-American life and the visceral, explosive force of history, their opposed and intersecting character arcs feel overly constructed.

Daniels’ point, of course, echoes what King tells Louis: The traditions of Du Bois and Washington, of self-sacrifice and hard work on one hand, and street protest and political organizing on the other, are not as distinct or disconnected as they may appear. Both have driven a history that isn’t finished yet. While the election of Barack Obama serves as the culmination of this story — and for African-Americans of Cecil Gaines’ generation it was an unimaginable, even millennial victory – in the larger story of America it was an unexpected plot twist whose true consequences remain unknown. One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln asked whether a country conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality would work out, and we still don’t know. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is big, brave, crude and contradictory, very bad in places and very good in others, and every American should see it.

The Butler, Jobs: Two ways to turn inspirational into mediocre

LIAM LACEY

The Globe and Mail

Aug. 16 2013

Two new inspirational movies, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Jobs, are the kind of unsophisticated biographical films that don’t earn much critical respect but occasionally rack up Oscar nominations. They belong in what Dennis Bingham, author of Whose Lives Are They Anyway? The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre, calls “a respectable genre of very low repute.” Both movies trip over the usual bio-hazards – gratuitous montages, speechifying characters and plots with historical incidents layered between private crises – but they play out in very different ways.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler (the director’s name was imposed after a legal dispute forbid the use of The Butler) stars Forest Whitaker as a long-serving White House butler during a turbulent period. The film has a lot of momentum thanks to a star-studded ensemble cast, including Whitaker in the titular role and Oprah Winfrey in her first big-screen role in 15 years. The filmmakers claim that The Butler was inspired by the late Eugene Allen, a White House employee who worked for presidents from Truman to Reagan and lived to see the first black president. But Allen’s story has little to do with The Butler’s script, a Forrest Gump-like tale of a servant who was a front-row witness to modern civil-rights history. The butler’s name has been changed to Cecil Gaines.

As a filmmaker, Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) likes things pulpy, and you quickly get the sense that he can’t restrict himself to the Masterpiece Theatre model here. The Butler starts with an entirely fabricated sequence, straight out of a Blaxploitation movie, in which pre-teen Cecil witnesses his mother’s rape and his father’s murder. The killer’s mom (Vanessa Redgrave) takes the boy into her house, where he learns to serve and shut up. Eventually, Cecil (played by a slim and convincingly youthful Whitaker) marries Gloria (Winfrey) and has two sons before being hired at the White House. Though he’s instructed to see and hear nothing, he is invariably hovering over the shoulder of one president or another during critical historical moments.

Screenwriter Danny Strong, who wrote the sharp television satire of the Sarah Palin campaign, Game Change, offers the usual biographical double strands of the character’s public and private roles. One of Cecil and Gloria’s improbable friends is Howard (Terrence Howard), a layabout numbers-runner with a missing front tooth and a yen for Gloria. Gloria turns to drink and adultery when Cecil puts the president’s needs before his wife’s, which provides Oprah with some juicy scenes. The couple also has two opposite-minded sons. Louis (David Oyelowo), under the influence of his groovy college girlfriend Carol (Yaya Alafia), joins the wave of northern students who pushed for desegregation in the south in 1961. Little brother Charlie (Elijah Kelley), meanwhile, signs up for duty in Vietnam.

By contrast, the White House feels like comic relief, with a parade of presidential caricatures: pensive Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams), who ponders sending federal troops to enforce school integration while painting flowers; awkward vice-president Richard Nixon (John Cusack), found in the kitchen scrounging for snacks; bumptious Lyndon Johnson (Liev Schreiber), who bellows instructions to his cabinet while seated on the toilet; and folksy Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), whose smoothly controlling wife Nancy is played by former lefty activist Jane Fonda.

Some of this is fun if heavy-handed, but from time to time Daniels’ broad approach hits home emotionally, particularly a scene that contrasts preparations for a White House state dinner with black students being spat upon and cursed for sitting on the white side of a segregated Woolworth’s counter. The Butler may be a sanctimonious cartoon, but it points to events in the civil rights struggle that were as grotesque and extraordinary as any fiction can invent.

(…)

The Butler

All-star parade of presidents helps blunt any dramatic edge in Lee Daniels film starring Forest Whitaker as the protagonist

Katey Rich

The Guardian

9 August 2013

The Butler

More historical pageant than drama, Lee Daniels’ The Butler takes the Forrest Gump approach to another corner of American history, filtering the dramatic civil rights movement of the 1960s through the life of an ordinary butler who served seven different presidents from Dwight D Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. Based very loosely on a real man, The Butler sets its mild-mannered protagonist Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) in sharp contrast to his son Louis (David Oyelowo), a Freedom Rider and eventually Black Panther who conveniently finds himself at the centre of a series of civil rights landmark moments.

The Butler

Production year: 2013

Country: USA

Directors: Lee Daniels

Cast: David Oyelowo, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey

There are fascinating wrinkles to be found in that relationship, and director Daniels does stumble upon a few. But for the most part his usual heavy hand draws only the thickest lines between two generations of African-Americans, and Danny Strong’s script muddles the family story with too many « significant » encounters between Cecil and his presidential employers. It’s impossible not to be distracted when Robin Williams appears in a bald cap as Eisenhower, or Liev Schreiber blusters his way across the screen as a noisy Lyndon Johnson. When John Cusack shows up as a flop-sweating Richard Nixon, the film is playing dress-up and passing it as history. By the time Jane Fonda eerily transforms herself into Nancy Reagan, the film itself seems in on the joke.

If it’s possible to look past Daniels’ directorial flourishes, The Butler does occasionally muster its own power, contrasting Cecil’s work at a White House state dinner with Louis’s beating by the police after a protest, or the riot that broke out in Washington DC after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Aware that he has a good job that provides for his family, Cecil is unwilling to rock the boat politically, which leads to clashes with his son but an otherwise passive performance for Whitaker. Oprah Winfrey, channelling Elizabeth Taylor’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? performance as Cecil’s hard-drinking wife, has more to play with but literally nowhere to go, her scenes almost exclusively limited to their airless, modest home.

The quick glimpses into the lives of middle-class African-Americans in this time of massive social upheaval – the house parties, the front porch conversations – are evocative and frequently charming, but The Butler is trying to cover way too much ground to get into that, or anything, to any real satisfaction.

With an ensemble and a story this large casting often substitutes for characterisation – Cuba Gooding Jr and Lenny Kravitz are Cecil’s amiable White House co-workers, Vanessa Redgrave is the kindly owner of the farm where Cecil grew up, Mariah Carey is his loving mother, and so on. James Marsden comports himself well as JFK, and Alan Rickman makes for a spot-on Ronald Reagan, but the string of presidential cameos also gives the film its numbing structure. Over and over again the leaders ask Cecil a pointed civil rights-related question and seem inspired by his humble, wholly uninteresting presence. Cecil Gaines is a witness to important historical events but a participant in none of them, and at times even Daniels seems to wish he were making a film entirely about the Freedom Riders or Black Panthers (Oyelowo