21 December 2017



'All around me the white man. Above, the sky tears at its navel. The earth rasps under my feet. And there is a white song, a white song. All around me a whiteness that burns.'

'He was a revolutionary to the last beat of his heart.'

'Oh my body, make of me always a man who questions!'

This is an excellent documentary about the writer, psychiatrist, anti-colonialist and revolutionary Frantz Fanon that recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary and is currently enjoying a special release (Dual Format Edition) courtesy of the British Film Institute.

I must admit to not having heard of Frantz Fanon prior to this documentary landing in front of me but his background is fascinating. He was born in Martinique in 1925 and he studied medicine and psychiatry in France. He put his studies to use in a French hospital in Algeria.

It is said of him that he, literally and figuratively, 'unchained' his patients there after seeing them lying naked, or in straitjackets, on straw on the floor. He treated them as human beings and helped them to feel as such again after the dehumanisation they'd experienced before he'd arrived. He listened to them.

The Algerian War of Independence was taking place at this time. This was a war in which Algeria strove to free itself from French rule, often using violence, and France initially attempted to suppress this revolution, again often using violence. Both sides used torture as a way of subjugating the enemy.

It fell to Fanon, as a psychiatrist, to treat French soldiers and officers who'd used torture on Algerian subjects as a way of suppressing the anti-colonial feeling. He also had to treat Algerian subjects who'd actually been tortured, which must have been horrible for him.

He'd already joined the Algerian National Liberation Front back in 1954 as he sympathised deeply with the colonised peoples. He even felt that the colonised country had the right to use violent means if necessary to get rid of their oppressors. That was the thrust of perhaps his most famous work of literature, THE WRETCHED EARTH (1961).

He preferred, in fact, the idea of armed struggle to seize one's own liberty to the idea of the ruling power merely handing it back, which is personally what I think France should have done. You can't own countries, can you, any more than you can own people?

At least, you shouldn't. Fanon's father was descended from African slaves and indentured Indians. The concept of taking back one's freedom was therefore understandably of paramount importance to Fanon.

He resigned his position at the French hospital as he could no longer continue to support France's position with regard to Algeria. He devoted himself thereafter to the revolution, which managed to bring about Algerian independence from France in 1962.

Denounced as a traitor to the French Army, he was actually expelled from Algeria in 1957 and the so-called 'nest of rebels' in the hospital where he'd worked was dismantled, so he was not living in the country whose freedom he'd worked for when the final break from France was made at last.

For Frantz Fanon, the man who counted Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre among his friends, the human, cultural and social consequences of decolonisation might be said to
have been his greatest interests in life.

His writings on the subject seem to have more relevance than ever today, according to some cultural critics, given the religious wars taking place in the world around us and the ever-present threat of terrorism under which we live.

BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS (1952) was his best-known work after THE WRETCHED EARTH. It seems to be about (if I'm not mistaken!) the way in which black people adopt white ways, white language, white mannerisms and so on in order to make their way in a white world and even to be accepted by white people.

But every time they do so, it reduces them, it minimises them, it degrades them, is what he seems to be saying. They shouldn't need to wear a 'white mask' in order to be accepted as a viable human being. They should just need to be themselves, to just be, regardless of their colour. 

He writes about black sexuality and black homosexuality in BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS also and his writings have garnered a lot of attention from academics, some positive, some negative. He experienced racism throughout his life and there's a rather chilling clip in the film in which a little girl is 'frightened' of him, a 'Negro,' when she encounters him in a lift. Because black guys were always the baddies, right?

In the documentary by Isaac Julien and Mark Nash, handsome black actor Colin Salmon (ARROW, NO OFFENCE) plays the role of Frantz Fanon in little reconstructive snippets of Fanon's life and work, nestled among the interviews with cultural critics, writers and admirers of Fanon's work and even Fanon's son Oliver. (Interviewees include Stuart Hall, Francoise Verges and Homi K. Bhabha.)

The documentary comes with a free, complete short film as an extra feature. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (1992) is just under thirty minutes long and it's the work of Isaac Julien's partner, Mark Nash. It's the story of a young man whose Czech psychoanalyst dies suddenly, just as the man is attempting to come to terms in their sessions with the fact that he might be gay.

It's a study of alienataion, of what it's like to think you might be gay in a world that still- back then- frowned on homosexuality. The two worlds of the title might mean the gay world and the so-called 'straight' world, or it could refer to the world we inhabit bodily versus the hereafter, into which poor old Dr. Ludwig slips quietly one afternoon. Either way, it's an absorbing, thought-provoking movie and it has a nudie man in the bath in it. What more do you want...?

BLACK SKIN WHITE MASK is available to buy now in a special Dual Format Edition from the British Film Institute.

BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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