Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Welcome to Black European Studies


Lost Password?

Register now!

Representing Black Europe in Cinema

Allyson Field

I would like to propose a research project that analyzes the cultural aspects of the representation of Black Europeans, specifically in how such representations are manifest in cinema. In my research, I look at the Black American presence in European cinema against Black Europeans in film, contrasting the representation of the American expatriate experience with the representation of “indigenous” Black communities in Europe.
British filmmaker Reece Auguiste describes Black British filmmaking as existing “in Black America’s shadow.” He notes, “Their art is always present here, and so are their politics. … but we’re much more at ease than Americans with the idea of being mixed.” Looking at the influence of this “shadow” of Black American film culture on European film, I trace the presence of Black American expatriate actors in films from Josephine Baker (Siren of the Tropics, France 1927) and Paul Robeson (Borderline, Switzerland 1928 and The Proud Valley, Britain 1940) to the post-war boom of the New Wave of French films and their influence on Black American filmmakers such as Melvin Van Peebles (Story of a 3-day Pass, France 1968 and A Belly Full, France 2000) who made films in Europe to escape perceived constraints of the American film industry. Questions I consider include: How are American racial tensions portrayed in European films? How do the racial anxieties of a given European country become displaced onto the Black American figures? What are the social, political and industrial conditions that have led to this transatlantic migration of Black artists?

Along with the importance of Black American expatriate filmmaking, I am interested in the representation of multicultural Europe in films such as Love Actually (Britain 2003), Dirty Pretty Things (Britain 2002), Romuald et Juliette (France 1989), S’en fout la mort (France 1990), and La Femme de Rose Hill (Switzerland, 1989). These films are a sample of a group of films which constitute a particular historical moment in which Black Europeans are represented as paradoxically invisible and fetishized. Questions I consider include: What is the nature of this erasure? How does the representation of the Black figure in European cinema take on symbolic weight even when race is secondary to the narrative? In each of these cases, there is a goal of reconciling one’s ethnic and geographic background with the reality of living in a Europe commonly coded as white. At the forefront of these films are questions of the representation of identity, daily life, generational tensions, community, and justice.

In my larger research project, I look at the reality of European cultural hybridity versus heritage cinema, as John Akomfrah has noted of British heritage cinema, “something you buy into by getting the costumes right. As long as you have those clothes, those wigs, you don’t have to ask other questions.” Akomfrah and other Black filmmakers question the concept of a “multicultural” Europe while Europe itself, locally and collectively, is asking the same questions. Thus, cinema is a pertinent focus for a study of the representation of race in contemporary Europe and its challenges to American cultural hegemony.

Printer Friendly Page Send this Article to a Friend

© by Black European Studies 2005, provided by,
hosted by Johannes Gutenberg Universitšt Mainz, Volkswagenstiftung