Mixed-race Dumas too white for a black actor?

Posted on juin 12, 2010

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Gérard Depardieu Too White to Play Alexandre Dumas? Very catchy title from the ATL Film Guide but I like mine better: Mixed-race Dumas too white for a black actor?
Oh what am I talking about? I’m feeling  too lazy to put it in my own words so here’s a nice copy-paste from the BBC:

A row over racism has soured the release of the latest film in which Gérard Depardieu takes on one of the giants of French history. (…) Black actors and campaigners are upset that the white film star was cast as Alexandre Dumas, a French national hero with mixed African blood.
The blond, blue-eyed Depardieu sports curly hair and darker skin to play the creator of The Three Musketeers.

While alive Dumas was black, now dead he is white. Sounds like Othello…

But who is Dumas, you may wonder? Shame on you for not knowing.
Because his grandmother had both French and African ancestries, Dumas was considered to be a black person. In my opinion, he doesn’t look very black though on some angles he could pass for white.

Despite the fact that Dumas could have passed for white on some occasions, he still had a little something that is quite intriguing.

Apart from being racially ambiguous, Dumas is undeniably one of the most widely read French authors in the world. He has written The Count Of Monte Cristo, a two thousand page novel that I devoured without moderation. In 1998, when Monte Cristo was adapted into a movie, Depardieu obtained the lead role. Is it surprising that after playing a character he is now playing the author?


In 150 years time could the role of Barack Obama be played in a film by a white actor with a fuzzy wig? – Patrick Lozès, president of the Council for Black Associations

Why not? I don’t think Gérard would mind either if about a century from now, he was played in a movie by a black or a mixed-race actor. Of course some adjustments will be required. We will have someone to Michael Jackson his skin and we will ask Lil Kim to donate one of her blond wigs to polish the look.

Black actors and campaigners are upset that the white film star was cast as Alexandre Dumas, a French national hero with mixed African blood.

I’m still wondering who are these « black actors » that the BBC is referring to. I didn’t know there were enough black actors in France to be mentioned in an article. I couldn’t name any so I googled it and found this article listing only five black male actors in France (there are probably more but who are they?)
Anyways, here’s the movie casting à la hibiscus


This scandal, is it really one

I have always thought race should be a minor detail when it comes to art; talent is what should prevail. After all, Depardieu is one of the best actors in France and probably in the world.
Such a big personality like Dumas couldn’t have been played by a novice. A writer of exception should only be played by an actor of high caliber – all races taken together. Safy Nebbou, the director of the movie thinks differently. Can you believe he, himself, is mixed-race?

It would have been an historic error to have chosen a métis actor… He (Dumas) had blue eyes like Depardieu.

If the eye color was the only factor that determined this choice, they would have saved time and money on a pair of blue eye contact. I just don’t understand why the production team felt the heed to darken Depardieu and make him wear a curly wig if they thought he wasn’t too white for the role.

Another thing that annoyed critics is the fact that in the movie they make it appear as if Dumas used a negre, the French word for ghostwriter. Therefore, his biggest accomplishment in art would have been that of taking credit for material he hadn’t produced.

My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. – Alexandre Dumas

Reading between the color line…

Charles Chesnutt

Charles Chesnutt

Writing about Dumas made me think of Charles Waddell Chesnutt, an American author who chose to identify with blacks even though he was seven-eighths white. (How can he be so exact about his origins?) Like Dumas, Chesnutt was guilty of being black, in compliance with the one-drop rule. Chesnutt has never tried to silence his African roots even if it was a common practice among mixed-race individuals. He has even written several essays and novels about racial tensions and the deceptive art of passing. His novel The House behind Cedars remains one of the best story I’ve ever read.

I’m glad that this movie takes me back to reading and writing (I’m a little bit slow on blog updates).
If Depardieu hadn’t caused a scandal (pointless) just by being himself, I would have never paid attention to this movie (untitled L’autre Dumas, by the way). So I thank Depardieu and the production team for that one.
Nevertheless, time is too scarce for me to waste it on this movie; I have too many good books to read. The next one is already sitting at my bedside. They say it was written by a negre, but the cover simply reads « Dumas »…