I colonialism and desired a brotherly society

I have chosen to explore the work of Frantz Fanon particularly his written work “black skin white mask” and to
also look at the documentary film produced by Isaac Julien and Mark Nash. The film ‘Frantz Fanon: Black Skin
White Mask’, does retain and demand respect for its subject perhaps because he isn’t talked about but
represented. Isaac Julien, in collaboration with Mark Nash, has produced a Biography/History film where an
actor plays the film’s subject and yet despite this, the film doesn’t feel like a drama but somewhere in between
this and a documentary. In his review of the film, journalist Adam Mars-Jones describes very accurately as a
“fact-filled dream, a meditation with a poetic texture on the life of a controversial black intellectual” (Adam
Mars, The Independent 25 June 1997). I’m going to use these sources to start to explore the depiction of
Frantz Fanon in order to develop a theoretical and/or historical perspective through further research.
Frantz Fanon grew up in a wealthy family in the Martinique, Martinique is a rugged Caribbean island that’s
part of the Lesser Antilles. An overseas region of France. He went to school in France and became a
psychiatrist. After volunteering for the free French army during the Second World War, he then spent several
years in Algeria just before and during the revolution. Because of his life and education, Fanon had a unique
perspective to criticize and analyze colonialism and decolonization.
He is especially interested in the experience of Black people from French-colonized islands in the Caribbean,
like himself, who have come to live in France themselves. He explores how these people are encouraged by a
racist society to want to become white themselves, but then experience serious psychological problems
because they aren’t actually able to do so.
He speculated that because colonies were created and maintained in violence, that, equally, a colony could
only succeed in decolonization through violence. Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks is an evocative and
thrilling glimpse into the mindset of a black man living in a white man’s world. He combines philosophy,
autobiography, case study and psychoanalytic theory to describe and analyze the experience of Black men and
women living in white-controlled societies. In the book, Fanon starts off his argument with explaining and
describing how colonialism and decolonization are violent activities. He saw violence as the best means to
overthrow the ties, often psychological, of colonialism and desired a brotherly society where people could be
free and, most importantly, equal. Fanon is often compared with Martin Luther King and in King’s ‘Letter from
a Birmingham Jail’, King makes many of the same kind of arguments as Fanon when he says “We know through
painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the
oppressed.” However, King suggests the solution is to be found in justice rather in Fanon’s obsessive focus on
violence being the answer.
Fanon approaches the subject of racism from a psychoanalytic point of view rather than from a sociological
one. To Fanon, racism is like a psychological disease which has infected all men and all societies. He argues
that the black man is constantly trying, but never completely succeeding, to be white and to assimilate into the
white man’s world. Fanon was a trained psychiatrist so, naturally, he analyzed the problem of racism from that
perspective. Based on today’s racism, many would try to classify racism as a sociological problem. Fanon, with
his training, looked at racism as a psychological obstruction that holds back society’s from reaching its better
and fuller potential: “When there are no more slaves, there are no masters.” While he does acknowledge that
the socioeconomic divide is a factor that can’t be ignored he does not believe that poverty and poor social
standing are the worst consequences of racism. He believed that the psychological damage is the worst
problem resulting from racism. Unlike the blatant discrimination, violence and hatred associated with the antiblack
racism of the United States prior to the Civil Rights Movement, racism in the French world was less
obvious and more psychological than physical. This psychological discrepancy, Fanon argues, is more damaging
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and much harder to overcome and resist than physical racial abuse. Fanon believed that having a sense of selfworth,
self-respect are key in resisting and overcoming racism. If one can achieve self-worth, then those
victims will no longer compare themselves to others, so the psychological effects of racism will have less effect
on them. However, Fanon argues that this is may not be possible for the black man to do as especially those
who have been constantly oppressed, will have an extremely difficult time building up their own self-worth,
“The Antillean does not possess a personal value of his own and is always dependent on the value of ‘the
Other.’ The question is always whether he is less intelligent than I, blacker than I, or less good than I. Every
self-positioning or self-fixation maintains a relationship or dependency on the collapse of the other. It’s on the
ruins of my entourage that I build my virility.” He argues that the only way the black man knows how to build
his self-worth is to destroy the worth of another. But, unfortunately, since the black man is in no position to
downgrade white people, they must attack other black people to build their personal self-worth which creates
a vicious cycle in which the black man keeps himself and his people down and the white man can remain in
power without even doing anything. “The Martinicans are hungry for reassurance. They want their wishful
thinking to be recognized. They want their wish for virility to be recognized. Each of them wants to be, wants
to flaunt himself.” From reading this book it’s given me an insight into racial discrimination, what it’s like living
in a “white man’s world as a black man” and different insights into the views of Frantz Fanon. It’s also helped
me to gain a good grounding before diving into the archival footage, interviews and dramatic re-enactments of
Isaac Julien’s and mark Nash’s film. All of this, I am doing from the perspective being a black person myself
and I have to say many observations have struck a very real, personal chord with me, especially Fanon’s
observations on the less obvious, but yet still damaging, ‘psychological racism’.
Isaac Julien and Mark Nash have created an intellectual and emotionally charged film. From reading the book
and then going to watch this with the knowledge that I already had gained made the experience even more
interesting. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I really wanted to see if the directors managed to depict Fanon’s
life in the correct way. Julien and Nash aren’t interested in turning Fanon’s life into something that is overdramatic
– but by using an actor they bring Fanon’s story to life and show his strengths and weaknesses in a
realistic and honest way.
Fanon is celebrated in “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask.” “I do not come with timeless truths. My
consciousness is not illuminated with ultimate radiances.” Appropriately, the first words spoken by the subject
of Isaac Julien’s Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask are elusive. This language that is seemingly selfdeprecating,
even negative, still makes crucial points: “Nevertheless,” he says, “in complete composure, I think
it would be good if certain things were said. These things I am going to say, not shout, for it is a long time since
shouting has gone out of my life, so very long.”
My understanding is that the film’s title is taken from his 1952 work about black identity (the film
was released in 1996)– and also his involvement in the long-running and brutal Algerian war of independence.
In this film they’re using archive footage, dramatic re-enactments and re-imaginings, and interviews with
people who knew Fanon (including his brother, former colleagues and respected cultural commentator Stuart
Hall), Director Isaac paints a fascinating picture of his subject without shying away from also showing his flaws
and contradictory behavior
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I really got into this documentary film and it helped with furthering my research on Fanon. The directors build
a strong and detailed picture of Fanon and portray him as the charismatic black intellectual, psychiatrist and
revolutionary, whose essays and books have hugely influenced the anti-colonial and civil rights movements
across the world.
In this film the directors create “Frantz Fanon” as a strong case for blurring the lines between documentary
and fiction cinema, resulting in a work of great intelligence and resonance. ‘In many ways, Frantz Fanon has
always been a part of my life. Even today we face the unfinished business of Arab revolutions and religious
fundamentalism – these are themes that Fanon tackled at an earlier moment, and that still resonate.’ – Isaac
I also wondered if any artists had portrayed the same theory as seen in “black skin white mask” and if I could
relate to the artwork not just in a book or documentary but visually as a piece of art or an instillation and, for
me, Andrew Gilbert did exactly that. Andrew Gilbert born in Edinburgh, Scotland now lives and works in Berlin.
Two pieces that stood out for me were During the Battle of Rorke’s Drift 2014
Acrylic on canvas and Fix Bayonets and Die like British Soldiers Die 2007 these pieces of artwork I believe
depicts much the same message and theory. Tate Britan held an exhibition that was the first large-scale
presentation of the art associated with the British Empire from the 16th century to the present day, exploring
how a diverse range of artists from across the globe responded to the experience of empire. In Andrew
Gilbert’s words “Many conflicts in the world today are the result of the arbitrary borders created by European
empires. Also, as in the 19th century, the invasions and occupations of foreign countries today are motivated
by control of resources rather than ideals such as democracy or civilization. The language of propaganda and
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demonization of the exotic enemy is also very relevant now. The red uniform is still worn for ritualistic parades
that are used to enforce the idea of nation and power – which also make very good images for postcards
for tourists.”
“My obsession began as a child after seeing the 1964 film Zulu, which is about the Battle of Rourke’s Drift
between the British and the Zulus. It has been many people’s introduction to the idea of the British Empire
story. I wondered why a film about shooting black people in South Africa was so popular – and why it was
always shown at Christmas. As a child, I compared the Zulu War with the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland: a
charging ‘primitive’ army facing lines of red coats with superior weapons. It was this strange romanticized
view, which I then began to parody. I later studied primitivism in modern art at university and how Western
artists romanticized ‘savage’ art. I began to make my own European fetish objects to show how primitive
European society is.” From reading what Gilbert has to say about the background of his work it doesn’t relate
entirely to Fanon, although it resonated with me as an outside observer. Gilbert is notably a white man who
can’t have the personal knowledge of experiencing racism but I believe there are strong relations with the
book of Frantz Fanon and his art.
In conclusion, I wanted to explore both the work of Frantz Fanon particularly in his written work “black skin
white mask” and also the related documentary film produced by Isaac Julien and Mark Nash. Isaac Julien, in
collaboration with Mark Nash, has produced a compelling film which has hugely helped build my knowledge of
Fanon. I wanted to discuss the book and compare and argue if the directors depict the book and Frantz Fanon
correctly; I believe that they portrayed Fanon and his life in an informative, respectful yet powerful way. I also
enjoyed drawing links with the work of Andrew Gilbert which I felt really added to the colonial themes that
Fanon raises. I’ve gained the broad knowledge of Fanon that I was hoping to and explored the history and
theory behind these ideas with the use of visual artefacts. My own identity as a black (mixed raced) person,
with grandparents from the Caribbean, growing up in predominantly white societies has, I feel given me an
interesting (and interested) angle to provide this review. This research has really piqued my interest in Fanon
and made me look at post-colonial society from an entirely new perspective.


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