After some coaxing from a friend, I decided to give this recommendation from Netflix a try. The show: Lupin. The cover: A Black man’s face. So of course it’d show up for me. I mean Netflix knows me, but I was resisting being known by artifical intelligence so I hadn’t given the show a chance. Also, I find it really hard to suspend my disbelief. How is it possible that no one knows that this guy is able to change his looks and be undetectable? This is the same reason, I just can’t get down with Superman. A pair of glasses is really throwing you off, Lois??
But here I was sitting in our movie room ready to scrutinize, and I was pleasantly surprised and automatically hooked.
Arsene Lupin is a popular literary character in French literature. While the beloved character has been depicted as of European descent in comic strips and television shows, Netflix does what it does best and flips the script. In this show, Lupin is French of Senegalese descent. . . in France. Oh this is gonna be good.
When we think of France, we think of Pareeee, the Eiffel Tower, fashion, baguettes, croissants, cheese, and love, but many African immigrants know them for their racism as well.
While walking down the Champs D’Elysees during one of my many visits to Paris, I recall scratching my eyes while shopping for gifts only to discover that tear gas had been sprayed two blocks down. Being Curious Georgina, I walked toward the stinging mist and found a group of Ivorians protesting France’s involvement in their country’s election. They were angry but not impassioned, yet police officers dressed in gear met their grief with force. This wouldn’t be the first visual for me drawing my attention to race relations in France, but it was a poignant one. As I saw White French men and women walk by in disgust and frustration with their fellow Frenchmen, I recognized the apathy. One that I had witnessed in my own country.
This is what makes Lupin gangsta (at least to me). The premise of the show is that racism alongside white privilege worked together to wrongly accuse a Senegalese immigrant of an offense which landed him in jail and ultimately caused him to lose his life. Inspired by Lupin, his son Assane Diop (played by Omar Sy) seeks vengeance for his father.
So his immoral actions (stealing, deceiving, threatening) seem justified, and media psychologists would agree the audience is meant to identify with the anithero. He is doing wrong things for the right reason. Even more interesting is that the audience regardless of race is invited to see injustice from his point of view, a racialized one. There is no room for doubt. Pellegrini (played by Hervé Pierre.) and many of the other White characters on the show look down on French Blacks without shame.
When entertainment takes on institutional racism I can’t help but think that’s a good thing. But when engaging with reality, let’s not lose sight of creativity. They can co-exist.
Hmm…Are We Serious?
Omar Sy is over 6ft tall and beautiful dark chocolate in a country in which racial bias is prevalent. Clark Kent might be able to get away with some glasses, but how is this tall black man walking around and no one knows he’s Sernine! (Gotta watch to find out).
Season 1 held me in suspense. It had all the elements of mystery, injustice, and anxiety induction that kept my eyes on the screen long enough to forget the logical incongruence for me. Maybe it was possible that there are several men Diop’s height that the cops really couldn’t tell who he was. Maybe it is a good thing that he wasn’t presumed guilty right off the bat by some of the people he interacted with.
Season 2 was just released, and of course I had to complete the series. The writers amp up the racist French people trope, but at times it doesn’t make sense. Say when two black men find themselves in a small Normandy town and can’t seem to see each other.
I Got Questions
Could they have casted more characters of color so that Omar Sy is not the only or one of two Black men running around France?
If this compromises any authentic representation of racial representation in France, could they have filmed or set some of the content in Little Africa or neighborhoods with majority Black characters?
Could we have highlighted Little Africa considering Assane comes from a Senegalese immigrant family? Was Ben his only friend?
Could we have pulled out any Mission Impossible stunts where Assane wears a mask (yes a white face) and wig? Doing so, could have been a great opportunity to illustrate privilege more vividly. Also, would have been more fun!
Now, maybe I should have known this, but Guiderdia’s ethnicity as a North African could have been a little more obvious for U.S. audiences? Is that why no one believed him?
Um…where the Black women at? Its great to have a Black lead, but are there are absoultely no Black women in his life? An aunti? A cousin? Anybody working in a store, hotel, or standing in an elevator? We can do better.
I say we, like I was at the writer’s table. . . .Maybe I should be! Ha!
Overall, though, I appreciate the show Lupin and am inspired by it’s lead actor Omar Sy who started his career in his 40s. Nothing is perfect and inclusion is yet to be fully mastered, so there is always room for critique and improvement. Nonetheless, good job, Netflix.
This wraps up my “If you ask me. . .” segment! Watch Lupin here.