Hidden History: Frantz Fanon and the Algerian War of Independence

Frantz Fanon: His Life, His Struggle, His Work

Directed by Cheikh Djemai (2001)

Film Review

In the US, Frantz Fanon is best known for his influence on the Black Power movement of the sixties and seventies. The author of two major books on Black identity,* Fanon died at age 37 (in 1961).

Prior to watching this film, I was unaware that Fanon left Martinique in 1941 to fight in De Gaulle’s Free French Army. According to family members and friends, it was largely racist abuse he experience in this setting that led him to become a revolutionary.

At the end of the war, he studied philosophy briefly before transferring to medicine. Black Face White Masks, which he wrote as a dissertation for his doctorate in medicine, was rejected by his dissertation committee.

Following graduation he worked at the Blida mental hospital in Algeria, where he became convinced that the “mental illness” he observed in his patients largely stemmed from the system of racist apartheid the French imposed on Algerian Arabs. He was in continuous strife with hospital authorities for his “radical” reforms, including removing the barbed wire fence surrounding the hospital and allowing patients picks and shovels to create a soccer field on hospital grounds.

Resigning in frustration, he moved to Tunis to join the Algerian revolution after the French government expelled him from Algeria.

While there he also played a major role in the All African Congress started by Ghanaian Revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah.

*Black Skin White Mask and Wretched of the Earth

Public library members can view the film free on Kanopy. Just type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into the search engine.



Hidden History: Larbi Ben Mhidi, the Genius Behind the Algerian Revolution

The Algerian Revolution, Larbi Ben Mhidi

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary explores the life and work of Larbi Ben Mhidi, legendary leader in the Algerian National Liberation Front (NLF), which in 1962 succeeding in winning Algerian independence.  In 1956, Ben Mhidi was hunted down and secretly assassinated by French military forces.

Ben Mhidi played a central role in plotting the strategy of the Algerian Revolution. When the NLF first launched their war of independence in November 1954, they were a guerilla band of 1200 rural fighters with 400 weapons. Through a strategic campaign of bombing attacks on police stations, military barracks, weapons depots and settlers homes – coupled with an 8-day general strike in 1967 – they mobilized enough support to fight the French to a stand-off in Algiers.

In the Battle of Algiers, which lasted a little over a year (1956-57), the French captured 2,400 NFL fighters and “disappeared” 4,000.