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.

 

 

Black Skin White Masks

Black Skin White Masks

By Frantz Fanon (1952)

Book Review

Free PDF: Black Skin White Masks

Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 of mixed heritage. He fought with the French resistance during World War II and received a scholarship to study medicine and psychiatry in France. In 1953, he accepted a hospital position in Algeria, where he joined the Algerian National Liberation Front. He died of leukemia in 1961.

Fanon was the first to systematically document and analyze the tendency of people of color to internalize the racism of the dominant culture. This process can include both self-deprecation based on race and unconscious adoption of European culture in preference to their own.

The book received international acclaim following Fanon’s death (from leukemia) in 1961 and was highly influential in the 1960s black power movement, both in Africa and the US.

Fanon’s analysis is a bit too Freudian for my tastes, though it makes important observations about the systematic destruction of African language and culture during colonization and enslavement. It also includes some fascinating observations about European family life, eg the fact that 30% of children born to typical European families become neurotic.