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Does an ARTE documentary endorse xenophobia against Westerners?

For those living out of France and Germany, ARTE is a TV channel created in the early 90’s and co-funded by these two countries’ taxpayer money – and to a lesser extent by the European Union.

It stands out in the local audiovisual landscape for its dissemination of culture in the broadest sense, from documentaries on arts, world cultures to foreign fiction shows and movies in their original language, along with domestic classics and contemporary art-house efforts. Its programming is topped off with daily news and shows dealing with societal issues. Not unlike the BBC, with somewhat more austere overtones.

From the latter, but some documentaries as well, viewers get regular hints that those in charge of its editorial line have very passionate opinions about the world we live in.

Case in Point, one of their many videos on immigration was introduced by this blurb:

“Cette liberté de circulation provoque chez nombre d’Européens un grand optimisme, en particulier dans l’est de l’Union, le processus d’intégration ne semblant plus avoir de limite. La frontière, avec tout ce qu’elle sous-tendait ? contrôle, illégalité, humiliation, ne devait rester qu’un lointain et douloureux souvenir. Mais à l’été 2015, l’arrivée sur le continent de réfugiés fuyant les conflits du Proche et du Moyen-Orient change la donne.”...

In a nutshell, it associates borders with control, illegality and humiliation, notions which the EU’s free movement Shengen’s zone, has turned into a “remote and painful memory”, until the arrival of “refugees” in 2015… At any rate, the themes of mixing people and cultures and frowning upon borders, both literal figurative, form a common thread throughout ARTE’s air time.

One outstanding exception is the documentary “Ghana l’avenir est aux femmes“. Highlighting the prominent role of women in Ghana’s modern society, it follows three young old entrepreneurs, among whom Ama Boamah, CEO of the first company to produce organic fruit juice in Ghana’s capital.

The themes of African self-reliance appear on several occasions: In the meeting of these three women as they prepare an art exhibition. In the exhibition itself through their effort to scour the continent from homegrown talents. And much more poignantly in the social commentary from Ama Boamah near the end of the film.

“There are so many Africans with a white mentality. We’re black, but let’s be like white people. I call them “white Africans. I’ve overcome that inferiority complex that especially these white Africans have triggered by telling myself. Black is beautiful. There’s nothing we can do for our country as long as we feel like copying whites for success. You must see your self as a black person You must see your god as a black person. That’s the only way to own your black identity. Sadly, it will be some time before we overcome that white African mentality. I think there will be many of them in the future. because they have children whom they’ll influence. But people like me have children too. We’ll encourage them to fight the mentality of these white Africans.

Her words will likely be unsettling for anyone residing in Western countries where “diversity” –  as in skin colour heterogeneity in a country’s population – is equated with strength, cultural improvement, economic prosperity and then some. What if a European attached to their roots commented in similar terms on his neighbours listening to rap, eating kebabs and lamenting about too much “whiteness” around them or in entertainment? By calling them, say, “Africanized whites”. Seeing in their habits, in their urge to bow, an inferiority complex. Pledging to raise their kids so they remain unaffected by foreign input of any sort. Chances are high that it wouldn’t be well received and would probably land this person in hot water if their mindset were made public.

Just to mark things down, here’s what it would look like verbatim. Some of the wording should be adjusted to perfectly fit Europe’s local context.

“There are so many Europeans with a black mentality. We’re white, but let’s be like black people. I call them “Africanized whites”. I’ve overcome that inferiority complex that especially these Africanized whites have triggered by telling myself: White is beautiful. There’s nothing we can do for our country as long as we feel like copying blacks for success. You must see your self as a white person. You must see your god as a white person. That’s the only way to own your white identity. Sadly, it will be some time before we overcome that Africanized white mentality. I think there will be many of them in the future because they have children whom they’ll influence. But people like me have children too. We’ll encourage them to fight the mentality of these Africanized whites.”

Applying the principle of equality dear to every righteous Westerner, one should then conclude that the soapbox provided to this Ghanan woman was intended to showcase her backward views. Yet, if one considers a global perspective detached from the mainstream Western framework, she would be well within her rights. As stated in Article 33 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), she, as a native, would be fully entitled to “determine (her) own identity or membership in accordance with (her) customs and traditions.” Several articles, notably 2, 9, 11, 15, 31 directly riff off the theme of an inalienable right for indigenous individuals to identify and live as a member of a distinct ethnic group in their native country.

So, which one is it? Are we to take the documentary as support or indictment of her views? The director’s approach leaves no explicit clue as it steers clear of voiceover or use of additional, mood-setting soundtracks. The viewer has the sole editing for a guideline, and given the focus on uplifting moments and messages of emancipation, it’s hard not to come away from it with a cheering impression of this woman.

Should it be the case, the documentary would be a landmark in European television in its lionizing of a native person standing up for their right to remain true to their culture, and to help it evolve as they only see fit in the third millennium, with no fear of judgment or repercussion.

Turns out ARTE has an online form for viewers to contact them. The following message was sent out.

Dear ARTE,

I’m contacting you regarding the documentary “Ghana, l’avenir est aux femmes”, broadcast on your channel a couple of years ago. As detailed in an overview posted here, it appears to me that one of the women featured is portrayed positively as she asserts in no uncertain terms her dedication to keeping her culture pristine of foreign influences. She claims among other things that she wants to raise her children free of tampering with and holds in contempt her fellow countrymen and women who embrace other cultures.

I would like you to ask ARTE’s programming director if this is actually how she’s supposed to be perceived, as opposed to someone with a narrow mindset, not to say xenophobic. The underlying rationale for the former is that according to the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (2007), she would be fully entitled to express these opinions.

Should this analysis be correct, can he also let us know if he would vouch for natives from other countries/continents should they take her words for themselves?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Ken Hagdal

What’s next? Being the tax-payer money-funded professionals they are, it’s fair to expect a clarification. If we, however, failed to hear from them by Jan 1st, the next logical step will be to escalate the case with the CSA – France’s regulative body in charge of overseeing television, both public and private. Its website, too, has a contact form. though only for filing complaints.

The query will then have to be formulated requesting an inquiry as to whether the above quotes are to be deemed xenophobic. If so, we will learn what disciplining actions ARTE will face. Otherwise, there will be no reason for this young African woman not to enjoy the broader recognition she deserves, and become a role model for fellow natives worldwide.

Stay tuned for an update in the first two weeks of January.

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