AKA: Frantz Fanon: Une Vie, Un Combat, Une Oeuvre
Genre: Historical Documentary
Year Released: 2001
Distributor: ArtMattan/Facets Video
Running Time: 52 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Amilcar Cabral, Boma-Tervuren, I Am Not Your Negro, The X Factor [Neset Kamene Documentary], Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask, Concerning Violence, The Innerground Railroad
-This was part of a 2-disc DVD set from ArtMattan called African Leaders.
-Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique’s capital city of Fort-de-France while also living in France and eventually Algeria where he was known to have supported that country’s independence movement. Fanon worked as a psychiatrist, philosopher, and author who wrote books such as Black Skin, White Masks as well as The Wretched of the Earth.
-Some figures who were influenced by Fanon’s writings include Malcolm X, Steve Biko, Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture, and even Che Guevara.
-This documentary is the 2nd work from Algerian-French director Cheikh Djemai. His other film that he worked on was La Nuit du Doute which was released twelve years prior to this film.
Watching and reviewing documentaries can be quite the educational experience for me. I could even make the argument that I’ve learned more from various good examples there than I have in school. When it comes to history tied to the African diaspora (whether on the continent or elsewhere), it certainly becomes true. We can argue about how the schools in America don’t want to talk about anything when it comes to positive examples or showing atrocities done to people in the diaspora, but we’d be here all day. Leave it up to ArtMattan to distribute these stories nationwide when it comes to various figures in history that have inspired others despite not getting worldwide recognition.
For this review, I’ll be talking about a very certain revolutionary figure that is revered in Algeria even though he wasn’t born there and didn’t live there until his later years of existence.
Before I get into this review, I better not hear any nerdy jokes involving a false cognate of this person’s last name, OKAY?!? Moving on now…
Frantz Fanon: His Life, His Struggle, His Work documents the existence of that psychiatrist of the same name. His surviving family members, friends, colleagues, and various students who weren’t alive during his lifetime talk about his life and actions. Fanon was born in a large family in Martinique and lived a normal life at first. However, his home country would come under invasion by Germany during World War II since it was (and still is to this day) a French overseas territory. He joined the Free French Army to liberate France as well as their colonies, but became disillusioned by the racism and direct mistreatment of Black people. Despite this, he did study in his colonizer’s country not just to get a quality education, but to really study the psychological effects of colonization not just from the perspective of overt violence, but how people are psychologically affected (inferiority complexes, hating their own cultures, and even desiring to be white in secret). He would write his studies while working in psychology wards. Things really got heated when he got a job in colonial Algeria where he was disturbed by the French assuming that the Arabs were just naturally stupid or insane as well as the low-key cerebral colonization happening at these mental hospital facilities by having pictures of French landscapes such as the Champ Elysee or the Arc de Triomphe around instead of Algerian locales. He figured out a way to make psychiatric work suit to other ethnic groups besides a one-size-fits-all or racist approaches to dealing with them. This caused a lot of trouble with his employers which caused him to flee Algeria to nearby Tunisia. Unfortunately, Frantz Fanon would suffer leukemia and died in Bethesda, Maryland at the young age of 36. The people who knew him across multiple countries and continents want to keep his memory alive.
I had no idea who Frantz Fanon was until I read some articles from Dr. Y just a couple of years ago. Watching this documentary really opened my eyes even more to this man’s life and actions. I don’t believe I reviewed anything involving a psychiatrist before or hearing about how someone in that profession being a revolutionary of sorts with his anti-colonial approach and concepts of mental decolonization which was way ahead of his time. His commentary was very insightful with how racism gave him such vitriol (rightfully so), but realizing how subtle it can be. One example was where one of the interviewees quote Fanon by saying that someone like him would be considered a “Black doctor” while a white person is just a “doctor” and if someone finds out that a Black doctor much less any non-white doctor would operate on them, then they’d get out of dodge no matter how qualified and adept they are. This color as a qualifier is a subtle devaluing form of language which I have certainly noticed as I’ve gotten older. Sure, one’s skin color is something they can’t change, but it shouldn’t be the only thing about them. It’s also why I’m an advocate in fiction of making characters who happen to be of a certain ethnicity as opposed to a [name of race/ethnic group] character. Trust me, there’s a difference. Going back on topic, the choice of interviewees was well done with other members of the Fanon family, friends of his of all ethnic groups, and some people who worked with him during his lifetime. There were Black, Caucasian, and Arab interviewees who were all inspired by him which was awesome. If anyone thinks that someone like Frantz Fanon was some anti-white radical miscreant, then they should seriously slap themselves. Being anti-colonization and anti-white supremacy isn’t the same as being anti-white and they even bring up quotes from his works to prove it. Besides the content, the documentary had more of a no-frills approach with the filming and presentation of these various anecdotes of history. It was also nice seeing the various locales of Martinique, France, Algeria, and Tunisia with a mix of archived footage that happened during his lifetime.
Frantz Fanon: His Life, His Struggle, His Work does have it’s own struggles as a documentary. The minimalist and straightforward approach is just fine, but I do wish that parts of the cinematography would improve. Some shots could’ve used some white balancing with the lighting in places, improved camera quality, and one scene that panned from an interviewee’s waist to their face was just bizarre when the other interview shots were stationary. There were a lot of pearls of wisdom, but some aspects felt omitted like his own immediate family. They mentioned his wife Josie in passing and their was a radio archived soundbite of her being interviewed, but I didn’t know that she committed suicide over a decade prior to this documentary existing. I was also surprised to only see one interview scene involving his daughter Mireille Fanon Mendes-France. While Frantz’s surviving brothers and uncle got a decent amount of screen time, it was a bit surprising not getting that much attention from his own daughter who would have insight on him being a father. That was a missed opportunity with her only being in one scene. Also, he had a son named Oliver who was never mentioned or interviewed which is baffling why he wouldn’t be a part of this documentary. Another aspect that could have been lost in translation unless one lives in Algeria was the fact that Fanon was buried in a martyr’s grave. That should’ve been brought up with how much of an influential figure he was to Algeria’s independence despite not being from there originally much less looking like most Algerians (that country is an Arab-majority nation in Africa for those who aren’t aware). His anti-colonial mindset was brought up, but I think that influence was downplayed other than the fact where they mentioned how his books were translated into Japanese, English, Spanish, and other languages.
This was a very informative and even inspiring documentary of sorts. It was very insightful learning about Frantz Fanon’s life with how he helped people’s mental health as well as fighting against physical and mental colonization to those who were under oppression. The presentation from people of all races liking him as a person, author, and a psychiatrist is certainly worth admiring and it could dispel any pre-conceived myth about how some people view Black revolutionary figures. Unfortunately, some information should’ve been emphasized more and the production had it’s own issues. Frantz Fanon: His Life, His Struggle, His Work is a solid documentary for fans of history, anti-colonial movements, or those who are really into psychology/psychiatry. Definitely recommended. Also, I would recommend his literature if one is interested. You can find his stuff at different online bookstores.
Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like documentaries involving revolutionary figures.
-Subtract 1-2 points if anti-colonialism narratives make you uncomfortable.
-Subtract 1 point if you need flawless production in your documentaries.
-Great choices of interviewees from multiple races and ethnic groups as well as insider information
-Destroys myths about Frantz Fanon being some anti-white hateful being
-Amazing commentary about anti-colonialism and mental slavery
-Average film production
-Some interviewees should’ve been highlighted more
-Missing historical aspects that should’ve been addressed
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Advisory: This documentary about Frantz Fanon would be okay for teens and up. The biggest issue would be the language as the N-word is used multiple times. The concept of overt and covert racism is brought up multiple times. Colonization is mentioned in some of it’s worst ways with both physical and psychological damage to people. There is some disturbing imagery near the beginning which shows Martinique under German rule during the 3rd Reich and you see Martinicans (sadly, mostly Black people in that scene) doing the Hitler salute and goose-stepping.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Frantz Fanon: His Life, His Struggle, His Work is property of ArtMattan and Facets Video. The poster is from Amazon and is property of ArtMattan and Facets Video.