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25 August 2016

Djia Mambu : “Black”, pourquoi Mavela et pas Loubna ? | Contradictions in the representation of Mavela and Loubna in the film “Black”

Djia Mambu : “Black”, pourquoi Mavela et pas Loubna ? | Contradictions in the representation of Mavela and Loubna in the film “Black”  

Source : Africultures, 20-10-2015. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson.  

English (Français ci-apres)

Black by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah released on Belgian screens on 11 November 2015. 
Does the black body summon violence in genre films in general, or is it only in these kinds of films?

A slap in the face. This is the experience many people felt while leaving the screening of Black, the new film by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (who directed the provocative Images in 2014) during the Belgian premier at the International Francophone Festival of Namur. It is a dramatic and daring work about the rivalry between two gangs from foreign communities, with the hectic streets of Brussels as backdrop. And, if the images reflect reality, the police are never far away, ready to disperse the crowds. A kind of West Side Story, though devoid of the music and dances often judiciously used in the American film as buffer to the momentousness of the narrative. Adapted from the novel by Dirk Bracke, the film follows a Congolese teenager in Brussels caught between her love for a young Moroccan and the gang to which she belongs.

In these squabbles, women (or rather girls) are victim-objects. In the same way as in the armed conflict in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, known as the world capital of rape, their body is used as a weapon of war. They are insulted, abused and demeaned in each altercation, yet the encounters are essentially on masculine terrain.

If the creators chose to represent one of the most despicable experiences of one community, why then show so much restraint towards the other? The gang rape of Mavela by Notorius and his buddies, compared to the same act inflicted upon Loubna, is one example. The long cruel scene exposing aspects of the black victim in her most excruciating suffering, positions the spectator as voyeur. How can one resist? The black female body has always been the site of the gaze, while also located in a position of revulsion. Already during the époque when the colonial considered the black woman closer to an animal because of her nudity, her body was almost always described with a passionate desire in his photographs and writings, thus contributing to what now is interpreted as the erotic imaginary of Western fantasies. (1)

The aggression towards Loubna is only suggested, barely touched upon. And having survived this barbaric act, only the latter appears psychologically troubled: turning inward into herself, with moments of absence, withdrawal, to the point that she causes concern among her friends. As for Mavela, once the tears have dried, she shows up at a nightclub accompanied by her attackers. The heinous act thus seems intolerable for one but excusable for the other.

This North African restraint is inscribed in the legacy of representation between the two women. Nudity was taboo for women in the West and excluded among the Arabs. Whereas, among the “savages", it was customary to see the woman nude, even in a noble manner. Today, the Moroccan prostitute of Much Loved (Nabil Ayouch) shocks, whereas the prostitute of Morbayassa, Le Serment de Koumba (Fantamady Cheick Camara, Guinea) does not. (See Djia Mambu : A best actress award for Much Loved | Un prix d'interprétation féminine pour Much Loved – Analysis | Analyse

As it relates to the roles of women, the representations of the two communities in Black, reflect a similar treatment. First, a Maghreb women police officer never misses an opportunity to set the "cousins" on the right path with a sermon. Moreover, the young Loubna though she hangs out with a gang, still has a job as a waitress in a cafe. But what of Mavela and the other "sisters"? Not much. The heroine herself does not seem to do anything outside of her connection with the Black Bronx gang. No desire, no relationships, no job. Her friends in the gang either get pregnant or go astray. As for her unemployed single mother, she is unable to control her daughter. Between hope and despair. On the other hand, in the Matonge neighbourhood there is always the occasion to see the black girls fighting as they tear into each other’s hair. Reminiscent of Celine Sciamma’s Girlhood.

There is a similar representation in the development of the male characters. Apart from a few broken items here and stolen handbags there, the gang of Marwan are “care bears” compared to Mavela. One laughs at their practical jokes, even feeling compassion for this clique of buddies. On the contrary, the Black Bronx are extremely violent, cruel, and even bestial, appearing as animals in the gang rape scene.

In Black, which won the Discovery Award at the International Film Festival in Toronto, there is an effective style of genre cinema: accelerations and explosive action scenes, dramatic slow motion, unvarnished romantic love scene, and an energetic cast of non-professionals. Very rare for a Belgian film, the actors are almost all Black or Arab. But while it is essential to encourage diversity in film, why should violence become a representation that is difficult to detach from? Why is it necessary that when the focus is on a community of foreign origins that the violence film becomes the genre of choice, as if it were an intrinsic characteristic?

La Squale, Dealer, Banlieue 13, La Cité de Dieu, Bande de Filles, Qu'Allah bénisse la France, etc. Since Kassovitz’s La Haine until the recent Dheepan by Audiard, the list is too long.

1) "The African woman has been represented throughout the colonial occupation as the forbidden fruit of the white man (racial adultery and martial adultery) and correspondingly conveys its greatest fantasies".  La femme africaine représente en fait, tout au long de l'occupation coloniale, le fruit défendu de l'homme blanc (adultère racial et adultère martial) et véhicule parallèlement les plus gros fantasmes. (Lissia Jeurissen. Colonisation au masculin et mise en corps de la féminité noire : le cas de l'ancien Congo Belge" in FER-Ulg Text in French.


Black d'Adil El Arbi et Bilall Fallah sort le 11 novembre 2015 sur les écrans belges. La violence est-elle dans le film de genre une assignation du corps noir ou bien est-ce seulement dans ce genre de films ?

Une claque. C'est l'effet qu'ont eu beaucoup de gens à la sortie de la projection de BLACK, le nouveau film d'Adil El Arbi et Bilall Fallah (qui avaient réalisé le sulfureux Images en 2014) en première belge au Festival international de Film Francophone de Namur. Une œuvre saignante et osée sur les rivalités entre deux bandes issues de communautés étrangères, avec comme fond les rues mouvementées de Bruxelles où à en croire les images, la police n'est jamais bien loin pour disperser les troupes. Un genre de West Side Story, quoique dépourvu des musiques et des danses pourtant judicieusement utilisées comme distance par rapport à la gravité du récit dans le film américain. Adapté du roman éponyme de Dirk Bracke, le film, qui sort le 11 novembre sur les écrans belges, suit une adolescente congolaise à Bruxelles prise entre son amour pour un jeune marocain et le gang auquel elle appartient. LIRE l’article en intégralité sur

Published on the African Women in Cinema Blog in partnership with Africultures | Publié sur l'African Women in Cinema Blog en partenariat avec Africultures

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