Race & Diversity in French Cinema

University of Texas at Austin – FR 325E
Syllabus created: 2018


  • General Course Information

Department: French & Italian
Course Section and Title: FR 325E: Race & Diversity/Fr Cinema
Class Days and Time: Tues. & Thur. 12:30PM-2:00PM
Textbooks: Readings on Canvas
Instructor: Valentin Duquet
Email: vduquet@utexas.edu

  • Course Goals

The goal for this course is for students to acquire a better understanding of diversity in France by analyzing the way French cinema represents race, Otherness, minorities and disenfranchised youth. France has a long and complicated history of colonization, immigration, secularism and republican universalism that is very distinct from that of the US. This course will provide students with intellectual and interpretative tools to think critically about race and/in French cinema.

Who gets to direct films in France, and what is their outlook on the minorities they portray? Who is given a podium, and who remains invisible? When minorities are represented, how are stereotypes reinforced or undermined? Do filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds depict diversity differently? In what ways does France’s historical context—rejection of hyphenated identities and communautarisme; institutionalized “colorblindness;” illegality of censuses on ethncity; and negation of affirmative action—translate into cinema as a medium? How does France’s strict rejection of the very term “race” influence representations and cultural awareness both on and off screen?

With the tools and vocabulary this course will provide, student will be empowered to analyze complex socio-cultural contexts all the while decoding films’ stylistic choices. I encourage students to follow their own interests, whether they be film production, cultural studies or film analysis. Throughout the semester, the material we will read (articles and essays in both French and English) and watch (French movies from 1965 to 2016) will provide great resources and templates for the midterm of final projects. Since the course will be conducted in French, it will also offer opportunities for students to improve their clarity of expression and fluency.

  • Grading

I will use both the point system and the letter system according to the following scale:

Points         Grade         Definition
93-100         A                 Exceptional
90-92           A-                 
87-89           B+               Very good
83-86           B
80-82           B-
77-79           C+               Fair
73-76           C
70-72           C-
67-69           D+              Poor
63-66           D
60-62           D-
0-59             F                Failing

The course grade will be based on the following elements:

  • Assignments and Grade Distribution (click for details)

Active participation & attendance (20%)
Weekly blog posts (10%)
Leading class discussion (20%)
Midterm project (20%)
Final project (30%)

  • Course Calendar (click for details)

– Week 1: Introduction


Week 2: Bandes et banlieues
Week 3: Femmes de couleur dans la cité
Week 4: Les années 1980


Week 5: La femme maghrébine face à la société
Week 6: Pélerinages et rencontres
Week 7: Mobilité sociale, mobilité géographique


Week 8: Subvertir la dynamique Noir/Blanc
Week 9: Relations amoureuses interraciales
Week 10: La crise des migrants


Week 11: Shoah et mémoire collective
Week 12: La Nouvelle Vague
Week 13: Algérie coloniale et Afrique juive
Week 14: Comédie et choc des cultures

– Week 15: CONFÉRENCE & FESTIVAL (see final project

  • Statement about Teaching Film and the Course Theme

Film as a medium is ubiquitous in our lives in the form of entertainment, but close attention to style and production remain uncommon. Movies can be very palatable objects of study, but the mainstreaming of Hollywood standards has caused some students to be less patient with unconventional or unfamiliar situations or aesthetics. When watching French movies, some American students are often projected into an extra layer beyond their comfort zone. As an instructor, it is my role to help them bridge this gap and gain a better understanding of foreign cultural artifacts; in doing so, we better understand ourselves as well.

The French films I have chosen for this course represent a breadth of postures, styles and experiences. Most of them are recent and popular. Some were blockbuster comedies (like Intouchables and Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopatre) whose humor might be lost in translation; others are Indie favorites that have been studied in many classrooms in the US, like La Haine (1995). This staple of Banlieues cinema crystalized the spirit of a generation, and I couldn’t imagine starting this course with any other film (which is why my selection is not chronological but thematic). Other movies like Divines (2016) came out more recently and flip the script of La Haine into a female perspective.

Diversity in French cinema (both behind and in front of the camera) has been growing remarkably in the past 30 years. Social stigmas, however, sometimes seem to stagnate or regress. In other words, some social realities haven’t evolved a lot since the 1980s, but who gets to represent them, who watches, how the situations are represented and how people of color are portrayed have fundamentally changed. This is the crucial message—both optimistic and bleak—that I want students to take home.

A sociology course would analyze data and link the economic downturns since the 1980s to racial inequality; a cultural studies approach might compare institutional structures between the US and France and argue pro- or against affirmative action; a film studies method, however, goes further: it examines all those whos and why‘s and how‘s of the politics and aesthetics of representation. This is why a film studies approach with focus on form and content is the cornerstone of this course. Other disciplinary angles will still be useful to contextualize the class discussions.

Film and cultural studies compliment each other perfectly in the case of this course. Race and diversity in French cinema is a sensitive topic with contemporary stakes, and students need both approaches to really grasp the urgency, discomfort and poetry of this theme. What is featured in the movies I selected may be offensive to some. Those feelings are legitimate. The question I want students to ask themselves in this course is “Why is this offensive to me?”; “Would someone from a different time react differently?”; “How might the reaction be different for a French audience if we contextualize the movie in its native history and culture?”; “How do I turn my frustration into an intelligent critique that deconstructs the material and attempts to understand what went on in the mind of the director?”.

For these reasons, I want to make sure the classroom is a safe space where opinions can be vocalized respectfully and mindfully. Also for these reasons, I want students to put themselves in the place of a director and experience filming and editing at least once (either for their midterm of final project) while giving them the choice to either fully involve themselves in the theme (through a creative production of their own) or to maintain more distance through essays (either written or visual). I want all of them to be on a level playing field regardless of their video-making skills or cultural background. Through my experiential knowledge of Frenchness and students’ efforts to pursue their own interests, I think that together we can bridge this gap.

  • Documented Disability Statement

Any student with a documented disability who requires academic accommodations should contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at (512) 471-6259 (voice) or 1-866-329-3986 (video phone).  Faculty are not required to provide accommodations without an official accommodation letter from SSD.

Please notify me as quickly as possible if the material being presented in class is not accessible (e.g., instructional videos need captioning, course packets are not readable for proper alternative text conversion, etc.).

Please notify me as early in the semester as possible if disability-related accommodations for field trips are required.  Advanced notice will permit the arrangement of accommodations on the given day (e.g., transportation, site accessibility, etc.).

  • Academic Integrity

University of Texas Honor Code: The core values of The University of Texas at Austin are learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity, and responsibility. Each member of the university is expected to uphold these values through integrity, honesty, trust, fairness, and respect toward peers and community.

Academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism or receiving outside help on assignments, will not be tolerated in this course, and violators will be found and disciplined to the fullest extent of University Regulations. That is to say, any student found committing an act of academic dishonesty will be subject to the University’s regulations for dealing with such cases.  I strongly encourage anyone who may have questions about the honesty of a particular action to speak with me before engaging in the questionable behavior.

An act is academically dishonest when it misrepresents one’s involvement in an academic task in any way.  For further information, please visit the Student Judicial Services web site: http://deanofstudents.utexas.edu/sjs