Francophone Cinema and the Caribbean: the case of Rue Case-Negres

‘North America was for a long time an international battleground for European nations, as well as a land of settlement’ (Spass: 61), yet France gradually lost its territory, with only Quebec in Canada and the Caribbean islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti, being able to sustain a Francophone cinematic production. Quebec still maintains an autonomous Francophone identity, and the country of Canada still maintains a bi-lingual status.

The film industry is absent in the Caribbean and the production of films is limited, financed by funding from France. There has been an increasing possibility within the Caribbean due to the establishing of film festivals on the islands with the aim of ‘encouraging and promoting the development of a distinct and original Caribbean cinema by Caribbean people’ (Cham in Spass: 61). Like the film festivals in Africa, these film festivals create an increased visibility and give a voice to the colonized majority.

The island of Martinique is a member of the French Caribbean and has been a French colony since the 17th century. It was attractive to the French due to the possibility of the formation of lucrative plantations of sugar and coffee. The local populations of the island were eradicated and replaced by slave labor from West Africa. Martinique remains a department of France, and the country’s population who were brought to the island as slaves by the French remain, but they live through the legacy of the forced migration. This adheres to the postcolonial concept of displacement upon displacement.

In order to highlight the Francophone identity of Martinique and the creolization of the French language, I am going to draw upon the example of Rue case- Negres/ Sugar Cane Alley (Palcy, 1983). The director of the film, Eugene Palcy, was born and raised in Martinique, but she studied at the French University of Sorbonne in Paris. She therefore had a westernized and European education, which is viewed in the country as a means of social mobility.

The film is based upon Joesph Zobel’s novel Black Shack Alley, which speaks about the daily realities of the population of Martinique. The film contains characters that speak to the Caribbean audience and can relate to the characters on screen use of language, which is the vernacular of Martinique, Creole. It is suggested that ‘language is not the reliable tool of communication we believe it to be, but rather a fluid, ambiguous domain of complex experience in which ideologies program us without our being aware of them’ (senses of cinema- Mhando). In this film, the language of Creole is a hybrid language and is a version of French, which has developed due to a variety of influences (derived from African heritage) over time. The Creole language expresses the roots in African culture of the Martinique population, marked by the enforced transportation from their place of origin through the slave trade by the French. They represent an African diaspora with forgotten connections due to a traumatic colonial experience. The host nation of France has enforced the Caribbean peoples into their new homeland. There is a sense of resentment towards the host nation, since these people do not feel a natural connection with France and/or their homeland of Martinique. The slave trade has unified the population against the host nation of France, and has led to a hybridized religious universe and a difference of culture and history.            

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