The Intouchables: A Heartwarming Film with Racist Undertones?

It’s a story about two unlikely people who end up connected in a way only reality could conjure up.  Philippe (Francois Cluzet), an affluent man, has the world piling up on his shoulders when tragedy strikes in a paragliding accident leaving him paralyzed in the second biggest French movie ever- The Intouchables.  A man accustomed to his independence now finds himself in a state that compromises his previous lack of relying on people.  He stumbles upon Driss (Omar Cy), a young Algerian immigrant who has familiarized himself with the world of petty-crime, and the rest is a comical, heart-wrenching tale of how these two helped each other.

But outside of the fabulous plot there are some who claim that the film has a particular air of racism about it.  Daphanee Denis of slate.com addresses such issue in her post Is the Intouchables Racist?  Although not adhering to the affirmative of her title question, she does bring up some interesting aspects that need to be evaluated when looking at this film.  Some American critics like Jay Weissberg of Variety claims that the movie gravitates toward traditional racist roles in which the black man is subservient to the rich white man.  But many would say that this critique is too critical particularly because it is based off a true story recounted in the book, You Changed My Life, by Abdel Sellou who lived the story told in the highly acclaimed French film.

Most blogs critiquing The Intouchables don’t even trek into the realm that the film might have a tinge of racism in it, but instead focus on the heartwarming feelings that give people hope in the world.  Claude Cassangne in his blog of the same name retells his experience of the movie in his post, Les Intouchables- un des meilleurs films (Francais ou autres) que j’ai jamais vu!  His subtitle, which translates to “one of the best films (French or otherwise) that I have ever seen,” describes this French born New Jersey inhabitant’s feeling toward the film best.  Never once does he bring up the allegations that this film could even have a pinch of racism in it, but instead looks beyond skin color for the facts that it is a great movie and a true story.  But is it possible that this film has some latent racist circumstances?

Personally, I would align my opinions with David Berreby of bigthink.com: “The French reaction to this reaction (American film critics assertions of the film being racist), as described by Sotinel, must strike Americans as pretty funny. It amounts to this: Oh, yeah, that one guy is black. Leave it to you race-obsessed Americans to pick that up; we hadn’t noticed. We didn’t really notice that.”  Americans do tend to look at things as black and white, rich and poor, good and bad.  We polarize the world and when we join the poles together it becomes a world that is no longer politically correct.  Perhaps there would be more of a foundation to make such claims if the movie were purely creative and not based off true events, but that isn’t the case and therefore we should set aside our preprogrammed minds and look the disparity as something endearing and hopeful.

2 thoughts on “The Intouchables: A Heartwarming Film with Racist Undertones?

  1. I would think that American’s have enough to worry about besides policing other nations’ film industries. It should go with out saying that racism and unequal footing for people of different skin colors, is a reality from our past that cannot ever be escaped. We cannot edge our way around every single whirlpool of discomfortable topics. That being said, just because something is true historically doesn’t mean it can be exploited as a tear jerker or rallying point for equal opportunity nuts. I really like James’ point that as Americans, we tend to want and dig for controversy, especially in the media, just so we can argue about it. It is a wonder to me that great, creative and boundary-pushing films are even made anymore. The question, for me, remains: So what? if The Intouchables has racism all through it, what good does it make to argue about it and accuse or punish the film makers? Birth of a Nation, depicting the gloriousness of the Klan, is still widely shown and thought of as a milestone in moving picture technology. I guess it just depends what is culturally valuable to the French and to the US.

  2. I would have to say that this film might depict racism, but it is depicting reality of what occurs in life. If it was based on a true story I would say that it is passively showing the way life is in society. I don’t believe the film was trying to offend anyone.

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