Despite altruistic goals, humanitarianism often propagates foreign, and sometimes unjust, power structures where it is employed. Tracing the visual rhetoric of French colonial humanitarianism, Peter J. Bloom’s unexpected analysis reveals how the project of remaking the colonies in the image of France was integral to its national identity.
French Colonial Documentary investigates how the promise of universal citizenship rights in France was projected onto the colonies as a form of evolutionary interventionism. Bloom focuses on the promotion of French education efforts, hygienic reform, and new agricultural techniques in the colonies as a means of renegotiating the social contract between citizens and the state on an international scale. Bloom’s insightful readings disclose the pervasiveness of colonial iconography, including the relationship between “natural man” and colonial subjectivity; representations of the Senegalese Sharpshooters as obedient, brave, and sexualized colonial subjects; and the appeal of exotic adventure narratives in the trans-Saharan film genre.
Examining the interconnection between French documentary realism and the colonial enterprise, Bloom demonstrates how the colonial archive is crucial to contemporary debates about multiculturalism in France.
Peter J. Bloom is associate professor of film and media studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara.y debates about multiculturalism in France.