Native Stranger, Strange Fruit: Identity and Racial Trauma in Ducastel and Martineau's The Adventures of Felix
Dr Willie Tolliver.
"The Adventures of Felix," a recent French film directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, concerns the journey of a young Franco-Arab man across France, from Normandy to Marseilles, on a quest to find the Arab father he has never met. Along the way he has chance encounters with a variety of people who briefly and serially become members of an improvised family. This story has complications, however. Race and racism constitute a thematic undertow that occasionally irrupts into the narrative. Felix's racial otherness is never an overt issue in the film; he seems assimilated into his culture and society. Yet, there is a moment of traumatic realization that he is a stranger in his native land. He witnesses the murder of another young Arab man. He is haunted by this act and also by his inability to come forward and to report what he has witnessed. He is ashamed of his cowardice and, at the deeper level of racial identity, of himself. At this point, an interpretive intervention by an African-American text can elucidate Felix's personal, psychic predicament and his more general postcolonial condition. In James Weldon Johnson's "The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man," the bi-racial narrator, who passes for white in America at the beginning of the century, witnesses a brutal lynching in Georgia. His inappropriate response is one of shame at being a member of a race that can be so hated and treated. His response is also a function of his incomplete and ambivalent racial identification. Do not the ex-coloured man and the seemingly assimilated Felix share an identity? Their inability to process the spectacle of violent racism is revelatory of the colonized mind and the ways it evades and distorts reality in order to justify itself. Separated by a century and by continents, these two men, the legacies of slavery and colonialism, are traumatized by the liminality of their existences. They internalize that racial knowledge and must find or fail to find a way to reconcile the contradictions of their shared racial experience.
Dr Willie Tolliver (United States)
Associate Professor of English
Department of English
Agnes Scott College
Dr. Willie Tolliver, Jr. is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Africana Studies at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He is a graduate of Williams College and holds a doctorate in literature from the University of Chicago. His teaching interests include African-American literature, 19th Century American literature,
the literature of expatriation,
and film studies. He has published a book on Henry James and biography. His current research projects
focus on film representations of race and
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)