Chocolat (1989)




Director: Claire Denis

Starring:  Isaach De Bankole (Protee), Giulia Boschi (Aimee Dalens), Francois Cluzet (Marc Dalens), Jean-Claude Adelin (Luc), Laurent Arnal (Marchinard), Jean Bediebe (Prosper), Cecile Ducasse (France Dalens, as a girl), Mireille Perrier (France Dalens)

colonial racism in Cameroon as seen through the eyes of a young French girl


Good movie.  This is all very subtle, at first.  At first the life of the white parents and their little girl seem some what idyllic.  They live in a nice house with lots and lots of land, and have black servants who care for them.  The pace of life is very slow because it's so hot.  (It reminds me of a lot of many movies set in the American south.) 

But as you watch, there are hints of tension in the house.  The mother is bored because her husband is gone so often with his job.  And there is the sexual tension between the black "butler" and the wife/mother. 

And then the ugliness of overt racism enters with the arrival of a motley group of white passengers in a plane that has been damaged.  The pilots and passengers stay in the large house of our white family.  Suddenly, the N word is used; the white husband of a sick wife refuses to let a local black doctor treat her; a fight breaks out between the butler and one of the overtly racist white passengers.  (In the American south, the white man would have been able to shoot the butler without ever being convicted.)  The sexual tension between the wife/mother of the house and the butler becomes more obvious.  And then the little girl is exposed to the backlash reaction to racism.  Will this all explode and destroy the family and its relationship with the blacks?  Or will things remain more subtle than that?

This tension between whites and blacks just under the surface reminds me of Mary Chestnut's Diary from Dixie about the American south.  Mary was from the upper crust and had plenty of black servants.  On the surface, things would appear idyllic in her life.  But over the course of the writing Mary's fears are exposed. She fears being killed in her sleep by her black servants (as a nearby family had been).  She abhorred the practice of the white masters having children by the black women slaves.  She did not trust her black servants.  She always had a feeling that they were lying to her, smiling and laughing to her face, but plotting behind her back.  She wrote that she hated the institution of slavery for what it did to both black and white.  And yet her husband was a high ranking officer for Confederate President Jefferson Davis and she supported the war, even though her mood got blacker and blacker as the war continued to go badly for the South.  No, don't take anything for granted  or given --  look beneath the surface to see the deeper truths as to what is really going on.  And don't take what people say are their motives at face value --  look hard beneath the surface for the truth. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1472  --  Fernando Po, a Portuguese explorer, was the first European to reach the the future Cameroon.  Cameroon mostly exported slaves and ivory.

1520  --  a few Portuguese settlers start plantations in the area.  

1600s  --  the Dutch take over the slave trade from the Portuguese.  

1700s  --  the London Baptist Missionary Society creates a Christian colony in Victoria (now Limbé). The first settlers were freed slaves and Africans converted to Christianity. 

1845  --  an English navy engineer and missionary, Alfred Saker, starts a settlement in Douala at the mouth of Wouri River.

1858: Alfred Saker founds the first European settlements in Victoria. He sees great strategic/financial possibilities in the settlements and tries to convince the English government to make the area a crown colony.

before 1863  --  European nations abolish the slave trade.

1863  --  slavery is abolished in the USA.  

Europeans move deeper into Cameroon.  So, the King of Douala (Douala Manga Bell) invites the British (under Queen Victoria) to form an official relationship with Douala. The British do not respond immediately and the Germans step in.

1884 (July 12)  --  Gustav Nachtigal signs a treaty with the Chiefs of Doula on behalf of the German Kaiser Wilhelm creating a German protectorate.

1885  --  Baron von Soden becomes governor of "Kamerun". He has to fight rebellious tribes.

1888  --  explorer Georg Zenker founds the German settlement in the mountains that became the Capital of Yaoundé.

1907  --  Von Puttkamer becomes the new governor.  A railway is constructed.

1914  --  Chief Rudolph Douala Manga Bell and military officer Martin-Paul Samba resist German dominance and are executed.

1916  --  during World War I, Britain and France force Germany out of the territory.

1919  --  following the war, Britain and France split Cameroon between themselves. The boundary does not follow the linguistic lines, causing contemporary and future problems for Cameroon.  The British come to administer British Camerron and the adjacent Nigeria as one colony.   The British stop using forced labor, the the French continue until 1945.  Britain ignores Cameroon and a lot of German settlers move into the colony. 

1939/1940  --  start of WWII.  All German plantations are confiscated.

post-WWII  --  political parties pushing for independence emerge in the French and British sectors of Cameroon.  Some push for the unification of French and British Cameroon.   

1955  --  revolts begin in the major towns of French Cameroon.  The leader of the revolt is the Union des Populations Camerounaises (UPC). The French put down the revolt with the deaths of several hundred people. 

1956  --  The French ban the UPC.

1958  --  Ahmadou Ahidjo forms the party l'Union Camerounaise, becomes prime minister of the Assemblée Legislative du Cameroun, and calls for complete independence and reunification of the two parts of Cameroon. 

1960 (January 1)  --  Ahidjo proclaims independence for French Cameroon, is inaugurated as president and continues working to reunite the two Cameroons. 

1961 (October)  --  the northern part of British Cameroon votes to join Nigeria, while the southern part votes to join the French speaking Cameroon.

1972 (May 20)  --  formation of the United Republic of Cameroon.  





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