France’s colonial past belongs much more to the present than we would like to believe. Pascal Blanchard, a historian specializing in colonialism, is making sure his country remembers a time that it too often tries to forget. Although the collapse of the French colonial empire is comparatively recent, starting roughly after the Second World War, we tend to think of it as a distant past — and by doing so, we neglect our duty to acknowledge and repair the crimes committed by the French empire. To help right this wrong, Blanchard has written over 60 books, the latest of which, French Decolonizations, The Fall of an Empire, was published earlier this year. Blanchard also conceives and directs documentaries, including Décolonisations, du sang et des larmes (“Decolonization, Blood and Tears”) soon to be broadcast on France 2.
Val d’Isère 2019
How are racist representations made? That is the question historian Pascal Blanchard asks in his latest documentary, “Wild, in the Heart of Human Zoos”, co-directed by Bruno Victor-Pujebet. By focusing on a forgotten part of the history of colonialism, Blanchard, a CNRS researcher who specializes in colonial times and immigration issues, lays out how, and why, a “colonialist mentality” was built throughout the 20th century. He shows how, for more than a century, in zoos and open-air exhibitions around the world, Westerners displayed “native” people from their colonies to justify their own colonial enterprise. In doing so, they legitimized racialist and racist views toward these populations. Blanchard’s lesson is that people can be colonialists without actually living in the colonies. His message is that we need to constantly question our vision of the Other: It’s a salutary look-back that finds new echoes today.