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Omar Sy Addresses Charges Of "Uncle Tom Racism" In Hit French Comedy "Intouchables" (Stateside Debut 5/25)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 25, 2012 at 10:30AM

I haven't read many stateside interviews with Monsieur Omar Sy yet, even though he's been here, since the film that catapulted him into international notoriety, Intouchables, recently screened in New York and Los Angeles, with The Weinstein Company planning to release it here in the USA next month, May 25. 
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Omar Sy

I haven't read many stateside interviews with Monsieur Omar Sy yet, even though he's been here, since the film that catapulted him into international notoriety, Intouchables, recently screened in New York and Los Angeles, with The Weinstein Company planning to release it here in the USA next month, May 25

I'm hoping that I get an opportunity to chat with the Frenchman sometime before then; but in the meantime, check out this in-depth interview he did with Anthem Magazine 5 days ago, in which he addresses Stateside critiques of Intouchables, particularly charges of it being "offensive," "a role barely removed from the jolly house slave of yore," "cringe-worthy," and peddling "Uncle Tom racism one hopes has permanently exited American screens."

To wit:

ANTHEM MAG - The Los Angeles Times has said that the film has some ‘crying racism.’ Variety proclaimed that your role as Driss is ‘a role barely removed from the jolly house slave of yore.’ I don’t personally share these views, but I would love to get your thoughts on what certain American critics are saying.

OMAR SY - I didn’t see any racist elements. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done this movie. I would need to see what those critics are talking about, specifically. I did read a few things here and there, but I want to make it clear that, in France, things are very different than the U.S. on a social level. The two societies have not evolved in the same way. In France, when you look at the poor and the privileged in the city suburbs, all immigrant communities live together and share the same environment. You’ll find people from places like Northern Africa and Portugal living together. In the U.S., it’s not like that. I would need more information on what these critics are saying, but we should look at all the details. Then we could explain the reasons behind it. It would take a long time and we would need a whole new movie about that.

I still have yet to see the film, so I'm not in any position to address its content. I'd previously expressed my reservations with regards to the film, but based on the info available (synopsis, trailer, clips); as already noted, there's nothing particular fresh about the basic buddy/comedy concept, and one can't help but instantly see some familiar character archetypes here, specifically where the black man is concerned.

But, in Sy's defense (if he even needs to be defended), should the differences that separate us (blacks in the USA vs blacks in France) historically and thus ideologically, be taken into consideration as one tries to grasp the film's appeal amongst black people in France, but, thus far, not here in the USA?

Although, I should note that I've yet to read any reactions from African American writers here in the USA; all the reviews I've read so far have been from white film critics. But if anyone can link me to a review from a black film critic, or just overall reactions from any *black culture* sites who have seen the film, please do so.

The Weinstein Company is already moving full speed ahead with its stateside adaptation of the film, but casting isn't sured up yet. One has to wonder whether the script will undergo "massive rewrites" as one critic suggested it would need; also, there was a rumor that the character played by Sy in the original, may not even be black American (or even black period), which I think we're all assuming will be the case.

Read the full Omar Sy interview with Anthem Magazine HERE, where he also talks about making to transition to Hollywood ("I really have no idea. It depends on whom I end up meeting. It’s all about finding the right story, the right role, the right filmmaker, the right producer… I have no idea what will show up") and working with Michel Gondry in Mood Indigo.


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