Fanon: Hier, Aujourd’hui (Fanon: Yesterday, Today), the debut documentary film by Hassane Mezine, is a remarkable testament to the life and legacy of Fanon. The 87-minute groundbreaking feature sheds a welcome new light on the spectrum of Fanon’s work and teachings, still a revolutionaries’ bible and a lifeline for anyone engaged in the quest for decolonisation.
In this film, Mezine, who previously worked alongside the indomitable anti-colonial film director René Vautier, methodically and meticulously explores the timelessness and urgent relevance of Fanon today, following his story from the early engagement against Nazism, to his ultimate fight against colonialism. Mezine delivers an intellectual yet poignant testimony of Fanon’s utter brilliance, in a gripping two-parter: Yesterday and Today.
The project started with Mezine’s discovery of rare interview footage of Abdelhamid Mehri, a former minister in the (pre-independence) Provisional Government of the Republic of Algeria. “A friend of mine had filmed the interview,” Mezine explains, “in which [Mehri] talks about Fanon and his pivotal role in the Algerian revolution”.
The interview prompted Mezine to embark on a journey that would take him three years, and a fair bit of travelling, in pursuit of Fanon’s legacy.
Mezine marshals an impressive collection of people who knew Fanon and worked alongside him during his years of revolutionary struggle in Algeria, Tunis, Mali and Europe. He speaks to Fanon’s son, Olivier, as well as to Marie-Jeanne Manuellan, Fanon’s assistant during his days at the neuro-psychiatric hospital in Tunis and author of Sous la dictée de Fanon, a book about her experience. Many other voices populate the work, principally those of comrades and colleagues including Raphael Confiant, the Martinican author of L’insurrection de l’âme: Frantz Fanon, vie et mort du guerrier-silex.
Soon after the launch of the Algerian revolution, on November 1, 1954, Fanon joined the ranks of the FLN (National Liberation Front). For him, the then-prevailing state of affairs, of oppression and injustice, made it impossible not to choose a side. He chose to fight injustice, and viewed the revolutionary insurrection in Algeria as the logical consequence of an attempt to oppress, decerebralise and alienate an entire people. As such, he viewed Algeria’s struggle for independence as a test-case for the rest of Africa.
A staunch defender of democracy and human rights, Fanon was first and foremost a humanist who advocated via his teachings and writings the intrinsic consequences of establishing a social movement for the decolonisation of both individuals and people through the analysis of the dehumanising effects of colonisation upon colonised subjects and communities.
His most eminent publications include Black Skin, White masks, published in 1952, and The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961, days before his untimely death. Fanon did not live to see an independent Algeria; he died of Leukaemia on December 6, 1961, at the age of 36, in a hospital near Washington, DC. His body was later repatriated to Algeria, as per his wishes, where he rests today.
The world has changed a great deal since 1962, not least with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mezine shows that today, more so than yesterday, Fanon remains as relevant as ever, and that his theories on alienation and decolonisation are profoundly far reaching, as amply demonstrated during Mezine’s odyssey journeying across the United States, Portugal, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, France, Martinique and Palestine.
Fanon’s revolutionary and post-colonial theories still resonate today, not only in the former colonies where the deep scars and ongoing violence of colonialism, neo-colonialism, dictatorship, alienation, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, infrastructural decay, inter-ethnic enmity and religious intolerance constitute a daily struggle, but also in the West, where these same forces and dynamics drive the global imperialist agenda of enriching the 1% at the expense of the majority.
Mezine crucially touches on the question of post-independence national bourgeoisies, who have come to internalise and assimilate colonialist thought, engendering among many consequences a selective humanism that denies the fundamental elements of the humanity of communities, relegating them to the status of anomalies. However, perhaps the most thought-provoking, piercing quote here comes from Houria Bouteldja’s, a French-Algerian activist and author, on the ever illusionary and mutating imperialism, “We are the post-colonial subjects of Europe; we are the South in the North.”
Mezine’s groundbreaking film, much like Fanon’s body of work, has since reached audiences far and wide, with screenings taking place in Algeria, Martinique, Tunisia, France, Belgium, Spain, Guadeloupe, and the United Kingdom. In a world where reading Fanon remains a revolutionary act, and where the Fanonian oeuvre is often ignored or sidelined — viewed as simply a dissident ideology that calls for violence against the oppressor — the very existence of this film constitutes a significant contribution to the unfinished project that is the decolonisation and de-racialisation of society, and the world.
The film is on the programme of The 21st South African International Documentary Film Festival and can still be viewed in Johannesburg on 13 June and in Cape Town on 16 June. This review was first published by Ceasefire.