I have chosen to look into the work of Frantz Fanon particularly at his written work “black skin white mask” and also the documentary film produced by Issac Julien and Mark Nash. Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask, does retain and demand respect for its subjects perhaps because he isn’t talked about but represented. Isaac Julien in collaboration with Mark Nash have produced a Biography/History film isn’t exactly a documentary, and it not a drama, though an actor portrays the film’s subject. “It’s a fact-filled dream, a meditation with a poetic texture on the life of a controversial black intellectual”. I’m going to discuss the book and compare and argue if the directors depict the book and Frantz Fanon correctly which to develop a theoretical and/or historical perspective through further research.
Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks is a stirring glimpse into the mindset of a black man living in a white man’s world. The author approaches the subject of racism from a psychoanalytic viewpoint rather than from a sociological stance. To Fanon, racism is a psychological disease which has infected all men and all societies. He argues that the black man is constantly trying, but never fully succeeding, to be white and to assimilate into the white man’s world.
Fanon was a psychiatrist so, naturally, he analyzed the problem of racism as such. Based on today’s racism, many would try to classify racism as a sociological problem. Fanon, however, looked at racism as a psychological obstacle in the path of humankind’s realization of its true potential. “When there are no more slaves, there are no masters.” 1 While he does acknowledge the existence of a socioeconomic divide that coincides with racism, he does not believe that poverty and social inferiority are the worst consequences of racism. He believed that the psychological damage is the worst problem resulting from racism. Unlike the blatant discrimination, violence and hatred associated with the anti-black racism of the United States prior to the Civil Rights Movement, racism in the French world was less obvious and more psychological than physical. This psychological discrepancy, Fanon argues, is more damaging and much harder to overcome and resist than physical racial abuse.
The issue of reading Fanon today, then, is perhaps not about finding the moment of relevance in Fanon’s text that corresponds with the world, but in searching for the moments where Fanon’s text and the world do not correspond, and asking how Fanon, the revolutionary, would think and act in the period of retrogression.
A black man who believes himself to be equal to the white man and shuns his own people would forever be an outsider to both groups. He could never fit in with either side. He would never gain acceptance from whites and he would be ridiculed by blacks for trying to evolve.
One of the ways to overcome racism is to have an unbending sense of self-worth and to fully know oneself. If one can achieve this, they will no longer compare themselves to others, so the psychological effects of racism will not have any bearing on them. However, Fanon argues that this is may not be possible for the black man to do. People, in general, and especially those who have been constantly oppressed, have a tremendously difficult time determining and accepting their own self-worth by their own accord,
“The Antillean does not possess a personal value of his own and is always dependent on the value of ‘the Other.’ The question is always whether he is less intelligent than I, blacker than I, or less good than I. Every self-positioning or self-fixation maintains a relationship or dependency on the collapse of the other. It’s on the ruins of my entourage that I build my virility.” 5
The only way the black man knows how to build his self-worth is to destroy the worth of another. But, unfortunately, since the black man is in no position to downgrade white people, they must attack other blacks in order to build their self-worth. This creates a vicious cycle in which the black man keeps himself and his people down and the white man can remain in power without even doing anything. “The Martinicans are hungry for reassurance. They want their wishful thinking to be recognized. They want their wish for virility to be recognizedâ€¦ Each of them wants to be, wants to flaunt himself.” 6
“Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask does retain and demand respect for its subject, perhaps because he isn’t just talked about but represented. Julien and Nash aren’t interested in turning Fanon’s life into anecdote or melodrama – that’s not why they use an actor – but having Colin Salmon embody Fanon makes the criticism in the film seem like things said to someone’s face, not behind his back. Fanon identified some crucial issues. His admirers don’t expect him to have resolved them.”