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“The Marches For Freedom” – An American perspective of French multiculturalism

Rokhaya Diallo at the French-American Foundation's screening in New York: “Both the United States and France are equally racist, but at different levels”– Credit: FAF

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2014 (IPS) - The issue of racism was the underlying theme of a new documentary screened at the French-American Foundation Monday.

Titled “The Marches For Freedom”, it was the latest documentary of the French journalist and activist Rokhaya Diallo.

From the Elysée Palace to the suburbs of Paris, the movie documents 10 young Americans visiting France– seen as the historical nation of human rights — to explore the issues of race and multiculturalism through transatlantic lens.

Diallo has built a reputation with her deep-rooted opinions regarding integration, secularism and multiculturalism. Currently writing for several publications, she is a journalist and also an activist on human rights who pioneered the 2007 antiracist movement Les Indivisibles.

She has faced several threats and been a victim of verbal aggression. And in June 2013, she was publicly assaulted.

Focusing on the impact of the civil rights movement in each nation, her movie looks on the legacy those historic steps have left on today’s youth.

The first national anti-racist movement in France took place between October and December 1983. At that time, the country was experiencing a wave of racist crimes against people from Maghreb and African migrants.

Led by the priest Christian Delorme and the pastor Jean Costil, the non-violent march was mainly inspired by civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi.

Thione Niang, political activist and community leader, is one of the students featured in the documentary.

Named by Complex Magazine as one of the “10 Young Activists Who Are Changing The World” in March 2013, he launched the Give1 Project, a global organization that aims to engage young people as leaders in creating and building strong and healthy communities, of whose students were involved in the film.

“The purpose of the documentary was not to show which country is more racist,” Diallo said. “Both the United States and France are equally racist, but at different levels,” she added.

She explained that France needs to acknowledge its history. “We should do something about remembering. The movie was a tribute to all those who died for our liberty,” she added.

The 2001 Taubira Law recognises the Atlantic slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity. It specifies the obligation of including the topic in educational curriculums and scientific research.

“We have an unclear history of slavery. I have seen many teachers wanting to teach about slavery on their own initiative. The Minister of National Education is very centralised and strict about scholar curriculum,” Diallo said.

Moreover, she said that racism has been tinged with humour in France. “The first movie about slavery was a comedy.”

The documentary reveals how American students introduced a new perspective of France as a country facing controversial issues about identity and integration.

“In France, people had that fear about where I came from,” said one of the American students during the discussion.

“Racism decreased over the last decades in France,” Diallo said. “Important figures that are part of the Republic have diverse ethnic roots, such as Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Spokesperson for the French government, or Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice,” she added.

Back in the U.S to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the students have learned from their trip that the struggle against discrimination and racism remains a day-to-day struggle in France.

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