Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chocolat the Clown

Chocolat the clown ( Rafael) was an icon of the French circus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born a slave in Havana, Cuba, he was the first black artist of the French stage. His story was first recorded in a book called Les Memoires de Footit et Chocolat clowns, published in 1907 (in French).

Les Memoires de Footit et Chocolat clowns
Book cover

A more recent publication, Chocolat, clown nègre by Gérard Noiriel (in French), attempts to complete Padilla's story by including information from sources such as public archives, films, drawings, and lithographs.

Chocolat, clown nègre
Book cover

I don't remember when I first became aware of Chocolat. I do remember that I only knew of him as the on-stage foil for the scorn and abuse of the white clown named Footit. One of the slogans that became associated with him was "le nègre battu et content (beaten and content)"

Felix Potin ad for a chocolate product
Joë Bridge, ca. 1922

The pair performed in typical slapstick style and was extremely popular. They were star performers at the Nouveau Cirque, rue Saint-Honoré, in Paris' 1st arrondissement.


Footit et Chocolat, chaise en bascule (1899) - Lumière

Noiriel's book provides a critical, and more importantly, a balanced look at Rafael's life. I've only begun to read it and am looking forward to learning more about this legendary figure.

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1 comment:

Michelle mobakeng said...

I discovered this entertaining film in April while flying over to the Caribbeans which I greatly enjoyed owing to its realistic depiction of Paris and the lives of people, rich and down-trodden, before the great war even though the story is not quite as in his real life and the excellent performances of all the actors. A black Cuban man who made it in Paris well before the Black Americans. That's a change!