Thursday, September 24, 2015

Black Expats in Paris: A Successful Meetup Group - Part 1

Black Expats in Paris is a hugely popular Meetup group that was founded in February 2013 as a means of connecting expatriates of African descent. It is the brainchild of Chicagoan Keenya Hofmaier, a mixed-race woman of German and African-American ancestry. After getting the group off to a solid start, Keenya handed the reins over to group member Bintou Murielle. Bintou subsequently assembled a group of four persons to help her organize events, one of whom is Ebonee Harden.

Ebonee granted Discover Paris! an exclusive interview, allowing us to "peek behind the curtain" and see what makes Black Expats in Paris so successful. Part 1 focuses on the demographics and activities of the group.

Fête National Picnic at Champs de Mars - Ebonee (left) and Abbey (right)
Image courtesy of Black Expats in Paris 2015

DP!: Tell us about you.

EH: I’m from Berkeley, California, but did my studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Columbia University in New York. I studied International Relations with a minor in American Studies & Ethnicity-African American Studies.

While in college I first became interested in France and French culture, primarily through studying the language. However, my senior year of college I had the opportunity to write an honors thesis and chose to focus on Black American expatriates as Cultural Ambassadors. My university then funded a brief 2-week trip to Paris so that I could interview various Black Americans living there and find out about their experiences. It was at that moment I fell in love with Paris and the quality of life living in France could afford.

That was 2005 and since then I have spent a year working here as a Language Assistant with the Ministry of Education and a summer as an intern with the American Church of Paris. Now I have been here for over 3 years straight as a graduate student and part-time English Professor. In fact, when I first moved here to teach with the Ministry of Education, I myself started a Black Expatriate Meetup group and although the membership numbers were less than 200, the group was really successful. Unfortunately, when I left Paris I shut down the group, but I was thrilled to see a new one when I returned for my graduate studies.

When Bintou needed to take time away from Black Expats in Paris for personal reasons, I stepped up to host the majority of events of this summer as a way to meet more people and share my love of Black culture and Paris.

Bintou Murielle with actor OC Ukeje at Nollywood Film Festival
Image courtesy of Black Expats in Paris 2015

DP!: “African-Americans, Afro-Europeans, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Latinos, Africans” – you have a diverse group of Africans and persons of African descent. Can you give us a breakdown in percentages of the number of each group?

EH: This isn’t an exact number, but the majority of the active group members are Afro-Europeans and Afro-Caribbeans. These are usually French people of African descent. The next major category would be Africans, people born in Francophone / former French colonies who came to France as adults. African Americans would be the next group as well as other Anglophone people of African descent. Lastly, we have Afro-Latinos and European people.

DP!: What is the age range of members?

EH: Most members are between the ages of 22-45, although we have some very active members older than 45, which brings a nice mix to things.

DP!: How many are men and how many are women?

EH: The majority of active group members are women, although now that we have a man on our leadership team, the lovely Paterne Gaye, has been trying to host events that appeal to a wider audience.

DP!: How many people are joining each month?

EH: On average about 10-15 people join each month.

DP!: What kinds of events does Black Expats in Paris organize?

EH: In the past, we mostly hosted happy hours, movie nights, plays and dinner/lunch events with a focus on simply having the chance to get together and enjoy each other's company. Fpr the past 6 months or so, we've started to host more events that connect to the African Diaspora through food, music, dance, art, film, etc. We also started to host more free or low-cost events as we have many students in our group and wanted to respect their budget constraints.

We've found that by offering so many events each month, some members never had a chance to connect with others because many members were scattered over various events. So for the Autumn/Winter season, we have now started to host only four events a month, with one event focusing on sharing a meal, one on grabbing a drink, one with a cultural component, and one being a large scale event where attendance isn’t restricted. We're only a month in, so we’ll see how this new set-up meets the needs of our members.

Come back to the ETBP blog for Part 2 of this interview, which focuses on some of the group's special interests and a spin-off Meetup group.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Melvin Van Peebles at the Black Riot Cycle

Five years ago, Melvin Van Peebles created a musical version of his iconic, independent, 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. He called it an opera.

He wrote, composed, and directed it, and he selected Greg Tate and the Burnt Sugar Arkestra to perform the music. Called Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song – A Hood Opera, it premiered at the Sons d'Hiver Festival at the Maison des Arts de Creteil in the Paris suburb of Creteil in 2010.

Two years later, Sweet Sweetback returned to the Sons d'Hiver Festival in Creteil, this time in documentary form. Called L'opéra rêvé de Melvin Van Peebles, producer Samuel Thiebaut’s film features a behind-the-scenes look at the staging of the opera.

On September 10, 2015, the documentary was screened once again – this time at the MK2 Quai de Seine cinema in Paris. It was showcased as part of the Black Riot cycle of the Jazz à La Villette festival – the screening of several “essential” full-length films such as Black Panthers (1968) by Agnès Varda and Free Angela (2013) by Shola Lynch. The festival’s organizers selected this theme to “echo” the demonstrations that have erupted in the U.S. in reaction to police violence.

MK2 Quai de Seine cinema
© Discover Paris!

Black Riot Cycle at Jazz à la Villette 2015
© Discover Paris!

To open the evening, Van Peebles took the stage to be interviewed and answer questions from the audience.

Melvin Van Peebles being interviewed
© Discover Paris!

Among the topics discussed was the inextricable link between his film career and his experiences in France. During the 1960s, he pub­lished four nov­els and a collection of short stories in French. La Permission, a novel published in 1967, became the basis of his first fea­ture, a black and white French film given the same name. Called The Story of A Three Day Pass in English, this film won the Critic’s Choice Award at the 1967 San Fran­cisco Film Fes­ti­val. In 2001, Van Peebles was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.

Click on the image below to view a teaser for the documentary by Samuel Thiebaut.

Cool, no problem.
Screenshot from L'opéra rêvé de Melvin Van Peebles

After the screening, Van Peebles graciously posed with members of the audience.

Monique and Melvin Van Peebles
© Discover Paris!

He was definitely MVP for the evening...

Melvin Van Peebles with MVP on jacket
© Discover Paris!

Most Valuable Peebles!


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Black Images in European Art: The Petit Palais

For years, I've wanted to cast my eyes on the famous bust by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Pourquoi Naître Esclave, at the Petit Palais. I can't count the number of times I've walked by the museum and never set foot inside.

Last week, Tom and I finally paid a visit to the "Little Palace." The building is incredibly well endowed with natural light. On either side of the large glass panel that looks over the semi-circular garden opposite the entrance is a marble bust of an African man.

The artist's name is not indicated on the information cards accompanying these works. The only date mentioned is "19th-century" - with a question mark.

We went straight downstairs and to the rear of the museum to Room 14, which is devoted to sculptures by Carpeaux. And there she was...

Pourquoi naître esclave?
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
1868 Patinated Plaster
© Discover Paris!

I stood in front of the sculpture and gazed into the hollow pupils of its patinated plaster eyes.

Pourquoi naître esclave? - detail
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
1868 Patinated Plaster
© Discover Paris!

This bust is one of eight that Carpeaux created in preparation for the incarnation of the African persona found in the sculpture Les Quatre Parties du Monde. It and the bust at the Musée des beaux-arts de Reims are the only two made of plaster. Other busts are made from terra cotta, bronze, or marble.

After satisfying this long-held desire, Tom and I took a (relatively) quick stroll through the rest of the museum to see the permanent collection and to decide where we'd concentrate our time upon subsequent visits.

As expected, we found a few paintings that depict blacks. The most impressive one was an oversized painting by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant called Le Jour des funérailles, scène du Maroc.

Le Jour des funérailles, scène du Maroc (La Mort de l'émir)
Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant
1889 Oil on canvas
© Discover Paris!

It is located on the ground floor in Room 3, which is part of a long gallery that houses 19th-century paintings.

19th-century paintings
© Discover Paris!

I found the detail and the coloring in this work to be magnificent!

Le Jour des funérailles, scène du Maroc (La Mort de l'émir) - detail
Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant
1889 Oil on canvas
© Discover Paris!

The Petit Palais's Web site gives a detailed description of this painting as well as information about its author (in French).

The museum is small enough to easily see the entire collection in a single day. Because it belongs to the city of Paris, entry to the permanent collections is free.

Petit Palais
Avenue Winston Churchill
75008 Paris
Metro: Champs-Elysées Clémenceau (Lines 1 and 13)
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM


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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Black Paris Documentary Wins Big at Film Festival in Berlin

A few days ago, a big envelope showed up in the mail box of long-time film directors Joanne and David Burke. When Joanne opened it, she found that she has won a Best Film/Video award from the 30th annual Black International Cinema festival in Berlin as director of her documentary series When African Americans Came to Paris, Part I & II (The Stars). The award category for which she won is "Video on Matters Relating to the Black Experience/Marginalized People."

Joanne Burke
Image courtesy of Joanne and David Burke

Award certificate - Black International Cinema Film Awards
Image courtesy of Joanne and David Burke

Joanne is a film and video director-producer-editor with several years of high-level experience. From the late 1960s to 1986, she was one of the top documentary film editor​s in New York, editing more than twenty long-form documentaries for CBS, NBC, PBS, and HBO on social, political, and cultural themes.

Since she moved to Paris in 1986, Joanne has produced, directed, and edited a number of additional documentaries. Her award-winning film on jazz great Mary Lou Williams - Mary Lou Williams: Music on My Mind (1990) - has been broadcast on PBS, CBC in Canada, Arte, and a number of other channels in France. All these films have been independently produced in partnership with her documentary filmmaker and former 60 MINUTES writer/producer husband, David Burke.

David Burke at American Library of Paris presentation of
When African Americans Came to Paris - Part I
© Discover Paris!

When African Americans Came to Paris focuses primarily on the period between 1900 and the 1930s, a segment in the history of African Americans in Paris that is much less well known compared to that of the post-World War II era.

Part I is comprised of six videos:
  • W. E. B. DuBois and the 1900 Paris Exposition
  • Henry Ossawa Tanner: An Artist in Exile
  • The Harlem Hellfighters
  • James Reese Europe: Warrior and Musician
  • Jazz Comes to Paris
  • Three Women Artists in Paris

When African Americans Came to Paris - Part I
Image courtesy of Joanne and David Burke

Part II consists of three videos:
  • Josephine Baker: A Most Extraordinary Life
  • Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz
  • Black Writers across the Atlantic

When African Americans Came to Paris - Part II
Image courtesy of Joanne and David Burke

I have had the pleasure of viewing both parts of When African Americans Came to Paris. The commentary by pre-eminent scholars combined with the (often rare) video clips and photos bring historical African-American Paris alive like no other film or video that I've seen to date!

Each video can stand alone. My favorite is "Three Women Artists in Paris," found in Part I, which provides excellent and well-needed exposure for the African-American women whose stories are so often overlooked in conversations about "black Paris."

When African Americans Came to Paris has been released by Blue Lion Films in partnership with Julia Browne of Walking the Spirit Tours. To view the trailers and to purchase, click HERE.


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