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FRENCH HISTORY

Malik Oussekine: Who is ‘France’s George Floyd’, portrayed in the new Disney+ series?

A new Disney+ mini-series tells the story of Malik Oussekine, the man often referred to as "France's Arab George Floyd". Here's what you need to know about him and his brutal death at the hands of French police.

Malik Oussekine: Who is 'France's George Floyd', portrayed in the new Disney+ series?
Flowers and letters on the spot in Paris where Malik Oussekine died at the hands of the police. Photo by Michel GANGNE / AFP

The latest French show to grab ahold of international audiences, “Oussekine” a Disney+ mini-series of four episodes, reinvestigates a dark part of France’s history. It became available for streaming worldwide on May 11th, and is available in English.

Long before Adama Traoré, whose death ignited Black Lives Matter protests across France, was the night of December 6th, 1986, when two police officers beat to death the 22-year-old French-Algerian on the sidelines of a student protest in Paris.

He had not been involved in the demonstration, and his killing became a turning point – triggering weeks of unrest and leading to the unprecedented conviction of the officers.

A march in memory of Malik Oussekine on December 4, 1987, a year after he was killed by the police (Photo by Jean-Loup GAUTREAU / AFP)

While Oussekine’s name has continued to reverberate among minorities, his story has never been adapted for the screen until now.

As if making up for lost time, two versions are being released this month: a film, “Our Brothers”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and the Disney+ mini-series, “Oussekine.”

“He was attacked because of the colour of his skin. He is France’s Arab George Floyd,” historian Pascal Blanchard told AFP, referring to the African-American whose death at the hands of police in 2020 sparked massive international protests.

He said much of French society had allowed Oussekine’s story to be brushed under the carpet as with so much of its troubled history with immigrant populations.

“It’s not a question of whether Malik Oussekine has been forgotten, but by who?” said Blanchard.

France is still wrestling with the trauma of its colonial period, particularly the bloody war of independence in Algeria from 1954 to 1962.

Among its darkest moments was the massacre of up to 200 Algerian protesters by police in Paris on October 17th, 1961 — many of them shot dead and their bodies thrown into the Seine.

The events of that day went officially unacknowledged for decades until President Emmanuel Macron finally described them as “inexcusable crimes” at the 60th anniversary last year – though without apologising.

Oussekine’s death was crucial in marking the end of total police impunity – the first time that officers were convicted for this type of crime, according to the family’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman.

As the grandchildren of the original wave of North African immigrants come of age, there is increasing interest and willingness to address the past.

“For our generation, it is important to say that these individual stories form part of the French national story. They are not separate. These are French stories,” said Faiza Guene, 36 and born to Algerian parents, who helped write the screenplay for “Oussekine”.

Its director, Antoine Chevrollier, was part of the team behind hit spy series “The Bureau”, and the lauded political saga “Baron Noir”.

“The important thing is to make this name and this story resonate so that we never forget,” he told AFP.

Chevrollier, who grew up in a small village in the Loire Valley, says he only became fully aware of the power of Oussekine’s name when he moved to Paris and began to hang out with people from different backgrounds.

“I hope the series will help ease the tensions that are unsettling the country. It is time that we in France begin to treat these historical cancers.”

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POLITICS

French Mediterranean resort’s far-right mayor bans burkinis

The far-right mayor of a resort on the Mediterranean coast of France has banned Muslim women from wearing burkinis in any of the town's swimming pools or beaches - despite previous court rulings saying that this is illegal.

French Mediterranean resort's far-right mayor bans burkinis

Three days after the southeastern city of Grenoble voted to allow swimmers to wear the full-cover swimsuit, the mayor of Fréjus – a member of Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National party – announced that he had decided to outlaw it.

“I learned with amazement of the authorisation given by the mayor of Grenoble to authorise the burkini in the swimming pools of its commune,” David Rachline wrote in a press release. 

READ ALSO OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

In fact, Grenoble updated its rules for municipal swimming pools to allow all bathers to wear any swimsuit – including burkinis – that protected them from the sun. It also permits women to swim topless if they wish and men to wear swim shorts instead of Speedos.

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move – including France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who ordered the local Préfet to review the decision, and later announced that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

READ ALSO French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

Rachline has pre-empted any decision from the government by acting unilaterally, trotting out the familiar refrain from the right that the decision in Grenoble goes against the “fundamental republican principle of secularism”.

“The express authorisation of the burkini is neither more nor less than an electoral provocation with a communitarian spring, implemented by the radical left,” he said.

“I see a culpable complacency with radical Islamism, for electoral purposes and in defiance of national cohesion.

“In order for things to be clearly stated, I have decided, as mayor of Fréjus, guarantor of public hygiene and safety, to modify the corresponding decrees to explicitly specify the ban on the burkini.”

His ban extends to both the town’s municipal swimming pools and its beaches, and he’s not the first southern mayor to attempt to ban burkinis on beaches.

In 2016, Cannes mayor David Lisnard issued an anti-burkini order on the beaches of his town.

The decision, which had also been taken in municipalities such as Villeneuve-Loubet (Alpes-Maritimes), was overturned after an opinion from the Conseil d’Etat, one of France’s highest legal authorities. 

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