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This article suggests that the acclaim director Laurent Cantet received for his 2008 award winning film “The Class” obscures the way this film reinforces the very undercurrents in French culture he sets out to critique. Rather than unearthing or mirroring the racial dynamics of twenty-first-century Paris, Cantet brings to the film a set of fascinations and anxieties latent in the French imagination about blackness, Islam and Arab culture. His preoccupations and preconceptions with race, religion and nationality appear first in the portrayal of Muslim immigrants as threatening; next, in his image of a ‘white saviour’ bent on rescuing racial minorities; and last, through a narrative that symbolically banishes its Muslim characters. These elements make The Class not simply a postcolonial text that reflects France’s long history with its African and Muslim subjects, I will argue, but one that sheds light on the embattled landscape of twenty-first century France, and the West more broadly, in the long wake of September 11, 2001.



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