Ethnicity And French Cinema

This chapter will explore issues of race and stardom, whiteness and female sexuality, via an American actress who worked and died in France, and a French actress of German and Algerian parentage. Their star images illuminate the representation of ethnicity in French cinema. Of course, it is true to assert, as Ginette Vincendeau does, that 'French cinema has been slow to acknowledge the ethnic diversity of the population'.1 But this is not to say that ethnicity is not at stake in the images of French film stars. Whiteness is, of course, a form of ethnicity, albeit an unmarked, culturally normalised one and, as Richard Dyer has observed, the 'white woman' is idealised in western culture as the 'light of the world', the guarantor of whiteness, 'the most highly prized possession of the white man and the envy of all other races.'2 This idealisation of whiteness resonates in the images of numerous female stars in Western society, from Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot to Princess Diana. What is particularly instructive about the cases ofjean Seberg and Isabelle Adjani, as we shall see, is that because of their prominence as female stars and the racial questions their stardom has raised, both have been construed as foreign bodies, as threats to separatist concepts of whiteness, and yet both have also been ultimately recuperated as white stars in French film.

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