French magazine’s depiction of lawmaker as a slave in chains sparks outrage

Lawmaker Danielle Obono at the National Assembly in Paris on March 3, 2020.
Lawmaker Danielle Obono at the National Assembly in Paris on March 3, 2020. © Ludovic Marin, AFP/Archives

An ultra-conservative French magazine prompted outrage on Saturday by portrayed a Black female lawmaker as a slave in chains, earning condemnation nationwide as well as from French President Emmanuel Macron.


The French presidency said Macron called Danielle Obono from the far-left party France Unbowed and "expressed his clear condemnation of any form of racism".

The magazine Valeurs Actuelles (roughly translated as Current Values), which caters to readers on the right and far right, showed Obono in chains with an iron collar on her neck to illustrate a seven-page story.

Obono tweeted in response that apparently people can still write "racist sh*t" illustrated by images of a French MP depicted as a slave.

"The extreme right – odious, stupid and cruel. In brief, like itself," she added.  

Prime Minister Jean Castex said it was a "revolting publication that deserves clear condemnation" and told Obono that she had the government's support.

"I share the indignation of lawmaker Obono," he said.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti noted that even hateful speech is legal, although worthy of condemnation. "One is free to write a putrid novel within the limits fixed by the law. One is free to hate it. I hate it."

The anti-racism body SOS Racisme deplored a rise in hate speech against African and Arab politicians and said it was mulling what legal measures could be taken to counter this.

The magazine, however, denied it was racist, saying the story concerning Obono was "a work of fiction ... but never nasty".

An official from France's far-right National Rally party (formerly the National Front), Wallerand de Saint-Just, said the story was "in absolute bad taste".

France saw a series of anti-racism protests in June and July – including demonstrations against its history of colonialism and police brutality – in part inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd's death in the United States.

France has also had its own high-profile cases of Black and Arab men who have died in police custody, notably Cedric Chouviat and Adama Traoré. Traoré, 24, died in July 2016 following his arrest in circumstances that remain unclear. Chouviat, 42, died two days after he was stopped by police in January for a traffic violation, an incident that quickly escalated. Three officers have since been charged

Chouviat could be heard in video footage saying, "I'm suffocating" seven times as police hold him down

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Macron, seen as a political centrist, raised eyebrows last year when he gave an interview to Valeurs Actuelles and praised it as a "good magazine". 

He has pledged to root out racism but also said France would not take down statues of figures linked to the colonial era or the slave trade despite recent calls from protesters and anti-racism activists to do so.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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