Dissertation: “Cruel Paris: Viewing Banlieue Cinema through Transnational Feminism”

This dissertation analyzes films that represent the local spaces of the Parisian banlieue (suburban ‘ghettos’) as transnational in two distinct periods: the early 1960s, when colonialism and U.S. influence acutely affected the banlieue; and the post-9-11 period, in which Islamophobic discourses and policies proliferated in the West. “Cruel Paris” explores how these banlieue films invoke intertexts to ‘narrate the transnational’, impelling the spectator to envision France as a (post)colonial, transcultural community. This image offers an alternative to the dominant, exclusionary ideology of French Republican universalism—the imperative to value one’s ‘abstract’ individualism and national identity over religious, ethnic, and gender identities in the public sphere—yet it is far from a utopian representation. I argue that these films reveal the banlieue as a carceral space that contains and controls bodies that have been socially constructed as non-universal, i.e. marked as non-white, non-Catholic, or otherwise ‘abnormal’.

While scholars have used postcolonial theories to illustrate how films set in the French banlieue reflect the multi-ethnic reality of contemporary France, this lens is not necessarily inclusive of the analytical category of gender. “Cruel Paris” employs transnational feminist theories to examine interrelations among (anti)racist, (anti)colonial, and (anti)feminist representations in a generically diverse set of banlieue films. The films—including The Wasteland (1960), Octobre à Paris (1962), Caché (2005), and Skirt Day (2009)—uncover the structural racism and sexism that the spatial marginalization of the Parisian banlieue reifies. In representing this space of exclusion as causally linked to the interlocking histories of French settler colonialism in Algeria and U.S. economic and cultural imperialism, these films deconstruct the myth of integration by demonstrating that assimilation is necessary—yet often impossible—for the mobility of non-universal French citizens.