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A Comedy Film About Slavery?

Case Départ has been rocking the charts in Europe; it’s currently the number one comedy in France and has grossed an estimated $15 million. The film features two half brothers who get transported back in time to the age of slavery. However, enslavement is not the focus of the film, co-writer Thomas Ngijol says.

“This film isn’t about slavery,” Ngijol told Loop21. “It’s about not very intelligent people with an identity problem. Black men who blame the system.”

The film’s success has peaked Hollywood’s eye. Read this interview with co-writer Thomas Ngijol about the film and tell us, do you think a comedy about slavery will get the same laughs in the US?

Loop 21: Your film opened July 6th and is an overseas box office hit but the only focus, at least in America, has been the fact it is a comedy based on a plantation. Do you feel the need to defend the film?

Thomas Ngijol: When we took the film to the Cannes Film Festival this year we didn’t explain the movie. We showed the trailer and released the synopsis and that was it. You can’t explain it. Some things you have to see for yourself. At Cannes people loved the trailer. It’s not about slavery. It’s about two half brothers, who are very bad people in the present but go on a quest to learn their history.

You aren’t an overnight celebrity. While American audiences don’t know you, you’ve been a stand up comedian and actor in Paris for the last decade. How did you get started?

I was in a university to be a teacher. I wanted to teach children. I dropped out at 20 to do comedy. I’ve done comedy specials but now I’m focusing on my movie career. The success of [“Case Départ”] means I can’t stop now. My next comedy special will be in 2013. I have to make another movie first. That’s why I’m in New York; to clear my head and come up with new script idea.

“Case Départ” isn’t available in the states yet. Are there plans to bring it here?

It should be here December or January. We worked on the American subtitles months back. We’re also in talks to do an American remake.

Really?

Yes. This is the first film like this that’s been made and it’s a success. Hollywood came calling.

Who is going to star in it?

I can’t tell you, but they’re big.

Having co-wrote “Case Départ,” you chose to set it in slavery times. Did you think it wouldn’t be received as you intended?

The slavery issue in France isn’t like here. The problem in France is social racism. What neighborhood you come from, wealth — those are things that people are judged on. It’s not racism as you define it here. In Paris you can’t disrespect a black man. The law [prohibits] you.  [Editor’s Note: In 2003, France enacted penalty-enhancement hate crime laws for crimes motivated by bias against the victim’s actual or perceived ethnicity, nation, race, religion, or sexual orientation.] We have other issues in France. Any society where there are poor people there will be problems.

Your success as a comic back home gives you a platform to address these issues. Do you address them?

I grew up in the hood. It’s not dangerous like here. [Laughs.] Some want me to be the voice of the ghetto. A ghetto saver. I love the ghetto but I don’t care about the ghetto. I don’t want that responsibility. I’m just a comedian. If I wanted that responsibility I would have become a politician. When you are true then you become a leader. Don’t get me wrong. I care about us. That’s why I don’t want to lead. [I’m] no false prophet. My parents came from Cameroon. I’ve seen a lot of false leaders and nothing happened.

Read the rest of the interview here

Watch the trailer (in French!)

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