written by Love Isn’t Enough contributor Liz Dwyer; originally published at Los Angelista
Back in the late 1970s when I was a kid roaming the stacks at my local public library, I wandered across a set of adventure books with a character named Tintin. I read the back cover of one and it looked fun. I loved Tintin’s cute dog named Snowy. However, my mom always reviewed the books I was taking home so she saw a Tintin book in my to-be-checked-out stack.
“You can’t get that one,” she said, removing the Tintin book from arms. “Those stories are racist.”
Of course, I decided that I was going to read the Tintin books on the sly during the two (sometimes three) hours we’d spend in the library every week. Well, then I picked up a well-worn copy of Tintin in the Congo. There on the cover was a black guy with bright red lips. Hmm…I’d seen that kind of imagery before and it was a red flag for me. But, I cracked the book open, read it, and wow, my mom was right.
Just as I’d seen black Americans portrayed as bumbling, monkey-like idiots, black Africans–the Congolese people–were being depicted in a similar light. I was done with Tintin before we even really got started.
Later on I found out that some Tintin stories also depicted Jewish characters as sinister villains and moneylenders. So showing black folks as animal-like and an anti-Semitic angle…WINNING!
Fast forward to 2011 when a Tintin movie is about to come out here in the U.S. Last night I asked on Twitter, “Curious if there are other parents out there who are not taking their kids to see Tintin because of it’s racist, anti-Semitic history.”
One of the responses, from Side-Line Magazine, retweeted my tweet, prefacing it with “load of crap.”
This morning, I asked them for clarification, tweeting back, “I’m sorry, what’s a load of crap, a movie based on a racist book character or… ?”
Their reply? “not a racist character at all. I think you’ve never read cokes in stock, the blue lotus. All very humanistic Tintin stories.”
Of course, Side-Line is based in Belgium, home of Tintin author and illustrator Hergé. I can understand being patriotic for your country, but c’mon son, don’t act like what happened didn’t happen. I can also appreciate that Hergé’s attitudes changed over the years. But that still doesn’t mean I have to support it. Or that I have to act like I don’t know the real history of Tintin.
I’m not alone in my concerns about Tintin. A human rights lawyer in the U.K. recently lobbied to get it removed from children’s bookstores. That led to the Telegraph posting a list of the racist allegations against Tintin. Gems like:
In 2007, the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality called for the same book to be banned, saying it contained imagery and words of racial prejudice. One of the most controversial scenes shows a Congolese woman bowing before Tintin, saying: “White man very great. White mister is big juju man.
I’ve also heard how some Congolese just love them some Tintin. Colonialism, like slavery and Jim Crow wasn’t just physical oppression. Psychological oppression did a number on folks of African descent, too.
I know, pointing out the truth is spoiling all the fun. Some people will say I shouldn’t be so sensitive…Everything can’t be perfect and the past is in the past, right? Spielberg is Jewish so if it was racist or anti-Semitic, he would refuse to make the film, so what’s my problem?
Explain to me how I’m supposed to forget racist depictions of black people in the source text for a film and take my children, who get called the n-word at school, to see it? Yeah, right. I’m just going to have to be sensitive because this film won’t get a dime of my money.