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Court Rules On “Tintin In Congo” Suit Claiming It “Commercializes Racial Superiority”

Court Rules On "Tintin In Congo" Suit Claiming It "Commercializes Racial Superiority"

Remember this case we told you about last fall… as I noted back then, if the court ruled in his favor, this could certainly open a Pandora’s Box, as suggested by the attorney for the defendants.

Well, as our friends at the Africa Is A Country blog reported yesterday, a Brussels court has rejected the suit, citing, as I expected, freedom of speech.

A recap of the case if you missed my last post on this…

In 2007, Mbuto Mondondo Bienvenu, a Congolese student, filed criminal charges against the publisher’s of the comic book Tintin In Congo, claiming, as his attorney notes, “the commercialisation of a comic book which manifestly disseminates ideas based on racial superiority;” essentially, the depictions of Africans in the comic are racist, and the book should be banned.

4 years later, the case would finally reach Belgian courts to be decided, with hearings scheduled to begin October 14, last year, and earlier this year, the outcome of those hearings were made public, as already noted.

It’s worth noting that Tintin In Congo is a title in the Adventures of Tintin comic book series, which Steven Spielberg has made a movie adaptation of, released last December; although, Tintin In Congo isn’t one of the stories selected for the upcoming film.

Published in the 1930s, Tintin In Congo was written and illustrated by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. The plot centers on Tintin and his dog Snowy, who travel to what was then the Belgian Congo (prior to the country’s independence from European rule) to report on the colony’s status. Of course, while there, Tintin and his dog get into several adventures involving animals, *angry natives*, and American diamond smugglers who work for Al Capone.

While the comic is said to have been a best-seller among Congolese people, there are those who have long criticized it for its depiction of Africans as “infantile and stupid,” and stereotypically drawn.

But, defenders of the book and artists note that it needs to be read within the context of the period in which it was created as well as the perspective from which it came – European; and more specifically, European (Belgian) views of Congolese people in the early 1900s.

Bienvenu’s claims were reportedly backed by the UK Commission for Racial Equality, and it’s worth noting that the comic book is currently being sold in the UK with a parental warning sticker.

A court date to hear arguments was set for October 15th in Brussels, with a final ruling that was expected to be made soon thereafter, in December, right in time for the release of Spielberg’s film; but that didn’t happen until recently. And as Africa Is A Country (AIAC) notes:

On 10 February 2012, the Brussels Court of First Instance rejected all the applicants’ claims. The Court also rejected the counterclaims by Casterman, the series’ publisher, and Moulinsart, the company which was set up to protect and promote the work of Hergé. Both had asked for 15,000 euro as compensation for ‘vexatious proceedings’.

It reminds me of the hoopla earlier last year over Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and the replacement of the word “nigger” with “slave.” Also, there were the old Disney cartoons from the early half of the 20th century, which have also come under scrutiny.

I’ve actually never read Tintin In Congo, but I found enough pages of it online, and you can as well.

Be sure to read AIAC’s critical essay on the matter HERE.

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