Omar Sy stars in the French-Language film, “Chocolat,” which is based on the life of Rafael Padilla – a former Cuban-born slave, who became a performer in France during the Belle Epoque era.
In short, nicknamed “Chocolat” (or “Chocolate” in English), Padilla was born in Cuba in 1868 and was sold into slavery at the age of 9, to a Portuguese merchant. After escaping slavery, he traveled to Paris and launched a career in the circus, captivating the French with his talents as a singer and dancer, and as a clown, working under the stage name of “Chocolat”, a term that, because of the roles he played, became slang for “ridiculed or abused.”
When his parents died, the woman charged with looking after him sent him to Europe, where Rafael hoped to find his freedom. He did odd jobs in Spain, and eventually arrived in Paris in 1887, at the age of 18, where he was discovered by Footit, a British clown who needed a partner. Rafael then joined the circus, where he was habitually cast in denigrating roles – like king of the monkeys, slave to Cleopatra, King of the jungle, etc. And it was there that he began to find himself.
He died in Bordeaux on November 4, 1917.
French-Moroccan actor/director Roschdy Zem, is helming “Chocolat,” which is currently filming in France, with no American production company or distributor involved. But given that it’s Omar Sy, and his relationship with The Weinstein Company, who released 2 of his last French films, in the USA, I’d assume that it’s a film that will be eventually be released in the USA.
And given the subject matter, it feels like Oscar material (see my Oscar 2016 predictions list here). Of course, we won’t know until the film is eventually screened for the public.
Omar Sy made history when he became the first black actor to win the César Award for Best Actor (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in 2012, for his work in “Intouchables.” He since has been making himself familiar to American audiences, after moving with his family to Los Angeles, and booking roles in Hollywood fare, like the last X-Men movie.
“Chocolat” was immortalized by the painter Toulouse-Lautrec in 1896. The duo he formed with Footit was also filmed by the Lumière brothers, as you can watch in the video footage below, which I was very surprised, and quite pleased, to find online: