Omar Sy stars in the upcoming French-produced feature 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,” 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 “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, struggling with the distorted public image that made him a star, reconciling that with the human being that he was but few actually knew.
He died in Bordeaux on November 4, 1917.
French-Moroccan actor/director Roschdy Zem, is helming “Chocolat,” which is complete, and is currently being shopped to distributors worldwide. And while it’s been picked up for release in a handful of territories, it hasn’t attracted a USA distributor yet (at least, nothing that’s been announced). Although it has reportedly been of interest to some of them, given what is said to be a strong performance by Omar Sy – possibly one that could lead to awards recognition. Given Omar Sy’s relationship with The Weinstein Company, who released 2 of his few last French films, in the USA, I’d assume that they would have eyes on this one too.
French distribution company Gaumont has set a February 2016 release date in France for “Chocolat,” and has released the film’s first trailer, which is in French of course, but unfortunately without English subtitle. But given the above brief summary of the story the film tells, you can probably figure out what’s going on in each scene within the trailer below.
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 that follows after the trailer below.