One of the breakout stars of this year’s Cannes Film Festival was Ladj Ly, the first-time French filmmaker behind Les Misérables who surprised crowds on the Croisette by splitting the Jury Prize honors with the South American genre-warper Bacurau. From humble beginnings, he’s shot to the top of the global cinema circuit for his neorealist look at acrimony between cops and citizens in the banlieues outside Paris.
But those same humble beginnings are now being used to cast a pall over what would otherwise be a by-the-books meteoric rise. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the French far-right magazines Valeurs Actuelles and Causeur have been disseminating the demonstrably false claim that Ly was convicted of complicity in an attempted murder.
The truth is that Ly’s charge was for complicity in a kidnapping and sequestering case, resolved in 2009 with a three-year prison sentence. Ly served two, and has been an upstanding member of public society in the years since, as far as anyone can say.
But magazines motivated by what appears to be a racist agenda have not only dredged up a detail that seems far past relevance meriting re-reportage, they’ve upgraded it to one of the most heinous crimes a person can commit. Ly has taken legal action, suing both publications for “libel” and “racist slander,” as THR’s translation relates.
There’s a grim irony to the fact that making a movie about black men subject to institutional prejudices has led to Ly dealing with the exact same thing, but he will get the last laugh. Even if the lawsuit doesn’t pan out, Les Misérables has already raked in a box-office windfall in France and Amazon will in all likelihood soon push it through the Academy to an Oscar nomination.
Even if they don’t, that still leaves Ly’s inevitable sophomore film, and the righteous fury animating his debut isn’t going anywhere soon.
Published 19 Dec 2019
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