Page last updated at 00:12 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Dumas film with white actor Depardieu sparks race row

By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC News, Paris

French actor Gerard Depardieu (file image)
Gerard Depardieu's natural skin tone was not dark enough

A film about 19th Century French author Alexandre Dumas has sparked a row after a white actor was chosen to portray the novelist, who was of African origin.

The celebrated but fair-skinned screen star, Gerard Depardieu, had to darken his skin and wear a curly wig to play the part in L'Autre Dumas.

Critics argue the French movie industry has deliberately undermined the 19th Century novelist's ethnicity.

They say a mixed race actor should have been chosen to play the national hero.

'Shocking and insulting'

The casting of a white man in the new film's title role has sparked a racism row.

Writer Alexandre Dumas pictured in 1865
Alexandre Dumas' grandmother was a freed Haitian slave

Patrick Lozes, President of the Council of Black Associations of France, feels that Dumas' African heritage has been deliberately suppressed for the big screen.

"It's very shocking and it is insulting.

"It is a way of saying that we don't have any black actor who has the talent to play Alexander Dumas, which of course is not true."

Dumas was the grandson of a Haitian slave and often referred to himself as a negro.

Historian Claude Schopp says although his books were revered by his contemporaries, he was often mocked for his colour.

"In caricatures or in sketches he was always presented with big lips, with Afro hair, as a sort of monster."

The film's directors insist they simply chose an actor who could match Dumas's vibrancy.

And although he may not share the author's ethnicity, who better, they say, than the larger-than-life actor Depardieu to portray such a colourful personality?

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