Professor discusses connection between film and Paris terror attacks on NPR

French professor James Austin
French professor James Austin

Whether you subscribe to the common thought that “life imitates art” or, like Oscar Wilde, that “art imitates life,” you can see the connection between creative expression and the world around us.

But art doesn’t always reflect beauty and wonder; it can be used to shine a light on pain, strife and injustice.

James Austin, professor of French and a faculty member in the Film Studies Department, recently appeared on WBEX, Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate, to discuss the connection between November’s terror attacks in Paris and banlieue cinema, a genre of French films that portray life in the Paris suburbs.

The genre, which rose to prominence in the 1980s with the film “Tea in the Harem,” focuses on two themes, Austin said: the lack of economic opportunities due to discrimination, and police repression. He explained that, unlike the United States, the suburbs in Paris are a space where minorities and immigrants have been pushed—usually into poverty—while the white French population lives in the homogeneous city center.

Banlieue cinema reflects life in the suburbs, Austin explained, in films like “Hate (La Haine),” which depicts a multicultural group of young men battling police brutality, and “Girlhood (Bande de filles),” which highlights class, gender and race through the eyes of black teenage girls.

Austin also discussed whether the reality of the Paris suburbs have made it a breeding ground for radicalization. (Several French citizens were involved in the attacks.) He explained that rather than blaming immigrants for the radicalization, the focus should be on the children of immigrants; those who came to France seeking work years ago now have children who identify as French, but have largely been rejected politically and economically by the larger population.

An expert on the banlieue cinema genre, Austin has written extensively in articles and books about the subject. He released a book in 2013, “Proust, Pastiche, and the Postmodern, or, Why Style Matters,” about the history of the practice of pastiche in France.

December 17, 2015