Reviewed by Kshitij Kasi, BBA D, Batch of 2024, Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai
Racial Prejudice; the unspoken form of racism that plagues us today, can be demeaning and difficult in more ways than one. French Director Julien Rambaldi’s movie ‘The African Doctor’ can be deemed to be a testimony as it manages to perfectly depict prejudice comically, yet manages to contrive its point. The story of Dr Zanktoko, who is an orphan himself, in lieu of a better life for his family, chooses to turn down an opportunity to work for his Dictator-President in Zaire (Congo) and decides to practice in Marly-Gomont, a small town north of Paris. His initially elated family is soon disheartened, facing great distrust and are almost shunned by the townsfolk, who go to the extent of avoiding medical aid by virtue of the Doctor’s skin colour. Rambaldi’s work perfectly captures the state of vulnerability and ostracization that racism brings with it due to preconceived notions of race. Although wrong, the inability of the minority to vocalize their concerns, despite being called names that are deeply offensive and otherwise derogatory, frustrates them.
Being the only Africans in the village, the family finds it difficult to find acceptance in people who stereotyped the dark-skinned family as ‘voodoo practitioners’, ‘Gorillas’ and ‘Blackies’ who indulge in Un-French practices and are not to be trusted. Rambaldi’s work also documents the frustration of individuals and their hunger for acceptance. The otherwise teetotaler Dr Zanktoko goes to the extent of playing drunk darts with the villagers, compromising his ideals just to make ‘friends’. He also hurls away from his ‘noisy’ African family to show the locals that he is one of them is the essence of desperation and hunger to assimilate in the otherwise closed and conservative village, yet it is this same desperation that helps the doctor. The story begins to take a political twist when the Doctor understands that he is part of a larger political game between two village rivals, who create a divide between the village, where the doctor and his family find themselves in a village, they started calling home.
Yet, it is their perseverance and constant support to the community that made them become one among the ‘Français’ and gain celebrity-like status in the village. On the note of perseverance, ‘The African Doctor’ resonates with the message that with the right amount of grit and determination, one can move rocks and change the impossible to possible while making some friend on the way and dropping one’s sobriety.