“Indigènes” is a film about the French colonial soldiers who enlisted in the Free French Forces during World War II to liberate France and fight against the Nazis. The movie portrays the motivations of the main characters for joining the French First Army, and their contributions in the campaigns in Italy and Southern France against the Germans. Each of the four main characters join for different reasons: Said from Morocco joins to escape poverty, Abdelkader joins with the hope of gaining equality for the indigenous Africans, Messaoud for the hope of settling in France, while Yassir joins for the money. In their time in the Free French army, each of the main characters suffers endless racism by the White French power structure in addition to coming to terms with their own experiences.
One of the more interesting items that comes out of the film were the dynamic between the four Arab characters and with their French North African commanding officer, Roger Martinez. Although he is hard on them, the commander actually supports his men by constantly pushing for his commanders to give his non-White soldiers equal access to food, leave and even promotions. However, he does show his bad side by patronising Said, whom he promises a promotion to Private if he essentially acts as his servant, much to the annoyance to the other Arab soldiers. Eventually we learn that Martinez tries to get fair treatment for his troops not only because he is a French North African (Pied-Noir) but because his mother was an Arab, which he tries to hide when Said discovers one of his old photos. However, Martinez seems shun his Arabic heritage for fear of discrimination and loss of opportunities and by also refusing to speak Arabic, which causes Said to loathe him near the second half of the film.
In “Days of Glory”, Said appears to represent the Arabs who still cling on to the colonial mentality valued by the French power structure. He constantly puts himself down when he is offered opportunities by Martinez and especially when he is reminded by Abdelkader that he is a equal man with dignity. At the same time he seems to lack any confidence in mingling with the local French women like Messaoud when they stayed over a French town. However, he redeems himself at the end when he criticises Martinez for denying his Arab heritage and when he tried to make a move on a local French girl before his final mission. Said ultimately represents the non-White minorities who were indoctrinated by the French power structure to believe that France is the superior homeland with opportunities and that White French are inherently superior to them.
It is this type of thinking that partly encouraged many French colonial Arabs and Africans to immigrate to France with the hopes of improving their lives, and gaining equal rights as true Frenchmen only to suffer from constant discrimination, alienation, and a depressing existence in a poor state-sponsored housing districts that function as suburban ghettos. I always found it offensive to hear liberals and the ignorant trying to justify European Imperialism simply because it led to some perceived positive changes on paper, while the reality shows that the former colonies were exploited of all their worthwhile resources, the newly independent colonies were always struggling with a lack of national confidence, and unwanted immigrants from the former colonies are trying to move there for the false belief of opportunity and equality.
I always found that my African clients always appear to lack confidence or assertiveness when I am dealing with them in conference calls and I always wonder if Western Imperialism and its consequences had anything to do with these consistent attitudes from African business leaders I talk to. As a result of their colonial policies, France has now reluctantly become a melting pot like America and they cannot afford to ignore their multicultural character for fear of damaging their national reputation and from further alienating their non-White taxpayers.
Abdelkader represents the progressive Arab who tries to advance their rights as non-White French citizens, who is grudgingly respected by Martinez. He protests against the French steward when he refuses to serve Fresh tomatoes to African soldiers on the basis of race and he picks a fight with Martinez when he and his fellow troops were denied promotions also for simply being non-White. Throughout the movie, I had the impression that Abdelkader would be one of the characters who would eventually survive the War and return to Algeria to promote civil rights and independence from France like the anti-colonial thinkers in that era, but his ultimate fate was extremely depressing. His final fate was depressing to the point where I almost cried at the end of the movie.
While Abdelkader was more vocal in his fight against racial discrimination in the French power structure, Messaoud eventually fell in love with a local French girl named Irene and was committed to return to her alive after she was willing to be with him despite his ethnicity. However, he becomes increasingly demoralised when he never receives any replies to all the letters he sent out to her. We later learn that all of Messaoud’s letters were censored by the French military post office simply because they were love letters to a French White girl coming from a Muslim Arab. The same White censor who blocks Messaoud’s letters also lies to the girl when she goes to the office asking about Messaoud . It is strongly implied that the censor lied about Messaoud’s death and stole her from him. Near the end of their final mission, Messaoud is still thinking about Irene and loses his will to fight from the perceived rejection.
Other notable items shown in this film were the French army’s utter disregard for the non-White soldiers lost in their Italian and French campaigns against the Nazis, and the French media exclusively filming White people in all their victories to downplay any contributions made by the Arab and African French colonial troops. Indigenes is a great film that highlights the greatly ignored contributions of Arab and African French colonial soldiers during World War II and the racial discrimination they ignored in the name of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”; ideals that only applied to White Frenchmen at their expense.
It was fortunate that this movie was able to inform the French and the world of the little-known contributions by these people and it supposedly prompted the French government to eventually provide full pensions to their non-White World War II veterans and promoted more dialogue between the White French and their non-White communities.