Paris – Infused with Black Culture
I am always looking for evidence of the influence of the African Diaspora on the Paris landscape and was pleasantly surprised to find it in an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood that lies in the 2nd arrondissement.
The Théâtre des Varietés is a playhouse located on boulevard Montmartre, a trendy section of the area known as the Grands Boulevards. In 1854, a play entitled L’Argent du Diable (The Devil’s Money) by 19th century playwrights Victor Séjour and Adolphe Jaime fils was performed there.
Victor Séjour was a free man of color from the Louisiana Territory, son of a Santo Domingan (Haïtian) father and a New Orleans-born mother. He came to Paris in 1836 to pursue a career as a writer. He was a contemporary and a friend of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.
Though Séjour enjoyed considerable success as a playwright, he died a pauper in 1874. He is buried at Père Lachaise cemetery.
Also located on boulevard Montmartre, the famous Grévin wax museum features representations of royals and politicians as well as celebrities from stage, screen, and sports. Michael Jackson found his place here in 1997. More recently, replicas of President Barack Obama, César winner Omar Sy, basketball player Tony Parker, and Olympic judo medalist Teddy Riner have been added to the collection. The museum also created a statue of Josephine Baker, which is on display at Baker’s château in the south of France.
On nearby rue Vivienne, a huge photograph of rap artist Mos Def holding the November 8, 2008 edition of the left-leaning French newspaper Libération hangs in an American-style bistro called, Lefty. President Obama’s photo appears on the first page of the paper; the headline reads “We Have a Dream.”
Another image of President Obama can be found on a business card affixed to the window of a tailor’s shop alongside a photo of Elizabeth Taylor, and two photos of Joy Villa.
My most surprising discovery was a poster of Huey Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, in the window of an old-fashioned wine bar called Le Gavroche.
It turns out that the poster is a flier for a photography exhibit that was held in 2011 at Galerie La B.A.N.K (now closed) on rue Volta in the 3rd arrondissement. The exhibition featured photos by a number of photographers including Pirkle Jones. Jones and his wife Ruth-Marion Baruch photographed the Panthers from July to October 1968.
Monique Y. Wells
Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.