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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchPostcolonial Geopolitics: Reading Contemporary Geopolitics in Maghrebi-French War Films

Postcolonial Geopolitics: Reading Contemporary Geopolitics in Maghrebi-French War Films

Author: Alex Hastie 

Affiliation: Assistant Lecturer in Human Geography at School of Energy, Construction and Environment-Coventry University

Organization/Publisher: Geopolitics 

Date/Place: February 26, 2021/ UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article 

Number of Pages: 19



Keywords: Postcolonial Geopolitics, Critical Geopolitics, Popular Geopolitics, Imaginative Geographies, Maghrebi-French War Films, Contemporary Geopolitical Events




The study explores the domain of popular geopolitics, specifically the geopolitics of movies and TV shows, and examines some Maghreb-French films, particularly Algerian-French films, as models for investigating how they were transformed from their original context, which was associated with French-Algerian relations after colonialism, to become allegories for more common conflicts such as the War on Terror, the Arab Spring, and Israel-Palestine. The article draws on postcolonial theory and popular geopolitics to theoretically analyze four films, namely “The Battle of Algiers” (1966), “Days of Glory” (2006), “Outside the Law” (2010), and “Free Men” (2011), which retell the history of the Algerian resistance and anti-colonialism.


Additionally, the study expands the scope of popular geopolitics to encompass post-colonial film and its role as a site of geopolitical contestation. It sheds light on how popular geopolitical frames of reference mediate the perception of postcolonial foreign language stories in the Anglophone sphere and how these films are perceived based on the context of reception and postcolonial power relations.


The author examines how these films are received among English-speaking Western critics and participants in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) through online platforms. The study observes a discrepancy in vision among these critics regarding the films. Some critics see the films as reflections of colonial history and contemporary geopolitical relations, while others view the films as reinforcing doubts about Islam and the Arab world. In some cases, the films are stripped of their Francophone colonial politics and hybridized to fit into a popular geopolitical imagination that allows people to view them differently. For example, one amateur critic perceived the famous Algerian anti-France protests of May 1945 as “exactly similar” to the Arab Spring. This demonstrates the critical role that popular geopolitical lenses play in shaping people’s perceptions and understanding of others.


The paper is organized into four parts. The first part provides an explanation of “Postcolonial Theory” and “Postcolonial Film.” Postcolonial theory emerged as a tool to challenge the ongoing imperial domination of culture during the post-colonial period. It has also been used as a critical analytical tool for examining the role of colonial and imperial power in shaping postcolonial societies. “Edward Said” (1978) argued that the “struggle over geography” is central to (post)colonial relationships, not just materially, but also in the imaginative geographies evoked in the battle for space. Post-colonialism is primarily concerned with the question of “the politics of representation,” including who is represented, how, and by whom, in order to work towards ways of knowing and reading the world differently. In this regard, the author believes that the transformation of Maghreb-French cinema after the year 2000 in France provided insight into post-colonial struggles related to representation and encounter. The author also believes that the development of Maghreb-French cinema shows that post-colonial film is characterized by fluidity and cannot be easily defined by a set of fixed features. In the 1970s, beur cinema dealt with the subject of “émigré film” in a downbeat gritty style, but in the 1990s, it began to reflect the lives of a new generation of people born in North Africa but raised in France. By drawing on a glamorous Hollywood aesthetic and creating desirable and streetwise male characters who can reach more diverse French and international audiences, Maghreb-French cinema was able to transform and be viewed in particular cultural and geopolitical contexts. This change contributed to revealing the negative treatment of Maghreb-French youth without adopting a hostile attitude towards French society and also raised questions about the objectives and effects of Maghreb-French cinema.

In the second part of the paper, the author discusses how popular/critical geopolitics examines cinema and popular media and how it produces imaginary geographies and geographical knowledge. The sub-discipline of popular geopolitics explores how popular culture influences people’s thoughts on international relations, geopolitical events, and the world in general. Scholars are interested in observing all forms of popular media, including newspapers, magazines, cartoons, comics, toys, games, films, and television, with cinema being a central part of this academic field. For example, “Marcus Power” and “Andrew Crampton” have emphasized the relationship between Hollywood and 9/11 as a geopolitical event and a fundamental turning point in popular geopolitics. They note how films such as “The Siege” and “Die Hard” frame, produce, and reflect the “production of identity and difference” which further divided the world after 9/11. The James Bond series has also played a significant role in shaping people’s understanding of the world. Other scholars argue that audience responses vary and depend on the context in which the film is received, as well as on the context in which contemporary geopolitical concerns arise. “Jason Dittmer” and “Gray Nicholas” consider the audience to be at the “center of geopolitical meaning-making” since films no longer have a fixed meaning and people interpret them based on different contexts. “Sharp” and “Craggs” shed light on the relationship between colonialism and geopolitics and call for a postcolonial emphasis that brings in the voices of those usually marginalized and silenced in other accounts. Similarly, “Slater” argues that postcolonial theory allows for a “rethinking” of North-South relations, particularly in terms of how the world has been imagined and hierarchically categorized, with a focus on questions of development, foreign policy, and military interventions.

The third part of the article applies the previous two theoretical frameworks to films that depict the Algerian war of independence. “The Battle of Algiers” (1966) is an example of a film that caused concern for the US Pentagon, as they feared it would inspire leftist rebellions with a new tactics of urban wars against US interests worldwide. The film was also viewed with interest by groups conducting “terrorist” rebellions, such as the Irish Republican Army and the Black Panther Party. The film’s intended meaning is not fixed, but rather fluid, as different peoples and organizations have used it in different ways and meanings according to their ability to produce and reproduce it in new locations and based on different geopolitical agendas.

Similarly, the audience’s response to the Algerian war film “Outside the Law” (2010) was greatly influenced by contemporary geopolitical events such as the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and “Islamist terrorism.” Viewers saw the film from different perspectives, with some groups comparing the French Empire and the “new” American empire, while others viewed it as open support for the war on terrorism or in the context of Racial Islamophobia, etc. These reviews and discussions of films contribute to the shaping of an “imagined geography” that exacerbates the dichotomous divisions between East and West.

The author warns of the danger of confusing specific French-Algerian colonial geographies with those of terrorism, citing examples of threads by amateur critics on the IMDb platform. Scholars “Carter” and “Dodds” have highlighted the problem with popular geopolitical films, which often oversimplify the complexities of global geopolitics into a comprehensive set of binary divisions that require clear-cut and, at times, dramatic solutions.

The final part of the essay discusses how the contemporary geopolitical context influenced the audience’s interpretation of “Outside the Law” (2010) and “Free Men” (2011). Mark Harris argued that “Outside the Law” could be seen as part of the Arab Spring, as it was released during the uprising. However, author Alex Hastie argues that viewers who connected the Algerian war of independence with the Arab Spring mixed the geography of civil resistance in the MENA region with the specific violence against colonialism and the French Empire. Some amateur critics saw the film as depicting the Arab people rising up against new-colonialism, linking the May 8, 1945 demonstrations in Algeria against France with the current demonstrations in the Arab Spring countries.


“Free Men” (2011), directed by Moroccan-French director Ismael Ferroukhi, was interpreted by some as an allegory of the Israel-Palestine issue. The film features two Algerian protagonists, one Muslim and one Jewish, and revolves around the history of saving Jews from the Nazis with the help of the Paris Mosque during World War II. However, most critics did not realize that the narrative of the Muslim-Jew relationship in the film has historical specificity dating back to the French “Cremieux Decree” of 1870, which granted French citizenship to Algerian Jews and withdrew it from most Algerian Muslims. As a result, many critics viewed the film through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reviews ranged from those who celebrated the peaceful harmony in the Arab-Jewish past, to those who viewed it as a mere “myth.” Some viewers saw the imagined historical romantic image of Andalusia (in which Arab Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in harmony) as a hope for a peaceful Middle East, while others saw it as a utopian image. Additionally, there were racist comments that did not accept an Arab playing a Jewish role.


The author argues that these reviews show how a complex colonial history is being used to frame the Arab Spring and the Israel-Palestine issue, resulting in confusion between anti-colonial politics and contemporary conflict. This simplification produces an orientalist imagination that guides popular geopolitics.

By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Research Fellow



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