'Case Départ' Star Thomas Ngijol talks race, culture and hip hop
1 year ago
The films humor may get lost in translation
In New York’s Union Square stands a tall, lean man. The summer madness of the city streets doesn’t stop for him. He fits in perfectly: green graphic t-shirt, white shorts, dark sunglasses and iPod. As he walks under the massive movie theater awning on Broadway and 13th the irony sets in. Thomas Ngijol has the number one comedy in his homeland of France, but here his film is basically unheard of save for some online reviews.
For those that don’t speak French, one look at the trailer for "Case Départ" forces you to piece together what’s happening. Two black men in modern day Paris get transported back to slavery and from the looks on their faces and musical score, you come to the conclusion that this a comedy.
The film is a success, grossing nearly $15 million overseas. Detractors of "Case Départ" criticize the use of human enslavement for laughs. Ngijol, a veteran comedian, who stars in and co-wrote the film, understands but says once people see it they’ll change their minds.
“This film isn’t about slavery,” says Ngijol, sipping on lemonade in a booth of the chic Coffee Shop. “It’s about not very intelligent people with an identity problem. Black men who blame the system.”
To be fair, when it comes to the African diaspora, African Americans are some of the most sensitive when it comes to slavery. Our cultural identity is defined by it. As a native Parisian with Cameroon roots, Ngijol understands this. What he has a hard time coping with is American hip hop culture, being a role model and France’s classism.
Loop 21: Your film opened July 6th and is an overseas box office hit but the only focus, at least in America, has been the fact it is a comedy based on a plantation. Do you feel the need to defend the film?
Thomas Ngijol: When we took the film to the Cannes Film Festival this year we didn’t explain the movie. We showed the trailer and released the synopsis and that was it. You can’t explain it. Some things you have to see for yourself. At Cannes people loved the trailer. It’s not about slavery. It’s about two half brothers, who are very bad people in the present but go on a quest to learn their history.
You aren’t an overnight celebrity. While American audiences don’t know you, you’ve been a stand up comedian and actor in Paris for the last decade. How did you get started?
I was in a university to be a teacher. I wanted to teach children. I dropped out at 20 to do comedy. I’ve done comedy specials but now I’m focusing on my movie career. The success of ["Case Départ"] means I can’t stop now. My next comedy special will be in 2013. I have to make another movie first. That’s why I’m in New York; to clear my head and come up with new script idea.
"Case Départ" isn’t available in the states yet. Are there plans to bring it here?
It should be here December or January. We worked on the American subtitles months back. We’re also in talks to do an American remake.