In 1995, Mathieu Kassovitz released not only one of the finest commentaries on police brutality and race relations of late 20th century France, he did so via a compelling story that transcends the borders of Europe. La Haine — French for “the hate” — is a modern classic that challenges our preconceived ideas on nationality, race and, most importantly, the police.
The film opens with the Bob Marley and the Wailers song “Burnin’ and a Lootin,’” with the lyrics bearing an uncanny resemblance to the plot of the film, as well as the current climate of protests that have erupted across the globe in response to the murder of George Floyd and, more so, due to years of systemic abuse of the Black community by the police:
This morning I woke up in a curfew
O God, I was a prisoner, too — yeah!
Could not recognize the faces standing over me
They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality.
The film then follows the three protagonists; Saïd, Hubert and Vinz and the events that unfold in just under 24 hours following a riot the night prior. In fact, other than providing insightful commentary — and beautiful direction and cinematography — the film does not really follow the typical three act structure, or even truly have a concrete plot. The only underlying conflict that drives the movie forward is the question of whether Abdel, a critically injured friend of the boys, will survive. Abdel is currently hospitalized in police custody and Vinz vows to seek revenge on the local police if Abdel dies.
Once again, Kassovitz fuels this perpetual conflict between the disadvantaged minorities and the overarching police department. Real life instances of police brutality inspired him to write the script for La Haine and it is surprising that, even 25 years later, this issue is just as relevant. The film also tackles other issues that face the Black community and other disadvantaged minorities today, such as racial profiling, stereotypical representation by the media, the perpetual, systemic cycle of poverty and drug-use and a myriad of other issues.
The film doesn’t attempt to explain why the system is rigged against the boys or why these generational tragedies keep occurring. The film itself does not even try to rectify the wrongs of society; Abdel eventually dies and Vinz is senselessly killed by a police officer. There is no happy ending or revolution to change the status quo. It simply is what it is.
It is naive to think La Haine has a depressing or abrupt ending — I’d even argue this sentiment is disrespectful. Black individuals in society have been enslaved, segregated, marginalized, mass-incarcerated, discriminated against and killed at the hands of racialized acts of violence for centuries. It is possible to write a novel of Tolstoy proportions with all the names of the Black individuals who have been impacted or died at the hands of racial violence and police brutality. For Kassovitz to portray the boys as victorious in their struggle against a system rigged against them would be unrealistic. It is the movie’s gritty realness that allows for its relevance even 25 years after its initial release.
However, life is not a movie. The Black Lives Matter movement currently serves as hope that tangible change can be enacted in society.
We as a society can advocate for change and reform. We can write that rectification that Kassovitz was unable to optimistically portray. We can change the system that has detrimentally impacted Black lives for centuries. We can change la haine.
This article is part of the More Than a Moment issue, made in collaboration with the UWO Black Students' Association. Read the full issue here.