Over the past fortnight, intrepid comic-book sleuth Tintin has been both in the cinemas and in the dock. As Stephen Spielberg’s 3D Adventures of Tintin opened, less attention was paid to the closing of a four-year-long court case about Tintin in the Congo happening in Brussels. By REBECCA DAVIS.
A Congolese man called Bienvenu Mondondo, 41, has been petitioning the Belgian courts for the last four years to have Tintin in the Congo declared “a justification of colonisation and of white supremacy” and banned as “racist”. The publishers’ lawyers defend the comic, which has sold 10 million copies since its publication in 1931, as not racist but merely reflecting “kind paternalism”, and say that to view Tintin by the standards of contemporary norms on race would be a “totally twisted reading”.
This isn’t the first time the comic has been in trouble. In the UK in 2007, the Commission for Racial Equality branded the book “racist claptrap” and called for its removal from shelves. The unintended result was that sales of the comic rose from 70 a week before the complaint to 1,400 copies in the week directly afterwards. As a result of their campaign, recent publications of the book have included a caveat saying that “Tintin in the Congo reflects the colonial attitudes of that period in its depiction of African people”.
It must be said that most reasonable people today would indeed find the comic racist – but then most literature of that era was the same. The portrayals of black people are offensively stereotyped, their speech is rendered as a kind of pidgin dialect, and they supposedly worship white people for their cleverness. Animal rights groups would also be unhappy with the scene where Tintin blows up a rhinoceros with a stick of dynamite.
A ruling in the Belgian court case is expected in February. DM
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