“The adventures of Tintin in the Congo” goes on trial today accused of being racist towards Africans. The campaign against the publishers BD Casterman to get the comic book banned has been led by Bienvenu Mbutu, a Congolese man now resident in Belgium.
It is not the first time the comic book has come under fire. In 2007, the British Commission for Racial Equality sparked a debate in the UK saying it contained “hideous prejudice” and calling for it to be banned. Although not taken out of circulation it was removed from the children’s section and carries a warning that readers may find the content offensive. Even online copies advertised on Amazon now come with an over 16’s certificate.
Speaking after the first hearing at the Brussels county court, Mbutu said the demeaning treatment of the Congolese in the comic book made people think that black people had not evolved and were “without qualities.” One section shows a black woman bowing to Tintin and exclaiming: “White man very great. White mister is big juju man!”
It is part of a long campaign launched by the 41 year old to redress the image of the Congolese and to get the Belgians to own up to their colonial past. He has made a case in previous interviews that colonization should be viewed with the same seriousness as the holocaust due to the largely unrecognized destruction wrought on local populations.
The author Georges Prosper Remi, better known for his pen name Hergé, achieved world acclaim for his Tintin series spanning from from the late 1920’s up until his death in 1983. At the time of publication of “Tintin in the Congo” as a supplement of the daily newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle in 1930, Belgium was at the height of its colonial powers.
It was only in his later years that Hergé admitted that he had depicted black people according to the “bourgeois” prejudices of the day and concluded that it could be put down to the “sins of youth”.
Since his death, the rights to the Tintin empire were handed down to his wife Fanny and subsequently to her second husband, the British businessman, Nick Rodwell. Production is also underway for a major film based on the Tintin series to be directed by veteran film-maker Steven Spielburg in collaboration with “Lord of the Rings” director, Peter Jackson.
A verdict on the trial is to be announced shortly.