Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe


Beur cinema

Language: French

‘Beur’ is reputedly derived from Parisian backslang for ‘arabe’ (Arab).

Beur cinema refers to the work of filmmakers of Maghrebi descent (i.e. from France's former North African colonies) who grew up in France. The 'beurs have been the most visible, the most stigmatised and the most dynamic ethnic minority in postcolonial France. [...] dominant French cinema has, until relatively recently, tended to suppress or marginalise the voices and narratives of the nation's troubling postcolonial others and (re)produce ethnic hierarchies founded on the assumed supremacy of white metroplitan culture and identity' (Tarr 2005: 3). 

'The term cinéma beur was first coined in a special issue of Cinématographe in July 1985 to describe a set of independently released films by and about the beurs, that is, second-generation generation filmmakers of Maghrebi descent' (Tarr 2005: 2).  

In her study Reframing Difference, Carrie Tarr explains the linguistic origin of beur cinema: 'the word beur (and its later variant rebeu) [...is] a neologism derived from Parisian backslang (verlan) by young second-generation immigrants of Maghrebi descent in the early 1980s, its playful inversion and truncation of the syllables of the word for 'Arab' originally denoted both an awareness of the negative meanings of 'Arab' in the French imaginary, and a refusal to be trapped in those meanings. However, since its incorporation into majority French discourses, many of those it refers to have rejected the term, fearing that it has become simply another way of trapping them in a ghetto. In the 1990s, second- and third-generation Maghrebis have tended to designate themselves according to their origins (as in 'd'origine algérienne/marocaine/tunisienne') or more generally 'd'origine maghrébine' ('of Maghrebi origin'). The latter is an apparently neutral expression which recognises the possibility of a bicultural identity. Yet it is also problematic, first because the term Maghrebi obscures the historical, geographical and cultural specificity of the origins of those it designates, and secondly because the emphasis on origin risks endorsing an essentialist notion of identity as pre-given, rather than acknowledging that identities, including those of the majority white French population, are constantly in process. The difficulty of naming the beurs is clearly indicative of their problematic status within French culture' (Tarr 2005: 4).

The term ‘beur cinema’ has been taken up by Anglo-American scholars but has rarely been used in the French context since the mid 1990s, when the term ‘cinema de banlieue’ was coined. Individual French filmmakers of Maghrebi origin prefer to be recognised as auteurs rather than because of their ethnic background. 

Cf. also Banlieue cinema

Example film: Le Thé au harem d’Archimède (Tea in the Harem)


Carrie Tarr (2005), Reframing Difference: Beur and banlieue filmmaking in France, Manchester: Manchester University Press. 

Cornelia Ruhe (2006), Cinéma beur: Analysen zu einem neuen Genre des französischen Films, Constance: UVK 

Carrie Tarr (ed.)(2007), Beur is Beautiful: Contemporary French-Maghrebi Cinema. Special supplement, Cineaste, 33:1, Winter 2007.  

Posted by Daniela Berghahn on 10 Oct 2006 • (2)Comments

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