Malik Oussekine: Who is ‘France’s George Floyd’, portrayed in the new Disney+ series?

A new Disney+ mini-series tells the story of Malik Oussekine, the man often referred to as "France's Arab George Floyd". Here's what you need to know about him and his brutal death at the hands of French police.

Malik Oussekine: Who is 'France's George Floyd', portrayed in the new Disney+ series?
Flowers and letters on the spot in Paris where Malik Oussekine died at the hands of the police. Photo by Michel GANGNE / AFP

The latest French show to grab ahold of international audiences, “Oussekine” a Disney+ mini-series of four episodes, reinvestigates a dark part of France’s history. It became available for streaming worldwide on May 11th, and is available in English.

Long before Adama Traoré, whose death ignited Black Lives Matter protests across France, was the night of December 6th, 1986, when two police officers beat to death the 22-year-old French-Algerian on the sidelines of a student protest in Paris.

He had not been involved in the demonstration, and his killing became a turning point – triggering weeks of unrest and leading to the unprecedented conviction of the officers.

A march in memory of Malik Oussekine on December 4, 1987, a year after he was killed by the police (Photo by Jean-Loup GAUTREAU / AFP)

While Oussekine’s name has continued to reverberate among minorities, his story has never been adapted for the screen until now.

As if making up for lost time, two versions are being released this month: a film, “Our Brothers”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and the Disney+ mini-series, “Oussekine.”

“He was attacked because of the colour of his skin. He is France’s Arab George Floyd,” historian Pascal Blanchard told AFP, referring to the African-American whose death at the hands of police in 2020 sparked massive international protests.

He said much of French society had allowed Oussekine’s story to be brushed under the carpet as with so much of its troubled history with immigrant populations.

“It’s not a question of whether Malik Oussekine has been forgotten, but by who?” said Blanchard.

France is still wrestling with the trauma of its colonial period, particularly the bloody war of independence in Algeria from 1954 to 1962.

Among its darkest moments was the massacre of up to 200 Algerian protesters by police in Paris on October 17th, 1961 — many of them shot dead and their bodies thrown into the Seine.

The events of that day went officially unacknowledged for decades until President Emmanuel Macron finally described them as “inexcusable crimes” at the 60th anniversary last year – though without apologising.

Oussekine’s death was crucial in marking the end of total police impunity – the first time that officers were convicted for this type of crime, according to the family’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman.

As the grandchildren of the original wave of North African immigrants come of age, there is increasing interest and willingness to address the past.

“For our generation, it is important to say that these individual stories form part of the French national story. They are not separate. These are French stories,” said Faiza Guene, 36 and born to Algerian parents, who helped write the screenplay for “Oussekine”.

Its director, Antoine Chevrollier, was part of the team behind hit spy series “The Bureau”, and the lauded political saga “Baron Noir”.

“The important thing is to make this name and this story resonate so that we never forget,” he told AFP.

Chevrollier, who grew up in a small village in the Loire Valley, says he only became fully aware of the power of Oussekine’s name when he moved to Paris and began to hang out with people from different backgrounds.

“I hope the series will help ease the tensions that are unsettling the country. It is time that we in France begin to treat these historical cancers.”

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French city authorities agree to remove ‘anti-Semitic’ mural of Macron

A street art mural in a French city depicting President Emmanuel Macron as a puppet in the hands of an economist of Jewish origin has been removed, authorities said on Friday, after it was denounced as blatantly anti-Semitic.

French city authorities agree to remove 'anti-Semitic' mural of Macron

The controversy over the mural in the southern city of Avignon represents an embarrassment to the local authorities just two weeks before the city hosts its world-famous annual international theatre festival from July 7th.

The mural, painted by the street artist Lekto, depicts Macron as the lying puppet Pinocchio with his strings pulled by the celebrated French economist and former Elysee adviser Jacques Attali, who was born to a Jewish family in French Algeria.

The local prefecture authority said in a statement that “following the emotional reactions” authorities had agreed “to erase the fresco”.

“The operation was carried out this very morning,” it added.

The mural, painted on an electricity transformer at the north-eastern entrance to the city, had already been partially covered overnight by an anonymous individual.

Controversy over the work had been building ever since it was created on Wednesday.

The image “takes up all the tropes of anti-Semitic propaganda and fascist iconography,” French member of the European Parliament Raphael Glucksmann said on Twitter.

“To refuse to erase it in the name of ‘freedom of expression’ is a scandal,” he added.

The mural was put up by the artist of his own accord and no institution encouraged or funded it.

But according to France Bleu radio, the city of Avignon — run by Socialist mayor Cecile Helle — initially refused to cover it up to “respect freedom of expression” before changing tack as pressure grew.

“As usual the problem is the people who don’t see the problem,” tweeted prominent French comic book artist Joann Sfar.

France’s centre-left Parti Socialiste leader Olivier Faure added on Twitter: “The interpretation of this fresco leaves little open to doubt.”

“The figure of the Jewish banker manipulating his puppets is a recurring theme of anti-Semites.”

He described anti-Semitism as a recurring “plague” that cannot be tolerated.

Although not of Jewish origin himself, Macron has repeatedly been targeted by anti-Semitic insinuations and baseless conspiracy theories related to his past work for investment bankers Rothschild.