Chevalier the Latest Incarnation
It was exactly thirty-eight years since I was at the opening night of Les Misérables in Chicago. In the ensuing decades, I have enjoyed seeing several additional onstage performances, including watching the movie Les Misérables.
Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables in 1862. It addressed the attitude of the French monarchy and the upper class toward the less fortunate French commoners.
Hugo’s main character in Les Misérables was Jean Valjean. Valjean stole a loaf of bread and went to prison for two decades for stealing it. The bread was for his sister, her seven children, and himself. He was granted parole but had to show a yellow ticket-of-leave when asked. That document was merely a means to keep Valjean from living freely. The ticket kept him imprisoned in the outside world.
Valjean attempted to live his life without showing his ticket. He journeyed into the world and became a successful entrepreneur. However, he reached out to a dying woman and adopted her daughter. All this took place during the run-up to the French Revolution.
I went to see the movie Chevalier on its opening at a movie theater near me. There I sat, mesmerized by it. It was an incarnation of Les Misérables. Stefani Robinson wrote the screenplay of Chevalier.
Now, I have already written a doctorate dissertation. That said, if I wanted to write another, it would be about the relationship between the play and the movie.
My mind raced back to Les Misérables’ storyline. Chevalier is the main character. His sin was that he was an illegitimate child of an enslaved African and the plantation owner. Before going any further, the basis of slavery is that sub-humans need to be segregated from the rest of the learned and intelligent society.
If so, why did a wealthy enslaver have sex with one of his enslaved workers? That is hypocrisy. However, on the other side of the Atlantic, Thomas Jefferson, an enslaver, had sex with Sally Hemings, one of his enslaved people. Through DNA, Jefferson and Hemings had around seven children.
In Les Misérables, Valjean wasn’t black but poor. He was considered a subhuman person. In both the novel and the movie, racism of color or station in life determined the person’s place in a non-equalitarian society in France and America.
In the very first part of the movie, Chevalier comes to the stage where Mozart is wooing the audience, and Chevalier asks, “May I play with you, monsieur?”
This is the backstory. Joseph Bologne was born on December 25, 1745, in Ballif of Guadeloupe, a part of the French colonies of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Note December 25th. His mother was an enslaved person at the plantation owned by the person that got her pregnant. Because of that, Bologne’s life differed from other enslaved people's lives.
Jefferson treated Sally Heming differently, also. The parallels between the play and the movie are striking.
In Bologne’s early teens, his father enrolled him in the Académie de l'équitation, the famous musical boarding school, where he excelled. He learned well in both music and dueling.
By that time, Bologne had amazed the wealthy white aristocracy, including the king and queen of France. They bestowed the title Chevalier (French for knight) de Saint-Georges upon Bologne. He now carried the name Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. While acquiring some of the niceties of life, he still faced racism.
However, the French Revolution changed Chevalier along with all the French. Here again, Chevalier’s transition between a not secure position in the French aristocracy facing the French Revolution is an exact parallel with that of Valjean.
I was truly fascinated watching the local opening of the movie Chevalier. I returned home and went for a walk with Ginger. I let her off the leach. She ran chasing geese at the end of the lake. I stood there, attempting to process all the images and thoughts whirling around in my mind.
Issues facing America today are not much different than in the time of Les Misérables and Chevalier. We have racism and sexism along with indifference to those in need. White males see themselves in charge. We have rich people with power and money who use both to maintain dominance over those with less.
We have a choice in America. We can attempt to continue the same behavior and mindset since our beginning as a nation. We haven’t addressed racism, sexism, and poverty. See Chevalier.
Many Americans, who are white males with money, view themselves as superior to all the rest of America. Chevalier is a movie about France, but it is also a mirror reflecting what America thinks. The ordinary people of France merely wanted “Liberté, Égalité, Fraterni
The following two videos are of the trailers for the play Les Misérables and the movie Chevalier.