May 28, 2010 / 11:15 AM / 9 years ago

Tintin revival could be marred by race debate

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - As Belgium’s best-known reporter prepares himself for the silver screen, uncomfortable questions remain as to whether it is just his plus fours and quiff that need to be given a makeover.

Congolese-born Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo holds the "Tintin in Congo" comics ahead of a hearing at the Palace of Justice in Brussels May 12, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

Film director Steven Spielberg’s “The Secret of the Unicorn” is a tale of sunken ships and treasure which highlights Tintin as a swashbuckling hero ready to take on any villain.

It is expected to be the first in a trilogy of Tintin movies.

However, an altogether different aspect of the reporter is attracting attention in his home country of Belgium.

In Brussels, an increasingly heated court case is unfolding, brought by a Congo-born student who argues that one of the cartoon albums, “Tintin in the Congo,” is racist and should be banned or at least carry a warning on its cover.

“We say there is a work which shows the superiority of one race over another. This is inadmissible,” said lawyer Papis Tshimpangila who is taking part in the case.

The English language version of the album has been prefaced with a warning asking readers to see it within the context of its time.

Book shop Borders took it out of its children’s section in 2007 in Britain and the United States following a recommendation from the Commission for Racial Equality.

“We need to end the discrimination between people who speak English and people who speak French,” said Mbutu Mondondo Bienvenu, who has personally financed the legal bid in Belgium since it started in 2007.

“Even if I sell my shoes and all of my furniture, I think that the result is more important than material possessions,” he told reporters outside a court in Brussels earlier this month.

Moulinsart, the foundation which holds the Tintin copyright, has refused to place a warning on the 1931 book, saying there are many works that could be accused of discrimination.

“We think it’s not necessary to add such a warning. We would gladly do it if you put such a warning on Jules Verne’s novels, Charles Dickens’ novels,” said a spokesman.

Georges Remi, commonly known under his pen name Herge, has also been accused of anti-Semitism.

“Herge’s drawings were part of a widespread European tradition of ‘soft’ anti-Semitism. Everything about Herge’s personality suggests that he would have been consumed with remorse had he been aware of the fate of the Jews he caricatured,” Moulinsart said.

He contributed cartoons to Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper, one of the few papers authorized by the German occupiers during World War Two.

“One cannot deny that certain albums are anti-Semitic and one cannot deny that the 1930s albums were blatantly colonialist and racist in the sense that colonialism was racist,” said Laurence Grove, an academic at the University of Glasgow and prominent “Tintinologist.”

“But when we look at the later albums such as 1960’s Tintin in Tibet, his attitudes have changed completely,” said Grove.

He noted that other fictional heroes such as James Bond have evolved dramatically over the past few decades as public opinion has changed.

“Tintin evolves in the same way and I’m sure that the Spielberg film of Tintin can do the same sort of job on this... I suspect he’ll be running around using gadgets and saving the world. I suspect the nasty bits will be etched out,” said Grove.

Editing by Steve Addison

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