Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, 41, is taking legal action claiming Hergé’s controversial Tintin In The Congo is propaganda for colonialism and amounts to “racism and xenophobia”.
“Tintin’s little (black) helper is seen as stupid and without qualities. It makes people think that blacks have not evolved,” he said.
Mr Mbutu Mondondo launched a case in Belgium two years ago for symbolic damages of one euro from Tintin’s Belgian publishers Moulinsart, and demanded the book be withdrawn from the market.
But since then his lawyer, Claude Ndjakanyi, said there had been no response from Belgian justice. “Our request to access the dossier was judged premature even though the investigation has been running for two years,” he said.
Mr Ndjakanyi claimed the silence was politically motivated: “It’s the symbol of Belgium that is under attack.” The lawyer said he would launch parallel proceedings in France and go “all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary”.
In 2007, British race watchdogs pulled the book from children’s shelves and attacked the Tintin cartoons for making black Africans “look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles”.
Two weeks ago the work was removed from the shelves of Brooklyn’s municipal library following a complaint from a reader that it “had illustrations that were racially offensive and inappropriate for children”.
Tintin and his dog Snowy are a rare unifying symbol in Belgium–a divided nation where postcolonial guilt over Belgian’s record in the Congo still runs high.
The Congo remained a Belgian colony until 1960 and between 1885 and 1908 millions of Congolese are thought to have died under the brutal rule of Belgium’s King Leopold II.
Georges Remi, the Tintin cartoonist who worked under the Hergé pen-name, reworked the book in 1946 to remove references to Congo as Belgian colony.
But it still contained images such as a black woman bowing to Tintin and saying: “White man very great White mister is big juju man!” Moulinsart, Tintin’s publishers, argued that the whole row was “silly” and that book must be seen in its historical context: “To read in the 21st century a Tintin album dating back to 1931 requires a minimum of intellectual honesty,” it said. “If one applied the ‘politically correct’ filter to great artists or writers, we could no longer publish certain novels of Balzac, Jules Verne, or even some Shakespeare plays.”
Mr Ndjakanyi said this argument did not wash. “When the album was written there was no legal disposition incriminating racism. In 2009 there is. This isn’t about history but the law.”
[Editors Note: Earlier stories about Tintin are listed here.]