Paris’ defence minister on Sunday condemned the latest installment of Marvel’s Black Panther franchise, which depicts French troops caught trying to steal resources belonging to the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda.
“I strongly condemn this false and deceptive representation of our armed forces,” Sebastien Lecornu wrote on Twitter, responding to a clip from the November movie posted by a journalist.
The scene turns on a group of bound French soldiers being brought into a UN meeting, embarrassing Paris’ ambassador to the world body, after they were caught on a secret mission to a Wakandan base in Mali.
Journalist Jean Bexon, who posted the Black Panther clip, noted, “The evil French mercenaries operating in Mali are dressed like soldiers from Operation Barkhane,” a real-life military mission.
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France is particularly sensitive to its image in West Africa after military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso demanded the departure of French troops, deployed to the Sahel region since 2013 to fight jihadists.
“I am thinking of and honouring the 58 French soldiers who died defending Mali, at its request, in the face of Islamist terrorist groups,” Lecornu wrote.
The defence ministry told AFP that France was not calling for withdrawal or censorship of a work of art.
But “no revisionism can be allowed about France’s recent actions in Mali: we intervened at the county’s own request to fight armed terrorist groups, far from the story told in the film, namely a French army coming to pillage natural resources,” the ministry added.
People close to Lecornu said he was “angry at seeing the film”, which was released as Russia appears to be making progress in turning West African populations against France and its military deployments.
Mali called on Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to reinforce its army once French troops left — although the junta continues to deny hiring the fighters — and there has been speculation that Burkina may follow suit.
Online, cartoons spread by pro-Russian accounts and influencers have shown France sending skeletons and a giant snake to “conquer all of Africa”, in videos analysed this month by AFP Factcheck.
Armed white men in Wagner combat fatigues are seen coming to the rescue of soldiers carrying the flags of Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
“We face a steamroller that plays with the perceptions of local people who are in existential difficulty” from war and famine, a French military source acknowledged earlier this month.
In November, President Emmanuel Macron stressed that today “influence” is a “strategic priority”.