The African Zouaves in Flanders



French propaganda film showing colonial troops in Belgium


In Flanders, where five continents met on the battlefield (Dendooven and Chielens 2008), Zouaves from Algiers, Tunis, Oran, and Constantine were an essential part of the 45th Division.
The film, made by the French film giant Pathé Frères, portrayed the Zouaves as brave and fierce soldiers but at the same time stigmatised them as oriental and mysterious. The coloured sergeant is depicted as a curiosity, with the other soldiers spending their time playing, boxing, and wrestling, the war seemingly forgotten.
The still shown above can be seen as highly propagandist, showing the 'human face' of the North African soldier - their playfulness and their bravery.
This extant film copy has English subtitles, so it is likely that the film was made for English-speaking audiences. It may have also reached American cinemas, via Pathé's corporate channels. Pathé Frères was involved actively in official French war propaganda. By moving many of its activities to the United States, the company was able to distribute propaganda films and features on a much wider scale (Thompson 1985).