There is a movie that did not fit into my TIFF schedule, Chevalier, which I regret. The trailer dropped yesterday, and it looks pretty great.
Kelvin Harrison Jr., lately seen as B.B. King in Elvis, stars as Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the first recorded Black classical music composer. The film is loosely touted as “Black Amadeus”, which is oversimplifying both Saint-Georges’ life and the film Amadeus. Saint-Georges was the son of an African slave and a white landowner from Guadeloupe, then part of the French Caribbean. His early years in music and training are lost to history, but as a young man, Saint-Georges emerged as a virtuoso violinist, he was also an excellent fencer. His music career was ultimately stymied by Historic Racism and particularly the “divas” of the Paris Opera, who petitioned to have him barred from becoming the orchestra’s conductor. But Saint-Georges left significant works behind, here’s a symphony he composed.
Frustratingly, the trailer NEVER SAYS HIS NAME. At one point, someone says “Joseph”, but they never say “Saint-Georges” or “Joseph Bologne”, which is bizarre. It’s a biopic about him! Say his name! What kind of weird game are we playing where the trailer for a biopic won’t name its subject? Imagine if Amadeus never said “Mozart”? I get that most people aren’t going to know Saint-Georges off the top of their head, but that is WHY you say it! To give people something to google!
Anyway, Harrison looks great as Saint-Georges. I like that there is a lot of emphasis on his fencing, not just his music. Saint-Georges did participate in the French Revolution, particularly early on, serving as a colonel in the Legion St-Georges, the first all-Black regiment in Europe, and named after him because Saint-Georges was so outstanding as a commander. Saint-Georges is an interesting historical character, cutting a dashing figure across Revolutionary France. He’s a direct reminder that there have always been BIPOC in history, even at the highest levels of society and amidst the most important historical events. He also wrote some beautiful music that deserves to be more widely known (like Mozart, Saint-Georges’ music is great for reading/studying). And sword fights are cool. Everyone likes a movie with swordfights. I just wish the trailer would say his damn name!